“Seirai-sama. The treasured incense that can manipulate memories is extremely dangerous. I have certainly succeeded in making the incense that erases memories, but I haven’t been able to control how much memory it erases. If you were to use that on the Emperor, then he would lose all his memories and it would cause a huge uproar.”
She wanted to stop Seirai at all costs.
He was smart. He may have lost himself because of his sister, but she was sure he would understand if she told him.
“Mokuren is trying to start a revolution in Shinzui. Won’t Koran be affected if there’s a revolution here? I beg you, don’t help him!”
This is the only time I can stop him, with that thought in mind, she made her voice and words sound more passionate.
“Princess Keika might be in danger if war starts.”
Seirai’s eyebrow twitched.
“The Emperor of Shinzui and the Emperor of Koran have created peace that has lasted for the past few decades. Please don’t do anything to destroy it. You don’t want to drag Princess Keika into war, do you?”
Seirai raised his eyebrows in distress.
“Of course, I don’t, but I want to save Keika. I want her, who cries because she hates it, to laugh from the bottom of her heart once again. Keika and I were despised by the other princes simply because our mother was a commoner until I became the Crown Prince. The two of us survived in the palace by dancing. I just want to make her happy.”
This was exactly how he felt. Seirai pursed his lips.
“But I also don’t want war. Before I met you, I was going to take advantage of you. I’m good at seducing women, so I thought you’d fall in love with me if I whispered sweet nothings to you, and make you do what I say.”
Seirai smiled slightly.
“But I changed my mind the more I got to know you. You take making incenses seriously and always work very hard. Even your dancing has improved rapidly in a short time. I could tell you were practicing hard without sleeping even after you left my lessons. I believe women who work hard are the most beautiful women in the world. The beauty of your efforts was what attracted me to you. I didn’t want to hurt you if I could help it. But…”
Seirai looked sad and his eyes were slightly cast down.
“I’m the only one who can protect my sister.”
Seirai looked pained as he bit his lips to stifle his anguish.
“Seirai-sama. There’s a way to save Princess Keika even if you don’t help Mokuren. All you need is a bargaining chip to get Koran’s Emperor to stop Princess Keika’s marriage, right?”
She stepped forward and whispered and Seirai raised his eyebrow.
“What are you talking about?”
“I have an idea. If my plan works, then you might be able to save Princess Keika without having to obtain the mining concession. I’ve been thinking about it ever since you told me about her.”
Seirai looked dubious.
“What kind of idea is it…?”
As she was about to speak, there was a rattling sound on the other side of the door.
“Mokuren might be back. Seirai-sama, please tell Kousho-sama where I am. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll do what I can. I don’t have time to talk to you about it right now but trust me.”
She looked at him strongly and his eyes flickered as if he was confused.
“Can I… trust you?”
She nodded and Seirai suddenly smiled wryly.
“You want me to… tell Kousho where you are? He’ll probably kill me if he finds out that I helped kidnap you.”
“He won’t. He’ll come save me since it’s highly possible that I can make the treasured incense, but I don’t think he would get that worked up to do something to the Crown Prince of Koran.”
He had been acting cold towards her lately. She believed he had his reasons for acting this way, but she didn’t think she was someone who could sway his emotions. Seirai smiled wryly again.
“You’ve got it all wrong. He’s acting cold towards you because he cares about you.”
Riri didn’t understand what Seirai had said. She wanted to ask him what he meant, but the door was about to open.
“… Let me think about it.”
Seirai whispered and lightly raised his hand to Mokuren who was behind the door.
Riri braced herself as Mokuren opened the door and walked in. Mokuren shifted his gaze to Seirai.
“… Is it alright for you to meet Riri here?”
“I was just checking on her from outside, but she noticed my scent. I only talked with her for a bit.”
Seirai and Mokuren looked at Riri.
“Riri’s hard work and honesty can be very attractive. Please don’t let your feelings get the better of you.”
Mokuren said in a monotone. Seirai smiled bitterly.
“Who are you saying that to? You should be worrying about yourself more than worrying about me. You and Riri have a master and disciple relationship. Did you say that to me on purpose because you feel like your feelings are going to get the better of you?”
Mokuren didn’t change his expression, but Riri felt a shiver run down her spine as the aura in the room froze.
It was Mokuren’s cold gaze that had created that aura.
“I won’t be swayed by my emotions. Seirai-sama, I think it’s time for you to return to the palace. Your banquet will start soon. It won’t do for it to start without the guest of honour.”
“You’re right. Well, I guess I’ll go and enjoy the consorts dance.”
Seirai glanced at her as he walked to the door.
(Please! Tell Kousho-sama about this place!)
She prayed in her heart, but Seirai walked out without saying another word.
Mokuren closed the door and faced her. Tension spread in the room.
“Mokuren. I’m going to dance the ranryou with the other consorts at the banquet. I’ve never danced before, but I practiced really hard. I’m sure I can dance with the other consorts without looking bad. I want to go to the banquet. Please let me out of here.”
She knew that she couldn’t move Mokuren even if she said these things.
But there was a small part of her that still believed in him. Even though she had heard him tell Seirai that he wouldn’t be swayed earlier, she still wanted to believe in him.
“You can’t do that.”
She had expected this answer, but she was so shocked by it that she almost cried.
“Riri, I want the treasured incense. Depending on how you use it, an incense that can manipulate memories is better than any strong weapon. I’ve told you about the master perfumer who made the treasured incense before, haven’t I?”
“Master perfumer… You’re talking about the legendary perfumer who used the treasured incense to manipulate the memories of the enemy generals and forced them to fight each other hundreds of years ago, leading to Shinzui’s victory?”
This was what Mokuren had told her.
That master perfumer received the Qilin title and served as the emperor’s right-hand man.
“You’ve partially forgotten the past because of the memory-erasing incense. However, it would be more appropriate to say that the incense didn’t erase your memories but sealed them away. It’s possible for you to regain your memories if they’re triggered.”
Mokuren’s expression suddenly clouded over.
“What are you going to do?”
She tilted her head and Mokuren looked surprised.
“No, nothing. You even have time to worry about your enemy.”
“You’re not my enemy. You’re my precious master and I think of you as family. That’s why I’m concerned to see a slight change in your expression.”
Mokuren looked troubled when she expressed her honest opinion.
“You shouldn’t trust me too much. You’ll hate me when you find out who I really am.”
“I won’t hate you, no matter what. I owe you my life. If you hadn’t saved me, then Mother and I would have starved to death.”
Her childhood memories downtown were so painful that she didn’t want to remember them anymore.
“You taught me how to make incenses, and I was finally able to make a living for myself… I’m still using the mortar you brought me. Do you remember? We bought the same mortar. You told me to work hard on creating incenses with that.”
Mokuren was also the person who provided her with the tools to make incenses. The mortar they had bought together was still in her room at the Beautiful Flower Palace.
“… I’ve already thrown away such a cheap mortar.”
She was prepared to hear that. Still, it was sad to be told that he had thrown away the mortar that they had picked together. Mokuren sighed a little.
“Riri, you’re brave and wise. You could have done it on your own even if I didn’t help you. You don’t have to feel that indebted to me.”
“No. You told me it was alright to cry when I was suffering. I held it back for so long, but I cried out loud for the first time after you told me that, and I felt so much better afterwards. I owe you.”
She smiled and looked at him, but he was looking down slightly.
“I will live up to my destiny as the head of the Dark Perfumers, the Nine-Tailed Fox, no matter what you think. Riri, we Dark Perfumers will take the treasured incense. You’ve already created the incense that can erase memories. I need you to teach me how to make it.”
“I can’t do that. And I’ve only made the incense that erases memories. It’s too dangerous to only use one of the incenses. I’ll never tell you how to make it.”
“It’s alright. We’ve developed a method for the memory-retrieving incense to a certain extent.”
She hadn’t expected this. Her eyes widened in surprise, and she almost stopped breathing.
“You made the memory-retrieving incense…? Are you sure? Have you tested it to see if it works?”
She leaned forward and Mokuren chuckled.
“Not yet unfortunately. Someone who has been cooperating with the Dark Perfumers has created an incense that is quite close to the memory-retrieving incense. However, the memory-retrieving incense won’t be of any use on its own.”
Mokuren put his hands on his hips and took a deep breath.
“It’s an incense that can retrieve the memories of someone who has had the memory-erasing incense used on them. So, we don’t even know if it’s complete without the memory-erasing incense.”
“If that’s the case, then it’s strange for you to say that you’re pretty close to completing the memory-retrieving incense. You haven’t been able to confirm what effects it has. The process to make an incense is to burn it and check its effects to see how close it is to perfection. You should know that as the former head of the Ministry of Incenses.”
“Of course, I know that. But the memory-retrieving incense that he created is very close to perfection. I’m certain of that.”
Mokuren’s words bothered her.
(He refers to the person who made the memory-retrieving incense respectfully. He must have a higher position than Mokuren.)
“Who exactly is that person?”
She was curious about the person who was trying to make the treasured incense. Mokuren was the head of the Ministry of Incenses, so that person must have a higher position and better skills than Mokuren. The corners of Mokuren’s mouth rose when she asked this.
“It doesn’t matter who he is. You’ll never be able to return to the outside world again. You’ll be living with us Dark Perfumers from now on. You don’t have to think about anything else.”
Mokuren clenched his fists as if he had made up his mind.
“First, I’ll have you teach me how to make the memory-erasing incense. I was hoping you would cooperate with me of your own volition, but that seems to be difficult. So, I’m going to have you smell the confession incense.”
Riri gulped. She had heard that if you smell the confession incense, then you will tell whatever you’ve been hiding.
It was an incense that Mokuren had created himself and was said to be very effective.
“No, I can’t stop now. This room has a special structure that allows incense that are burnt outside to be sent into the room through a hole in the wall. Take your time to smell it.”
Mokuren quickly turned around and left the room.
She clung to the door, but it didn’t budge. Smoke immediately came in through a small hole next to the door.
It smelled strong and sweet. She imagined herself trapped in a spider’s web when she smelled it. She was trapped by the spider’s web and couldn’t move a muscle.
She knew she had to escape immediately, but the door was locked from the outside and there wasn’t a single window in the room.
There was no way to escape, she was confused, and her legs gave way.
Her consciousness was hazy. In her fading consciousness, she suddenly recalled the kind and reliable boy whose face and figure always appeared blurry in her dreams.
She muttered before her consciousness was completely dragged into the darkness.