Written by Dugi Sol

In a quiet market alley laid a plain blue cloth, wooden owls were assorted atop et.  Behind the cloth sat an elder man wrapped head to toe in humble tan garments. 

“Hand-crafted wooden carvings made by Yah’s Truly!”, he said with a smile. 

A beautiful woman wearing a royal blue turban admired the collection of carvings.  Her eyes lit up at a cherry oak owl.  Her hand tingled as she held et. 

“How much for this wonderful owl?”, she asked. 

“That will cost you four silver coins, ma’am.”, replied the vendor. 

They made the exchange and the woman went about her business.  The smooth wooden texture of the owl was familiar in her hands, like a childhood memory.  She smiled upon her little treasure and placed et into her bag. 

When she arrived home, she sat the owl on her dresser and laid in bed.  Her eyes became heavy and a yawn escaped her mouth.  Resc mode soon took her back to those dark eternal waters… She rose into a dream and found herself in a redwood forest.  A full golden moon sat in the sky as a warm breeze hugged her.  She examined the area and found an owl perched on a tree, observing her in silence.  Ets rich tan, brown and white feathers rustled in the wind.  Et carried a message in ets eyes that was revealed in full length without a word spoken, “Be who Elohim intended you to be.” 

The woman rose as a river of sunshine flowed in through her window.  She got ready for the day with a tall glass of honey lemon water and stepped outside into the crisp island air.  The sun was peaking ets head over the horizon to greet the children while scents of papaya and salt water lofted through the warm jungle.  The woman made her way through soft dark soil pathways until she arrived at the local farmer’s market. 

“Hi Pearl, how do you feel about making a delivery for me?”, asked an elder woman in green linen clothing. 

“Yes ma’am. I’ll be right on my way.”, said Pearl. 

“Thank you beloved, you are always the greatest help.”, said the elder with a smile as she handed Pearl a bag with an addressed note tied to the handle. 

As Pearl began her walk across the island, birds sang their thankful tunes.  In the bag were mangos; a brilliant sunset mix of red, orange and the slightest hint of purple.  She recognized the address, a small mountainside village on the eastern end of the island. 

When Pearl arrived, she found no villagers outside.  The essence of silence saturated the adobe village.  At the end of the main road was a building surrounded by well-kept gardens and covered in thick vines.  Giant sunflower forests stood as shields around the simple clay home.  A few mahogany beehives were built into the southern wall of the home.  Honey bees flowed in and out of the structure with one thing on their mind: business.  As Pearl entered the yard dozens of bees gravitated towards her and tickled her skin.  They danced on her arms and mistook her floral crown for an actual ruby red rose.  Pearl hummed to the curious little bees as they introduced themselves and they hummed right back in appreciation.  From the dense forests of sunflowers stepped an elder man with a full white beard, the merchant who sold Pearl the owl. 

“Greetings Pearl, I am Sharem.  Have you brought the mangos?”, said Sharem as he held out his hand for a group of bees to land on. 

“Yes Sir… here they are.  You’re the man from before, good to see you again.  Your home is just as lovely as the owl.”, said Pearl as she handed over the mangos. 

“Thank you! Now come with me, we must discuss your mission.”, said Sharem. 

“What mission?”, said Pearl. 

The two walked into Sharem’s home and sat at a pinewood table.  Sharem began eating a mango and handed Pearl one as well.  She took a few bites but was more interested in the room surrounding her.  Her observations revealed a detailed collection of owl art pieces.  Paintings, carvings and sculptures brought a mystic life to the room.  She massaged her right temple as she looked around while Sharem ate his mango like a happy child. 

“Who are you and what’s with the owls?”, asked Pearl. 

“I am Sharem. The owls observe special people then relay messages back me… I protect the Royal Dynasty.  You are royalty, Pearl.  You have gifts that most couldn’t imagine.  You can save a lot of people with your abilities… There are entities that survive by consuming souls, they have prisons full of them.  You can help bring those lawless entities to justice.”, said Sharem in between bites of mango. 

“Royalty? Prisons for souls? That sounds absurd.”, said Pearl. 

Sharem put down the mango and a spark of fire lit in his eyes as he said, “What I’m telling you is as real as salt in the sea.” 

“Do you have any proof?”, said Pearl. 

“You know the truth, Pearl.  You just don’t know you know.”, said Sharem. 

“I’m not going to say you’re wrong, but I need some time to think et over.” 

“Of course yah do, beloved.  Go walk by the trees and plant your feet by the ocean.  I bet you’ll find the truth.  Take your time & really think about you.  I know you’ve always felt different.  You are.  Walk with Elohim and Elohim will walk with you.” 

“Alright… I’ve got to get back to work.  I’ll see you soon I guess.” 

Pearl left the bag of mangos on the table and made her way back to work.  When she returned she found her humble old boss struggling to keep up with a surplus of customers. 

“Sandra, I’m so sorry!  I should have arrived sooner.  I’ll start taking customers right away.”, said Pearl. 

“Oh don’t worry about that, honey.  I’m just thankful you’re here to help.  Those blueberries are selling fast, if you could start a line that’d be great!”, said Sandra as she handed a young man a bag full of healthy green lettuce. 

“Yes Ma’am, of course.” 

Pearl approached the berry stall and stood behind the assortment of vibrant blue jewels.  The line in front of her stretched around the corner and some of the customers looked a tad impatient.  She began handling their orders and chiseling away at the overflow.  Et seemed like for every person she served, there were three more hopping into line.  A grimacing man approached the stall and glared at Pearl as he began choosing his berries. 

“Hey you, what’s the matter with you?  Can’t you work any faster?  I’ve been waiting in the sun forever!”, said the upset man. 

“I think the weather is pleasant actually, I don’t mind the wait.  These berries are worth et.”, said an elder woman behind him. 

“Nobody asked you, wait your turn.”, said the man. 

Pearl took a deep breath and wondered if she were dreaming before she said, “I apologize for the wait.  We do get very busy around this time of year.  I’ll throw in a few extra berries to make up for et.” 

“That’s not good enough!  I want an entire extra box… and some of that celery over there too.  Be fast about et.”, said the man. 

“I won’t be able to do that.  You need to take your berries and leave.  You are holding up the line.”, said Pearl. 

“I’ll burn this place to the ground!”, said the man as he smacked the display and sent a few boxes flying across the market. 

“That was a bad idea.”, said someone who approached the man from behind. 

“Who are you talking to?  I’ll teach you a lesson.”, said the angry man as he turned around and saw Sharem towering over him, Sharem was a tall man with stern eyes. 

“Are you bothering my niece?  As well as disturbing this place of business?  You’ve got to go.”, said Sharem. 

The angry fool lunged towards Sharem with balled fist but was swatted away like an intoxicated horsefly and crashed to the gravel floor. 

“Be gone from here, that’s your last warning.”, said Sharem. 

“I’m sorry, Sir.”, said the man as he scrawled away in a whimper. 

“Thank you, Sharem.  Let me finish up my work here and I’ll visit you tomorrow mooring!”, said Pearl. 

“I’m just doing what I am meant to, enjoy your day.  See yah soon.”, said Sharem. 

The elder walked away humming, the air seemed to change around him as he walked, taking on a golden essence. 

Pearl served the rest of those in line with no trouble and felt light on her feet.  Her day was a little brighter after Sharem helped her.  Once she finished her shift and helped Sandra put away the stall, she began her walk back home.  The sun still hovered in the center of the sky as Pearl took deep breaths of the coconut laced air.  She chose to heed Sharem’s words and decided the ocean would be the ideal 

location to rest after a hectic and revealing day.  Those warm assuring waters might really have been the perfect way to make sense of what Sharem had told her… 

Pearl came into the boundaries of the soft ocean sand, et was warm in-between her toes.  Just a short distance ahead of her were the great stretching blue fields of ocean she had grown up with and loved since a young woman.  This was where she came to reflect and rebalance… The tide pulled away her worries and pushed wisdom upon here as et bobbed back & forth.  She loved to soak in the soulful sunshine and wade in the waters. 

An unfamiliar feeling grew within her mind.  A freezing force grabbed her left arm, images of an awful prison flashed in her mind.  She shuttered, the images took over her vision.  All she could see were cold walls and rusted jail cell doors.  She closed her eyes and focused on the warmth of the sun, the sound of the waving palm trees and crashing waves.  As she focused on the sunlight shining upon her she caught a glimpse of warmth.  A meow in the distance snapped her out of the spell and brought her back to the elegant beach.  Pearl opened her eyes and saw a silly little kitten flopping around in the delicate sand.  The kitten approached Pearl and sat on her lap.  Et purred then nuzzled into a ball as et began to nap.  Pearl followed the young feline’s example and laid in the sand for some needed rest. 

Pearl rose an hour later as the kitten crawled up to her face and placed a paw on her cheek.  Ets big brown eyes stared at Pearl as she woke up.  “Where is your mother, little kitten?”, said Pearl. The kitten was alone so Pearl decided to take et with her.  She curled the fluffy animal into her arms and began to walk away from the ocean and back to the dark green jungles.  Deep breaths and controlled footsteps made her mind buzz with good thoughts.  The world brightened up around her.  Colors developed a more meaningful hue and the sun seemed to smile at her.  Trees danced around her in the breeze like loved ones in celebration.  Pearl gave an oak tree a big bear hug and did her best to listen to everything around her.  She laid down in a choice patch of soft grass and lifted the kitten with out-stretched arms.  Et meowed with approval and wagged ets tail.  Pearl stood up and began walking down a dry dirt path.  As she walked the light of the day began to dim until et was like nighttime.  Beneath Pearl’s feet the ground turned from arid dirt to hard gray cobblestone. 

“Uh oh.”, said the kitten. 

“Have you spoken?”, said Pearl. 

“Yes, we are crossing a threshold.  I should’ve caught that portal!  I’m new to this, forgive me.”, said the kitten. 

“Can we address the fact that you are speaking to me?”, said Pearl. 

“We have to turn back or we’ll be trapped!” 

Pearl turned around but only found a solid stone wall.  In front of her were crude prison bars.  The air was bone chilling and no light source could be found beside a slight amber tint.  Pearl looked down and saw that the amber glow was emanating from her. 

“What’s going on here!?”, said Pearl. 

“I’m not sure, I didn’t expect this to happen.  I’ll try to find a way out.  I’ll be right back.”, said the kitten as she slipped through the prison cell bars. 

Pearl closed her eyes and tried to make sense of this turn of events.  She crafted her mind into a pool of water.  Garbage and muck floated in the pool, dimming her focus.  She pushed out the distractions and debris that bogged her down.  The pool became clear and pure, her forehead dripped in sweat as she dived deeper into her mind.  The prison walls tightened around her.  A piercing pain struck her mind. 

“What do you think you are doing?  You can’t escape.  You aren’t strong enough.  You never will be.  This cold prison is your home.”, said a slimy voice. 

Pearl opened her eyes and saw a skeleton creature standing outside her cell.  A rotten stench filled the room when it opened its mouth. 

“Just give up.  No one is going to find you.  You’re trapped forever.  Just accept IT.”, said the freakish beast, with beady yellow eyes and dry gray skin. 

Pearl felt a fire in her belly.  Her body radiated with a strong warmth.  The amber light flowing from her body concentrated and grew around her palms.  She rubbed her hands together until a spark cracked.  A flickering ball of flame appeared in-between her palms.  The awful creature approached the prison cell and blew out the flame, the room fell to an unbearable chill. 

“Your soul is ours now… And what a powerful soul et is!  We are quite thankful to have et added to our collection.”, said the skeleton beast. 

“Scram you freak!”, said the kitten as she flew through the air and scratched the creature’s left eye. 

The creature grabbed at ets wound.  On ets belt hung a single golden key.  The kitten grabbed et, climbed up the gate, and unlocked et. 

“C’mon Pearl!”, said the kitten. 

The two of them ran down a dark hallway as the creature stumbled after them.  The walls of the prison were dripping with condensation and cold veins of icy breeze drifted through the shadows.  Every hundred feet or so there was a dim lantern attached to the wall.  Many of the cells in that place were housing people and creatures, they looked at Pearl with tired faces as she passed.  Pearl rounded a sharp corner and found herself in a chamber, against the east wall was a dense glass box.  She looked through the glass and saw an owl in poor health, the same owl from the redwood forest, perched on a weak wooden post. 

“Are you all right?  We can help you.”, said Pearl. 

“You haven’t the time… Seek out Sharem.  Save yourself, My Queen.  We are depending on you.”, said the owl, his voice was weak and his feathers were coated in dust. 

A tear fell from Pearl’s right eye as she saw the owl in pain but followed his guidance and went running through the chamber into a wide hallway.  There was no choice, the skeleton that was guarding her cell came barreling through the chamber.  Et tore through the granite steps, growing in size.  Et’s large claws ripped through the stone like wet clumps of loose grass.  Et overtook Pearl in a bounding leap and snatched her up with one of ets wild claws.  There the beast stood in a cold hallway with Pearl in et’s grasp, the kitten was up around the corner, watching the scene unfold.  Pearl was hauled off into the darkness and there stood the little kitten alone. 

The little feline stood in the cold room for a moment and shivered.  She turned to the direction Pearl was hauled off in and lifted her paw.  She took a step forward then turned around, just more shadows and hallways.  Her paws trembled as she took three more steps.  Finally, she began to sprint after her companion.  The prison was a confusing and daunting place for a kitten.  The walls were rough and no sort of marker revealed a point of direction.  The kitten began to run faster, she refused to be afraid. 

“I’m… I’m not afraid!  I am Mala, the fiercest kitten to be born in this age!”, said Mala in a wavering kittenish voice. 

Mala sprinted through dark hallways looking for the skeleton, whizzing through abandoned corridors and panting as she propelled forward.  She ran through a winding hallway and stumbled upon a balcony, down below in a crude banquet hall she saw a group of beasts collecting.  These were creatures of all sorts.  A dark red lizard in a brown hooded robe stood in the corner wielding a damp wooden staff.  The tall and slender skeleton creature now stood in the center of them with his hands grasped together.  He spoke in a slithering voice as a snake would. 

“The souls we have collected will come in handy, they shall keep us alive for centuries.  But we must not stop here, there is an ever-growing demand for souls in our enterprise.  I have called you all here to conspire a plan to lure more souls into our trap, any ideas?”, said the skeleton. 

A pig approached from a dark corner and said, “We can break them down until they enter the prison by choice.  Give them music that pollutes their minds, introduce them to drugs that will decay their bodies.  Adjust them to abominable slop and artificial shards then make them believe et is food.  When they are at their weakest, they will crawl to our prison to indulge in sin.  We will promise them security and pleasure, they will walk into our clutches by free will!  Then we will lock them away and feed off them until they are no more.” 

The beasts applauded in drudged approval of the swine’s schemes.  Mala heard everything from the balcony and remained hidden until a wiser time to act.  She ran in search of Pearl. 

Pearl had been locked in a more fortified cell, et was colder and smaller.  The cell door was a crude and thick web of metal.  Her amber glow had weakened in the cold.  The only option she felt hopeful of was the fire that had formed in her palms.  She spun her hands and focused her energy on creating the flame once more.  At first nothing happened, fatigue stretched across her mind as she struggled to harness her strength.  The harder she struggled, the colder she became. 

“How could you fall to the cold when you were born to shine, My Star?  Do not fear the darkness, et is your throne.  The womb from which all life grows.”, said a voice in the deep waters of Pearl’s mind. 

A small pit of warmth began to grow in Pearl's palms, no fire yet but there was progress.  She harnessed the sunshine, joy and faith within her body and concentrated them into her palms; a fire immerged.  The fire brightened and she formed et into a ball.  The more focus she put into et, the larger et became until she thought et a sufficient means of escape.  She hurled the ball of flame at the twisted metal gate and turned et into a molten puddle.  She stepped out of the cell and began walking through the prison, forging another fire ball in her hands. 

Mala was long past the skeleton creature’s meeting and had stumbled into an old room full of strange devices and gold glowing jars.  She approached a machine that was covered dust and wiped away

enough to read the words, “Soul Extractor 6000”.  The machines appeared to have been dormant for quite a while but their use was clear.  Mala was standing in a room where souls were stripped from victim's bodies and converted into fuel for those wicked creatures.  The kitten tried to find a way to destroy the machines.  Her well-trained paws dented the machines but they remained intact.  As Mala looked around, figures began to shuffle in from a doorway across the room.  She backed out into a hallway and peeked in from the doorway. 

By now Pearl had came to the balcony where Mala listened in on the meeting.  The beings who conspired down below were no longer there.  Pearl carried a fireball about the size of an apple in her left hand.  She held her right hand to her solar plex to remember there was fire & sunshine within her.  Pearl continued past the balcony and through the hallway until she came across the room where Mala found the devices, et was full of voices.  The creatures were starting up the machines.  They whirled and flashed with cold blue lights as they powered up. 

“Bring the first specimen.”, said the skeleton ghoul. 

The pig man carried over a young man and placed him in the seat of the machine.  Pearl stepped out from behind the doorway and revealed the fireball she carried in her palm, lighting up the entire room.  The creatures hissed at the burning fire and covered their faces.  Once their dull eyes adjusted to the brightness, they charged.  Pearl hurled her fireball and wiped out the pigman.  She formed another fireball in her hand but the skeleton ghoul shouted a spell that sent her hurling across the room & into a shelf of glowing jars.  The shelf crashed upon Pearl, freeing the lights from their jars.  Broken chunks of shelf covered Pearl as her vision blurred.  The cronies of the skeleton ghoul approached her from every direction. 

“Looks like we have a volunteer.”, said the skeleton. 

“Not while I’m breathing!”, said Mala as she bolted into the room and extracted her claws. 

The kitten smacked a dust monster with her bladed paws and turned him to powder.  She landed on the floor and rooted herself in her martial arts stance, scanning the room for whichever opponent dared to try her. 

“I vow to handle all my responsibilities and if that means fighting you ugly beasts one by one then so be et.”, she said. 

Mala then proceeded to unleash a hurricane storm of swift-slicing attacks upon her rivals.  After a few moments the majority of the henchmen were shivering in fear but the skeleton leader was not so easily shaken.  He pulled a long thin chain from a shelf.  Tiny sonic booms filled the air as he spun the weapon above his head.  Mala collected energy in her feet before leaping towards the skeleton ghoul with her claws leading the way.  The skeleton man smacked her to the ground with a blow from his chain but the kitten got back to her feet. 

“Et will take more than that to silence me!  I trained my entire life for this responsibility.”, said Mala as she looked at Pearl then back to the skeleton. 

“You are just a rodent.  There is no way you can stop me.  I am Crustum, devourer of souls.”, said the skeleton. 

Mala advanced upon Crustum to finish the fight, she clawed his torso and he replied with a swipe of his chain, sending the kitten straight into a cold cobblestone wall.  Mala fell to the prison floor and struggled to lift herself back up.  Crustum turned his attention to Pearl as she laid injured beneath the broken shelf.  Mala regained her strength and jumped at the skeleton's neck, tossing him across the room away from Pearl. 

“You are persistent for such a scrawny skunk.”, said Crustum. 

“The size of the vessel isn’t what’s important, ets the might of the soul!”, said Mala as she charged to defend Pearl against the wicked skeleton. 

Meanwhile the golden lights shuffled around like large fireflies.  As Crustum & Mala fought, a light of particular strength approached Pearl. 

“Where are we?”, et asked. 

“We are in a prison, that skeleton there is the leader.  Him and his cronies feed on souls.  You were trapped in a jar but freed once et shattered.”, said Pearl as she struggled under the pile of wood. 

“I am tired.  I suppose I’m a soul as well.  I’m a bit sleepy.  How did I end up here?  I just don’t remember.” 

“I haven’t a clue.  That kitten and I are trying to stop them, can you help?” 

“Me?  Help?  I don’t think so.  I am a bit lost.  Maybe once I wake up, let me just shake the sleep off.” 

“How long will that take?” 

“Give me a minute.  Everything’s fuzzy.  I guess I’ll talk to the others.” 

The souls began to vibrate and swirl around each other.  Crustum saw the golden orbs and snarled at them, he shoved Mala to the ground and kicked her across the room.  Pearl pushed the last shards of wood off of herself and climbed back to her feet.  The skeleton man swung his chain at the converging souls but couldn’t connect.  The room rumbled as the souls flowed around each other with more intensity. 

“What do you little pests think you are doing?”, said Crustum as he swung his chain. 

The souls spun around eachother until they became a ball of dark matter.  Around them the very walls of the prison trembled.  The dark matter mass surrounded Pearl and she marinated in the murky concentration.  When the souls moved away from her she was like a blazing amber star, burning with mighty heat. 

“That worked out better than I expected.”, said the strongest soul, the rest of the souls sounded off in approval. 

“We did et!”, said one. 

“Good team work everybody… or uh, everysoul..”, said another. 

A cord of swift purple light shot from Pearl’s forehead through the prison walls and out into the unknown.  Moments later the prison walls began to melt like ice in the presence of a star.  Pearl stood up and approached Crustum.  He swung his chain at her but she caught et like et was a child’s toy. 

“You have no place in this life.  You are a vile creature.”, said Pearl. 

Her hands were drenched in flames.  She struck Crustum in the chest and sent him barreling into the very devices he used for evil, destroying them.  Sparks crackled and spun into the air as the Soul Extractor 6000 was converted to junkyard scraps.  Pearl tossed a fire ball for good measure.  Crustum rose from the ashes in bad shape, he limped into the open as the prison walls around him melted and light poured in from the outside. 

Once the holes became large enough, the source of the light was revealed, Sharem stood on a pasture of golden grass with eyes like two vibrant suns.  Crustum fell to his knees as he witnessed the judgement in Sharem’s eyes.  Eyes that burned with the knowledge of every sin Crustum had ever commited.  All the torment the skeleton had caused was reflected back to him.  Crustum screamed as he realized how much destruction had truly poured from him.  The prison around them continued to melt until sunshine turned the trap to a stale memory. 

“Judgement has found you at last, Crustum.  You have commited acts that cannot be forgiven.  Now you will learn the torments of a prison far more lethal than your own.”, said Sharem. 

A gateway opened from thin air, within et were the terrifying hallways of a place designated for the most awful beasts.  Pearl caught a glimpse of their weary faces and shook her head.  Sharem lifted the skeleton man and hurled him into his new home.  Crustum’s dusty leftover cronies stumbled into the prison right after him, too fearful to even catch a glimpse of Sharem’s judging gaze.  The gateway shut, solidifying Crustum’s & his follower’s damnation. 

“Sharem! Th Anhk Yah for saving us.”, said Pearl. 

“You saved yourself, beloved.  The prison was brought here by your abilities… I told Yah so.  I simply met you here to cast away Crustum.”, said Sharem. 

“What about these loose souls?”, said Mala. 

“They will return home and continue their paths.”, said Sharem. 

The souls all began to gravitate towards the sun, back to where they were first created by Elohim. 

Pearl, Mala & Sharem walked through the golden pastures.  The prison was gone and replaced by the rolling orchards of this bountiful land.  Aloe veras stretched out from vibrant red soil, growing under the protective shade of fruitful peach trees.  Soft blue grasses swayed under heart-warming currents of air.  The people who were once trapped in the prison now gathered amongst glorious peach trees and pulled down ripe fruits to enjoy.  Upon a rather large peach tree was perched an owl covered in dust, the dust shed from ets body as et leaped high into the sunshine.  Et swooped down and landed on Sharem’s shoulder, looked to Pearl and nodded ets head. 

“Thank you, Pearl.  Without you, I’d have died in that cold place.  You can call me Aru.  Ets an honor to walk beside yah.”, said the owl. 

“I’m thankful you’re all right, Aru… Thank you.”, said Pearl then she turned to Sharem, “What happens now?” 

“Return to your home, beloved. Your island needs you.  Mala will accompany you and live with you there.  When Elohim declares et necessary, we will meet again.  Simply step through those vines and you will end up exactly where you need to be.”, said Sharem with a smile. 

To the right was a blanket of vines hanging from an old peach tree.  Pearl picked up Mala, turned to Sharem and smiled. 

“Th Anhk Yah for everything.”, she said as she stepped through the vines and found herself on the same divine beach that she met that mighty kitten. 

In the sand was the cherry oak owl with an added wool cord, Pearl hung et around her neck and couldn’t help but laugh.

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