“… That’s enough. Anyway, look for Riri. Hey, Ryouka.”
Ryouka widened her eyes when her name was called.
“I didn’t expect you to remember the name of someone like me…”
It was hard to remember the names of the consorts of Beautiful Flower Palace, but I could easily remember the name of Riri’s maid.
I also believe there was a huge difference between those I was interested in and those who I wasn’t.
“Do you know where Riri went?”
“No. I searched everywhere I could think of. She told me that she would go to the ballroom to practice if she woke up early, so I looked there as well, but I couldn’t find her…”
Her voice got quieter and quieter. I clenched my fists in worry.
“What happened? Why is everyone here?”
A voice called out from behind me, and I quickly pulled myself together and acted as if nothing had happened.
I turned around and saw Seirai approaching me with his hand raised.
“Nothing. The banquet is tonight. Please don’t enter the Beautiful Flower Palace until then.”
An annoying guy has come. Seirai looked at me and chuckled.
“You just thought that an annoying guy has come, huh?”
He guessed right, but my expression didn’t change. I’ve known Seirai since I was a child. He had always been good at reading people’s expressions. He could tell what someone was thinking from the slightest change in their expression. He probably gained this ability from his complicated upbringing.
“I’m here to accompany Riri on her last practice. Let this pass.”
Seirai closed one eye. If a man entered the inner palace, he would have been executed.
But there was no way to easily punish him since he was the Crown Prince of Koran. To make matters worse, Seirai knew this and kept coming to the Beautiful Flower Palace for some reason. Sreirai looked around.
“Did I just hear that Riri isn’t around?”
“I said it was nothing.”
“Don’t say that, tell me what happened.”
Seirai was smiling kindly, but honestly, I didn’t want to get too close to him.
He was frivolous and a womaniser. He pretended he didn’t have any ambition, but there was a glint of it in the depths of his eyes. That was Seirai. His true personality wasn’t gentle or frivolous like his outward attitude showed. He will do whatever it takes to get what he wants. My instincts were warning me to be careful of him.
I stared at him and noticed that the light of ambition lurking behind his light brown eyes had grown even brighter. He didn’t have such ambitious eyes a few years ago.
This was the first time I had seen him since he became the Crown Prince.
Even though he was going to be the next Emperor, he had a much hungrier look in his eyes than when he was just a prince.
“Kousho, what happened to Riri? I taught her how to dance, you know. I’m worried about her as her dance teacher. And…”
Seirai’s smile suddenly changed to a cruel smile.
“It’s fun to see you turn pale and red for the sake of one woman. Is it alright for you to worry about Riri this much and show this much emotion? All that ‘acting’ you’ve done to pretend to be cold to her is going to go to waste.”
I was surprised to hear him speak the truth, but I didn’t let it show on my face and pointed to the corridor with my hand.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Please leave.”
“Oh dear, Shinzui’s Crown Prince is so weird. He’s worried about Riri but is pretending that everything’s fine. Well, it’s natural for you to worry about Riri. I heard she’s the only woman who can make the treasured incense.”
I stopped moving the moment he said this.
“I told you, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who the hell told you that?”
“Don’t play dumb. I can’t think of any other reasons why the Crown Prince of Shinzui, with his face and figure which is handsome and dignified since you are said to be a descendant of dragons, would care so much about a talented person like Riri.”
“I didn’t place Riri in the Beautiful Flower Palace for that.”
Seirai looked puzzled as soon as I said that.
“Strange. You didn’t lie. I can tell from your expression. Then is Riri not making the treasured incense?”
I realised something after seeing his puzzled expression.
It was rumoured that the Crown Prince of Koran was a womaniser and had been involved with many beautiful women, but in reality, he had never really loved anyone.
I guess he thinks that women who don’t bring him any benefits aren’t important to him.
I felt sorry for him if that was really the case. I know that Seirai had a complicated upbringing. When the First Prince died and he was promoted to Crown Prince, I’m sure the people around him must have changed their attitude towards him. As a Crown Prince, I knew how painful it was to see the disgusting side of nobles who wanted to flock to power.
“It’s troublesome for you to talk about things that you have speculated… Seirai-dono, you are Koran’s Crown Prince. We welcome you with open arms. However, I will report your behaviour to the Emperor if you act too recklessly, and your father will hear about your attitude from him. Wouldn’t that be bad for you? I heard that you didn’t tell your father about your visit to Shinzui.”
Seirai smiled, but his eyes weren’t smiling.
“Where did you hear that?”
“Who knows? I just thought from the start that it was strange for the Crown Prince of Koran to come to another kingdom with a few attendants. You’re moving around with little people to keep a low profile since you came here without telling your father, right?”
When I questioned him sharply, he remained silent and slightly lowered his eyes.
“Seirai-dono. You’ll get hurt if you play around too much.”
My words were polite, but I was definitely threatening him. Seirai smiled softly.
“Oh my, how scary. When you say you’ll do something, you’ll really do it.”
My expression didn’t change even when he spoke jokingly.
“Seirai-dono, I know that Koran is also searching for information on the treasured incense, however the treasured incense is a phantom incense that no one has been able to create in hundreds of years. There’s no way it could be made that easily. Please stop meddling with Riri.”
I thought I had said this calmly, but Seirai laughed.
“Kousho, you’re one of the most difficult people to read. So, I don’t know if what you say is the truth or not. But I know this. ――― You’re dangerous.”
I smiled with just my mouth like Seirai.
“You are too. You have the best brains in Koran and ambitious eyes behind your soft demeanour. I’m wary of you because I know you’re not how you appear on the outside. You’re the one who’s dangerous.”
We smiled at each other, but our eyes were giving off sparks.
It would be a nuisance if he becomes the emperor of Koran when I become the emperor of Shinzui.
But on the other hand, I felt that I had enough responses for him to be a worthy opponent.
Seirai shrugged and slowly turned away.
“I’ll take that as a compliment. Now if you’ll excuse me… Oh yeah, let me tell you something.”
Seirai turned his face towards me.
He was more expressionless than ever, and his handsome face made him look frighteningly cruel.
“I won’t let you monopolise the treasured incense in Shinzui.”
He whispered in a low voice and left. After he was out of sight, I turned towards Garan.
“He finally left. Garan, look for Riri right away. Gather some reliable and skilled people to help.”
I rushed down the corridor after I heard Garan’s reply.
“I’ll definitely find her!”
I voiced my determination, thought of Riri’s face and prayed for her safety.
Riri woke up in a dimly lit room. She realised that she was lying in a small room which she didn’t recognise and wondered absentmindedly why she was here.
She sat up and felt a sudden pain in her head.
“It’s better if you don’t get up so quickly. Riri, your sense of smell is special, so this medicine should work well for you. I mixed some medicine for when you woke up, but you didn’t wake up until after noon, so I was worried.”
The voice belonged to someone who she knew well. She turned her head in surprise and gasped.
The man who was sitting in front of the doorway, and pushing his glasses up was Mokuren. He had straight shoulder-length hair and a slender body. He was a wanted man after attempting to assassinate the Emperor.
“Where the hell have you been?”
Riri stood up while enduring her headache and stood in front of Mokuren. Garan had told her that he couldn’t find any trace of Mokuren after he left the palace. She felt betrayed, but she was also concerned about her benefactor.
“I was pretty close. We’re not far from the palace. My people are scattered all over the place, so I had no trouble finding a place to hide.”
Mokuren made a cup of tea and placed it in front of her.
“Sit down. You can drink this to fight off the drowsiness. Don’t worry, it’s not poisoned.”
The tea really didn’t have the scent of any foreign substances. Still, she didn’t dare drink the tea.
Mokuren was no longer the kind, and slightly mean man she had known before.
She sat while putting her guard up against him. Mokuren slowly smiled.
“Riri, how is the preparation for the treasured incense going?”
“It’s not going very well at all.”
He probed and she nodded.
“… It doesn’t seem like you’re lying. You can’t look someone straight in the eye whenever you lie, so it’s easy to tell.”
Mokuren smiled sarcastically. She and Mokuren have known each other since they were children.
When she had first entered the palace, she could have said that he was someone who she respected as much as her father.
But now it was different.
He approached her because he wanted to know how to make the treasured incense.
“You guys were the ones who kidnapped me? Why did you kidnap me?”
“To learn how to make the treasured incense, of course. We’ve been trying to kidnap you for a long time, but it was difficult due to Kousho and Garan’s tight defence. But with the help of someone, I was finally able to see you again.”
“Who is this ‘someone’?”
It was probably the person who had approached her from behind in the ballroom and made her sniff the sleeping powder. She was so engrossed in examining the box that had contained her costume that she didn’t notice the scent of that ‘someone’.
Mokuren didn’t answer when she asked him who it was. He took a sip of tea and drew closer to her.
“… Mokuren, even if I remember how to make the treasured incense, I will never share it with you. Don’t start a revolution. Kousho-sama said that His Majesty freed you all from the assassination business out of concern.”
The Emperor wanted the assassins to walk in the sun, so he let them out of the palace, but they took that as banishment.
That misunderstanding began all of this.
“I understand your resentments at suddenly being expelled from the palace, but…”
“Riri, your words of persuasion are useless. I’ve already made up my mind. I’ve decided that the current Emperor isn’t virtuous. That’s why I’ll start a revolution. It’s my destiny.”
The Nine-Tailed Fox, Mokuren, said this in an uninterested tone as he sighed a little.
“I kidnapped you so you can teach me how to make the treasured incense. If you can make the incense that can erase memories, then I’ll ask you to teach me only that. It would be better if you could teach me yourself, but if you can’t, then I have a way to make you.”
Mokuren put down the tea and stood straight up.
“I’ll give you some time to think about it. That is my last compassionate act towards you. I want you to obey me and teach me how to make it on your own. If you do that, then I won’t harm you.”
Mokuren’s tone was gentle but the things he said were terrifying.
She yelled out to him, but he closed the door and walked out. She rushed after him and put her hand on the door, but it didn’t move at all. She sunk down in the small room surrounded by walls, not knowing what to do.