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…”
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.