Dragon Pearl

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Min is just your average teenage fox spirit, living with her family on the dusty backwater planet of Jinju.

Oh, sure, like all foxes, she can shape-shift into whatever she wants: human, animal, even a dining room table. And yes, she has the power to Charm—to manipulate human emotions and make people see things that aren’t there. But that’s not very exciting when you’re stuck in a small dome house, sleeping every night in a crowded common room with your snoring cousins, spending every day fixing condensers in the hydroponics unit. Min yearns to join the Space Forces like her older brother Jun did—to see the Thousand Worlds and have marvelous adventures!

It’s not like her mom will let her use magic anyway. Unlike other supernaturals, such as dragons, who can control weather, and goblins, who can conjure things out of thin air, fox spirits have a bad reputation. According to the old lore, foxes used to change shape to trick and prey on humans. Min’s family wouldn’t even consider doing such a thing, but due to lasting prejudice, they have to hide their true nature.

One day, an investigator from the government pays a visit to Min’s mom. He brings horrible news: Jun has disappeared. Worse, Jun is suspected of treason—of abandoning his post to search for a fabled relic that has the power to transform worlds: the Dragon Pearl.

Min knows that Jun would never desert the Space Forces. Something must have happened to him. He needs help! Unfortunately, nobody seems interested in what Min thinks, especially after she knocks the investigator unconscious for insulting her brother’s honor. Her family decides to ship her off to the boondocks to keep her out of further trouble, but Min has other ideas. She runs away from home, intent on following Jun to the stars. One young fox spirit, alone against the galaxies, will risk everything to find her brother and discover the mystery of the long-lost Dragon Pearl.

Buckle up, fellow foxes. Get ready for epic space battles. Prepare yourselves for magic and lasers, ghosts and dragons, interstellar pirates and warlike tigers. The Thousand Worlds hold all sorts of danger, but there are also priceless magical treasures to be discovered. And if Min succeeds, she might not only save her brother—she might save her entire planet.

Dragon Pearl will be like nothing you’ve ever read: a zesty mix of Korean folklore, magic, and science fiction that will leave you longing for more adventures in the Thousand Worlds!

I almost missed the stranger’s visit that morning.

I liked to sleep in, though I didn’t get to do it often. Waking up meant waking early. Even on the days I had lessons, my mom and aunties loaded me down with chores to do first. Scrubbing the hydroponics units next to our dome house. Scrounging breakfast from our few sad vegetables and making sure they were seasoned well enough to satisfy my four aunties. Ensuring that the air filters weren’t clogged with the dust that got into everything.

I had a pretty dismal life on Jinju. I was counting the days until I turned fifteen. Just two more years left before I could take the entrance exams for the Thousand Worlds Space Forces and follow my brother, Jun, into the service. That was all that kept me going.

The day the stranger came, though—that day was different.

I was curled under my threadbare blanket, stubbornly clinging to sleep even though light had begun to steal in through the windows. Then my oldest cousin Bora’s snoring got too loud to ignore. I often wished I had a room of my own, instead of sharing one with three cousins. Especially since Bora snored like a dragon. I kicked her in the side. She grunted but didn’t stir.

We all slept on the same shabby quilt, handed down from my ancestors, some of the planet’s first settlers. The embroidery had once depicted magpies and flowers, good-luck symbols. Most of the threads had come loose over the years, rendering the pictures illegible. When I was younger, I’d asked my mom why she didn’t use Charm to restore it. She’d given me a stern look, then explained that she’d have to redo it every day as the magic wore off—objects weren’t as susceptible to Charm as people were. I’d shut up fast, because I didn’t want her to add that chore to my daily roster. Fortunately, my mom disapproved of Charm in general, so it hadn’t gone any further.

All my life I’d been cautioned not to show off the fox magic that was our heritage. We lived disguised as humans and rarely used our abilities to shape-shift or Charm people. Mom insisted that we behave as proper, civilized gumiho so we wouldn’t get in trouble with our fellow steaders, planet-bound residents of Jinju. In the old days, foxes had played tricks like changing into beautiful humans to lure lonely travelers close so they could suck out their lives. But our family didn’t do that.

The lasting prejudice against us annoyed me. Other supernaturals, like dragons and goblins and shamans, could wield their magic openly, and were even praised for it. Dragons used their weather magic for agriculture and the time-consuming work of terraforming planets. Goblins, with their invisibility caps, could act as secret agents; their ability to summon food with their magical wands came in handy, too. Shamans were essential for communicating with the ancestors and spirits, of course. We foxes, though—we had never overcome our bad reputation. At least most people thought we were extinct nowadays.

I didn’t see what the big deal was about using our powers around the house. We rarely had company—few travelers came to the world of Jinju. According to legend, about two hundred years ago, a shaman was supposed to have finished terraforming our planet with the Dragon Pearl, a mystical orb with the ability to create life. But on the way here, both she and the Pearl had disappeared. I didn’t know if anything in that story was true or not. All I knew was that Jinju had remained poor and neglected by the Dragon Council for generations.

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