Forbidden City, Beijing, China
“Moon, wake up.”
“Mother? What’s going on?”
Moon’s mother, Concubine Shun, revealed a flaming red pearl from her silk handkerchief and pushed it into Moon’s mouth. In a reflex, Moon resisted, and the pearl fell to the ground. Concubine Shun scurried to retrieve the pearl. With tears falling out of her eyes, she cried, “For Heaven’s sake, swallow the pearl now!”
“What is going on!”
“The rebels have entered the outer palace. Ming is collapsing. So swallow this pearl and leave at once!”
Concubine Shun pushed the pearl into Moon’s trembling lips and made a small cut on Moon’s thumb with a blade. She dripped Moon’s blood on a palm-sized bronze creature statue and murmured, “This will protect you too. You do not need to be afraid. There is no time to be afraid.”
Bang! The doors flanked wide open. The Emperor, barely recognizable, stood in front of them. Disheveled and defeated, his tears rolled down his downcasted eyes and over the tear stains on his face. On his right hand held a blood-stained golden sword.
He dragged himself toward them. Like a frightened mouse trying its best to be brave, Concubine Shun flung herself in front of Moon and stared wide-eyed at the Emperor.
With a trembling voice, Concubine Shun said, “Run, Moon, run now. Moon, quick, Moon-”
At that moment and without hesitation, the Emperor pierced his sword into Concubine Shun’s chest. Moon let out a shrilling scream. She ran toward them, but her legs could not move. Instead, she collapsed onto a creature as it sped through the burning palace and capital.
The creature brought Moon deep into the forest and said, “I am the bronze statue, and I am to protect you.”
Still shaking and with tears rolling down her closed eyes, Moon looked at the deer-like creature and cried, “What about Ma? Who protects Ma?”
Not long after, the Qing army swept through the deep forests and mountains in search of surviving Ming royalties and loyalists, forcing the pair to flee down to the southern coastal areas. But the war pursued them relentlessly as forces fought to control all of China.
“Where can I go? Nowhere in China is safe for me.”
The creature carried her further south, to the southern caves by the southernmost port. For the first time, Moon smelled the saltiness of the ocean breeze.
By a stream of water leading to the ocean, the creature sang into a large spiral seashell. Gently, from within the cave walls, a hundred-year-old turtle awakened and broke free. He smiled at Moon and his old friend.
The pearl in Moon shone, and the turtle obeyed. With the guide of the pearl, the turtle carried Moon and the creature across the Eastern Sea.
By the time the trio arrived at the Ryukyu Kingdom, China had irrevocably changed from Ming to Qing.