Part One: The Decision
Ryuunosuke the Revered and Righteous woke up at the sound of his growling stomach. He was groggy, perhaps due to waking up unexpectedly at the wee hours of the morning, or maybe because he hadn’t eaten anything for almost two days. Two days! It was an abomination. Certainly the son of the Rat Emperor should have been able to eat luxuriously, but no—Ryuunosuke was, just like the rest of the rat population living in Japan, starving. There had been very little food to harvest from the humans in the past few months owing to the war.
Tsk, humans and their wars! It was shameful how these pitiful creatures kept on killing each other when they could live harmoniously together like the rats do—or did. Now, however, even the Rat Empire was at a state of great discord due to the food shortage. The humans no longer left even one crumb of bread alone, and each grain of rice was greedily taken.
And so, it was a time of great suffering. To make matters worse, the Rat Emperor, Ryuunosuke’s father, was severely ill. If the Emperor were to die at this very critical time, the advisors said to Ryuunosuke, it might mean the end of the Empire—other rat nations were inching closer, awaiting only the fall of the great emperor and the ascension to the throne of the heir apparent, Takahiro the Trusted and Tender, Ryuunosuke’s older (and more timid) brother. Takahiro, despite his years, was not ready for the task. He was too weak-minded to be the Emperor, and everyone knew that fact—especially Takahiro himself.
“My dear brother,” Takahiro said to Ryuunosuke that day, “I cannot bear the thought of our dear father the Emperor perishing in this time! It is not yet time! I am not ready, I am weak! What will happen to our vast empire, then?”
“The Emperor will not die anytime soon,” Ryuunosuke firmly said, but his own voice betrayed him by cracking. “Do not fear your position, brother. You are meant to become our next Emperor, and when that time comes, you will be ready.”
Takahiro fidgeted, his entire body trembling with anxiousness and fear. “Perhaps I shall renounce my claim, and then you will be Emperor! You will become a mighty emperor, Ryuunosuke—”
“Do not speak those words, I beg of you!” Ryuunosuke cried in anger. “I will not be the Emperor—that is not my fate.”
Ryuunosuke went away before Takahiro could even say anything else.
Two days later, after having a few morsels to share with the entire Imperial family, the appointed rat healer looked at the Emperor, with disappointing results. He turned to both princes and said, “The Emperor is very weak, I’m afraid. What His Majesty needs is more good food—”
Ryuunosuke frowned. “Food? But the Emperor is being given a bounty of food. Surely that cannot be the only cure? Medicine, perhaps?”
“Your Highness, the Emperor is growing very weak each day and the amount of food that is being given to His Majesty is highly inconsequential. What matters as of this very moment, really, is of the quality of food His Majesty regularly eats…and what our Empire is able to harvest certainly is not of the highest quality. We need to get the Emperor the best food—that is the only thing that can save him.”
“The best food…?” Ryuunosuke repeated the healer’s words and gasped. “Surely, you cannot mean…”
The healer nodded gravely. “It is our only hope.”
Takahiro looked at his brother and at the healer, with a curious expression on his face. “I have absolutely no idea what is being hinted at by our healer here. My dear brother, kindly explain to me in detail what this is all about.”
Ryuunosuke ignored Takahiro and continued arguing with the healer. “That is impossible. No one in our Empire will come forward of their own accord and sacrifice their life for such a suicidal mission! Not even I!”
“Your Highness, it is our only chance to keep our dear Emperor alive—and our Empire intact.”
“No! Such a preposterous suggestion, Healer, and I thought the better of you!”
Takahiro could no longer take it and shouted. “Enough! What is this you two are talking about and why is it suicidal?”
Ryuunosuke turned to look at his helpless brother and shook his head. “What the healer means to suggest is that someone from our Empire must go to the humans and harvest the most exquisite food there is, something that has not been available to our empire for quite a long time, because it is, I hear, very difficult to make in these difficult times. To procure it is a highly dangerous journey and is tantamount to throwing one’s life away.”
“And what is this ‘most exquisite food,’ may I ask?”
It took a few moments before Ryuunosuke answered.
That very same day, the Imperial Household ordered for an announcement to be made in all parts of the Empire, calling for anyone who would be courageous enough to go on a quest to harvest cheese from the Tokumatsu Bakery, the only place near the entire Empire where cheese was available. It was not a long journey, but it was believed that monsters existed inside the bakery, created to protect the treasures of cheese inside. Takahiro believed that a few noble mice would rise to the challenge; Ryuunosuke, on the other hand, thought differently.
Sure enough, Ryuunosuke proved to be right as after two days, nobody seemed keen to hand over their life for a few morsels of cheese, even if it were the most exquisite food in existence, even for their beloved Emperor.
The healer once again warned the princes about the Emperor’s deteriorating health. “There is an urgent need to act now; otherwise, it would be too late.”
Ryuunosuke took a deep breath and sighed. He did this another time, and another, as if he were trying to take in all the air available in that room. Afterwards, he spoke in a deep, final voice: “I will go.”
It took only a few minutes to prepare the prince for his journey, as he insisted he needed nothing except something to eat along the way and a sack for the cheese. Ryuunosuke said his quick goodbyes to his family and friends, as well as to the entire empire. He was scared of his future—or perhaps the lack of future that came with volunteering for this task. But he needed to do it, and he was the only one who was even half willing. He knew he cannot fail.
With a final wave and a promise to return to the citizens of the Rat Empire, Ryuunosuke scampered on to the streets, alone.
To be continued…
Note: This was written for a Humanities class about making a story using Joseph Campbell’s format of a quintessential hero’s journey. It was supposed to be a short story, taking one or two pages at most…but this one ended up being soooo long that I decided not to turn it in. I highly enjoyed writing this though, so I decided to post it here instead. XD