“Fire at will!”
On their leader’s command, a squad of ten moon rabbits lets loose shots from their rifles at the targets in one of the Lunar Capital’s many shooting ranges; this one happens to be indoors and fairly isolated. The rifles are not very loud, so no protective ear equipment is necessary for safety; one of the many conveniences of Lunarian technology. However, this technology does not alleviate the horrendous accuracy all but one of the rabbits display.
Watatsuki no Yorihime, a long ponytail swaying behind her, sighs and rubs her temples. “Reisen, haven’t you been drilling this group for weeks?”
“Y-yes, ma’am!” responds the only accurate moon rabbit. She stands at attention, though her chin-length purple hair is disheveled while her suit coat and skirt are extremely wrinkled. “I am very sorry for their underperformance! I take full responsibility!” The rest of the rabbits exchange concerned glances.
Despite herself, the military leader smiles slightly and says, “The rest of you are dismissed. I will go over potential drill plans with your captain. However, make sure to continue practicing! She won’t always be around to bail you out.” The rabbit squad perks up quickly and, after saluting Yorihime, bounds out of the room in high spirits.
“Um, I truly am very sorry-” the flustered rabbit begins.
“At ease, Reisen. I can tell you’re doing your best with them. You look like you’ve hardly slept.” Lines under her subordinate’s red eyes support the observation.
“Well… I tried to instruct them during some free time, but it took so long to make any progress that, combined with my duties to you and Lady Toyohime, there was little time for anything else.”
“So you’re saying this is the fault of my sister and me?” Yorihime asks with a raised eyebrow.
“O-of course not! I would never dare to imply-”
“It’s a joke,” says the Lunarian princess, putting a hand on the frazzled rabbit’s shoulder. “I really do appreciate the effort you put in.”
Perhaps due to fatigue, Reisen’s face scrunches up as if she is about to cry. “Thank you so much, Lady Yorihime!”
“Keep your chin up, now. Can’t have a model soldier looking so ill put-together.” Yorihime gives Reisen a nod and soon the latter calms down. “Back to the topic at hand. While even our most skilled units can be rather carefree, this group seems particularly terminal. Their lack of skill despite immense practice time is concerning and they only barely kept up appearances when being lectured. If nothing else, you taking initiative to try and correct them is admirable. Maybe we’re being too soft…”
“More discipline troubles, Yori?” asks a soothing voice the other two present know all too well. Watatsuki no Toyohime walks in with effortlessly elegant poise and continues, “This wouldn’t be the first time. Maybe I could offer some solutions?”
“Your concern is noted but the instruction and discipline of troops is my decision first and foremost,” says Yorihime, right hand on her hip.
“Come now, you can at least hear me out.”
“Last time I did it nearly caused one of my units to be put in front of a tribunal. Your carefree attitude is probably what prompts that same disposition in our soldiers.”
The older sister playfully shrugs. “You like to put on airs yet still do very little in terms of actual discipline. I was watching that whole exchange from the hallway, you know.”
“Eavesdropping like a child is hardly fitting for someone of your station.”
“Since we disagree, why not ask Reisen?”
Both sisters turn to the rabbit. Yorihime’s expression is neutral but an aura of power radiates from under the surface. Toyohime grins at Reisen while winking, however a similar yet distinct energy also emanates from her. The pressure the princesses exert is overwhelming.
“Uh, um…” Reisen stammers. “Maybe we should hear out Lady Toyohime’s plan then vote on it? I can be a tiebreaker if necessary.”
“…Good job, Reisen,” says the younger sister, now smiling. “You stayed calm and presented a measured and rational response. I remember when you would have panicked if Toyo and I forced you to make a choice like that.”
“With all due respect, why am I being tested all of a sudden?!”
Toyohime laughs but elects to not answer the question. “Here’s my idea: do you recall our Master’s arrangement with the rabbits on Earth?”
“The one called Tewi Inaba approached her and offered service in exchange for knowledge,” Yorihime confirms. “From what I understand, that earth rabbit is rather cunning.”
“Hehe, indeed. She leads all other earth rabbits with surprising efficiency. Reisen - our previous one, not you,” Toyohime clarifies while looking at her subordinate, “has also proven to be very helpful to Master. All three of them might have some tips on how to approach this problem, as the impure beings of Earth are inherently more difficult to handle than anyone here.”
“I see. You’re suggesting we send her a message? We could have Reisen go and I know Lady Kishin has visited them fairly recently-”
“You misunderstand,” the elder sister interrupts. “I think we should visit personally. That would allow us to see how they operate firsthand while also giving us a chance to speak with Master face-to-face for the first time in ages.”
A weight descends on the conversation. Yorihime’s eyes widen slightly before she finally replies, “Visiting Earth carelessly might cause some to view us with suspicion. Even with how much Master has done for us and the rest of the capital, she’s technically still harboring Princess Kaguya and previously attacked the emissaries we sent after her. At this point it’s an open secret that Lord Tsukuyomi and everyone else are fine with leaving things be, but we have to maintain appearances. This isn’t in the service of defense like when you visited Earth to ward off the youkai sage.”
“But isn’t it? By learning how to better teach our soldiers, we improve our defenses. Master and Tewi have been able to inspire loyalty in their Reisen and the earth rabbits, respectively. Loathe as I am to admit it, when Junko and her associates made fools of us, our Gensokyo invasion force wasn’t able to get any sort of foothold. A few of our own even deserted. It took that shrine maiden Reimu Hakurei and her friends to save us thanks to Lady Kishin’s intervention.”
“Be that as it may, I personally can’t help but think you’re suggesting this as a cover to visit Master.”
“And what if I am?” The question takes her sister aback, but Toyohime continues, “Don’t you want to see her again? This would be an exceedingly rare opportunity for us. I don’t blame you for being wary, especially after you were unfairly suspected for the god channeling performed by Reimu, but we have a justification to visit and no one needs to know. If anyone asks, it was a reconnaissance mission that required our personal supervision. We don’t even have to mention where we went.”
“I already told you, we can’t-”
“I want to share a meal with Master again, Yori.”
“…” Yorihime crosses her arms and thinks for a few seconds that feel like hours. “…Reisen.”
“Yes ma’am?” the rabbit responds.
“Send a message to all units to assume their defensive stations. They need to be prepared at all times while the three of us are gone. After that, get prepared to leave with us first thing tomorrow. Not a word about this to anyone who doesn’t need to know.”
“As you wish, Lady Yorihime!”
Once Reisen leaves, a smiling Toyohime looks to her sister and says, “It seems we didn’t need a tiebreaker after all.”
Early morning sunlight brushes up against the tallest shoots in the Bamboo Forest of the Lost. Leaves growing on the bamboo rustle in the wind, moving even more as the Watatsukis and Reisen walk by them.
“I can feel impurity everywhere,” says Yorihime, examining her surroundings intently.
Toyohime nods. “Earth is a curious place. Many here claim to despise our home in comparison despite how vastly superior its technology and life spans are.”
“Hmph. Arrogant to assume they know a place they’ve never been.”
“Many Lunarians have never stepped foot on Earth,” says a voice to their right. They turn to see Eirin Yagokoro, their master, holding a bow in her right hand and an arrow in her left. “And, among those who left here initially, few have ever returned. Do you think those people are also arrogant to assume they understand this place? Earth is impure, yes, but that helps it foster change much more rapidly than the Moon.”
Yorihime barely maintains a stoic expression as she says, “This is the first time we’ve seen each other in years and the first thing you do is try to teach us something.”
“That’s one of my duties, even if I haven’t been able to fulfill it for a long time.” Eirin places her arrow in a quiver on her back and fastens her bow around the ammunition. “It’s good to see you two.” She turns her eyes to Reisen and adds, “You as well. From what I hear, you’ve done well in your service to the princesses.”
“T-thank you, Lady Yagokoro!” Reisen nearly yells while bowing. “That means an immense amount coming from you!”
“I’m surprised you elected to meet us out here, away from your manor,” says Toyohime, a hand on her chin. “You also had your weapon ready.”
“Earlier, I felt the presence of Lunarians. It’s been a long time since any earnest effort to retrieve Princess Kaguya has been made, but I remain prepared to do what’s necessary,” Eirin explains. “Protecting her is the duty of everyone in Eientei, but emissaries from the Moon are my responsibility alone. Sending Udongein or Tewi to meet you would be to avoid my atonement.”
“While I disagree with your conclusions, I respect your dedication,” says a melancholy Yorihime.
Toyohime adjusts her white brimmed hat. “To be honest, there’s still a part of me that hopes you and the princess will return one day. Maybe the first Reisen as well.”
“Unfortunately, the princess’s affinity for Earth is unlikely to change anytime in the foreseeable future. And, even if she were to return, the taint of drinking the elixir would disallow her from ever experiencing a normal life on the Moon,” Eirin responds. “Udongein has also stated her preference for this place, though I would ask you don’t begrudge her for it. She has grown immensely since first arriving here.”
“Truly a pity that growth took her away from us…”
Eirin’s eyes narrow. “What’s done is done. We shouldn’t bask in our wistfulness for too long right now. Why have you three come to visit?”
“Coming here for such a paltry reason is rather foolish,” says Eirin as she and the sisters sit at a table in Eientei; Reisen previously prepared them tea before leaving to find her namesake and Tewi. “You should know full well the risks of interacting with a fugitive.”
“Believe us, we’re aware,” Yorihime counters. “But we also have enough authority to keep this under wraps. If Lady Kishin can come here, then there’s no reason we can’t.”
“She is a special case. As a god and divine spirit, she’s not susceptible to perceived corruption the same way you two are. More to the point, while you two certainly possess authority, Lady Kishin has more. Putting yourselves on her level is a dangerous mindset.”
“We aren’t. But it is true that she has come to Earth more than once in the past few years and we know you sent her a letter at one point.”
“That was at the request of Yukari Yakumo, the youkai sage. There was a fireworks festival getting out of hand near the human village, so she asked me to send word so Lady Kishin might help put an end to it.”
“Why agree to that?”
“Had things gone too far, humans from the village might have been hurt, which in turn could have ramifications for Gensokyo’s stability. I would rather avoid having Princess Kaguya go on the run again should our current home fall apart.”
After sipping her tea, the older sister says, “So you took a risk for personal benefit. That’s what Yori and I are doing now.”
“The stakes are hardly comparable.”
“Master, we’re already here. The deed’s been done. We might as well enjoy our time together.”
“Hmph. That lackadaisical attitude hasn’t changed at all.”
“You’re right about that,” the younger sister chimes in. “Even rising to your former station as leader of the emissaries has done nothing to dull her blithe disposition. Did you know she regularly gives the soldiers peaches when I’m not around when they should be practicing?”
“It improves morale,” says Toyohime before drinking more of her tea.
“You’re subverting my authority!”
Eirin smiles upon hearing their banter. “That reminds me of how I sneak a bit of medicine into the rabbits’ mochi during lunar festivals so they’ll become more excited.”
“M-Master!” Yorihime stutters. “That’s hardly becoming of you!”
“However, while she’s never said as much, Tewi is definitely aware I do it. She’s never tried stopping me, though.”
“Huh. I was curious about her, actually: she approached you for knowledge but was already very intelligent when you met, correct?”
“Yes. She might seem like my subordinate, but in truth I can’t fully monitor her. She will often disappear without a word only to appear right behind you when you least expect it. But I have found that I can always count on her to be there when it matters.”
“That kind of wishy-washy but reliable nature reminds me of Toyo.”
The wishy-washy but reliable princess clears her throat. “I’m not sure whether or not to feel complimented or insulted.”
“Well it’s true. Would you like to hear another story, Master?” asks Yorihime, leaning forward a bit. “Toyo once declared a festival day for the soldiers without running it by me first; of course, I had been planning on drilling various combat situations that day. Eventually she got me to relent and we supervised the proceedings. The activities included making and trading various sweets. What do you think might have happened?”
“I haven’t the foggiest,” says Eirin.
“A fire broke out and nearly burned down our palace! All because Toyo had elected to ‘help’ with the cooking by suggesting a huge bonfire for baking large quantities at once. Most of the rabbits had never cooked with such a large amount of fire before. One of them accidentally let some embers land outside the fire pit, which spread to the building.”
“Oh my. How did you contain it?”
“I’ll explain this part so that it’s done proper justice,” says Toyohime. “Yori channeled Suijin and used that power to manifest a large amount of water, which the rabbits then took in the many pots we were using for the festival. Together, we put out the fire before it did any major damage. There were, of course, questions as to how the blaze started, which painted the rabbits as negligent. They were nearly punished, but then I created the story that it was stress test training. A gauge of how troops would react in an unexpected emergency.”
“Admitting to such a lie isn’t wise, you know.”
“And you, the fugitive, will report me?”
“What cheek,” Eirin says, indulging a small laugh. “You’ve both grown immensely since I tutored you. That situation required quick thinking to stop both the physical and political damage.”
“I thought you would reprimand us after hearing that story,” Yorihime admits.
“You both learned something, didn’t you? You, Yorihime, gained discernment about future plans your sister puts forth. Toyohime saw the way blame will often be shifted onto the undeserving and took measures to avoid the worst outcome. I won’t fault you for lying if it serves a good purpose, such as the well-being of your subordinates.”
“And you have experience in this topic, I assume?”
“Hm. Experience is all I have. As long as I fulfill my goals, that's all I need.” The silver-haired sage looks her former students in the eyes. “But there’s satisfaction to be had in passing the knowledge I’ve gained along.” She takes a deep breath. “I’m… sorry I couldn’t finish your studies. There is so much more I wanted to teach you. It was my mistake that caused Kaguya to drink the Hourai Elixir and my desire for redemption that has kept me at her side all these years, away from my students. You two deserved a more steadfast instructor.”
“Master…” Yorihime trails off. Toyohime’s perpetual smile falters as she too is at a loss for words.
“I know this is very sudden. My apologies for taking the conversation on such a serious turn. But… seeing you two in front of me, older and wiser yet still filled with such potential, has made me feel things I haven’t for a very long time.”
Five seconds pass. Then ten and fifteen. Eirin only stares at her own reflection in the tea.
Eventually, the younger sister builds the resolve to say, “We’re only able to perform this well because of your teachings.”
“That’s right,” says Toyohime, nodding in agreement. “You prepared us for our roles more effectively than anyone else could have. No better teacher exists on the Moon than its very own ‘Brain’.”
“…Thank you both. I’m proud to have called you my students,” Eirin replies, her composure restored. She motions to the open door behind the princesses. “You may come in, Reisen. I know you’ve been waiting for a good opportunity to enter.”
Both sisters turn to see their companion holding a tray of snacks, the carrier red in the face from suddenly being called out.
“U-um, please excuse me,” says Reisen, bowing her head. “I spoke with Reisen - the other one - and Tewi. They agreed to give us pointers on how to handle some of our own. Before returning, I figured I should bring some snacks since neither of you have eaten yet today.”
“Please, Reisen, don’t be embarrassed,” Toyohime reassures. “Why not eat with us?”
“Oh I couldn’t possibly share a table with my masters and Lady Yagokoro, that would be far too presump-”
“You have my express permission to relax, Reisen,” snaps Yorihime. “I’ll make it an order if I must. We didn’t bring you with us purely as an errand girl, you know.”
“Th-th-thank you very, very much!” This time the rabbit bows so low she nearly spills the food on the floor. She quickly catches herself and takes a seat to the right of Toyohime.
Soon enough, the conversation returns to the various experiences Reisen and the Watatsukis have accrued in their positions, the latter making up for lost time with their master as best they can. The morning is all too brief and by midday the visitors must take care of the business they officially came to do, but Eirin stays and continues conversing with them whenever they are not occupied. Tewi describes numerous methods she uses to get particularly lazy rabbits into gear, including but not limited to: bribery, appeal to authority, coercion, and praise. Yorihime objects to the first and third, though Toyohime keeps all the options in mind.
A few hours later, while the princesses are talking to Tewi and exchanging notes, Reisen Udongein Inaba approaches her master with a cup of afternoon tea and says, “You’ve been out here with us all day, so I made this in case you were thirsty.”
“Do you really think me so fragile, Udongein?” Eirin asks while taking the cup.
“O-of course not!”
“Calm down, I’m only teasing you.”
“Oh, I see. It’s… rare for you to joke like that.”
“Well, I can’t deny that. Today has not been a normal one.”
“Um.” Reisen takes a moment to consider her words carefully. “Why did you never ask me about the princesses? I could’ve at least told you how they were doing up to when I left. Or I could’ve communicated with the other moon rabbits and have them tell us.”
“Hmmm… My initial thought was to say that I believed they would be fine. That my teaching and their devotion would lead them down the right path such that I needn’t be worried.”
“And your current thought?”
“Maybe it was fear. Hearing about the students - the home - I abandoned for the sake of Kaguya and my selfish quest for redemption.”
“The way you say that word reminds me of them. Let me be clear that if I could go back in time and make my choice again, I would still help Kaguya escape from the emissaries in a heartbeat. I don’t regret that decision. But there’s a give and take to everything, Udongein. You have to live with the consequences of your actions.” Eientei’s simple pharmacist gazes at her old students affectionately. “My only hope is that those two continue learning, continue growing. I’m always willing to help the Lunar Capital if it doesn’t compromise Kaguya, but I acknowledge not everything they do is good. Living on Earth with the princess and especially encountering those here in Gensokyo has, above all else, reinforced one truth: humans and youkai are baffling creatures. They do not follow logic and often lead indignant and short lives. But the ways they grow and change are truly extraordinary. If the Lunar Capital continues isolating itself and buying into its own perfection, it might one day crumble under its own hubris.”
“If you truly believe that, why not tell Ladies Yorihime and Toyohime directly?”
Eirin continues staring at the sisters as they debate once more on how to train their soldiers, all while Tewi rolls her eyes. “Despite being a good bit older now, when those two speak to me, it’s with the same enthusiasm as my first time instructing them. There's a spark in their eyes I have an inscrutable desire to help flourish.” A sigh escapes the Lunarian’s mouth. “Yet some things cannot be taught, only experienced. They are legitimately caring people, Udongein; this meeting came about from a desire to see me and be better leaders to their soldiers, after all. By coming here, they subverted Lunarian law. That means they understand laws are sometimes wrong and need to be ignored or even changed. If they know that much, then I believe the Lunar Capital is in good hands.” She takes a large gulp of her drink. “Thank you for the tea.”
“…Of course, Master.”