Riri changed into the maid outfit that Hisui had brought for her and walked until she was close to the hall.
It was night time, but torches were lit in the garden facing the hall, so it was reasonably bright.
She hid behind a bush in the garden and peeked at the hall.
“There’s quite a lot of soldiers here. I can’t go in there.”
Seeing more than a dozen soldiers searching the hall, she knew that even if she was disguised as a maid, they would notice her. After some thought, she sat behind the bush and took out her incense burner.
“I’ll try to make the sleeping incense again. I only failed when I was in jail because I was in a rush. It’s alright, it should go well this time… probably?”
She noticed the questioning tone in her voice rising, but she pretended that she hadn’t noticed.
“The only way to silence that many soldiers at once is to put them to sleep, and this time…!”
It would be easier to get them out of there, even if she did fail and made them excited.
She finely adjusted the blend of the incense and put it into the incense burner. In the darkness of the night, she took the burner to the bush to the right of the hall and lit it. She calculated that if she lit the incense burner here then the smoke would go into the hall from the direction of the wind. Then, she quickly moved to the shade of a tree in the corner of the garden to avoid smelling the smoke.
“Please, please succeed this time! … Huh?”
The sleeping incense was supposed to be odourless, but a faint smell wafted through the air.
Her sense of smell directly told her brain that this scent was ‘dangerous’.
She quickly clutched her head. The area around the incense burner began to lit up brightly as if it was midday as soon as she crouched down.
The earth tremored, and the bush where the incense burner was located exploded.
“What the hell was that explosion?”
“It came from the bush over there!”
The soldiers in the hall were in an uproar, and even Riri, who was hiding, couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“Why? Why did the incense explode? I was just trying to make a sleeping incense…!”
The incense was made from fragrant wood, but when she lit it on fire, it smelled like gunpowder.
“… What should I do? I was trying to get them to quieten down, but I caused an uproar instead… Hmm?”
She put her hands on the ground and looked down, but then she noticed that the soldiers had gathered at the bush where the explosion had occurred and were making a ruckus.
“It might still go off. Look around to see if there’s anyone in the garden!”
The soldiers scattered and began to search the area. The hall was empty thanks to that.
“This wasn’t how it was supposed to turn out… I was going to use the sleeping incense to put the soldiers to sleep and then quickly search the hall. It’s true that the hall is empty now, so I can check it out, but…!”
There was a huge difference between her idea and reality. She couldn’t accept this, but she didn’t have time to not accept it.
“I can feel down about this after. The soldiers will come back if I don’t hurry. This is good for now.”
She told herself before rushing to the hall. She got up from the floor and stepped onto the platform where the Emperor was sitting. A red curtain was hanging around the platform and finely craft frames radiated subtle beauty.
In the centre of the platform was a golden throne where the Emperor sat during the perfumers meeting.
“It’s a gorgeous throne. I’m almost afraid to touch it.”
She timidly approached the throne. Behind the throne was a gold folding screen with a rising dragon on it. She suddenly noticed a certain scent and sniffed a few times.
“Where is this scent coming from…?”
It was a scent that she had never smelled before, and it was so faint that it seemed like it would disappear at any moment.
“It seems to be coming from the armrest. Why is it coming from this place…? Ah!”
She touched the armrest, and the top came off with a clunk.
“Oh no, did I break it?”
She panicked, but soon realised that it was deliberately designed to come off to make a glove compartment.
“This is a crafted chair, isn’t it? Father’s chair was like this too. He used to put sweets in the compartment and ate them while he was working.”
Some people use it to store cigarette ashes and others used it to store precious stones. She realised that the scent that had been wafting in the air earlier was coming from here as she was about to put the lid back on. She looked closer and saw that there was something in the compartment.
There was a white incense container with a wisteria flower painted on it in the compartment. She took it out and raised her eyebrow since she recognised the container.
“I’m pretty sure that Kousho-sama’s first love gave this incense container to him. Why is it here?”
When she opened the container, she could smell the scent that had been bothering her a while ago. The faint scent lingering in the container came from two different fragrances. The first scent made her feel sick to her stomach. She knew instinctively that it was a dangerous scent. The other scent was there to erase the presence of the first scent. She put her nose close to the container to check the smell, but it made her feel so sick that she closed the lid of the incense container.
“I wonder if this is the leftovers of the poisonous incense…”
It was probably harmless since some time had passed, but she didn’t want to smell it anymore.
“There’s no way that Kousho-sama put this here, right…?”
She recalled Kousho. He hadn’t said anything when everyone suspected that she had poisoned the Emperor. If he was the culprit, then she suspected that he kept quiet at that time in order to frame her for the crime.
Her suspicions brought a tightening pain in her chest.
A voice from behind her startled her. Riri quickly hid the incense container in her sleeve and turned around. Kousho was standing at the entrance of the hall. Her heart skipped a beat when he had appeared since she was suspicious of him.
“Riri! Why are you here?”
Kousho approached her with a stern look on his face. She didn’t know what to say and her mind was in chaos.
(Calm down. Just because the incense container is here doesn’t mean that Kousho-sama is the culprit. But it does mean that he’s the most suspicious person. I need to carefully find out the truth.)
She took a deep breath and tried to keep her voice as quiet as possible.
“I escaped prison to find the culprit.”
“What?! Quickly go back to your cell.”
“But I’ll be guilty of trying to assassinate His Majesty and will be sentenced to death if I don’t do this. I didn’t try to kill him!”
“I know you didn’t.”
Her eyes widened at the words that had been said so easily to her.
“I said I know you didn’t. I know you’re not the culprit. The real culprit is someone else. But they want to frame you. If you wander around outside, the real criminal might kill you. It’s safer for you inside your cell.”
She blinked her eyes several times at Kousho’s surprising words.
“Is that why you put me in jail?”
“Yeah. But you escaped. It’s dangerous out here!”
His expression and tone showed that he was genuinely worried about her.
Just having him believe in her made her feel warm and fuzzy inside and gave her a sense of security.
(Thank god. It hurt to think he didn’t believe in me… Huh? Why did it hurt? He’s arrogant and selfish, and I don’t want to be close to him, so I don’t care if he believes me…”
She pondered but regained her composure since it wasn’t the time to be thinking about this.
(The incense container in the chair belongs to Kousho-sama. So, is he the culprit…? But I have a feeling that he’s not a bad person regardless of what he says. I could feel how much he cares for his kingdom when I talked to him before. I also think that his respect for His Majesty is genuine. More importantly, would he use the incense container that he had received from his first love for assassination…?)
He may actually be a very loving person since he still cherishes his first love from childhood.
She didn’t believe that he would go out of his way to choose a precious incense container as a tool to assassinate his father.
She pondered if there was a way she could confirm this.
“… Kousho-sama. When His Majesty collapsed, I think I smelled the same fragrance that was wafting from the incense container you showed me before. Could you show me the container so that I can make sure? It might give us a clue about the culprit.”
She tried to remain as calm as possible and focused her attention on her nose. Then, she could smell the slight scent of sweet that came out when someone was panicking coming from Kousho.
“… I put that in my room. You probably imagined it when you thought it smelled the same as the container. The soldiers will be back soon. I’ll hold them off, so go back to your cell. Alright?”
Kousho strode away towards the garden. A normal person wouldn’t notice that he was upset.
“But you can’t fool my nose.”
She muttered as she peeked at the incense container in her sleeve.
Riri left the hall and headed towards the Department of Incense.
“I’ll talk to Mokuren about this. I’m sure the Incense Palace has tools to find out the ingredients for a fragrance. I’ll ask them to check if the poisonous incense that was lit for His Majesty is the same as the scent that remains in this incense container.”
She was afraid to move around the palace at night, but she managed to avoid the guards and came close to the Department of Incense.
“I’m almost there… Kyah!”
Someone grabbed her shoulder from behind. She was so surprised that her heart almost stopped.
“W-who is it?!”
She was so scared that she turned around and raised my right arm to hit the person, but they managed to dodge her hand.