The Medusa and the Prophet

The Story of the Medusa and the Prophet

It is said that a thousand years ago, a child named Ko Irasu was born in a ramshackle tugboat making its way down the Specklar River through the heart of what was then called Gelaiden and what is now called Genji. Ko was born among fish heads, trade animals, and fishermen. His mother was the wife of a working man who’d bought passage for the two of them with his fishing skill. She bore the child inside a small shack on the tugboat. Several people arrived in canoes to this boat because they’d all had a shared dream telling them to follow mysterious upriver currents until they were led to a place on the water where an important birth was to take place. These strangers, all amazed that they’d traveled upriver for days on a strange reverse current, arrived bearing gifts and showered them upon the family and the baby. The mother named the child Ko Irasu. There was a tremendous haul of fish that day.

But the joy of the occasion was short lived. The Imperator of the day had recently ordered all newborn sons to be put to the sword because he’d received a prophecy from his youngest daughter that a child boy born unto that generation would rise up and end his rule. The daughter, Michi, was only six years old, but she often went into painful trances and spoke a strange, dark poetry whose words infallibly came true. So for months now, imperial soldiers and the sly Gaiden had gone forth to slay the newborn sons of any family they could find. And indeed, it was only months later that soldiers learned of the amazing birth on the tugboat.

They took strider ships (squat, hot-air-balloon-lined war vessels designed for the rocky and dangerous white waters of rivers) to find this hidden son and slay him. They arrived at the tugboat and declared that any child under the age of two must be handed over to them. Two Gaiden were with them, and the scriptures speak of them as dead-eyed men who courted the shadow of death and who lived in extreme ways and were destined for extreme ends. They carried their swords like slivers of moon, and it was clear that there could be no success in resistance.

But Ko Irasu’s mother had made plans for just such an event. She’d fashioned a small boat out of reeds and caulk and put her child in it and, as her husband distracted the soldiers with his diplomatic talk, sent the child down the river. The tiny crib-boat was painted the color of the river and, when closed, looked like nothing more than small driftwood. It was further coated with a sticky substance that attracted the fireflies that are numerous in Genji to this day. This way, the fireflies would feed on the basket at night. By the time the soldiers came to search the ship, the mother had already floated little Ko Irasu down the river in the tiny vessel. The soldiers found nothing and left in anger.

Later that night, Ko’s silver-tongued father convinced the captain of the tugboat to go down the river, away from where the fish were concentrated. They all looked for driftwood covered in an abundance of fireflies. And before midnight, they found him, little Ko Irasu, calmly rocking in his crib boat, delighted at the glowing blue and red and orange fireflies all around him, which he gently caught in his hands.

Close up of Genji. Alas, I’m no professional mapmaker, so it’s a crude drawing.

As Ko grew into a man, his mother passed on to him her cleverness, and his father passed on his fishing skills and persuasiveness. Ko became a great orator and led a life of the mind, reading at great stretches while fishing, visiting the Gelaiden Scroll Houses of the day, and conducting intellectual warfare in the most scholarly Tea Rooms frequented by the young, the philosophical, and the fever-brained. But it is said that Ko was dissatisfied with his life. He lived in comfort and felt he wasn’t making a mark on the world. In his meditations, he felt an urge to leave home and find his destiny far away from his family.

Both of his parents fought bitterly to keep him home. His father said he would only let Ko go if he walked on hot coals. To his horror, his son did exactly that. His mother tried everything from setting Ko up with the most popular girl in the town to even encouraging a gambling habit in him, but he resisted all of these temptations. Finally, after months of this resistance from his family, he left home with their reluctant, hard-earned blessings. He was a traveller bearing nothing more than his pack and staff.

What follows is a decade of lost tales. It seems that no one knows what Ko did during this time of wandering the world and of learning. But we do know that when he was in his thirties, he returned to Gelaiden saying he’d attained Empyria, a state of complete dissolution in the waters of the divine, and that he was here to spread knowledge of how to achieve this same state. He declared that this state of the soul was open to everyone–a distinct break from the religious tradition of the day, which said only the elect (i.e. royals and scholars) could hope to achieve Empyria. He bore a white cloak and the same staff, but now it was gnarled and wizened. The people put him to many tests to see if he really was a prophet who’d achieved Empyria, like walking through the swamps of Genji without getting a single smudge on his snow white cloak. He passed all such trials. He also told many parables and performed a variety of miracles, culminating in raising the dead.

One of his most famous parables was his response to a wanderer’s disarmingly simple question: “Is there a God?” He said, “If a woman gives birth to a child, how do we treat it? Do we cast the child out, or do we raise it with love and justice? As the child grows into a man, how do we treat it? Inflict harms upon it, or show it the love and light in the world? As the child sets off from home, how do we treat it? Squander his potential, or give him the best of our wisdom and send him thus armed unto the world? Whether the child has a father, whether the father is present, whether the particular nature of the father is good or not: None of these have any bearing on how we raise the child.”

Scholars have debated the meaning of this parable, but the most widely accepted interpretation is to say that Ko meant the child to symbolize the world and the father to stand for God. Whether God exists, whether He is present, whether He is an angry or forgiving God: none of this matters in terms of how one behaves towards the world/the child. According to the Way of the Prophet, one must still show the world love, do well by it, and shape it for the better. Because of this, people who follow this path often do not speak on the nature of God or the gods, saying that the divine is, at least to a large degree, inscrutable.

Ko’s other tales and feats are many and for another time. But what is interesting to note now is that Michi’s prophecy came true. When Ko arrived in Galaiden after his long absence, his equality-for-all teachings tapped into an oppressed populist sentiment in the people at the time. The Imperator of Gelaiden had been brutal in his rule, and the serfs, peasant classes, and tenant farmers (the latter common in Genji even now) had been at the mercy of frightened feudal lords, who had to squeeze taxes out of their subjects and conscript them into the army to appease the Imperator. Ko’s oratorical skill, his tactical brilliance, his enriched, wisdom-wrought parables sparked the blaze of revolt among the downtrodden. And the downtrodden were many. Soon, Ko became an enemy of the empire, and the Imperator hunted him for years.

Sketch of Michi by Marlen Gonzalez.

During this time, the Imperator dispatched his own daughter, Michi, to find this supposed prophet. She had become a relied-upon sage and foreseer of the court. She’d predicted every major piece of good fortune and disaster that her father the Imperator had ever faced, from the assassination of his eldest son to the particular marriage partner for her middle sister to the terrible Drought of Locusts that crippled the empire for years. She was given the greatest and most deadly of the royal Murasa to seize this prophet stirring up trouble in the countryside. She herself was a Murasa warrior by then, and considered a witch (a term that does not come with the negative connotations it does in the Heartlands, which includes Gallant). Whether she used her supernatural abilities or her knowledge of the wilderness, she led herself and her twelve legendary Murasa straight to Ko. But when she found him, he was protecting a crowd from a tyrannical lord’s soldiers, who were trying to seize their crops. With his words alone, Ko made them stay their blades and leave. Michi spoke to this man, and within time, they fell in love. Michi turned against her father the Imperator. The Murasa were likewise moved by Ko’s teachings and joined him, becoming the disciples of the Prophet. Some of their accounts of his life are collected in the Prophet’s Way, a tome that has served as the holy text and scripture for the Genji religion for 1,000 years.

(As an interesting aside, one of the Murasa was actually a peasant Gaiden in disguise, but he became accepted among the Murasa and is often called the Black Sheep Disciple. His gospel/account of the Prophet is the most emotional of all of them.)

Ko, Michi, and the disciples’ exploits throughout all of Gelaiden is another long tale, one that could fill an entire volume. Ko and Michi had many children, whose descendants are said to make up House Yamashita today. To make a very long tale short, Michi was eventually captured and imprisoned in the Imperator’s temple on an island. Ko was brought before the masses he’d helped inspire to contest the rule of the Imperator. Before all of them, on the assembled steps of the Great Imperator’s Palace, the Imperator asked the Prophet: “Are you the son of God?” to which the Prophet responded, “We are all the sons of God.” The crowd exploded in righteous fury. The Imperator’s executioner then beheaded Ko, a disastrous miscalculation that led to an excessively bloody uprising that very day. The Imperator’s body was torn apart by peoples’ bare hands, and the pieces were paraded through the streets. His rule was broken, and the feudal lords reasserted their strength when they rebuilt the empire around five Great Houses. That new system is in place to this day.

(Another aside: It is said that if only the people had followed Ko’s teachings of peace, they would’ve brought about the full vision of what Ko wanted for his country a thousand years ago. Those who follow the Way of the Prophet often say that what is currently in place in Genji is a shadow of what it could have been.)

When Ko was killed, it is said that Michi somehow knew from her temple prison and flew into a despair-fueled rage. The Prophet’s Way says that her extreme sorrow warped her body into that of a half snake, half woman and gave her terrible powers. She killed all of her captors and pulled down parts of her prison, but she did not leave the island. Anyone who approached was slain. Only the Murasa disciples were accepted in her presence. It is believed that when he was killed, Michi somehow attained immortal life or Empyrea. She is now known as the Medusa, and her descendants alone can enter her temple and receive the prophecies that she still can deliver.

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