Lynn | Seeking Pearl in the Castle

Carefully placed yellow lights shone on the flowing curves of the slanting stone walls. They felt like ocean waves of the past, greeting me as I stepped deeper into a time bygone.

Kinjo-san was not joking about going to the castle grounds. She prepared dinner for us, showered, and got ready that very day. We left her place just before ten when the half-moon hung high in the cloudless sky. I followed her slow but steady footsteps up the 500-year-old stone steps. As there were barely any lamp posts lighting our way, we had to make do with torchlights. Thankfully, it was not a cold night, and we had a pleasant walk. It felt like a night pilgrimage.

We reached the gardens surrounding the castle grounds. Carefully placed yellow lights shone on the flowing curves of the slanting stone walls. They felt like ocean waves of the past, greeting me as I stepped deeper into a time bygone. We made our way to the tower gates. Expectedly, it was cordoned off with tapes and signages. Kinjo-san stared at it solemnly. I tried my best to console Kinjo-san, “I mean, after all, it is a UNESCO heritage site, and the Castle buildings burnt down just last year…”

“Follow me.”

I was worried. Was Kinjo-san going to break in? What if we got caught?

Kinjo-san walked away from the main gate and made a left turn back to the Castle gardens. She walked up to a pair of wooden gates with short stone walls and a curved roof. They led to nowhere behind. They were conspicuous, fairly large, clearly historical, a remnant of something. How could I have missed seeing this in daylight when I first toured here?

Just beneath the stone steps fronting the gates, Kinjo-san kneeled and said a prayer. I followed suit. And then, she got up and walked toward the gates.

“Kinjo-san, there’s a lock on the gates-”

She pushed the gates, and they opened. She flashed me a grin.

“Let’s take a walk.”

We went through the gates with her lead and found ourselves in a cold, damp, dark place. I turned on my torchlight. We were in a cave. Kinjo-san kept walking straight, slowly but surely; a light shone into the cave from the entrance. We walked out of the cave, and I found myself surrounded by tall, wavy mountains with an ocean bay in front of me. The sun was up in the sky; the waters were a glistering kerama blue. We stepped into the ocean and walked. The waters barely came up to our knees and were just the right temperature. They were so clear that I could see everything underneath. We were crossing the bay with our feet. I must be in a dream.

The next thing I knew, Kinjo-san and I were standing in its center. She looked around, took in the scenery, and smiled. And then, she looked into the waters. A glowing red pearl, the size of a fishball, was resting on the sand.

“Pick it up.”

I bent my knees, placed my hand into the waters, and reached for the legendary flaming pearl. Serendipitously, a gush of energy surged into me. I gasped and fell into the waters. That was the first time I felt the birth of time, of all who came before me. It was also the first time I touched the souls of all whom the flaming pearl had touched.



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Moon | Meeting the Sea Giant

“Are you the Ming princess with the flaming pearl? The entire Eastern Sea knows of your escape from China to Ryukyu.”

The marketplace was crowded. With an assortment of vegetables, tofu, and potatoes, sellers sat by their produce with umbrellas barely shading them from the sun. Beckoning for passersby to make purchases, they spoke a language that Moon could not comprehend. With their foods supported with a hand on their heads, the local Ryukyuan women bargained their best with the seemingly upset sellers. She noticed they had tattoo motifs on their hands and wondered what they meant. Moon looked around for the Creature, but it was nowhere to be found to her surprise. She carried on walking and kept a lookout for it anxiously.

She walked through the streets of fishmongers and meat sellers until she reached a shallow harbor that had a few wooden boats bobbing along the ocean. She sat by the harbor for a rest when out came in the waters a sea giant.

The sea giant had an overly large head with gill slits on his body and webbed fingers and toes. He had a gentle smile, which made Moon naturally at ease with him. He walked towards Moon and asked, “Are you the Ming princess with the flaming pearl? The entire Eastern Sea knows of your escape from China to Ryukyu.”

“Oh! Yes, I am. I mean, I was.”

“Oh?”

“I am no longer a princess, and I no longer have the flaming pearl.”

“Oh.”

The sea giant was visibly surprised and disappointed. And so, Moon asked, “Why are you looking for me?”

“I was hoping you could help me bring my family back.”

“How?”

“Don’t you know? By using the flaming pearl. It can bring back the dead.”

“Really?”

“Yes. At least, that’s what my brother told me before he was turned into an ocean stone.”

“I’m sorry about your brother.”

“Not to worry, it happened a hundred years ago. But I will keep trying to bring everyone back.”

“Everyone? You mean your family?”

“Yes. My family and the entire tribe actually. I am the only one left after the attack of the irabu.”

“The flaming pearl is with a Yuta now… Can the flaming pearl really resurrect the death?”

“I think so. Do you remember what the Yuta looks like?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I say we go find her and get the flaming pearl back. It is worth a try, at the very least.”

Moon hesitated, but she knew the sea giant was right. She did not want to see the sea giant going back to the ocean alone as well. If the flaming pearl could bring the dead, she was sure it could help her find the Creature too. And so, for the first time in a long while, Moon looked up at the sea giant, nodded her head in agreement, and smiled.


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(Updated as of March’22) The Sea Giants of Ishigaki and the Venomous Irabu

It was said no less than some eons ago, 
The Sea Giants of Ishigaki evolved from old ocean stones.
With webbed fingers and toes, 
Gill slits on their body folds,
They were large gentle creatures,
With undying ancient souls.


Irabu
.
A black-banded sea snake that rose from the dark waters.
Venomous, it slaughters all.


The Sea Giants should not have been defeated.
Yet, they were.
They succumbed and regressed into ocean stones.
Fashioned by the wind, water, and the sands of time,
They scatter across the ocean scape,
Blurring the world into an anxious, somber horizon.

*Irabu, The Okinawan word for the black-banded sea krait, is a venomous sea snake found in the tropics of the Indo-Pacific.


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Lynn | The Flaming Pearl

“But… if it keeps a person safe, and if it is with the Castle, why did the Castle burn down?”

January 2020

Shuri, Okinawa 

The coronavirus swept the world, and everything changed. One by one, like dominos falling to the ground, international borders, stadiums, schools, offices, shopping malls, cinemas, and theatres closed. The virus attacked congregations best, so even places of worship had to be closed. Nowhere allowed to go, the world found itself at home. It felt like the world was forced to power down. Except for the hospitals, they became battlegrounds. It was strange and uncomfortable. A world with no festivity or events. Those were important to me. I could no longer travel, yet I did not want to go home. I was craving for an adventure. There was something about Kinjo-san and her stories that compelIed me to stay. Admittedly, I found myself growing attached to her. And so, I enrolled myself in language classes at a Japanese language school. Anyday then, my student visa would be approved.

Kinjo-san was a lot better, both emotionally and physically. I learned that the Shuri Castle had a special and sacred place in the Okinawans’ hearts. It was a proud symbol of their legacy and heritage as children of the land.

One evening during dinner at Kinjo-san’s place, she said, “The Castle will be rebuilt, again.”

“Again?”

“It’s not the first time it burnt down. It was horrible after the War. In the past, two Ryukyuan princes fought for the throne and burnt down the Castle too. It will be fine. It has the pearl.”

“You mean the flaming pearl?”

Kinjo-san gave an unexpected sly smile, “You have been paying attention.”

“Isn’t the flaming pearl with the Moon Princess?”

“Yes, it was. But it eventually landed with a Ryukyuan prince who became King.”

“What is the flaming pearl? Is it from China?”

“Nah, it is not from China. The flaming pearl came from The Ancients before countries and kingdoms formed. It went through many hands over the ages. The emblem of the powerful phoenix, sometimes men, but usually it finds itself in female hands.”

“What does it do?”

“It keeps you safe, very safe.”

“But… if it keeps a person safe, and if it is with the Castle, why did the Castle burn down?”

At this point, Kinjo-san smiled again, “The pearl is beyond life and death. The Castle burnt down, but it will rise from its ashes again!”

I nodded knowingly but was completely unconvinced.

“You don’t believe me? Let me show you. Tonight, we go to the Castle grounds.”


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Moon | A New Beginning

Ma was dead. But Ma would always live in her.

Moon found herself waking up in a humid cave with barely a light peering in from the outside. The sound of dripping water gave away the presence of long stalactites hanging above her. With every painful move of her muscle, she pulled herself across the cave until she felt the taste of water. She laid there, mouth agape until she passed out again.

*

In a barely conscious state, Moon overheard two men speaking. They were in the cave, too, somewhere closer to the entrance, it seemed.

“How many units are available for purchase?”

“As many as you want.”

There was a moment of silence.

“I’ll take a hundred units first. If everything goes well, we can do ten thousand units… quarterly.”

“Deal. In the next shipment, your men will find a hundred units at Manila Port.”

Another moment of silence.

“Send my regards to your father.”

With a quivering voice, the younger man replied, “Thank you.”

As footsteps quietened, Moon fell back into unconsciousness.

*

The Creature fed Moon with sea algae until she regained her strength. And though she had given up the flaming pearl to the Yuta, in return, the brief meet with Ma gave back Moon her spirit. It was as if the thick black fog that had consumed her since Ma’s death had finally dissipated, and she could breathe again. Ma was dead. But Ma would always live in her.

With the Creature by her side, she pulled herself together, walked out of the cave, and traced the winding beach. Faint sounds grew louder; soft lights grew brighter. She followed them and found herself in a sprawling marketplace.


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