Instantly, three pairs of bare feet began running with all their might towards the foamy waves. They crossed quickly the narrow sandy beach and disappeared under the tepid waters of Zefiria. The lean backs were popping once in a while above the surface, propelled by skinny hands and arms. Soon, they were already quite far from the shore.
The Iron Rock, with its unusually regular shape, was the target of their race. And the girl was winning, being already several meters ahead. Kolin was the first to give up. He turned his body upwards and began floating on his back, still propelling himself slowly towards the destination. Solis persisted almost all the way, trying stubbornly to catch up. However, in the end, Lila won. She always did.
The girl smiled, grabbed a narrow metal rail mounted at the edge of the rock and got out of the water. Solis came a few moments later. They waited patiently another two minutes to see Kolin join them.
It was a beautiful afternoon, right before the monsoon season. The white buildings from Akonit could be seen to the east while in the west the fringes of Lavend were almost hidden by the rays of the Sun. To the south, the peak of Erol was standing out, marking the highest local point of the Centrian Mountains chain.
“Well?” said Lila. “I’ve won the bet.”
“Yes, you did,” responded Kolin with a resigned expression.
“Now you have to show me the place,” continued the girl.
With a sigh, Solis stood up and motioned the other two teenagers to follow him.
The Iron Rock was a strange place. Its regular shape wasn’t natural. People said it had been part of a large building from an older civilization. A place used to launch people into space. However, it’s been so long since then that most locals took it only as a legend. The rock looked more like a large, slightly convex circular platform about fifty meters in diameter and perhaps three or four meters above the sea at high tide. There was a place with stone steps and rails that allowed everyone’s access to it. The ground was rough and not exactly regular. However, the tiny island was made of a very hard type of stone, as hard as iron. No wonder it had survived the sea’s abrasion for so many centuries. Few patches of moss could grow here, and ever fewer blades of grass.
Solis took them to the other side of the platform. He bent down over the edge, searching for something. Immediately, he stood up straight, went several more meters to the left and bent down again.
“Here it is,” he said. I’ve marked the spot. “However, it’s still too early to see it now, we need to wait for the sunset.”
“That’s at least thirty more minutes,” retorted Kolin. “What are we going to do until then?”
“What about diving into the water right now?” suggested Lila. “If the sign is marked well, we might still see something.”
“I don’t know,” hesitated Solis. “We know nothing about it. Could be dangerous.”
“You said it hasn’t moved from that spot for at least a week. Can’t be radioactive, because you said fish were swimming about all the time and no one died. We have our swimming goggles, should be enough to take a peak, the water is less than ten meters deep here.”
“I’d rather wait to see the light first,” mumbled Kolin.
“Suit yourself,” snorted Lila. “I’ll check it right now.”
With decided steps, she came to the edge of the platform, jumped in the air, and dived head-down into the dark-blue waves.
The boys bent their necks over the edge, following with a worried gaze the foamy track left by Lila's sinking body. No doubt, she was now close to it. Ten seconds passed, then ten more. The girl didn't emerge back.
"Something's wrong," said Kolin, stating the obvious. "I'll dive after her. Watch me from here in case something bad happens."
He got his goggles on and bent his legs, ready to jump. Suddenly, a heavy hand grabbed his right shoulder from behind. Kolin felt paralyzed. His body froze, his muscles felt like made of stone. He wanted to turn but he couldn't utter the slightest move. The hand didn’t belong to Solis. Someone else had just come next to them, noiselessly like a water snake. A deep voice expressing strength and confidence broke in:
"Perhaps you should let me do that?"
As soon as the man spoke, the paralysis went away. Kolin turned and saw a tall, muscular man perhaps in his thirties, smiling at him. His blonde hair was cut short and his blue eyes displayed the fierce look of a warrior. To confirm that, a circular patch was visible on the left side of his chest: the sign of Two Waves, one of the deadliest martial arts on Atlantide. It wasn’t the usual patch of an advanced practitioner but the patch of a master. What was a master doing here, on the Iron Rock? No way! He couldn’t be interested in the thing underwater, could he? However, the more Kolin tried to think, the more he had to admit this was by far the most likely scenario.
Kolin only had about a second to examine the master. With lightning speed, the man took off his shirt, stepped to the edge of the platform, and jumped head-down into the sea. Solis came near Kolin and the boys bent down again over the edge, trying to see what was going on a few meters deeper. The water was relatively clear near the Iron Rock. The master’s body should have been easily visible, except it wasn’t. He had simply vanished.
A few seconds passed with agonizing slowness. Perhaps ten or twenty. Something moved briefly underwater farther away and more to the left. Then the master’s head broke the surface, breathing calmly. A moment later, Lila’s face came out too, gasping for air. She looked scared but said nothing. The master came closer to the edge.
“We don’t have a rope to throw you there,” said Solis. “I’m afraid you might have to go around the rock and use the stone steps.” It was high tide and the platform’s edge was almost four meters above the water.
“That’s all right,” said the master. I don’t need a rope. “Can you catch the girl if I throw her to you?”
“What do you mea…” began Kolin but the master had already disappeared underwater with the girl. One moment later they both came up with an amazing speed. The master pushed the girl with a powerful move and she flew in the air to the edge of the platform. Surprised, the boys managed to catch her just in time.
They set carefully the girl on the platform’s edge and turned their heads downwards just in time to see the master fly out of the water and land gracefully on the tall platform a couple of meters from them.
“How did you do that?” asked Solis.
“You’re talking about the jump?” laughed the man. “It’s not that difficult. I’ve dived deeper and used the water to push me up in the same way dolphins do. If I had to jump this high on land, it would have been more difficult.”
It sounded simple and, obviously, it was doable. Still, Kolin had never seen anyone jump like a dolphin from the water. Not until now. Nevertheless, for a master of Two Waves it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Lila was already feeling better. After a few more fits of coughing, she stood up between the two boys. All three were gazing at the tall man with inquisitive looks. As if reading their thoughts, he said:
“I suppose you wonder what is someone like me doing here. Well, I have actually come to retrieve THAT,” and he pointed below the platform, exactly towards the spot marked by Solis some days earlier.
(c) Marian C. Ghilea, 2018
Image source: pixabay.com