Monday, March 26, 2012

The Pearl

Ki took a breath that filled her lungs from tip to tail, enough so that she thought she would float into the air because of it. Then, clutching the stone to her chest, she jumped off Grandmother’s fishing boat.

The cool, saline water shot past her as she descended, rapidly at first, but slowing. Looking through her goggles with tightly squinted eyes that could not ignore the residual salty sting,  she saw naught but bubbles until her feet encountered the sand beneath.

Her swift plummet had scared away the fish, but there was still seaweed, mussels, and oysters to be had. She carefully packed the small sack she carried with her with all that she could find at the ocean floor, taking care not to slice her fingers on the sharp coral that grew around the valuable food. By now, her lungs were aching with hunger for air, so she dropped the rock and started to swim to the surface, kicking her small feet with fervor to make up what they lacked in surface area.

However, in mid-kick, she noticed a strange mollusk. It was not so dark and grizzled as its brethren. Instead, it was light, pearly, and the color of sea foam at sunrise. Ki curiosity was piqued, and Ki’s curiosity was not something to be ignored.

She swam to the mollusk, wedged between two pieces of coral. She gently threaded her fingers through the arms of coral to the strange shell. Her small fingers wrapped around it and she pulled, to no result. The mollusk remained as firmly stuck as ever.

Frowning as her lungs burned, Ki grabbed the shell with both hands and pulled. Her hands slipped and the palm of one was slit by the coral. Her bag was tossed upwards, raining seaweed and clams down on her head. She found she couldn’t care. She had to get that shell.

Forgetting pain, she placed both feet on the coral surrounding the shell and pulled with all her might as her lungs, feet, and arms screamed out in synchronous agony. Suddenly, however the mollusk slid into her had.She had no time to retrieve the lost food, but swiftly swam upwards as fast as she could.

Ki took a large breath as she crested through the waves, gasping at the onslaught of air.

“Child, did you decide to visit Yongwang?” the old woman asked seeing Ki’s bobbing black hair rise above the water.

“Sorry, Grandmother,” Ki said breathlessly, swimming back to the boat and climbing in.

“What happened, child? You have no food- wait, what is that? Do you expect me to feel your and your sisters’ bellies with that?” Grandmother asked, hands on hips.

“I found this special shell” Ki started, beginning to look at the shell in her hand, but she was overwhelmed by the sight of so much blood trickling down her hands. She staggered back a few steps and sat down, feeling a little light-headed from the oxygen deprivation.

“You’ve cut yourself again, foolish child? Ah, yes, I see it in the water now. Best call all the girls back before you go call a shark to gobble them all up,” Grandmother said brusquely.

Grandmother leaned over the side of the boat and knocked several times on the hull. Seconds after, three little heads bobbed to the surface with puzzled looks and half-filled bags. “Nam, So, Yon,” Grandmother ordered, “We shall set off early today, for Ki has foolishly injured herself and there is blood in the water.”

The three girls nodded and pulled themselves into the boat, emptying their troves of seafood into a large bag near Grandmother’s feet that wasn’t even half full.

Grandmother rowed them back to the shore slowly as the girls eyed Ki with curiosity. Once they reached the port, Grandmother told them harshly, “Ki has made us abandon our dinner to the sea, so there shall be no food for you except that silly mollusk that was so important to her. Best go home and find what you can make of it.”

The girls began walking home quickly under the harsh eye of the older woman as Grandmother gauged their obedience. However, the moment Grandmother had turned away and was outside hearing distance, the girls all paused from their swift steps to turn to Ki, who was doing her best to limp forward on feet burning with the salty sand.

“What happened, Ki?” So asked softly.

“I found this interesting mollusk,” Ki said, holding the shell up for the general appreciation of the girls, “But it was wedged between two pieces of coral. It hurt me when I tried to get it, and I ended up losing all the food I collected.”

“But, why did you drop everything for some stupid shell?” Nam asked, yanking the object from Ki’s grip to juggle in her hand.

“Hey, stop! You might break it!” Ki said, attempting to grab the mollusk from the taller girl.

“That’s not funny, Nam,” Yon said, arms folded.

“Well, if this is going to be our dinner, might as well get cracking!” Nam cackled as she hurled the shell against a rock with an arm as strong as any boy’s her age, making it burst into a hundred pieces.

So and Ki dropped to their knees at the rubble as Yon berated Nam. “That was very irresponsible. You don’t think Ki feels bad enough already? You can at least let her keep the shell.”

“Just because you’re two years older than me doesn’t mean you can boss me around, Yon,” Nam said aggressively, sticking her chin forward and glaring at Yon without a trace of remorse.

Ki and So was carefully collecting the pieces of the shattered shell, when Ki noticed a strange opalescence in the sand. She carefully cleared the area to find a large pearl, as beautiful and pure as the moon, among the rubble. Ki could say no words, so entranced by the beautiful iridescence that danced in the sunlight.

“It’s a pearl!” So exclaimed as she saw and picked up the sphere the size of the her eye.

“What?” Nam and Yon asked at the same time, turning away from their fight.

“Let me see,” Yon asked, putting her hand in front of So. So knew it didn’t do any good to argue with Yon, so she carefully placed the pearl in the center of Yon’s palm.

“Did you see how big it was? We could sell it and be rich! We could wear fancy dresses and eat until we explode and never dive for clams again in our entire lives!” So exclaimed in ecstasy.

“So’s right. This is very, very good- but wait. Oh, but Nam chipped it,” Yon said, suddenly angry and turning to Nam. “With your carelessness, you cost us a life of luxury.”

Nam took it from Yon. “It’s only a small scratch. Maybe, if we had it set, no one would know. And we could still be rich!” she said hopefully.

“Oh, don’t lie to yourself, Nam. That’s too big of chip to hide. It’s worth nothing. Just give the thing to Ki,” Yon said dismissively.

“Fine,” Nam said, tossing the pearl toward Ki. Ki caught it as gently as she could then cupped her hands to make a fine bed for the silver-white ball. It was beautiful. She didn’t care what Yon or Nam said. It was the most exquisite thing she had ever beheld in her whole life. She held it up to her cheek, imbuing warmth to the still ocean-cool pearl.

However, as she did, the pearl gave a little wobble. Confused, she pulled it from her cheek to examine it.

“What’s a matter?” So asked, seeing the puzzled expression on Ki’s face.

“The pearl moved,” Ki said quietly, staring intently at pearl.

“That’s silly, Ki,” So started, looking at the pearl in Ki’s hands. Then the pearl jumped an inch into the sky.

So staggered back, “It jumped!”

“What are you two children yammering about?” Yon asked, turning back to Ki and So.

“The pearl moves,” So said loudly, with eyes as wide as they could open. “Look!”

“Pearls don’t move, So,” Yon said authoritatively, reaching forward to grab the pearl as it jumped again.

“How can that be?” Yon asked to no one in particular. “That’s impossible!”

“Have you all gone insane? Jumping pearls? Next you’ll be saying the sea is full of monsters,” Nam said skeptically, before jumping into the air several inches as the pearl did the same.

The four girls were speechless as the pearl wobbled and cracked until, with a pop like a bubble, the pearl burst open. The sphere was not a pearl, but the pearly wings of a tiny woman with skin as white as the moon.

The woman spread her wings to fly and hovered for a moment above Ki’s hand but crashed back into it. One of the wings was dented in the same way that the pearl was chipped. She sat up with a frown looking between the four faces that surrounded her, eyes as quick as lightning.

Yon was the first to regain her words. “What are you?” She asked, attempting to remove any childlike wonder that the older girl still had remnant.

“That is not a polite way to introduce oneself to royalty,” said the tiny woman, sticking her nose in the air. Instead, she turned to face Ki. “My name Princess Daesun, and I would like to thank you, human girl, for freeing me from that shell. I’d been been imprisoned there a thousand years by an evil sorcerer before you brought me to land. For that, I will grant you happiness. I will call for my brother, Haesik, to take us to Nim, where there is no work, but joys, feasts, and dances.”

“Hey, what about me? I broke that stupid shell. Shouldn’t I get happiness?” Nam demanded, but a hopeful, begging edge upsetting her normally coarse voice.

“You are the reason I cannot fly myself. For that, a plague should be upon you!” Princess Daesun declared. Nam jumped back as the sentence was invoked.

“No! Be merciful, Princess Daesun. Nam is my friend. Yon and So are too. As grateful as I am to your offer to take me where there is no work, I cannot leave my friends. We are all orphans taken in by Grandmother.  We are as close as sisters. Can we all go to Nim with your brother, Haesik?” Ki asked.

“Nim is very far away and four is a large number to carry for my poor, elderly brother,” Princess Daesun said sadly. “Plus, I’m not sure if you girls would all like to go to Nim so badly, you don’t seem like the girls who like to wear dresses woven of starshine and dance and dance with the bright orbs of the night sky. You seem like the girls who would rather sit at home and knot nets and stir stews.”

“Oh, but we aren’t!” So interjected earnestly as Nam agreed with an enthusiastic nod.

“Well, perhaps you could prove it to me and help my brother, Haesik, all at once,” Princess Daesun said, in revelation.

“Why did a sorcerer lock you up for a thousand years?” Yon asked slowly.

“Because he was evil, duh. Stop being so suspicious. Just because you want to squat beside a fire all your life doesn’t mean I want to. What do we have to do, Princess Daesun?” Nam said fiercely.

“You must retrieve the star of the ocean depths, a beautiful, five-legged, amethyst creature that my brother uses to decorate the skies. And, as blood is the liquid of life, you must sacrifice a few drops to provide my brother the energy to take you all to Nim,” Princess Daesun said.

“Blood?” So asked, trembling.

“Buck up, So. Ki donated more than a few drops this morning to get that dumb shell out of the water. You’ll do fine. And that starfish will be easy-peasy. I mean, like how many millions of times do we go dive down into the waters?” Nam declared.

“I still have reservations,” Yon said quietly.

“When don’t you have reservations at anything I want to do, Yon?” Nam asked pointedly.

“Do not be angry at her, human girl. That elder girl is on the cusp of womanhood and refuses magic only the young can see. She does not hold faith or belief like you do, gracious human girl. She need not come to Nim,” Princess Daesun declared. “But now, I weary. Wake me when you have completed my mission, and Nim shall await you!”

With the same pop, Princess Daesun collapsed into the pearl from whence she began.

“She’s lying,” Yon said firmly. “Her brother isn’t Haesik and she isn’t Daesun. She must be some evil dokkaebi.”

“She has two legs, stupid. You’re just jealous she complimented me and not you,” Nam said.

“She was very pretty. Evil things aren’t pretty,” So said sagely.

“She never answered why she was locked up either. She’s hiding who she is, and she is trying to divide us! Ki, you said we were like sisters. Surely you believe me,” Yon said, turning to the youngest girl.

Ki suddenly found two very angry faces staring down to her as So decidedly clung to Nam’s arm. “Who’s it gonna be, Ki?” Nam asked. “Princess Daesun promising us riches, or do you want to become some fisherman’s wife with Yon?”

“Ki, you know I am much more logical than Nam. Can you not see their faith is misplaced. This creatures wishes none of us well. By bending to its will, we can find only misfortune,” Yon said emphatically.

“I want a pretty dress,” So said sadly, looking down at her rags. “I’ve never had one before.”

Ki looked at the three faces in quick succession, chewing on her lip. Then, she stared at the pearl in her open palm.

Yon saw her chance, and with one swift swoop, removed the burden from Ki.

“Hey, what are you doing, Yon?” Nam asked sharply as Yon slid the pearl into an inner pocket of her shirt.

“I cannot trust you to make good decisions, so I am making this one for you. I shall go home, find a jar, and send this demon back to the seas!” Yon responded arrogantly, sticking her chin in the air.

“No you won’t!” Nam yelled, giving the taller but thinner girl a sharp push that sent her sprawling into the sand. Nam jumped on top of her while the older girl struggled beneath the stronger’s blows.

“Please don’t fight. Please don’t fight,” So repeated anxiously, jumping from foot to foot.

Ki gently pulled on Nam’s shoulder, but a strong backhand sent the girl tumbling head over foot.

“What are you doing?” Grandmother demanded, limping rapidly with a gold pouch dangling at her hip.

“Nothing,” Nam and Yon lied, quickly coming to their feet. By common wordless consent, it was decided that Grandmother should know nothing of the pearl.

“Fighting like a pair of crabs in the muck. I expect better of you, Yon. And Nam, frankly I’m not surprised.”

Yon hung her head in shame as Nam grumbled something unintelligible.

“Now, before you bring more shame to my head and your poor parents in the Other World, follow me home and think about what you’ve done,” Grandmother said harshly. The girls cowed, following in line obediently

Grandmother continued to lambast them even as they reached their cottage, continuing on about ungrateful children. None of the girls spoke to each other, for they only had one thing to talk about it, and they could not mention it in front of Grandmother.

It was only well after the moon had risen and Grandmother’s snore wracked the shack that Nam quietly stood up. Nam tiptoed over Yon’s pallet to So, who she carefully jolted awake.

Nam began instructing So in whispers as she pointed to Yon. The older girl still had the pearl, but So had a touch lighter than a feather and agile fingers. With such gifts, So approached Yon, carefully lifting up the blanket and removing the pearl from Yon’s shirt.

“What are you doing?” Ki asked sleepily, rubbing her eyes. So hastily snatching the pearl behind her back where Nam took it placed it in her own pocket.

“Shh,” Nam hissed. “Nothing. Go back to sleep.”

“Are you taking the pearl?” Ki asked, looking from So to Yon.

“No. Go back to sleep, Ki,” Nam whispered, turning to the door.

“Where are you going?” Ki asked, showing no interest in sleep.

“Nowhere. Just go back to sleep,” Nam repeated.

“Grandmother and Yon say it’s bad to lie,” Ki said quietly.

“Nam and I are going to do Princess Daesun’s mission,”  So blurted out before Nam could clasp a hand to the younger girl’s mouth.

“But Yon said not to,” Ki complained.

“Well, if you want to do what Yon said, stay right here. So and I are going to Nim,” Nam said huffily.

Nam and So turned to leave. Ki struggled to her feet, “I’ll come too.”

The three girls left the house in silence with Nam clutching the pearl. The moon lighted their path as they made their way to the dock.

“Why are we going over here?” Ki asked.

“Because we have to get the starfish, Ki. Duh,” Nam said.

“But we don’t have Grandmother to steer the boat,” Ki observed.

“I can steer the boat,” Nam declared.

“But how will we find the starfish? It’s too dark to see anything out here,” Ki asked.

“There’s a lamp in the boat,” Nam said.

“But-” Ki started.

“No more questions or you have to go home and not go to Nim,” Nam said harshly.

Ki fell silent, and the three girls boarded the boat. Nam rowed the boat out into the water with the ink-black waves rocking them gently.

“We’ve gone far enough,” Nam announced after several minutes. She lit the lamp, which spread a small circle of warmth and light around them.  “Now, you two go down and find a purple starfish.”

“But, I don’t like the dark,” Ki whispered.

“I don’t either,” So whined.

“Do you two want to go to Nim or not? There has to be sacrifices if you’re going to get what you want,” Nam argued.

The two younger girls nodded and put on their goggles obediently.  With only a little more needling from Nam, the girls jumped into the dark, cold water.

The salt water and Ki’s earlier cuts did not mix well. She cried out in pain instinctively, swallowing a mouthful a sea water. Feeling as if she was drowning, she looked around quickly, but all she could see was dark, indistinct shapes. She swam quickly back to the surface.

“Did you find the starfish, Ki?” Nam asked.

“It’s too dark to see anything,” Ki whimpered, gripping onto the boat.

Nam pushed her off. “Well, you’re not getting back into the boat until you find a purple starfish, so I suggest you start looking.”

“But-” Ki whispered.

“No buts. The more you just sit there, the longer it’s going to take to find one,” Nam said folding her arms. Ki nodded sadly and dove back down into the black water.

And she kept diving. Minutes passed. Hours passed, and nothing was found.

“We can’t find any starfish,” So whined. “Please, I’m cold. Let’s just go home.”

“No! We have to go to Nim. We have to. Or we’ll have to dive the rest of our lives. And I can’t do that,” Nam ordered. She stood like a giant, towering above the heads of the girls in the water. “It’s difficult, but that’s just because the prize is so great. Keep going.”

So cried, but submerged herself again as Ki did likewise. However, a frenzy of bubbles brought both Ki and So to the surface once more.

So was floundering, so Ki swam to her, trying to stabilize the older girl.

“What’s wrong?” Ki asked as So clung to Ki desperately.

Between teary gasps, So explained, “I got stung by a sea urchin. I couldn’t see it. I thought I might have seen a starfish, so I went to grab it. But, when I put my hand down on the ground,there was a sea urchin there!”

“Nam, please let us in. So was stung by a sea urchin trying to get the starfish,” Ki asked, struggling to support the two of them in the rolling, black waves.

“She almost got the starfish? She has to go back in,” Nam demanded in a frenzy. Her eyes were wild with desire.

“But she got stung by a sea urchin!” Ki yelled back.

“It doesn’t matter. We could live in happiness forever if So would just suck it up!” Nam screamed back. “I’m not letting you in.”

“But she can barely swim, Nam. Can’t you hear her crying?” Ki begged.

“Well, tell her to stop crying,” Nam said defiantly. “No one’s getting in this boat without a purple starfish.”

Ki knew Nam would not budge. Ki knew So could not swim. Ki knew only one thing she could do about it.

“So,” she whispered gently. “Hold onto me tight. I’m going to swim us back to shore. Try and help me swim if you can”

So wrapped her arms around Ki, and the two set off kicking towards shore.

“Where are you going?” Nam yelled at the pair.

“Home,” Ki said defiantly.

“Well, I’ll just go to Nim by myself!” Nam screamed back.

The yellow light of the latern retreated quickly enough, but Ki began to realize the boat had drifted far from shore. Her legs and arms were so tired from diving down all night, but there was still so much further to go.

“I’m so cold, Ki. I don’t think I can keep swimming,” So whispered sluggishly.

“It’s okay, So. I’ll swim us back,” Ki said back, attempting confidence she didn’t feel. “The shore can’t be too far.”

So knew Ki was lying, but she didn’t say anything for a long moment. Ki could hear her heart beat wildly under the exertion of attempting to propel the two bodies forward against the waves beating them back.

“Ki, I can’t feel my feet. It’s so hard to breathe,” So whispered after a wave rolled over them. “Do you think I’m dying?”

“No, so. Of course not. It’s cold. That’s all. We’ll get to the shore soon. Then we can go home, and Grandmother will get us something warm to eat. Yon will wrap us up in blankets. Everything will be okay,” Ki said between gasps. Their heads were sinking lower in the water with each passing minute. Ki wasn’t sure how long she could keep them both up.

“Do you think it hurts to drown, Ki?” So asked.

“I don’t know,” Ki said truthfully. “Maybe. But, we won’t dro-” A large wave washed over them at that moment, pressing them into the ocean depths. Ki could count the seconds as she struggled to take another breath. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

She gasped as So did, coughing.

“Ki, I think we’re going to drown,” So said quietly. “I’m just so tired. I can’t swim anymore.”

“I’ll carry you, So,” Ki said automatically.

“But then you’ll drown too,” So whimpered. “But if you just let me go, then you can swim back.”

“I’m not letting you go, So. If we drown, we drown. If we live, we live. But we’ll do it together. We just have to keep on going. That’s all, So,” Ki whispered back.

So had no answer, but held onto Ki tightly as they fought the waves. Hours passed. Ki grew very tired. She could not feel her limbs. They felt like limp noodles attached to her body. They didn’t wish to move. Only her lung’s screams every time they sunk into the water could stimulate a little motion.

“Ki?” So said.

“What?” Ki asked, gasping at the air before a wave pushed them under. She struggled their way back to the surface.

“Thanks for being my sister.”

“Thanks for being mine.”

At that moment, a huge wave crashed over them. Ki tried to move her arms, but they weren’t listening. They were moving farther down, sinking like a stone. Everything was slowing. Ki’s lungs held nothing more for her. She needed air, but it was so far away, way up at the surface. She couldn’t get it there.

What was she supposed to do? Her chest hurt so badly. She had to save So. She couldn’t swim anymore. Without thinking, she swallowed a gulp of salt water that burned like fire into her lungs. Then another and another, and then it didn’t hurt anymore.

Everything stilled as she looked up at the blackness all around her. She thought she saw light. But how could that be when it was night? Maybe it was morning now. Maybe it was death. Maybe it was Nim.

Then, the light swallowed her whole.

“Oh my god!” shrieked the elderly tourist, seeing the two girls washed upon the shore. Following the woman’s finger, the tourist’s son shot off towards the pair as his wife trotted after him.

The tour guide tried desperately to calm the elderly woman anxiously fanning herself before she fell into a swoon.

The young man flipped the closer girl onto her back. She wasn’t breathing. He raised her hands above her head and pressed down on her chest. His wife knelt close to him.

“Honey, keep pressing on her chest sixteen times a minute. See if you can get her breathing,” he ordered his wife, showing her how to place her hands and the amount of force to use.

He turned to the next girl, turning her also on her back. No breath stirred from her pale lips. He repeated the procedure with her as well.

Suddenly, the first girl coughed. The wife helped her sit up exclaiming, “Dr. Watt, it worked. She’s alive!” The woman dissolved into soft whispers as the girl began crying. She hugged the girl tight to her chest.

“Good, keep her breathing,” he said distractedly, still trying to imbue life in the still body of the other girl. The minutes lengthened; nothing happened.

He listened for a heartbeat, but there was nothing there. “She’s gone,” he said quietly.

The girl, startled by the words of a man she hadn’t yet noticed, turned to face him. She saw the body of the other girl.

She struggled to get out of the woman’s grip, crying out.

The wife held her closer, whispering, “It’s okay, darling. It’s okay. You’ll meet her again someday.” The man took off his jacket and placed it over the dead girl.

“What’s it she saying?” he asked the tour guide who was now engaged in the task of fanning the elderly woman.  “Key, key, key?”

“It’s a name, sir. Ki is the name of the other girl, sir. They are orphans taken in by an older woman, sir. They dive for food in the ocean, sir. My wife buys our abalone from the woman, sir. They must have been dragged away from the boat while diving, sir,” the tour guide explained in his best English.

“Oh, she hurt her hand. Please come look at this, Dr. Watt,” the wife said, examining the hand clenched around her arm as the girl sobbed.

The doctor gently took the girl from his wife. “She must have been stung by a sea urchin. We will go back to Sir Wesley's estate so that I can tend to her wound. All my supplies are there.”

“What is her name,” the wife asked the tour guide.

“Ma’am, her name is So,” he replied.

“And she’s an orphan? We’ll have to take her back to England with us, Dr. Watt. We can enroll her in the best schools, teach her English, buy her the best dresses. She could be very pretty, and we always wanted a daughter,” the wife said.

“A splendid idea, Lorna. The poor girl deserves a warm home after all she’s been through,” the man said, picking up the girl in his arms.

“So is such a bland name. Perhaps we can call her Sophia?” the woman said, “And I think blue would go very well with her dark hair. Perhaps we can go to that little dress shop in Wales that Priscilla was telling me about. Sophia Watt is going to be such a belle,” the wife exclaimed rapidly.

“Tell her that we’re going to adopt her,” Dr. Watt told the tour guide. “That we’re going to take her to England, if she knows where that is. Then, take the body of the poor other girl back to the woman who cared for her. I’m afraid I don’t know your death rituals, but I’m sure that woman will want to see the girl.”

“Yes, sir,”The tour guide nodded. He turned to So and said, “This nice, rich couple wants to take care of you. They will take you to England, give you lots of food, dress you up, and call you their daughter.”

“But, I want Ki,” So whimpered.

“Ki’s in the Other World now,” the tour guide said. “She can find her parents there.”

So nodded, and while she was carried back in a carriage to the foreigner’s estate, the tour guide carried Ki’s body back to Grandmother.

Yon knew what the girls must have done when she woke up and found them and the pearl missing. She immediately ran towards the dock to find them. Instead she found the tour guide and Ki’s body.

Yon dropped to her knees in tears, feeling it was all her fault. She should’ve made them understand that the pearl was evil. She should’ve stayed awake to make sure they didn’t try to it. The tour guide, Bae, carefully comforted the young woman. Yon, so moved by the tenderness of the tour guide as he explained Ki’s death and So’s reversal in fortune, fell in love with him.

The two married, had three children, and had happy lives showing their country to foreign visitors.

As Ki and So tried to swim to shore, Nam woke Princess Daesun. If the other girls weren’t coming, then there was no need for purple starfish and blood, she reasoned. She would go to Nim by herself.

Princess Daesun woke with a pop from the pearl. “Did you get the starfish, human girl?” she asked, hands on her hips while she stood in Nam’s palm.

“The other girls decided they didn’t want to come. It’s just me now. You said you could take one girl,” Nam said. “You can take me now.”

“You’re much bigger than the small human girl who found the shell,” Princess Daesun said, looking Nam up and down.

“I’m not that much bigger,” Nam said quickly. “I’ll give you blood, but it’s dark, and I don’t want to try to find a starfish.” Nam’s eyes were very big. She never wanted anything in her entire life as much as she wanted to go to Nim in that moment.

“Alright,” said Princess Daesun. “Cut your wrist, and I will collect the blood for my brother Haesik.”

Nam nodded eagerly. She grabbed the knife at the bottom of the boat and brought it to her wrist swiftly. With her excitement, she cut a little deeper than she intended.

Rich, dark blood spilled from her wrist as Nam involuntarily shuddered at the sight. At that same moment, the small, winged woman leapt from Nam’s palm and attached herself to Nam’s bleeding wrist. Her snow-white skin turned dark and ruddy and she sprouted large fangs. Nam knew that Princess Daesun was not who she said she was but some sort of foul demon. Yon had been right.

Worse yet, she’d pushed So and Ki out of the boat for no reason, and they were out in the dark water alone and afraid. Nam knew she must defeat the wicked creature and find her sisters as soon as possible.

Nam was good at one thing beyond all else: fighting. However, she soon realized battling supernatural beasts was much more difficult than annoying Yon. She slammed her wrist down on the side of the boat, but the evil little woman simply twisted around Nam’s arm, digging her claws in. Nam cried out and grabbed the legs of the creature. She tried to pull it off, but the creature dug its nails and teeth deeper into her skin.

Nam gritted her teeth and pulled hard. The creature tore Nam’s skin as Nam pulled it off. It shrieked terribly, writhing in the air, before it attached itself to Nam’s other wrist, tearing through her skin to reach blood. It was too fast. Even as she tried to grab it again, it had scampered up her arm and onto her neck. When she went to throw it off, it was on her leg. Her strength was nothing if she could not touch it. How was she better than the creature, and how could she use it to overcome it?

Nam could hold her breath for minutes, maybe it could not. Ki had found the creature in the ocean, but it had been contained. It was her only hope. Nam jumped off the boat and into the cold water.

The creature released her arm, squirming within the water. It was trying to flee. Nam could not let her get away. Nam opened her eyes against the salt and saw the dokkaebi shrieking soundlessly and writhing. However, the creature seem to calm as it caught sight of a clam below. It stopped it struggles and started swimming toward it.

Nam clenched her fist around the creature immediately bit and kicked in turn. Nam clutched a second hand around the first to stabilize the kicking demon, but the dokkaebi seemed to be getting smaller. As she tightened her grip, the thing shrunk smaller and smaller until she could feel almost nothing within her hands. Then, with a spurt of bubbles, it was gone.

Nam went to swim to the surface as her sisters still awaited their rescue. However, her arm didn’t respond. Neither did her legs. In fact, she was losing sensation in all of her body, and a brief check with her eyes showed she was bubbling away like the evil creature did before her. Perhaps when it had bit her, in had spread poison into her veins, turning her to a monster.

She needed to escape, but she could not reach the surface. All that was left to her was a clam inches below her. She directed her essence towards the clam with a fervor as even her thoughts began to drift away.

She slid into the clam as easily she slid into her bed. Her thoughts ran away and she fell asleep.

Many years later, a fisherman raised a strange-looking clam to the surface. He brought it home to his wife, who opened it quickly. Inside was a large, iridescent pearl of the most breathtaking beauty. No one in the village had seen such a dazzling, perfect pearl. However, most peculiarly of all, it was always warm.

The fisherman’s first thought was to sell it, however, his sickly infant daughter grasped it as he and his wife examined it. Immediately, the child who could never sleep and would never eat clamored for milk and fell into a self-satisfied slumber

Hopeful about the magic of the strange pearl, her mother placed the pearl on a thin, twine necklace for the girl to keep with her as she grew. Within a few weeks, the child was healthy and happy. Within a few years, the daughter was the most beautiful, intelligent, charming young woman the village had ever seen. With these traits, she was nominated for a scholarship to study in the United States.

Her flight to Massachusetts connected in London. After a whirlwind of strange, unfamiliar faces and languages, she found herself sitting next to a young woman who looked to be Korean.

“Hello,” she said in Korean with a smile. “My name is Kim Yun Hee. I’m from Ulgin-Gun. What part of Korea are you from?”

“I don’t know much Korean,” the young woman said slowly in Korean, stumbling over the world. “My great-great-great grandmother was from Korea, but I’m from London. I’m going to Boston University to study anthropology. My name’s Sophie Hall.”

“I’m going to Boston University too!” said Yun Hee excitedly, before tempering her enthusiasm. “I am going to study composition and music theory.” The pearl seemed to warm as she talked, as it did sometimes did. Yun Hee carefully rubbed it with two fingertips.

“That’s a lovely pearl you have,” Sophie said, noticing the movement. “My great-great-great grandmother Sophia told this story that’s been passed down in my family that there was this pearl who turned into a fairy. It promised her and her sisters riches if they would feed it, but instead it almost tore apart their family. When they were out in the ocean, one of the sisters refused to let Sophia and her other sister in the boat until they found it. Sophia hurt herself so the nice sister swam all the way back to shore carrying her. The nice sister died, but Sophia was rescued by a British couple and brought to England, where, several generations later, I was born. And, well, I’m not sure where I was going with this. I’m sure your pearl isn’t an evil fairy.” She flushed slightly as she noticed the penetration of Yun Hee’s eyes into her own.

“No. This pearl has given me luck since I was just a baby. But the strange thing is, I heard the legend too. My great-great-great-great grandmother handed down a legend about how her sisters became enraptured by a dokkaebi within a pearl. The dokkaebi consumed one of the sisters, the other two sisters tried to escape, but one died while trying to save the other. My mother used to say this pearl was proof that good and evil often share the same appearance,” Yun Hee said, still cradling the pearl. It seemed to pulse within her hand.

“That’s so strange! Maybe all Korean women share such stories,” Sophie exclaimed.

“Perhaps, although the other women in the village didn’t tell the same story. I always wondered what happened to the girl who the pearl bewitched. I mean, the story only says she was consumed. But, what does that mean? Does your story say anything more?” Yun Hee asked.

“No, it just says she said off with the boat into the night. It always made me sad when I was little. I wanted the sisters to beat the pearl fairy. My father would try and make up a happy ending, but my mother would insist on keeping to the original. My little brother used to say he thought the sister turned into a pearl herself,” Sophie said, shrugging.

“Maybe she is my pearl,” Yun Hee said, with a smile as she gestured to her necklace.

Sophie laughed. “Maybe. Maybe she felt so bad to cause her sisters pain, she defeated the evil dokkaebi. In penance for her awful acts against her sisters, she became the pearl to protect the daughters of the sisters she could not protect before,” she said gesturing extravagantly to demonstrate the nobleness of the tale. Both young women giggled at Sophie’s extreme performance as other people on the plane began to become intrigued.

“Perhaps, but then that means this pearl is as much yours as mine, Sophie,” Yun Hee said. She unclasped the necklace from around her neck and handed it to Sophie.

“Oh, Yun Hee, I can’t accept that,” Sophie said, shaking her head.

“We can share it, Sophie. I mean, we are sisters by legend, we should make great friends. That is, if you want to be friends,” Yun Hee said, becoming more hesitant with each word.

“Of course we’ll be friends, Yun Hee,” Sophie said, taking the necklace, her will broken by Yun Hee’s sad expression. “We’ll be friends forever. Oh, this pearl is so warm!”

Yun Hee smiled as brightly as the sun as she explained, “It has done that ever since I was a little girl. I don’t know why. It is warmer than normal right now though.”

“Perhaps the sister is happy that she can finally protect the daughters of both her sisters once more,” Sophie smiled.