Riri woke up as the morning sun shone in. Today was the day of the final selection. She had been practicing until late last night with Seirai, so she didn’t sleep well, and her body was tense and in pain.
She would normally have slept well and wouldn’t wake up since she was tired, but she was so nervous about today that she woke up early. She got out from her futon and stretched.
“The final selection will take place at the banquet tonight, but I have to practice in the morning with the other consorts. I’ll practice on my own until then.”
She had never danced with the other consorts before because she was too inexperienced to keep up with them and would trouble them.
“If I don’t participate in their final practice and dance in sync with the others, then I’ll ruin the dance.”
Her anxiety was inexhaustible. Her only hope was what Seirai said yesterday.
He had said, “You’re not quite there yet, but if you can coordinate your movements with everyone else’s in the last practice, then you should be able to dance without standing out in a bad way.”
“He told me that I won’t stand out in a bad way, but he also said that it would be difficult for me to get a high enough rating to join the Four Consorts without a miracle… I think I’ll use that trick after all.”
She had been thinking about how to liven up her dance for the past few days.
No matter how hard she tried, there was no way she could get a better score than the consorts who have been practicing dance since they were children by practicing for 10 days. So, she had been thinking about what she could do.
As she made her bed, she decided to use her specialty: incenses.
After getting dressed, she opened the door and stepped out into the corridor.
Garan, who had always been by her side for the past few days, wasn’t here yet.
She had told Ryouka that she would be practicing in the morning, so she rushed to the ballroom, hoping that Ryouka would come by later.
The ballroom, which was used as a rehearsal space, wasn’t busy since it was so early in the morning.
“As I had expected, no one is here yet… Hmm?”
When she entered the large ballroom, she noticed some wooden boxes against the wall and stopped in her tracks.
“I believe those boxes contain the costumes and masks for today’s dance.”
It was the same wooden box that Ryouka had brought with her a few days ago to make sure that the costume fitted her.
“I’m sure they put the boxes here because the consorts said they’ll be practicing in their real costumes and masks this morning. There are exactly 10 crates.”
As she approached the boxes, she noticed that there was a piece of paper with each of the candidates’ names written on it.
“Consort Hisui’s name is there, and so are Consort Juka’s and Consort Ranran’s names. They’ve all had their outfits altered to fit them. My costume is….”
The costume that Ryouka had brought her was quite large. Ryouka had said that she would fix the measurements, but she stopped in front of the box with her name on it, wondering if Ryouka did a good job.
“I wonder how it turned out. The hem was so long that I almost stepped on it. I wonder if she shortened it.”
She gently opened the box and raised her eyebrows.
“Huh? There’s nothing inside. This scent is…”
The box was empty; there was no costume or mask in the box. She moved her face closer to the box in surprise and noticed a scent.
It was a faint scent that normal people wouldn’t notice. However, her super olfaction nose realised that the scent was aloes-wood, which Hisui wore.
“Why is Consort Hisui’s scent…”
She was curious but thought she should check the other costumes first.
“What about the others?”
She opened another box and saw a white costume with gorgeous gold embroidery on it and a shining golden mask. The other boxes also had matching costumes and masks, but only hers was missing.
“What’s going on?”
She opened the box with her name on it once again. There was nothing in the box and she was confused.
“I’m the only one without a costume and the lingering smell belongs to Consort Hisui. That means…”
A conjecture popped into her head. She wondered if the mask and costume had been stolen.
And the thief might have been Consort Hisui. As she thought about this, she realised…
“Consort Hisui said she would do whatever it takes to become one of the Four Consorts.”
A few days had passed since Hisui told Riri this, and she didn’t get the chance to clear Hisui’s misunderstanding.
Hisui was considerably angry. If that anger had driven her to steal the costume and mask…
“… No. She couldn’t have. Consort Hisui is an upright person. There’s no way she would do such a cowardly thing.”
Even as she said this, she found herself questioning why the box smelled like Hisui.
“The scent suggests the Consort Hisui opened the box a short while ago. Why would she open a box that contains someone else’s costume this early in the morning?”
The only reason she could think of was that she had done so to avoid being seen stealing the costume and mask.
But she didn’t want to believe it. Even if Hisui didn’t like her, she thought of Hisui as a friend.
“… I wonder if there are any other clues.”
The only way for her to find clues was to use her prized olfaction talent. She put her face into the box and sniffed every inch of it. After carefully examining the scent remaining on the box, she suddenly raised her eyebrow.
She looked up and tilted her head.
Before she could realise the possibility and say the answer, someone covered her mouth from behind.
If someone approached her, she would have noticed their scent since there was no one else in the room.
But she was too focused on examining the box that she didn’t notice the other person.
A white cloth covered her mouth, and she noticed the scent of sleeping powder coming from the cloth.
She couldn’t escape because the person behind her was strong, and she lost consciousness ―――.
“You seem to be missing someone.”
I came to the Beautiful Flower Palace in the morning. Tonight, the final selection for the beauty pageant will be held at the banquet.
The consorts of Beautiful Flower Palace, including Riri, were to perform the ranryou dance at the banquet.
As requested by Seirai, the banquet will be held at the Beautiful Flower Palace’s reception hall. There was no room for mistakes since the Emperor would be attending. As the owner of Beautiful Flower Palace, I was busy since morning, checking on the preparations for the banquet.
The consorts were practicing for the last time in the ballroom. When I showed up, the consorts immediately dropped to their knees and hung their heads down. I raised my eyebrow when I noticed that Riri wasn’t among them.
“Consort Riri isn’t here. She isn’t very motivated and hasn’t participated in any of our practices. We’re also very troubled.”
The one who raised her voice with accusations was named Juka, I think.
The consorts all looked the same, so it was hard to remember their names. I’ve been hanging out with them recently for a certain reason, but I often had trouble matching their names to their faces.
I knew that Riri didn’t participate in the rehearsals because she couldn’t dance as well as the other consorts.
However, I couldn’t say anything to protect her.
One of them might be the person who wants to kill Riri.
“I see. Consorts, I look forward to today’s dance. Good luck.”
I smiled and the consorts faces turned red. I was good at smiling without putting my heart into it. I knew what kind of smile would make women happy.
I sighed in my heart; I can’t believe they’re fooled by such a fake smile. I wondered how many consorts in my father’s inner palace would be fooled by a smile from a young man like me.
Honestly, it was annoying to be friendly towards the consorts. I hate myself for putting on a fake smile everywhere, but I had no choice but to do this. I wanted to protect what was important to me, even if it meant killing myself.
In the midst of the blushing consorts, there was only one person who had a blank look on her face.
“What’s wrong, Consort Hisui?”
When I spoke to her, her eyes widened in shock, then she immediately bowed.
“Thank you for speaking to me. I’m a little nervous.”
Her voice sounded normal, but I sensed something was wrong. She was the daughter of the Grand Chancellor, so I could somehow remember her name. She was the highest-ranking person in Beautiful Flower Palace and her beauty and cleverness surpassed the rest.
I knew she was the first choice for Empress. I would have taken her as my wife to pass on the royal blood if I hadn’t met Riri again. However, I stumbled across my destiny.
I was curious about the way Hisui was acting, but I decided to look for Riri first.
I had a bad premonition. Unfortunately, these kinds of premonitions often come true.
“This dance would be a good opportunity to make the Beautiful Flower Palace’s name known. Since the Beautiful Flower Palace has just been established, it isn’t as well known as my father’s inner palace, the Wing Dance Palace. This time, the guests are the Emperor, the nobles of Shinzui and the Crown Prince of Koran, Seirai-sama. If you dance well, the reputation of the Beautiful Flower Palace will rise in Shinzui and in other nations. Please practice hard and show us a wonderful dance.”
I was worried about Riri, but I didn’t let it show on my face or attitude.
I didn’t care about the reputation of the Beautiful Flower Palace, but the consorts of the Beautiful Flower Palace had their position in the palace.
If possible, I wanted them to achieve certain results, so I encouraged them.
I left the ballroom, trying not to show my anxiety.
I made sure the consorts were out of sight and quickly moved down the corridor.
When I got close to Riri’s room, I saw her maid and Garan standing in the hallway.
“… Riri-sama is nowhere to be seen. What should we do, Garan-sama?”
“Don’t cry. I’ll call my subordinates and have them look for her right away.”
I heard them whispering and felt my hair stand on end.
I yelled and Garan looked at me in surprise.
I strode up to him and Ryouka and Garan immediately kneeled down.
“Riri was already gone when Ryouka came to wake her up at the usual time this morning. The bed had been made and it looked like she had gotten dressed herself, so she left by herself and wasn’t taken away by someone. But I have no idea where she went after she left the room.”
“What?! I left you in charge of guarding her! I told you to protect Riri!”
I shouted. Garan bowed deeply.
Even though Garan was allowed to enter the Beautiful Flower Palace without permission, he couldn’t stay here all the time.
If he entered the inner palace in the middle of the night without reason, then rumours might start that he was in love with one of the consorts. If that happened, then both him and the consort would be executed.
I knew that Garan had his subordinates guard at night to prevent any strange rumours from starting. Even so, I was extremely angry and anxious, so I blamed him.