Topic: In the Light of the Eternal Moon  (Read 1595 times)

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In the Light of the Eternal Moon
« on: March 22, 2012, 01:50:48 am »
In the Light of the Eternal Moon


"'Once upon a time,' began a tale," said the storyteller. - "Once Upon a Time," Cirque du Soleil, La Nouba


"Milady, you don't need to do this," one of my family's many maids said.

I sighed as I rolled my shoulders and tugged at my clothes. My protector meant well, but fairies could be so single-minded. Besides, she wouldn't understand. "It'll be fine," I said.

The maid, I think her name was Akari, stared at me incredulously. To be honest, as we stood outside the infamous Taller de Lluna Eterna, I couldn't blame her. I knew what I looked like, wearing long hair and curves not my own. Just another too young girl trying to look older just to get into some place she really should say away from. Hopefully, the fact that I could buy better disguises would keep my identity hidden longer.


I held a hand up. Even the best disguise wouldn't survive one wayward word. "Just pick me up here at the end of the night."


"Go," I said, watching as one of the Taller's rabbits walked towards me. "Hurry."

Akari scurried away, shaking her head. I knew I'd get an earful when I got home.

The rabbit curtsied in front of me. "Come this way. Princess Kaguya awaits."

I gulped as I followed my guide. For all my preparations, I still wasn't ready to meet Princess Houraisan, the famed beauty and storyteller. But where the other girls who had raided their mother's closet earnestly sought the princess's acknowledgment that they were girls no longer, I had something else in mind.

I wanted to be called a storyteller.


It had started a few weeks earlier, on a trip into the village. I sat outside one of the eateries, chatting with my maid Akane as we shared a strawberry parfait.

"Give it here!" Merlin Prismriver shouted, as she chased after her sisters. She reached out for whatever shiny object Lyrica kept pulling out of the trumpeter's reach. "We helped you earn that!"

"I told you that you should have chosen a speaking part," Lunasa said, rolling her eyes as Merlin tackled Lyrica. "You knew the Taller's rules. That wasn't a concert, after all."

"You can't tell a story if you don't speak," Lyrica said, flipping Merlin off of her and over her shoulder. The ghostly girl vanished into the ground. A white hand lunged out of the earth, grabbing hold of Lyrica's foot before pulling her through rock and dirt.

A silver coin clattered against stone. Against my better judgment, I walked over and picked it up. Flipping it over, I saw the image of an oversized full moon behind Eternity Manor inscribed in the metal. A chill ran down my spine; Lunasa was pulling on my arm.

"Excuse me, but could you give that back? It means a great deal to my sisters," the poltergeist said.

"Sure," I said, handing the coin over. "But could you tell me about it? I've never seen anything like that before."

Lunasa sighed as the ground beneath us trembled. "It's a Mark of the Eternal Moon, and it's pretty rare."

"Is Eternity Manor minting its own coins now? How much is it worth?"

"Nothing in the market, but at the right inn, a certain gig and a lot of money," Lunasa said. Noting my confusion, she continued. "It's like a storyteller's medal. Perform in front of Princess Kaguya and her friends and they decide if you get one. Only a master of the craft can earn one, and if you show it at the right spot, you'll get paid like one. Now, if you'll excuse me…" The ghost reached into the ground and pulled her sisters out. "We're leaving," she said, dragging her sisters behind her.

A storyteller's medal? A chance to be known for something other than my fate! "Where do you get this?"

"The Taller de Lluna Eterna," Merlin yelled just before Lunasa pulled her around a corner. "At Eternity Manor."

In the weeks that followed, I immersed myself in the history and mystique of the Taller and the mark, building up my courage until, almost as if driven by a will not my own, I grabbed a wig and Western clothes, and ordered Akari to sneak me out of my family's manor.


"Miss?" a white-haired rabbit said, waving a hand in front of my face. She looked like one of Tewi's daughters, but with snowy hair instead of black.

I jumped at her voice, my cheeks burning. "I'm sorry."

"Did you intend to watch or perform tonight?" The Taller's entrance split into two doors. The left led to the performers' table and the other, to the Founder's Court, where the listeners sat.

My heart pounded in my chest. Knowing my family, I'd have just this one chance. "Perform."

The rabbit nodded and lead me through the left door. "That's brave of you. I assume you're here to win your mark."

Only a master storyteller could win the silver-moon mark from the Princess. "Is there any other reason to be here?"

She laughed. "You might be surprised. Some, like Anchoress Ibara, just like the audience."

"There's no other reason for me to be here."

"So, would you like to let us know which story you will be sharing?"

"Not at this time."

"Suit yourself. Just know that the ladies frown on grandstanding. I must, at least, have a name."

"A-akemi," I stammered. My cheeks burned again; I had wanted to say "Murasaki," after my favorite character, but my tongue slipped.

"Very well, I'm Yukimi," the rabbit said. "Mistress of the Stage. The Ladies might decide if you earn your mark, but I decide when you go on stage."

"Understood." We rounded a corner, and my eyes widened as I saw the small stage that I had dreamed about. Just a few minutes on that wooden stage would give life or death to my dream. Others would have a second chance to win their marks; I would not. But that decision would have to wait. Miss Reisen knelt before a long stringed box that reminded me of the Chinese dulcimer that I saw a wandering musician once play, yet the sound seemed fuller, almost like a harp.

"What is she playing?" I asked Mistress Yukimi as she motioned to me to sit at a table to the side of the stage.

"It's a hammered dulcimer. Countess Yakumo found it on her travels," Mistress Yukimi said.

The color drained from my face. Lady Yukari, here? No one had mentioned that she might attend. If so, I might as well take off my disguise now.

The Mistress of the Stage smiled at me and pointed to where Miss Reisen's mallets struck a frantic melody as they flew across the strings. "It's an acquired taste to be sure. But then again, so many things from the outside are. I must attend to the other performers, Akemi. I'll let you know when your turn may be."

Fortunately, the performer's table let us see the audience. Miss Alice sat in the front row. The first to win the mark and the only to have won it without speaking a single word, the puppeteer never missed a night. I even thought I could see Wriggle's telltale antennae peeking over the first few rows of guests.

"A lovely night," a man's voice said from behind me. I turned around and saw a young man with red hair smiling at me. My cheeks reddened as I scooted away from him in my chair. "Made even lovelier by you."

"None of that," Miss Kasen said as she appeared, slipping between myself and the young man.

"All I wanted was the lady's name," he said, shifting his rakish grin to the anchoress. "Certainly, that'd be a manner too trifling for someone as important as you."

"I know you, Hikaru Genji, by the trail of broken hearts you leave in your wake," Miss Kasen said, staring down the young man. "Don't try to find your Murasaki here."

My cheeks reddened even further. Never was I so grateful for a slip of my tongue. Apparently, I wasn't the only one here who read the Tale of Genji. The young man, presumably Hikaru, although Miss Kasen was probably making an allusion, opened his mouth.

"Sit!" Mistress Yukimi hissed, planting her hands on her hips. "Both of you. If either of you even think about causing trouble, I will see that you'll never set foot back in here."

"I don't think Casanova over there would mind much-"

"Anchoress Ibara-"

"Oh, alright," she said sitting next to me. "But the seducer sits at the other end of the table."

"Fine, I'm here for my mark anyway," Hikaru said, walking away. He stopped just long enough to flash me a grin. "But maybe after-"

"Walk away," Miss Kasen sang just loud enough so that Mistress Yukimi couldn't hear.

"Fine." He sat down at the far end of the table. Occasionally, he'd stop glaring at Miss Kasen long enough to keep the blush burning in my cheeks.

The Rose Hermit leaned over, draping an arm around my shoulder. Whispering low into my ear, she said, "I don't know who you are, but you can't fool me. Your disguise is better than most, but I can still tell that you're too young to be here."

I gulped. "How can you tell?"

"Really, do you think you're the first girl to go looking for trouble?" she said, laughing as she winked. "Or the first to find it when she's brought more attention to herself than she expected? Just a word of advice from your new favorite aunt. You don't want that type of trouble, not for a few more years." She pointed towards Hikaru. "And Ariadne, his kind of trouble you never want."

"My name is Akemi," I stammered, trying to slide down low in my chair.

"Sure it is," Miss Kasen said, shaking her head. "Maybe Theseus and Ariadne will be my story tonight. Call it a cautionary tale."

"You mistake me," I said. "I'm not here for him or anyone else."

"So you're really here for your mark?" Miss Kasen said. I merely nodded. On stage, Miss Reisen hammered out one last flourish to the audience's polite applause. The moon rabbit stood, curtsied, and then wheeled the dulcimer off the stage. "Oh, good, we're about to begin."

A bell chimed three times.

"Stand up," Miss Kasen whispered as she did the same. I got to my feet, my hands instinctively clutching the sides of my skirts.

A door opened in the back, and Princess Houraisan walked down the aisle towards the stage. Lady Yakumo followed close behind Gensokyo's most famous storyteller, her golden tails swaying with each step. Originally, Countess Yakumo held sway as part of the Taller's Founding Court, but Lady Ran had quickly taken her place. Each of the Ladies regularly took a turn on stage, and Lady Ran was acclaimed as the premier storyteller of Clan Yakumo. Besides, it probably interfered with Lady Yukari's naps.

The final Lady of the Taller floated behind even Lady Ran. Countess Saigyouji's fan could not hide her smile as she waved to the audience. Hikaru didn't try to sneak a smile to me as the ghostly countess joined Princess Kaguya and Lady Ran at the foot of the stage. I'm not sure why, but that bothered me.

The Court of the Eternal Moon curtsied to Mistress Yukimi, who, after, returning the curtsy, descended to the floor. The Mistress of the Stage talked in whispers to each member of the Court. I assumed that they were exchanging greetings until Mistress Yukimi's arm swept out towards Hikaru, Miss Kasen, and me. The Ladies turned around and settled in three ornate chairs at the stage's edge, while Mistress Yukimi resumed her station on the stage.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the esteemed Court of the Eternal Moon bids you welcome to the Taller de Lluna Eterna," Mistress Yukimi announced. Only then did the audience take their seats.

"Was all that necessary?" I whispered to Miss Kasen as we sat down.

"It builds a mystique," Miss Kasen said, shrugging. "Otherwise, would this be any different from telling tales around a campfire?" I could see her point; I wouldn't have sneaked out of the house if not for the prestige of the Mark of the Eternal Moon.

"Does the Court wish the honor of our stage?" Mistress Yukimi asked.

Lady Ran smiled. "We would give tonight's honor to Miss Alice Margatroid." I had learned early in my questioning that once a storyteller earned her mark, the Ladies could call on you to perform at any time in if you were present in the audience. Most considered it a small cost for the perks the prestige of the mark conveyed outside the Taller. Besides, to be a storyteller, you had to tell stories.

Miss Alice nodded as she rose. A quick curtsy later, and she said, "I accept the honor, but beg the indulgence of the final performance."

"Of course," Princess Kaguya said. It took time for even a master puppeteer like Miss Alice to prepare her shows. "Mistress of the Stage, who waits at the table tonight?"

Mistress Yukimi said, "Anchoress Ibara and two who seek the Mark of the Eternal Moon."

"You aren't going for your mark? Did you already win it?" I asked Miss Kasen.

The Rose Hermit shook her head and smiled. "Sometimes a job done well is reward enough."


"What do I need with titles or money?" the anchoress said. "Now, good company..." She looked up at the stage. Mistress Yukimi held out her hand towards the Rose Hermit. "Can you do me a favor?"

"I guess."

"Could you watch her while I'm up there?" She dropped a reddish-brown rodent into my hands. The little ball of fur looked up at me and licked my thumb. "The rabbits here aren't comfortable with my pets, and she gets lonely when I leave her at the table."

I laughed as the ferret-like mouse ran up my arm and curled around my neck like a stole. "Sure. What's her name?"

But Mistress Yukimi ushered Miss Kasen onto the stage before she could answer.

"Ah, Anchoress Ibara, what lesson do you have for us today?" Lady Yuyuko purred as Mistress Yukimi left the Rose Hermit alone on the wooden platform.

"Your Ladyship, I'd never claim your stage for a mere sermon," Miss Kasen said with a smirk.

"Not when you have the rest of Gensokyo." Lady Yuyuko hid her face with her fan, but she sounded like she was bantering with a long absent friend.

"Even I have to take a break now and again."

"'How many of you can catch a fly!'" a young girl's voice chanted. Out in the audience, a familiar straw hat bobbed above the sea of bodies. Miss Kasen rolled her eyes and pleaded silently with the Court. Princess Kaguya just smiled serenely and nodded. The Rose Hermit sighed, cleared her throat, and sang.

Rambo Frog travels by the moon,

Meets with Mister Red Raccoon.

Soon they're joined by the Tortoise and Hare

To make sure the animals all play fair.

A fight's broke out by the waterhole,

The natives have all lost control.

Froggy's boys all sound their cry,

"How many of you can catch a fly!"

The song sounded like something that the wolf tengu would sing on a march, although the soldiers would have chosen something bawdier. With relish, Miss Kasen took the crowd step by step and blow by blow through the animals' brawl, stopping regularly to lead in the shout, "How many of you can catch a fly!" With one last shout of the refrain, the song ended.

Miss Kasen held up her hand before the applause could start. "Now that we've had our fun," she said, pointedly ignoring the bouncing straw hat in the crowd. She waited until the murmurs in the audience faded to silence. Only then, in hushed tones, did she speak of a kitsune, on that fateful day when the fox-maiden fell in love with a man.

I could tell by the twitching of her tails that Miss Kasen had caught Lady Ran's attention. The Lady Fox loved listening to animal stories almost as much as Miss Kasen loved to tell them. But it was quickly evident that, while Miss Kasen could charm an audience, she lacked a certain... spark of artistry needed to truly set herself apart. Like the difference between steak and Wagyu beef. Yet I found myself so caught up in the fox-maiden's trials that I almost didn't see Hikaru sliding across the bench towards me.

The fox woman wept as her lover died, and Miss Kasen curtsied, leaving the stage in silence. The audience clapped and several dabbed away tears from their eyes, myself included.

Hikaru slipped away from me before Miss Kasen's feet touched the floor. As she walked to the performer's table, the anchoress took one look at the tears on my face and shook her head. "'Theseus will break your heart," she whispered, sitting down.

I looked at her, dumfounded. Blotting away the last of my tears, I said. "I don't get it."

"I knew I should have told 'Theseus and Ariadne' tonight," Miss Kasen muttered, taking her pet off of my shoulder.

"But I enjoyed the kitsune's tale."

The Rose Hermit smiled. "Well, there's that, at least."

"The first candidate for the Mark of the Eternal Moon approaches," Mistress Yukimi intoned from the stage. She stepped away, and Hikaru walked onto the stage, adjusting the tuning keys of a guitar. Like the hammered dulcimer, the guitar sang with more resonance than the biwa or shamisen I was used to. Mistress Yukimi was right, it was an acquired taste. But music and storytelling were a perfect compliment, matching and building upon each other with such power that Princess Kaguya had to regularly remind musicians that not all songs were stories.

Hikaru strummed out a few chords. His guitar didn't sound like many of the recordings Sanae had brought over from Outside. I think she would have called the style Spanish, although I wouldn't have recognized anything but the name. Slowly, he settled into a complex melody and counter-melody picked against each other. Was he about to repeat Merlin's mistake?

He sang, first of star-crossed lovers and then of their sad fate. Each note of the guitar an each word tugged at me. As he looked at me from up on the stage, Hikaru sang of Romeo's first sight of Juliet. I was enthralled; it was as if I were Juliet and he was singing straight to me. But then it was Juliet's turn to sing.

There is a tradition among traveling artists that, when gathered to swap tales between each other, a performer would often leave a character or two's parts unspoken. This let other performers join in and fill the vacancies, enriching the story as the two performers played off of each other. As he doubled the refrain, he nodded to me. I froze; I didn't know Juliet's part.

But another did. Lady Yuyuko stood and sang in a high, clear soprano. I could easily imagine her as the love struck Juliet's living spirit, returned to the world to weep over her fate. She embodied the role with a vitality that Hikaru's Romeo could not match.

His face blanching, Hikaru stood gaping, unable to play his guitar as the ghost transformed his song into something otherworldly. As the Lady of the White Jade Tower sang a question for Romeo, Hikaru closed his eyes for a moment and walked off the stage and out of the Taller.

I wanted to follow him out, to make sure he was okay, but I couldn't. I'd lose my chance for the storyteller's mark. Besides, Miss Kasen clamped a heavy hand on my shoulder before I could move.

The tradition of the Taller states that no story should remain unfinished. Miss Reisen stood and sang a Romeo to match Lady Yuyuko's Juliet until the two lovers joined each other in Death's embrace.

"Let me go," I said, shrugging out of her grasp.

Miss Kasen leveled a steady, emotionless glare. "Remember why you are here."

"He means nothing to me," I said, fighting the blush creeping into my cheeks. I'd only given the briefest of thoughts to failing. To see Hikaru so completely outclassed by Miss Yuyuko that he just quit brought all sorts of festering doubts to my mind. Sure, tradition stated that you could try again and again for the mark, but that meant sneaking out of the house again. I wasn't a bad girl, and if my parents found out…

Miss Kasen's eyes narrowed as a squirmed. "I wasn't talking about him. Don't listen to your fears. You have to do your best, and you can't do that if you're afraid."

"How do you do it, then?" I could feel my pulse hammering away. For some reason, telling me to not be afraid always brought out the opposite effect.

"Breathe." Four long breaths later, and my heart settled down. The Rose Hermit smiled. "It gets easier the more you try. 'To become brave, do brave things.'"

"Who said that?" I asked.

Miss Kasen just smiled. "Another story for another night." She seemed to be full of those stories tonight.

"What makes you think I'll be back?"

She laughed. "You're one of us. Do you really think you'll be able to stop telling tales? Even if your only audience is a sleeping child?"

I thought about the ink bottles and reams of paper stuffed under by bed. Papa always said that I'd keep writing until my fingers wore out. "You may-"

"The second candidate for the Mark of the Eternal Moon approaches," Mistress Yukimi intoned.

"Relax," Miss Kasen said as she guided me to the stage. The snowy rabbit took my hand and for the first time I stepped onto the most hallowed stage in Gensokyo. Where a Princess of the Moon held court, and where such greats as Alice Margatroid and Keine Kamishirasawa won their fame, and where many more had failed. Now it was my turn.

I looked out at the audience. Seeing every eye on me sent a shiver down my spine. I did my best work with the writer's brush and paper. What if my voice wasn't strong enough? Taller rules prohibited reading from a manuscript.

My eyes searched the crowd until they caught Princess Kaguya's. The serene beauty smiled and nodded to me. And then, in that moment, there was nothing else but for me to tell the one story I knew better than my own skin. My voice faltered with the first few words, but it soon found its strength…


Long ago, before the Lord Regent Fuhito Fujiwara first drew breath, before the Hatha netweavers taught the sons of Yamato their craft, before even the gods of Suwa and Yamato shook the heavens in mortal combat, a king sat in his hold, worried.

In those days, every hilltop and river held its own king and its own gods and chaos filled the land. Yet this king was wise and through his strength, his lands knew peace. But the king's heart was troubled, for his beloved son was unlucky and mocked by the people.

"How can I change my son's luck, that I might hand over the kingdom to him?" the king asked. He remembered the fishing traps set along the river and thought, "if my son should bring home a bountiful first catch, surely the people would see that his luck has turned."

Against the counsel of his lords, the king sent his son to the fishermen's traps to bring in the first catch of the year. If his son succeeded, the king would pass his crown to him. But if he failed, the king would seek another successor. So the king waited for his son's return. But that night, a storm ravaged the land. The king's heart fell, for he knew there would be no fish brought home after the storm.

The next morning, the king watched for his son. And indeed, as his son led his horse into camp, it was as the king feared. The bags of fish were empty, as were the king's hopes. Yet the king's son was cheerful, unmindful of the kingdom he had certainly lost.

"My son, what tidings do you have?" the king asked, perplexed.

"Father, I left seeking one fortune, but I return having found one even greater," the son said, pulling a sealskin bag from his saddle. The king eyed the bag, hoping that it held jewels or gold. "The weir was empty, but when I looked closer, I saw this." He opened the bad to reveal a beautiful blue-eyed baby girl, quiet yet attentive as she held the king's eye. Her smile captivated the king's heart as he knew it had his son's.

"What manner of fortune is this?"

"A new one, born alongside my daughter." And in the days to come, it proved to be so, for the son quickly found a wife and a warrior's name.

The king, seeing his son's resolve to adopt the young child, asked, "What will you name her?"

"Miare, for she appeared in front of me."

And so Miare was first announced to this world. As she became a young woman, she grew in beauty, grace, and wisdom, until she caught the eye of nearby prince. But that romance and how she earned the name she is known to by history are stories for another time...


I stood on the small wooden stage, wincing at the memory of each stammered word. I couldn't meet Princess Kaguya's eyes. Lady Ran sat still, not even twitching a single one of her many tails. It didn't matter; I could never read the fox maiden's expressions anyway. Lady Yuyuko's fan snapped open in front of her face. Was that mirth I saw in the ghost princess's eyes?

"Next time, come as yourself, Lady Akyuu." I jumped as Mistress Yukimi whispered in my ear.

"How did you know?" I asked. But the Mistress of the Stage only pointed out to the audience. The entire Taller waited, like me, holding their breath for the Princess's verdict.


Author's notes:

Taller de Lluna Eterna is Catalan for Studio of the Eternal Moon.

I wanted to try something where Kaguya wasn't either the foil to Mokou or a shut-in. Since she has a taste for storytelling and is a lady of means and stature, it seemed obvious that she would have done what many noble women have done throughout history and provide a place for the best and brightest to meet.

Akyuu's story is a re-imagining of the Celtic bard Taliesin's discovery, just shaped to fit Gensokyo and Japanese lore. And, yes, certain scholars think Hieda no Are was a woman.

Kasen's song is from "The Hap'n' Frog of Cambreadth" by Heather Alexander.

Iced Fairy

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Re: In the Light of the Eternal Moon
« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2012, 05:07:32 pm »
Hm?  Not one but two gems.  This here is a very nice short, one that uses it's space well.  You handled the 'mystery lady' very nicely even if her name was obvious, and while the remoteness of the characters seemed odd to me at first, it does a very nice job of expressing the girls nervousness and her worries that she may be totally outclassed here.  Two very strong starts for your intro to the Library.

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