The Heroes of Rokan-Jin
Isoroku's Past Incarnation
Katsu – Better Days
It is noon, and the sun beats down upon the bathers. They are over a dozen in number, children playing in the cool respite of the river. Lotus flowers float past them in the brown current, and an ibis croaks from the papyrus reeds along the bank. The eldest children, some of them practically men and women in their own right, stand in the shallows and instruct the youngest in the finer points of swimming. Two cast furtive glances at one another, clearly interested in the effect of water on linen wrappings. The youngest children dutifully listen to their elders, or else they wander over to the shoreline to catch frogs. Meanwhile, the middle children chase each other through the reeds and dare each other to dive to the silty bottom. All is laughter and splashing, and so they do not notice the ominous bubbles rising up in a line towards them.
The peace is shattered as a massive shape erupts from the surface, two of the middle children lifted up upon its leathery back. How could this happen? There shouldn’t be any large animals this far upriver! Where are the adults? And then there is a moment of silence, as recognition sets in. “Grandpa!” they all chorus.
Katsu returns to his human form again, so swiftly that the two children on his back are unexpectedly airborne and the water around him rushes in to the sudden hippo-shaped gap. The massive splash fades to reveal him, laughing as he helps the surprised youngsters to the shore. “Grandpa, where were you this morning?” one of them asks, between coughs.
“I was at one of the RPCs downriver, Eopei. A stray labor of mole-hounds had undermined their foundations during the night, and the collapse trapped many of the citizens in the underground cafeteria.” He sets the children down in the shallows. “The irrigation system was also damaged, so there was concern of flooding before they could dig them out.”
“But Grandpa Katsu,” asked Cabar, Eopei’s grand niece, who was actually a year older, and took every opportunity to remind Eopei of it, “Isn’t that a job for the Terrestrials?”
Katsu’s smile stays in place, but there is less light in his eyes when he replies. “Very true, Cabar. Unfortunately, many members of Gens Baris have been reassigned to the border, and so could not reach the scene quite as easily as I. Besides, it has been a few months since my last visit.”
“Is that my husband I hear?” calls a female voice from the reeds on the shore. A woman, glowing with maternal presence and beauty, emerges with a baby at her breast. “And where have you been when the children come for their annual visit?”
One of the older girls responds first. “Father saved lives today, it seems.”
“I’m sorry, Sahai. I’d have been back sooner, but they insisted on an impromptu celebration.”
“Did they? It sounds like Grandpa Katsu deserves a hero’s welcome then.” Sahai steps up and kisses him, deeply, and for almost a minute. Then she smiles at Katsu, giving him an unspoken warning as to what came next. “Dogpile!”
As the Lunar goes down beneath a horde of his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and relations even further removed, he reflects that today has been good. He has saved lives, solved problems, and returned to a loving family. Surely, the future cannot be brighter.
“Master?” the voice calls, more insistently this time. “Katsu?”
Katsu glances up, his thoughts returning from somewhere distant, both in space and time.
“Were they alright?
“Yes, they were playing in the garden pond on the far side of the estate.” He remembers now, how he came to this. He had paused the conversation to check in on the children, borrowing the senses of a passing scarlet crane. Cabar’s great-great-grandchildren were learning to swim today, and he had inevitably thought back to that warm Southern day, when everything was still so simple and happy…
Damn, he’d done it again. “I’m sorry, Napishtim. My mind is…”
“Burdened, Master, I know.” The younger Lunar reaches a hand out and places it upon Katsu’s. “We have been worried for your peace of mind. We have all heard the rumors about this proposed operation. We know how sternly you would oppose it if the Deliberative were only willing to listen.”
“The Cauldronists grow stronger with every passing year. When Salina first took the Second Breath, I believed that she might serve to be a force for a little more…” Katsu glances around, scouring his surroundings with Essence, “equality among Celestials. The [something garbled] provides needed caution even if they are sometimes too conservative, and our own Wardens actually speak up for themselves from time to time. Unfortunately, Salina stepped past the obvious and immediate causes she could champion, and jumped straight to tearing down Creation and rebuilding it in a more democratic way.”
“Her goals are… noble, at least?” Napishtim glanced out towards the mighty trees that concealed Mount Meru from the balcony’s view. It was an affectation that Katsu had insisted upon, back during the trouble with Hawke some centuries before, when the Deliberative had “encouraged” them to settle the matter themselves.
“Noble, yes. But misguided as hell! Mark me, Napishtim. One of these days, the Cauldronists’ plots are going to do irreparable harm to Creation, and it will be our mess to clean up.”
“Hmm. For want of a bee, the flowers did not spread. For want of flowers, the rabbit did not eat. For want of a rabbit, the wolf starved. For want of a wolf, the rats spread unchecked.”
Katsu added more milk and sugar to his tea, which seemed suddenly bitter. “Yes, exactly like that.”
Now it was Napishtim who seemed lost in thought. “Perhaps there is a way to safeguard against that, similar to our methods during the War. But that is a conversation for another day. Actually, Master, I came to you to talk about…”