“So, the culprit is Mokuren? No way. You’re telling a bad lie like always. I don’t believe that you tried to assassinate His Majesty.”
Riri tried to keep calm but when she saw the cold expression on Mokuren’s face, she felt a mixture of anxiety and fear and wanted to run away. She wanted to cling onto the single possibility that like always, this was a bad joke from Mokuren. However, Mokuren smiled with a troubled expression on his face.
“Too bad. I’m not lying for once.”
His voice was gentle like it always was. What Garan had said suddenly flashed through her mind.
“I heard that people who use poisonous incenses are a group of assassins known as the Dark Perfumers. I also heard that they have infiltrated the palace. Don’t tell me you’re a Dark Perfumer…?”
She asked and Mokuren slightly lowered his gaze.
“Riri, do you know about the ‘Nine-tailed Fox’?”
She puzzled over what he asked and Mokuren’s cold smile deepened.
“The Nine-tailed Fox is an auspicious beast just like the Dragon, Phoenix and Qilin. The Nine-tailed Fox is said to be a guardian deity to the Imperial family, but it is also said to be a beast that brings bad luck because it encourages revolution when a less than virtuous emperor reigns.”
His voice and expression was the coldest she had ever seen. He looked like a proud warrior who was on a mission.
“I’m the head of the Dark Perfumers. The head of the Dark Perfumers have been granted the Nine-tailed Fox title of darkness for generations. I have concluded that the current Emperor is not virtuous. So, I have decided to start a revolution as stated by my title in order to create a new kingdom with my own hands.”
“Revolution…? I think His Majesty is a wonderful man. What do you mean by not virtuous?”
“In simpler terms, it means that he’s not worthy of being the Emperor. The duty of the Nine-tailed Fox is to abolish unworthy emperors and create a revolution. Riri, I’ll tell you something good. We were originally an assassination squad commanded by the Emperor. But the Emperor abandoned us after one failure…!”
His last words sounded like a blood-curdling scream.
She suddenly remembered her conversation with Kousho about the Dark Perfumers. When she had asked why the Dark Perfumers had wanted to assassinate the Emperor, he told her that it was none of her business and told her nothing. She wondered if he knew that they were an assassination squad directly commanded by the Emperor.
(I can’t believe that the Emperor had an assassination squad under his command, and that Mokuren belongs to that squad…)
When Riri stared at Mokuren with her eyes wide open, he smiled.
“It’s only normal for you not to know about the Dark Perfumers since you’ve lived a normal life. We were ordered by the Emperor to assassinate political leaders and important targets from enemy kingdoms, and yet he abandoned us after one failed assassination attempt. But I’m sure you can understand what we went through when we were thrown out of court.”
She was surprised by his words.
(I also had a horrible life after Father was expelled from Court for failing to mix the treasured incense. I couldn’t even buy food to eat. I wouldn’t even be here now if Mokuren hadn’t helped.)
Riri looked down and Mokuren gave her a small nod with a gentle expression on his face.
“When I first saw you, I was reminded of myself as a child when I had first been expelled from court… There’s no way that we, who have been living in the underworld, can blend into society that easily. There were many who grew resentful of the Emperor for abandoning us. And I, who has inherited the title of the Nine-tailed Fox from my father, and became the head of the Dark perfumers, survived to punish the Emperor for being unvirtuous.”
His voice was quiet and gentle as if he was telling her a bedtime story even though he was talking about something absurd. She shook her head because she couldn’t believe what he was saying.
“The Mokuren I know isn’t a person like that. He’s the person who taught me how to make incenses…”
“I got close to you to learn how to make the treasured incense that is somewhere deep in your memory.”
Riri was stunned by his unexpected words.
“Saido definitely made the treasured incense. The power of the treasured incense can be used to repel any enemy… Riri, what kind of incense has such a strong power? You already know, don’t you?”
He sounded like he was testing her. The treasured incense is a national secret, but as the head of the Department of Incenses, Mokuren knew what kind of incense it is.
“The effect of the treasured incense is…”
It took her a lot of courage to say this out loud, but she had made up her mind.
She felt as if she couldn’t hesitate if she wanted to know Mokuren’s true intentions.
“It’s an incense that manipulates memory.”
She declared as she looked at him straight in the eyes, and Mokuren nodded while looking at her as if he was a teacher looking at an excellent student.
“That’s right. I knew you could do it, Riri. But that’s strange. How do you know this? You told His Majesty that you made an incense that was close to the treasured incense.”
“I made an incense that erases memories. Ryouka tried my completed incense three days before the perfumers meeting. She fainted in my room, and she woke up after a while. Then, she looked at me and asked, ‘Who are you?’”
On that day, Ryouka looked at her as if she had just met her. Riri had asked her a lot of questions and realised that Ryouka had lost a month’s worth of memories. Riri had ventilated the room quickly, so Ryouka regained all her memories the next day, but if she had properly inhaled the incense, then she wouldn’t have been able to recover her memories.
“I think there are two kinds of treasured incenses. The first erases memories and the second regains the memories that were erased. Once these two incenses are combined, then it becomes the treasured incense. But I could only make the incense that erases memories.”
She couldn’t say she had completed the treasured incense when she only had a part of it.
Therefore, she had asked the Emperor for more time to prepare the incense that retrieved lost memories.
“I see, so it’s like that? … Riri, I’ll tell you something else. Saido made the treasured incense, and the first person he tried it on was his own daughter. He used the treasured incense to erase his daughter’s memory to keep her out of danger because she used her keen sense of smell to help him through the whole process of creating it.”
When she heard that much, she felt something drop in her heart.
“I had always thought that it was strange how my memories of Father were so vague. I get a terrible headache when I try to remember him. He couldn’t have…”
“He did. Your memories have been partially erased by the treasured incense. Like you said, when you have both the incense that can erase memories and the incense that can return those memories, you get the treasured incense… The effects are wonderful. It can be an incredibly powerful weapon depending on how you use it.”
Mokuren closed his mouth once and looked at Riri intently.
“This isn’t known to the public, but hundreds of years ago, Shinzui invaded an enemy nation and was driven into a corner. At that time, a perfumer made the treasured incense to manipulate the enemy’s General’s memories, so that they will fight for Shinzui, leading the kingdom into victory.”
Riri had never heard this before. She widened her eyes and Mokuren continued his story.
“If there is a perfumer who can use the treasured incense, then no matter how many or how strong the enemy is, they can’t be defeated. If the treasured incense is used to manipulate the memories of the enemy’s general, then they will no longer be enemies. Indeed, the treasured incense is a powerful incense that can repel any enemy, and it is also a formidable weapon. It will protect our kingdom more so than sharp blades or steel armours.”
She knew Mokuren was right. She shuddered when she thought about how terrifying the treasured incense was.
“That perfumer was recognised for his achievements and given the Qilin title. However, he said that the treasured incense can be a dangerous thing depending on how it is used, so he didn’t tell anyone the recipe. When he died, there was no one left who could make the treasured incense. Riri, we the Dark Perfumers, want to complete the treasured incense and use it to create a new world. So, I have a proposal for you.”
Mokuren smiled. It was the same gentle smile she always saw on him.
“Why don’t you join us?”
She couldn’t believe what she had just heard him ask. She gulped in surprise.
“What did you say…? Why me?”
“We are trying to dethrone the Emperor to create our own kingdom. We will enthrone a virtuous Emperor to create a fair and just kingdom. When the revolution happens, we will create a kingdom where no one will be discriminated against just because they’re a woman. Isn’t this your ideal world?”
She couldn’t hide her confusion, and Mokuren held out his right hand.
“If you take my hand and join me, then I will create a world where your dream of becoming a perfumer will come true. Women are not allowed to take the national examination. So, you will never fulfil your dream and become a perfumer. I will change this ridiculous kingdom. Your dream will come true if you join me.”
It was a sweet temptation from Mokuren, who she trusted and respected more than anyone else.
(A kingdom where even a woman can take the national examination and become a perfumer…)
That was the kind of kingdom she had been dreaming of. Women in this kingdom aren’t even allowed to try and take the exam.
Hisui had said that as a noble woman, she had been taught that marrying a virtuous man was a woman’s happiness. She also said that she had always hated being told that. If she joined Mokuren, then they might be able to create a kingdom where everyone can freely choose their own future, regardless of their gender. She even thought it was a great thing.
She bit her lip and held back the urge to take Mokuren’s hand. Mokuren frowned a little.
“I want to create a kingdom like that. But you’re wrong in trying to assassinate the Emperor and causing a revolution.”
His voice and face were firm. She looked at Mokuren with strong determination.
“Riri, the world won’t change if you say naïve things like that. We need to create a wind of change in order to change the world. There may be a big storm, but we will blow everything away and rebuild the kingdom from scratch.”
“But I’m against a revolution that will spill blood. We can change the kingdom even without doing that!”
He asked her coldly. She thought about a lot of things when she entered the palace, and something had been on her mind.
“I will complete the treasured incense and receive the title of Qilin to become a master perfumer. The Master Perfumer, along with the Emperor, plays a central role in the politics of this Kingdom. This Kingdom will definitely change when I become a master perfumer, because there will be a woman among the three who hold the auspicious beast titles.”
Mokuren widened his eyes slightly, but he soon chuckled.
“But you couldn’t complete the treasured incense even after coming to the palace. Truthfully, I told you about the perfumers meeting because I wanted you to awaken the incense recipe that laid sleeping in your memories. I knew that you would want to participate in it. It was all part of my plan to guide you and get you into the palace.”
She remembered what Mokuren was like when he came to her house and told her about the perfumers meeting.
She felt a shiver run down her spine when she thought that his plan had already started from that moment.
“I thought that you would remember something if you were in the palace where Saido made his incenses. The reason why I sought you out after you were expelled from the palace was because you were the only person who could remember how to make the treasured incense. But you’ve completely forgotten about it.”
Mokuren’s voice was mixed with sighs.
“I taught you how to mix incenses in hopes that it would help you regain your memories. I was going to tell you the truth, but I heard that forcing you to recall the memories that were erased by the treasured incense could confuse you and cause you physical and mental shock, and in the worst case, it could lead to your death. If that were to happen, then the method of making the treasured incense would remain unknown forever. That’s why I took my time.”
“No way. You taught me how to make incenses, so that I can live on my own…”
He saved her life. She had always thought he had. However, Mokuren snorted like he was looking down on her.
“No. I only approached you and showed you kindness to get to your ‘memory’. I was going to pretend that I had made the treasured incense, become the Qilin and enter the centre of politics. That was my first plan to change this Kingdom.”
Mokuren paused for a moment, then sighed.
“But you couldn’t remember no matter how many years passed, and I couldn’t wait anymore. I invited you to the palace, so that you would participate in the perfumers meeting. Yet, you still couldn’t remember how to make it. I was disappointed.”
Mokuren’s words, who she looked up to as a teacher, had a strong impact on her.
“Why are you saying…”
“Because it’s the truth. It was a gamble for me to see if you could recreate the treasured incense before the perfumers meeting. But you couldn’t. That’s why I took direct action and tried to assassinate the Emperor.”
Mokuren folded his arms and looked troubled.
“My comrades were going to take advantage of the chaos when the Emperor died to invade the palace. But the Emperor is still alive… I really wanted you to join me. The kingdom I’m trying to build is for people like you who are talented but oppressed. We’re going to abolish distinctions between nobles and commoners, Emperor and subjects, men and women, and create a world of equality.”
“I would like the world to be like that. But I don’t think such a world should be created by assassinating the Emperor or by plundering it after a battle.”
“You won’t get what you want if you don’t fight.”
She almost agreed with what Mokuren said. But she shook her head.
“I can’t agree with the way the Dark Perfumers do things. Even if our goals are the same, our methods are different. I won’t help you!”
She declared and Mokuren looked down.
“Alright. It seems like we can’t agree. I hoped you would have agreed with me.”
Mokuren held up his right hand, at the same time, there was a clunking sound behind him. Riri quickly turned around and let out a scream. A group of men dressed in black were standing in the garden facing the corridor before she knew it.
“A good number of my people have infiltrated the palace. Since you said you’ve perfected the incense that erases memories, then I’ll have you tell me how to make it, Riri.”
Mokuren smiled a little. He wasn’t the same person who she knew anymore.
“I won’t tell you! I know you’re going to abuse the incense’s power!”
“There are many ways to get you to talk. I’ve known you since you were a child, so I feel bad for torturing you. I’ll have you smell the confessing incense. You failed to make it, but I’ve already perfected it. My incense is so good that it’ll make you tell me everything even if you hate it.”
(This is bad…! I’ll really be forced to tell him how to make the treasured incense if I don’t do anything. I have to run away!)
There are men in the garden. Riri remembered that there was a gate at the end of the corridor to her right, so she turned her body. But she was stopped before she could start running. There were several men dressed in black standing there as well. She quickly turned around behind her, but there were enemies there as well. Mokuren grabbed her arm as she was surrounded by around 20 men.
“Don’t resist, Riri. I don’t want to hurt you.”
His voice was gentle, but she could tell that he wasn’t going to show her any mercy if she didn’t listen to him.
“――― I won’t tell you how to make the treasured incense!”
She shook off his arm. She glared at him for the first time in her life. He looked sad for a moment.
“… Too bad, Riri. I’m going to have to be a little rough if you’re going to be like that. ――― Get her.”
His last words were directed at the men around them. Riri was scared out of her mind, but she looked up and stared at them. She didn’t want to give in. One of the men rushed over and reached for her.
She shouted, crouched down and froze.
She heard a groan from the man above her. She looked up timidly and saw that the man had fallen down.
A large spear had fallen next to the unconscious man.
“Are you alright, Riri!?”
Kousho and Garan came running down the corridor. The two of them ran up to her and stood behind her to protect her.
“You idiot! Why did you rush out on your own!?”
Kousho screamed angrily, but she was glad to hear his voice.
“Have you come to save me…?!”
Her voice was shaking and Kousho snorted.
“I came because I won’t be able to sleep at night… Mokuren. What is the meaning of this?”
Mokuren smiled thinly while glaring at Kousho.
“Why are you asking that now? You thought I was suspicious from the beginning and had the General over there investigate me. Isn’t that why you came to the Department of Incenses to look for Riri?”
Garan picked up the spear that he had thrown at the man, then he looked at Mokuren.
“Kousho-sama was aware that Dark Perfumers had entered the Department of Incenses. Both Kousho-sama and I thought you were suspicious. But, Riri seems to trust you, and I almost believed that you had nothing to do with the Dark Perfumers too. And yet…”
Garan looked disgusted and Mokuren smiled.
“I see… Speaking of which, there’s something I wanted to ask the both of you. Wasn’t the perfumers meeting also a way to determine who was a part of the Dark Perfumers?”
Mokuren asked sharply and Kousho nodded slightly.
“I knew that the Dark Perfumers were after the treasured incense. The Dark Perfumers who have infiltrated the Department of Incenses will definitely take action if we planned a grand perfumers meeting. I figured I’d catch them once they reveal their true colours.”
“I see. Well then, you’ve half-succeeded and half-failed. You figured out that I’m part of the Dark Perfumers, but you put the Emperor in danger. It must have been humiliating for you.”
Kousho smiled complacently.
“But the Emperor isn’t dead. I’ve basically succeeded if I can catch you. ――― Brace yourself.”
Kousho drew the sword on his waist. The other men also drew their swords.
Mokuren’s cold voice signalled the battle.