Reimu was aimlessly floating around in the skies of Gensokyo. Having an overlooking view of the land was helpful until it was not.
Being so high up means that you'll inevitably miss the details. Not to mention that the mist was already spread evenly all over Gensokyo, making it impossible to determine the epicenter of the mist.
"Sigh, how troublesome. I have been beating Mooks up for days, yet the mastermind still hasn't shown up."
In the first place, Reimu wasn't someone who would think much when investigating an incident. She'd fly around, beat up anyone suspicious that crosses her way, then ask them about the incident. Rinse and repeat until the incident is resolved.
"Still, Rin noticed the start of the incident before me. In a way, that's quite incredible, isn't it?"
Thinking about it, Rin herself was a rather suspicious person.
Especially her circumstances of her arrival in Gensokyo were dubious. It was too convenient, to say the least.
Yet, Reimu's gut told her that while Rin was suspicious, her suspicious properties had nothing to do with the current incident in Gensokyo.
"Great. Nobody is willing to lead me to the conclusion. I also have no viable lead. How pleasant."
And now my stomach was grumbling because of hunger. Great.
"I've worked hard enough. I deserve to take my lunch now."
Looking at the scarlet sky, I sighed in frustration.
An unresolved incident and mist dense enough to block out the sun. Thanks to those things, my mood dampened as I landed in front of the shrine.
A day or two might have passed since the appearance of the mist.
Thinking about the circumstances, I was concerned about what food I had left in the storage.
After all, the stalls in the human village won't open when the demonic mist is still spreading all over the country.
Opening the storage door, I was met with an expected sight.
What do I do now? At this rate, I'll starve to death.
What was that?
"How often do I have to teach you damn fairies this lesson!"
Sigh. How annoying, especially now, during an incident did those little pests decide to be more annoying than usual.
Fairies tend to gather more in areas where people frequent. So, when a large crowd of fairies gathers, it usually is a good indicator that a strong youkai is present.
Now fairies were especially more rowdy than usual during the times of this mist.
One reason is that the red mist stimulates them to be more mischievous. The second reason was that their inherent nature was basically to be annoying little shits.
"Those are nice conclusions, but neither helps me solve the incident or fill my stomach!"
What the hell were they even rummaging my shrine for?
That was when a box that could solve at least one of my troubles fell into my sight.
"Beggars can't be choosers. Good grief, to think the day I have to fill my stomach with those would actually arrive..."
*Doctor Rin's Manjuu. One Manjuu contains the nutrients an adult needs for a day!*
Down to the village, visiting Rin.
Who knows? I might find a new lead once my stomach is filled.
Flying to the human village proved troublesome as countless weak Youkai's swarmed me. While they were nothing more than an inconvenience, as they didn't even manage to touch my clothes, stopping every few meters was quite annoying.
Annoying to the point where I thought that walking would be a lot faster and easier than flying to the human village.
So, I just did that. The result was that Youkai's just started swarming me on the ground instead of the air. While the number of enemies drastically reduced as they couldn't surround me from below as the ground would block them...
...scratch that. Apparently, there are some Youkai that enjoy playing in the dirt.
How annoying. I am hungry. I want some food. I want to fill my stomach. I want to sit and relax.
Yet, all these annoying pests keep swarming and delaying me.
Hell, it's not as if I am walking to a tasty meal. Only some supplements. Not even tasty or pleasant supplements. Pure medicinal supplements with countless positive effects but have the flavor of rotten fish. So, why?
"So, why do you keep pestering me!"
The shrine maiden herself was unaware of her next course of action. But in that moment, every Youkai, Fairy, and Beast that observed her rampage unanimously agreed on two things.
To give the current generation of Hakurei Shrine Maiden the nickname "The Crimson Slasher" and to never provoke the crimson slasher.
After a bloody massacre, where no drop of blood even touched the dress of the Hakurei Shrine Maiden, Reimu finally arrived at the human village.
The human village. The only place in Gensokyo where humans could live a safe life and where I'll get my food.
Evidence of why this specific piece of land was a lot easier to inhabit for humans was right here.
To be specific, the moment I got close to it. The density of the scarlet mist was reduced by a lot the moment I got close to the village.
Not that I suspected that the culprit was in the village. The explanation is a simple one.
Youkai feed on human's fear, so what would they inevitably do when their only source of food was in danger?
Yes, that's right. They keep it safe and protected.
The tengu's changing the flow of the wind, the kappa's all trying to purify the air, and many more Youkai that worked for the safety of the human village in secret.
Not that the humans could ever know. After all, if you know that your supposed enemy was your helper all along, would you still be able to fear him as much as before?
Still, this was a testament to the strength of this mist.
Even though countless Youkai worked their hardest to keep most of it out, it was still everywhere.
Ah, what a surprise. The one who'll feed me just arrived.
It seems she was pretty surprised seeing me here.
"Reimu, it's you! How is your investigation into the incident going? Why are you here? What did you find out? Gasp! Don't tell me the culprit is hidden somewhere in the village!"
That's a lot of questions!
"Settle down, Rin. There is a far more important concern than the incident right now."
"What could be more important than getting the people out of this predicament-"
I started blushing as Rin heard my stomach produce such unladylike sounds.
Meanwhile, Rin just stared at me with deadpan eyes.
"Sigh. Follow me, Reimu..."
Yay! Finally, some grub!
After getting her explicit invitation, I followed Rin to the current place she took residence in. The Hieda Household.
"It's quite busy today, isn't it?"
"Can you blame us? We all try our best to keep everyone breathing in this situation. Even if it burns us out."
Humans were really frail, weren't they? Even with the mist being already kept at bay, even the thinned-out version of it still posed a significant threat to us.
"Rin, did you know-"
Before I could end my sentence, Rin covered my mouth with her hand and pushed me into another room.
"Ah, right. Your prescription, I completely forgot about it. Can you blame me? We have been quite busy during these last days."
It was as if she tried to cover something up.
"Reimu, not here. If you told bad news in the middle of the village, everyone would start panicking."
Swatting her hand away, I gave Rin a disgruntled look. That meant that Rin knew the mist was denser outside the human village.
"For you to know this means you have left the human village, despite the village being under lockdown. You better tell me the reason you left, or I'll exterminate-"
Shrinking back, I didn't expect Rin would glare back at me.
"Do you think ingredients and rations appear out of thin air? Especially since the supply of medicinal ingredients runs out faster than I am comfortable with! With the number of people that get sick every day, I try my best to keep a supply of medicine, but at the pace, we are using the medicine up..."
Hearing Rin voice her concerns, I felt ashamed for suspecting her for even a second.
"That still means you are running around in the mist for who knows long. It's fine wanting to help people, but aren't you putting yourself in harm's way?"
I was met with blank eyes as I asked Rin that question. It seems she failed to understand the point I was making.
"Isn't it natural for me to go out and gather supplies since I am highly resistant to the mist?"
She didn't wait for me to finish what I had to say next. She just wordlessly shoved a new pack of Manjuu into my hands.
"This is the improved version of the Manjuu I used to give you."
"Oh, really! So, you improved the taste. I can't wait to experience the improved taste-"
In my impatience, I again didn't listen to the end of what Rin had to say, regretting my decision immediately as I put a Manjuu into my mouth.
"Sigh, this version not only contains a day's worth of nutrients, but now it also removes accumulated fatigue and temporarily increases your energy levels, and to my last point, about the taste of the improved version. I couldn't really change anything about it. It tastes like the previous version, but now it also leaves an aftertaste..."
Honestly, those Manjuu taste disgusting. If I had the choice between eating grass and licking a rock and the Manju, I would choose the grass and the stone. Yet, the worst part was that the Manjuu was as effective as Rin promised.
"Why does something so useful have to taste so disgusting."
Rin just shrugged, looking rather helpless.
"Well, I tried my best. This Manjuu is the result of what I can achieve. Maybe I'll further improve it in the future, but as of now, that's the best version of the Manjuu. The taste or medicinal effect of the Manjuu would suffer if I tried to change the recipe now. So, there is no choice but to put up with it tasting like rotten fish."
Good grief. One would think that Gensokyo's protector should be paid well enough so they could afford food on their table. But reality can't be what we want it to be.
Mine is that it wasn't unusual for me to go to the village and "barter" for my food.
I am grateful for Rin's kindness in giving me "food" free of charge, but I couldn't help but want something better than those Manjuu.
After all, while beggars are desperate, they are still human. Even if they are on the brink of death, I doubt that most people would be willing to eat shit to survive.
"Sigh, thanks for your kindness."
Rin gave me a kind and understanding smile after my show of appreciation.
"You are welcome. If you don't mind, I need to leave now. Medicine doesn't appear out of thin air."
"But I do mind."
There was still this nagging feeling in my gut.
"I doubt you know anything about this situation, but my intuition has never failed me. Rin..."
For some reason, Rin broke out in a cold sweat when I started asking her things.
Maybe she knows more about the situation than she'd like to admit?
"...what do you know about the current situation?"
Her eyes darted around the room, obviously uncomfortable with my question. What were you hiding, nurse of the outside world?
After a while, she calmed down. She sighed, seemingly giving up hiding whatever she had hidden.
Staring at me with a gaze full of hesitation, Rin didn't say anything as she started undressing, starting from her top.
Approaching footsteps could be heard as a servant was rightfully running towards the room where a woman's cry came from.
"Is everything alright?"
As she opened and looked into the room, she didn't expect the sight she was met with.
That was the scene of Akyuu's attending physician slowly disrobing in front of the Hakurei Shrine Maiden.
"I-I am sorry. I haven't seen anything!"
As quickly as she entered, as fast did she leave the scene behind, to Reimu's dismay.
"Great. Now weird rumors about us are going to spread."
"That wouldn't have happened if you let out that girly shout."
"Y-You can't expect me to keep calm when you start undressing out of nowhere..."
Just an awkward laugh for an embarrassing situation.
Usually, I would have snapped if someone pulled something like this, but after seeing Rin's condition, my anger subsided.
"How did you manage to catch something that nasty?"
"Let's just say that there isn't any lunatic out there who would put their body on the line like this just to find a way to help. Well, no lunatic but me."
Starting from Rin's chest, around the area where the heart should be, nasty scars giving off an eerie scarlet glow were visible.
I take my statement earlier back. Rin wasn't a kindhearted fool. She is an idiot with a death wish.
"The scarlet mist turned out a lot worse than my initial expectations. At first, I thought its effects would only extend to the symptoms of severe Belladonna poisoning, which would have been already bad in its own right, but after conducting further experiments, I found that the mist is a lot worse than I thought-"
Speaking about herself...
No, she didn't even speak about herself. Talking about the result of an experiment in such a neutral manner, without even mentioning the sacrifices she took on herself as if it was the most natural thing...
...it was to the extent that even carefree me was disgusted.
"Did that snap you to the reality that what you've been doing is literal insanity?"
Rin slowly started putting her clothes back on. Rubbing her injured cheek that I slapped.
She closed her eyes before opening them again as she seemed to think about what to say next.
"Reimu, I am grateful for your worry about me, and seeing as we are friends... We are friends, right?"
If I am honest. I was surprised when Rin asked me that question of nowhere like this.
Initially, I wanted to deny her statement about our friendship, but as I thought about it a bit more, even if I barely knew her, even if she was a bit naggy...
...I enjoyed the time when she was around the shrine.
"I... guess we are? You are certainly the only doctor I know willing enough to trek a mountain and visit a Youkai Shrine to deliver some medicine to a patient. If the rumors about me didn't scare you off from me, calling you anything but a friend would feel awkward."
As I answered Rin, her expression immediately brightened as she gave me a big smile.
"That said, as your friend, seeing you be so reckless about your health is..."
Before I could continue, Rin pressed her index finger to my lips. Stopping me from speaking.
"I get it. I am reckless. I am a doctor, even though I keep saying that people should stop calling me that way, and as a doctor, I should know better than to do the stuff I am doing."
"If you know, then why are you..."
"But that's the reason why. I am not a doctor. I am an alchemist who brews all kinds of potions, beneficial and harmful alike. I am a lunatic that would do everything as long as it furthers my research and doesn't conflict with my moral code. In a sense, I am less of a doctor and more of a witch. That is to say, it wasn't a lie when I said I was a nurse. Seeing a patient's smile makes me happy. I am sure I was in this kind of line of work in the outside world. It's just that I enjoy brewing potions more."
So, you are telling me that it's just everyone else who misunderstood you? It made sense considering she never declared herself as a doctor. Everyone just saw her as one since she kept curing people's ailments.
"Even if that's the case, that doesn't change the fact that you are harming yourself!"
A statement she wasn't able to refute. Backed up by the fact that she conceded after I made that point.
"My curiosity got the better of me. I'll make sure to avoid doing things like this in the future to give you and Akyuu less of a headache."
Hearing Rin promise me that filled me with a weird sense of pride.
"Still, the damage is done. We can't change the fact that I have that injury on my chest. So, do you want to hear what I found thanks to my "sacrifice"?"
As reluctant as I was, it was still my only lead.
"Where did I stop now... Right. The mist is a lot worse than we initially thought. While early symptoms are similar to Belladonna poisoning, the effects of the mist don't stop there. If someone doesn't drop dead after the first wave of symptoms, the second wave comes. Symptoms include inflammation of the heart caused by an abnormally increased heartbeat, which can lead to burns on the skin of the chest area around where the heart lies."
"So, if someone doesn't die from the Belladonna poisoning-like effect, they'll die of a burning heart?"
Rin shook her head.
"Remember, the usual one's that survive the mist are the Youkai. Their bodies are obviously capable of withstanding that amount of stress. No, the increased blood circulation isn't the symptom we should be paying attention to."
Then what is it?
"Isn't it obvious?"
Did Rin just read my thoughts on my face again?
"We should be wary of the insanity that follows the increased heartbeat."
Suddenly the bloodlust in the room increased to abnormal levels as Rin's golden-colored eyes turned scarlet.
"Let me guess, your next words are going to be..."
""You better explain yourself quickly, or I'll exterminate you.""
Wait, did she...!
"Stop reading me!"
Rin just chuckled as she saw my reaction, apparently finding it amusing.
"Don't worry, I have myself under control. I just let the effect a bit loose to demonstrate it. As I said, the worrying part about this mist is the insanity it creates. While increased heart rate and blood pressure increase hunger, because both processes require huge amounts of energy, causing more frequent attacks, the insanity itself is a symptom separate from them."
She just gave me a smug smile.
"Hallucinations, fear, bloodlust, loss of senses. In short, insanity. You'll start to see red if you are under the effects of the scarlet mist for too long."
So, all kinds of Youkai turn insane if they are under the influence of the most for too long.
"Great. Are you done wasting my time? I figured this out for a while now. If they weren't insane, Youkai wouldn't attack me as they do now."
Rin started pinching her nose as if she was frustrated with me.
"Do I really have to spell it out for you?"
"It would be nice if you didn't act like everyone can read people as you do. In case you didn't get the memo yet, I can't look into your head, and I am sure you won't find anyone who could."
Scratching her head, Rin seemed to reflect on herself.
"Fair enough. It's simple. I am trying to say that your current method of solving the incident is useless."
"Reimu, you really are simpleton. In fact, you are so simple that I can read you like a book once you are agitated."
"If you don't get to the point, I'll hit you with the gohei."
"Hnngh-! Look, let me guess. The way you currently go at the incident is to shoot any aggressive and/or suspicious Youkai and then ask questions, right?"
I nodded at Rin's statement. After all, she was right. That's how I worked at the incident.
"Now, do you think you'll get any proper answers from something that isn't of proper mind?"
Oh, I get it now. Even if I asked questions, their minds would be too clouded by insanity to answer me with anything useful.
"Don't tell me you just realized?"
"W-wait! As helpful as your advice was, I still don't have any leads to help me solve this incident!"
"Go ask Keine-sensei or Akyuu-sama. You took enough time from me today. Medicine isn't going to make itself."
Receiving that harsh answer, Rin shut the door in front of me.
Great. Now I am back at square one. It's not that I already realized that my actions during the entire last week weren't fruitful.
Asking the chronicler and the teacher, huh? Well, everything beats doing nothing.
"Excuse me, where is Akyuu-sama's room."
The Hieda family. A family that regularly births the greatest minds of a generation and has to compile Gensokyo's history.
The current head of the Hieda family, Hieda no Akyuu, carries the power of the Gumonji. An ability that lets one remember everything they saw and grants a flawless reincarnation.
If they can't help me in my current predicament, it's hopeless.
"I am sorry, Miss Hakurei Shrine Maiden, but me and Keine-sensei have been looking through all the family records thrice at this point, but we also don't have any leads."
"What? You can't be serious!"
"As much as it pains to say, but..."
Akyuu pointed at her room. No, more the state it was in. Countless scrolls and pieces of paper were strewn haphazardly around, with an ungodly amount of notes hanging all over the walls and floor. Not to mention the unconscious body of a certain teacher lying flat on the ground.
"...we tried finding any connection. We looked at records of the Belladonna flower and various other flowers that have a similar effect, past records of strange phenomena and weather occurrences, records of youkai and gods, but..."
"You don't need to explain further. I get it."
"I am sorry, Miss Shrine Maiden."
"Call me Reimu."
"Yes, I mean wha-"
Honestly, those were the most devastating news I have heard in a long time.
Thinking about it made my head hurt, my heart ache, and my stomach churn.
My duty as the Hakurei Shrine Maiden, the protector of Gensokyo, was to stomp incidents like this on the ground.
Yet here I am, wasting precious time accomplishing nothing. No matter the ability or the strength, both were useless if I didn't know what to do.
"Sigh. Mother would have resolved this incident by dinner at this point..."
No point in moping around. It's not as if a miracle would happen and something that could help me would fall in front of me-
"What was that?
As I made my way to the source of the sound, I found a sphere of darkness eating the Hieda Mansion.
It was obvious, but thanks to the mini-earthquake, the people in the mansion started evacuating as fast as possible.
As the darkness slowly dissipated, the silhouette of a blond girl with shoulder-length hair and red eyes was revealed. Wearing a pitch-black vest and skirt, she reminded me of...
"That's the Youkai of the Dusk, Rumia! As her title suggests, she is a Youkai capable of manipulating darkness!"
Woah, Akyuu? I guess it made sense since Rumia crashed into her residence. The analysis came just at the right time.
"Oh... I am hungry."
"Hungry? Is that why you are trying to eat that house?"
"Oh, it was a house? No wonder why it's not tasty."
I doubt that she had any connection to the incident in any way, but...
"Hey, do you have anything to do with the Scarlet Mist?"
"Scarlet Mist? Oh, you're right~. It's red like a ground cherry. So pretty~."
Wait a moment. That Youkai seemed pretty sane compared to all the Youkai that attacked me today.
"Wait, you are a human right? You look tasty."
Nevermind. Time to exterminate her.
"Be careful! Her darkness blocks any light-based attack. It's also impossible to see through it! Though, it seems she can't see through her own darkness!"
"Thanks for the info, Akyuu. But for your own safety, you should fall back."
The little girl nodded, retreating to the safety of her house.
Well, it's Youkai exterminating time-
"Wait. You've asked about the Scarlet Mist, right?"
"What about it?"
"Well, didn't a new bill get passed recently? What was it called again..."
A new bill? Don't tell me that what she is talking about is...
"Do you mean Spellcards?"
"Yeah! That's how it got called, Spellcards!"
"Don't tell me you are trying to strike a deal with me."
"And what if I am?"
I couldn't help but laugh at the situation. No matter how I looked at it, Rumia looked like a mid-rank Youkai on a good day. Since she suggested a Spellcard Battle, she wanted to even the playing field for herself.
Not that I would lose in any way. There was just the chance I could lose. Still, it meant she was sane enough to negotiate, so...
"What are your conditions?"
The little girl gave me a heartwarming smile. Or it would have been if I didn't know she was a Youkai.
"If I win, I'll get a bite out of you. If you win, I'll tell you what I know about the incident."
Talk about a lucky break. A lead that could help me solve the incident.
"How many Rounds and Spellcards?"
"Let's say 6 and 3."
That night, the first official Spellcard Battle of Gensokyo was declared.
The first of many.
"Is the person in front of me the edible kind?"
"Have you ever heard the saying "good medicine tastes bad"?"