It should be dawn now, but the darkness of the night was still strong.
Riri’s hands clenched around the incense burner while being tormented by anxiety. A certain person’s room was on the other side of the wall. When she looked behind her, she could see the light of a candle through the lattice.
(There’s really something I need to confirm with that person in order to uncover the truth of this incident. But I don’t have the courage to ask him directly. So…)
Inside the red incense burner was an incense that ‘encouraged confession’.
This incense relaxes you and makes you confess everything.
It was a very useful incense, but there was a problem with it.
(I’m the one who came up with this incense. I wonder if it will work properly…)
The incenses that she had created on her own failed miserably: she had tried to put the guard to sleep, but he got excited instead, or she had somehow caused her incense to explode. She had tried to create an incense that made people confess many times, but she had never succeeded. It took a lot of courage for her to use an incomplete incense.
(But I want to expose the truth before Kousho-sama finds out. I don’t have much time and more importantly, it’s too much of a burden for me to ask him about the incident directly. It would be great if this works.)
She thought about it over and over again but came to the same conclusion in the end. She decided to light the incense burner.
She held a cloth to her nose and mouth and held her breath to avoid inhaling the smoke. Then, she watched the direction of the wind and moved to a position where the smoke could enter through the holes in the lattice. After a while, she heard a voice from within.
(He’s reacting. Maybe I succeeded this time…)
“Uoh, cough, cough!” He coughed and opened the door at the same time.
“What’s with this rotten fish smell!? My eyes and throat hurt…!”
She knew she had failed again when she saw the person come out and shout.
She took off the cloth that was covering her nose and coughed as she smelled the horrible putrid smell.
“Uoah, yuck, gross! Ah, I really did fail…”
“Riri?! What the hell did you make again? Is it a tear-inducing incense?”
Mokuren was also coughing and shouting.
“Tear-inducing? I remember when I first learned how to make incenses, I wanted to make a laughing incense to make my crying friend stop crying, but I ended up making an increase that made them cry and cough even more…”
The fragrance that was drifting around in the air from the incense burner was certainly the same as the one she had burnt at that time.
Mokuren quickly closed the lid of the incense burner. Riri wiped the tears from her eyes and they both breathed in.
Mokuren turned towards her and looked up and down as if he was thinking about something.
“… I thought you wouldn’t come back until you found out the truth since you rushed out of here earlier. By any chance, did you find out something about the incident?”
His expression was gentle, but for some reason, his black eyes behind his glasses seemed to be searching for something.
“Yes. It’s only my suspicions, but I think I’m slowly getting to the bottom of this.”
She observed Mokuren’s expression. It didn’t change, but he slightly cast his eyes down.
“I see. So, what was the incense you used earlier? It looked like you created something and failed. What kind of incense were you trying to make me smell, Riri?”
“… I wanted to confirm something. So, if you’ll excuse me for a moment, Mokuren!”
She shouted and jumped onto his chest. She hugged him and inhaled his scent.
Mokuren was caught off guard by her sudden action. He quickly pulled away and widened his eyes in surprise.
“Wh-what? What the hell are you doing!?”
“I’m sorry. I wanted to confirm what I had smelled from you.”
She looked at him again and he raised an eyebrow.
“Smelled? What are you talking about?”
“The fragrance that you have on right now. That’s the one I gave to you, right?”
It was the same fragrance that she had told Garan about earlier.
She had used her first pay to buy materials to make a fragrance to give to the man who had taught her how to make incenses.
“I put it on three days ago. Can you smell something that I put on that long ago?”
He looked at her as if he didn’t believe her. A hint of regret flashed across his face.
“Yes. It’s very faint, so I can’t smell it unless I’m hugging you… In fact, I smelled it in a place where I shouldn’t have smelled it.”
When Mokuren heard this, he just folded his arms without changing his expression.
“It was really faint, so even with my olfaction, I didn’t realise that it was the same as the fragrance that I had given you. However, when you caught me as I was about to fall when we examined the incense container, I thought I smelled the same scent coming from you at that time, and that’s how I remembered about the fragrance I had given you.”
She felt his black eyes behind his glasses had become sharper.
His voice turned cold. She almost shivered but mustered up her courage to speak.
“I couldn’t be sure that the two scents were the same since the fragrance I gave you mixed with your own smell. That’s why I hugged you in order to check the scent again. I actually wanted you to smell the confession incense and listen to what you had to say, but it failed… Mokuren, the scent that I can smell coming from you right now is exactly the same as the scent that I had smelled at the place where it should never have been.”
She didn’t ask Mokuren where the place it shouldn’t have been was. His expression vanished.
“Your olfaction is very useful, Riri, but it’s tough to make an enemy out of you.”
His words were full of meaning. She was afraid to find out the truth, but she mustered up her courage and took out the incense container from inside her sleeve, then she held it up in front of Mokuren.
“There’s another scent in this incense container aside from the scent of the poisonous incense. It probably belongs to the murderer. The scented incense that I gave you is my own concoction and only you have it. So, the culprit who planted the poisonous incense in the incense container is you, Mokuren.”
Mokuren smiled slightly.
“Actually, I gave it to someone else. That person might be the culprit. You made it for me, so I couldn’t tell you that I gave it to someone else. Sorry.”
It sounded unbelievable, but she couldn’t conclude that he was lying.
She wanted to believe him. She couldn’t forget his expressionless expression just now.
“Just because the incense container smelled the same as the scent I used, doesn’t mean that I’m the culprit. The culprit is most likely Kousho-sama, the owner of the incense container. My incense may have been passed around and eventually reached Kousho-sama.”
When she heard what he had said, she widened her eyes in shock.
“… Why do you know that this belongs to Kousho-sama?”
Mokuren’s eyebrows twitched in surprise.
“You told me when you brought it to me.”
“No, I didn’t. I was careful not to tell you who it belonged to, so that’s definitely not true.”
“Then, Kousho-sama showed it to you, didn’t he?”
“Kousho-sama treasures this incense container a lot and he told me that he has only shown it to me.”
Mokuren always tells silly lies. But he always does it jokingly and in a way that was obvious that it was a lie. She had never seen anybody who could lie as easily as they can breathe, just like Mokuren was doing.
She had known him since she was a child, but the man in front of her now was a completely different person.
“Mokuren. If there’s anyone else other than me who knows that this incense container belongs to Kousho-sama, ――― then it would be the thief who stole it from his room, put a poisonous incense into the container and hid it in His Majesty’s crafted chair.”
Mokuren suddenly dropped his gaze. He pondered for a while, and finally lifted his face again.
“I see. I guess this is as far as it goes.”
He looked at her with a horrifyingly cold expression, and for the first time in her life, she feared him.
“Garan! Did you find Riri?!”
Kousho yelled at Garan who was kneeled in front of him.
“No, she doesn’t seem to be nearby! Please call the soldiers and have them look for her too!”
The thought of Riri being caught by the criminal filled Kousho’s mind with panic and anxiety. He always maintained a dignified attitude as the Crown Prince no matter what hardships he faced. But he never thought that he would be in turmoil because of a single girl. He told himself to calm down and let his mind wander.
“… Wait. I have an idea of where she might have gone. But if I’m right, then we’re in a very bad situation. We’re heading there now. I definitely won’t let him hurt Riri!”
Kousho raised his voice and Garan widened his eyes. He was curious about why Kousho was acting like this and frowned.
“What is it?”
“… You’re always so calm and disciplined that you didn’t even change your expression when His Majesty collapsed, so I’m wondering why you’re showing so much emotion now.”
Garan, who didn’t know anything, found it strange.
However, there was a reason why Kousho was so distraught that he had forgotten himself.
“――― Riri is special.”
“What did you say?”
“Nothing. Let’s go.”
He ordered Garan to run. He tried to remain calm but was deeply shocked at his inability to do so.