There were about 20 men dressed in black, but Kousho and Garan had the upper hand. Kousho, who was slashing at his enemies with a sword, and Garan, who was swinging his spear at the enemies, looked as if they were dancing. Riri was captivated by their elegant movements, but she was startled when she noticed that an enemy had fallen down next to her.
“Get closer to the wall! It’s dangerous!”
Kousho yelled and she ran to the wall. It was vexing, but there was nothing she could do now.
She suddenly noticed something at the corner of her eyes as she watched the two defeat one enemy after the other.
Mokuren was trying to do something with the small incense burner in his palm.
She rushed at him when she remembered that Dark Perfumers used poisonous incenses.
She tried to jump on him, but he quickly dodged. She didn’t give up and regained her posture.
“Give up. More people are just going to get injured at this rate. A perfumer’s job is to heal people.”
“We, Dark Perfumers, specialise in using poisonous incenses. Our goal when using incenses is completely different from that of a normal perfumer. The Emperor forced us to do this kind of work, but he abandoned us after we failed once. Don’t you think that’s horrible?”
“Wait! You’re wrong.”
Kousho repelled the enemy’s sword and rushed over to Mokuren and Riri. Then, he stood in front of Riri as if to protect her.
“What am I wrong about?”
“Father was worried about you assassins. He wanted you to find a new way of life, so he disbanded the Dark Perfumers. He never abandoned you!”
Mokuren’s expression didn’t change.
“Do you know what it’s like to live and train as an assassination and then suddenly be told one day that we are done?”
“The way he handled it might have been rough. But Father said he felt sorry for you Dark Perfumers who he had inherited from my great grandfather. He wanted you all to leave the palace and live in the light of day.”
“Then tell this to the Emperor. We’re proud to be a group of assassins. We didn’t lead a life that needed to be pitied. ――― I, the head of the Dark Perfumers, am the Nine-tailed Fox. I have concluded that the current Emperor is not virtuous. I will follow my title and start a revolution to change this kingdom.”
Mokuren paused and looked at Kousho sharply.
“――― This is a declaration of war.”
Riri knew that Mokuren wouldn’t change his mind with those words. But she still spoke, hoping for a ray of hope.
“Let me ask you something. Did you really look after me to get the treasured incense?”
Mokuren’s expression clouded for a moment at her sudden question.
“That’s right. I have no feelings for you. That’s why I made it seem like you tried to assassinate the Emperor.”
She remembered what had happened at the perfumers meeting. The Emperor had certainly collapsed after he had smelled the incense she had made.
But there were a few things that didn’t add up.
“You’re lying. His Majesty was the one who decided that I would make an incense then. You stole the incense container from Kousho-sama with the intention of framing him for the crime. You planted a poisonous incense in the container and hid it in the crafting chair. But I had lit an incense and when His Majesty smelled that he collapsed. That’s why people thought I had tried to assassinate the Emperor… You didn’t mean to frame me.”
Mokuren is the head of the Dark Perfumers. She couldn’t accept his principles or position.
But she wanted to believe that his smiling face while he was looking after her wasn’t a lie.
“I know that you’re a kind person. Ryouka was also grateful that your incense helped her mother recover from her long illness. If you entered the palace just to start a revolution, then you wouldn’t have done such a thing, but you helped her mother.”
Maybe he couldn’t abandon someone who was suffering as a perfumer.
He is a teacher worthy of respect.
“I can’t believe that you tried to trick me. You didn’t expect to get caught. You might have let it slip on purpose that you knew that the incense container belongs to Kousho-sama…”
Mokuren looked down and shook his head.
“You’re wrong. You’ll get hurt if you trust me too much.”
His voice sounded rather weak. She owed Mokuren a lot. When she started living downtown with her mother, she didn’t have enough food to eat and couldn’t buy medicine for her mother. She was hungry but forced herself to smile as not to worry her mother. When Mokuren first saw her like that, he told her that it was alright to cry if she was in pain.
She was so happy to hear him say that, that she cried out loud. Mokuren is a kind person who thinks about other people’s feelings.
“I believe you. I believe that you weren’t trying to trick me or hurt me. If you wanted the treasured incense, then there must have been a more forceful way to make me remember. But that would have been dangerous, so you took your time. ――― Is this incident really something you planned?”
She told him about the uncomfortable feeling that had been bugging her for a long time. Mokuren is easy-going, but thoughtful.
She felt that assassinating the Emperor and storming the palace with his comrades wasn’t his way of doing things.
Mokuren might have reasons for doing what he’s doing that she didn’t know about. She couldn’t resent him when she thought that. Mokuren pondered for a while, then finally looked up.
“It doesn’t matter who planned it. The incident this time is to show our determination. We are going to rebel against the Emperor. ――― We, Dark Perfumers, will definitely reform this kingdom. We will do whatever it takes to make this happen. But many things went wrong with our plans this time. We will start over again.”
Mokuren lit the incense burner in his hand with a torch that was hanging in the corridor.
“Riri, I wanted you to come with me. This kingdom won’t change no matter how hard you work. I could have made your dreams come true if you had come with me.”
Mokuren stopped talking and he had an extremely stern expression on his face.
“The next time we meet, we’ll be enemies. I won’t show you any mercy next time.”
A large amount of smoke rose at once from the incense burner, and Mokuren threw it at them.
His smile was hidden by the smoke.
Kousho tried to go after him, but the black men blocked his path. While he was crossing swords with a man, the smoke was blown away by the wind. When the smoke completely dissipated, Mokuren was nowhere to be found.
Despite there being 20 men, Kousho and Garan overpowered them all.
Riri couldn’t help but cover her mouth when she saw the men on the floor.
“Are they alive? Are they okay?”
Her reason for living was healing people. Even if this was a righteous battle, it was hard to see people get hurt. Garan rushed up to her with his spearhead pointed at the ground.
“Don’t worry. They’re alive. These guys are leads. They probably work for the Dark Perfumers, so we’ll round them up and make them spit out everything they know.”
Kousho sheathed his sword and looked stern.
“No, these guys probably don’t know much. That’s why Mokuren left them behind. But, let’s interrogate them at the army’s base camp just to be safe. Garan, go get someone.”
Garan bowed and then ran down the corridor. She watched him go and Kousho turned towards her.
“Are you alright, Riri?”
He had an unusually worried expression on his face.
“I see… You idiot! Why didn’t you just stay in one place? Do you know how long I looked for you?!”
Kousho had only looked worried for a second before he started yelling angrily.
(Hya…! Scary…! But he’s angry because he was really worried about me.)
She shivered and Kousho sighed loudly. He then smiled slightly and put his hand on her head.
“Well, alright. I’ll leave it at that since you’re safe.”
The head that was patting her head was warm, and the man, who usually acted arrogant, looked incredibly gentle. It was so unlike him that she couldn’t help but blink.
When she stared at him seriously, he suddenly looked embarrassed and withdrew his hand.
Then he stared at the room that was used by the head of the Department of Incenses for generations.
“I noticed that the Dark Perfumers had infiltrated the palace, and although I had suspected Mokuren to be one, I had my doubts. And yet… How did he infiltrate the Department of Incenses when we confirm everyone’s identity?”
Kousho looked dubious. He sighed then looked back at her.
“There’s something I need to tell you. It’s about your father. Did you hear how he died?”
She tilted her head curiously at Kousho’s seriousness.
“Father? I heard he died in an accident.”
“Who told you that?”
She jogged her memory when asked this but couldn’t remember who had told her.
“… Probably Mother.”
She didn’t remember much about the time when her father passed away. He must have had a funeral, but she couldn’t remember it.
“You remembered it wrong. I heard that when you burn the incense to erase memories, you remember the words that are whispered around you as if they were true. In other words, it can alter your memories.”
Riri widened her eyes in surprise and Kousho continued.
“Saido actually died fighting against a Dark Perfumer who had sneaked into the palace to steal the treasured incense. And ――― you were there.”
She gulped and couldn’t breathe. She repeated the words that Kousho had just said over and over in her mind.
(I was there when Father died. I was there…?)
She couldn’t remember no matter how much she thought about it, but she didn’t believe that Kousho was lying.
“I can’t tell you exactly what happened because that would force you to remember. If I force you to remember, then you would get confused and can be in danger. You could even die from it.”
That was what Mokuren had said. She felt a chill run down her spine as she imagined herself in such a state.
“The Dark Perfumers are a national secret. We can’t let the people know that the Emperor has an assassination squad. Therefore, we couldn’t let the public know that Saido died while fighting the Dark Perfumers. Your mother disappeared with you because she was afraid you would be targeted since you watched Saido make the treasured incense.”
Riri now understood why they had lived downtown. She always thought it was strange. She was told that her father passed away, but she didn’t remember anything about that time, and she didn’t remember leaving her house.
She only remembered being downtown and comforting her mother as she cried.
“We wanted to do something for you and your mother, so we looked for you.”
Kousho straightened his posture, then bowed his head with a serious look in his eyes.
“I hereby formally apologise. Your father, Ou Saido, was an excellent perfumer. He recreated the treasured incense and died protecting its secrets. However, neither the secret of his death nor the secret of the treasured incense can be made public. Therefore, you guys have suffered because of this.”
She never imagined that the arrogant Kousho would apologise. He was bowing deeply, and she didn’t know how to reply. She was shocked by the truth of her father’s death. Kousho looked up.
“I just got word that my father is awake. He said he wants to see you. Can you go see him?”
Kousho held out his hand for her. She was still confused but nodded.
“I’ll go. I also want to talk to His Majesty.”
She took his hand. The large, bony hands of a man were more reliable than anything else in this situation.