Riri found herself in her room at the Beautiful Flower Palace when she woke up.
She stared at the familiar ceiling and frowned as she laid there.
“… Was it a dream?”
She was extremely startled when she heard a voice. She saw Kousho sitting by her bedside when she looked to her right.
She quickly got up and shut her eyes because her head hurt badly.
“Don’t push yourself. Mokuren made you smell the confession incense. From the way Mokuren spoke, it seemed that he had yet to learn how to make the treasured incense from you. You’ve got some guts. I would have beheaded you if you had blabbered about the treasured incense.”
The mean expression on his face and his voice was the same as always. If her being kidnapped by Mokuren wasn’t a dream, then him saying that he was definitely going to protect her was true.
But she couldn’t believe that the man in front of her now was the same man as the one who had spoken and looked at her gently before.
“Did you bring me all the way back here?”
She asked timidly since she didn’t know which part was a dream and which part was reality, but he shrugged.
“Yeah. I graciously brought you back here. It’s an honour for me to do this for you, and you should be grateful to me for the rest of your life, since I personally went out of my way to save a talented person like you, who has no sex appeal and has average looks.”
(Woah, it’s been a long time since I’ve been subjected to his poisonous tongue, since he’s been acting cold towards me lately. His tone is annoying like always, but…)
She didn’t feel too angry. She felt much closer to him when he was using his poisonous tongue compared to when he didn’t even speak to her. She felt as if she was slowly being corrupted by him, but she decided not to think too much about it right now.
“What happened to Mokuren?”
She pulled herself together and stared at him, then he folded his arms.
“He got away. He’s still fast at escaping. Riri, what did you talk to Mokuren about? Give me as many details as you can.”
She remembered what she had talked to Mokuren about when Kousho asked her this.
“Mokuren wanted to know how to make the treasured incense. So…”
When she told him about her conversation with Mokuren, he put a hand over his mouth as if he was thinking.
“I see. His associate has perfected the incense that brings back memories? … I got it. But Riri, there’s something else I want to ask you. It’s not possible for anyone to kidnap you from the heavily guarded Beautiful Flower Palace. Was Seirai the person who had kidnapped you?”
She was stunned by his sharp words.
“Why do you think he did?”
“Seirai said he saw you being taken away from the palace. He told me that he followed you to an old temple near the palace, but there’s something wrong with his story.”
She looked down. Seirai was going to help Mokuren. She had persuaded him to stop helping Mokuren, but he seemed troubled by his desire to save his sister.
(Seirai-sama, you believed in me and saved me.)
She had thought of a way to save his sister. She was worried that he wouldn’t believe her since he left before she could tell him the plan, but he had let Kousho know where she was.
However, Kousho was suspicious of him because of that.
“Excuse me, I overheard your conversation.”
The door opened slightly to reveal Seirai. Kousho’s suspicious gaze became even sharper.
“I thought I asked you not to enter the Beautiful Flower Palace without permission.”
“Don’t say that. I was worried about Riri.”
Seirai quickly entered the room and closed the door.
Kousho stood up and confronted Seirai. Seirai raised the corners of his mouth and crossed his arms.
“I heard that you were suspicious of me.”
“Yes, I suspect that you’re the one who kidnapped Riri. It’s not easy for anyone to take a talented person out of the Beautiful Flower Palace.”
Kousho’s words were polite, but his tone was cold. Seirai’s gaze sharpened.
“Do you have any proof that I did anything to Riri?”
Kousho and Seirai looked at each other and it felt as if sparks were flying between them.
“You and two of your attendants were seen carrying a large package somewhere early in the morning. I’ve been observing your behaviour since you suddenly arrived in Shinzui. ――― You came here to get close to Riri, right?”
Kousho’s voice was a lot lower than usual and sounded terrifying, but Seirai’s expression didn’t change. Kousho continued.
“You wanted to know what was going on since you found out that Riri was working on the treasured incense from Mokuren. If that was the case, then I can understand why you suddenly came to Shinzui. Riri might be hidden if you had told us you were coming in advance, so you came unannounced and tried to approach Riri.”
“You’re making the treasured incense, Riri? That’s news to me! Amazing!”
Seirai showed his surprise by exaggerating, but Kousho remained calm.
“Weren’t you the one who kidnapped Riri? Aren’t you helping Mokuren?”
Seirai closed his mouth, and the two of them just glared at each other in silence.
“Then, why did I tell you where Riri was? I wouldn’t have done that if I was the person who had kidnapped Riri.”
“You changed your mind. You must have believed that it would be a bad idea to join forces with Mokuren. He is a dangerous man. You must have concluded that he would have ended up using you even though you wanted to use him.”
Kousho folded his arms and Seirai looked down as if he was thinking about something.
After a while, Seirai raised his head and looked at her with a sincere look that she had never seen on him before.
“Kousho, this is just a what-if. If I did join forces with Mokuren, I wouldn’t be your enemy since I betrayed him by telling you where Riri was. If you and I were to fight, then it might lead to a fight between Shinzui and Koran. I’m sure we both don’t want that.”
Seirai was serious. His voice was as calm as always.
“I also don’t want to disturb the peace that my father and Emperor Reibun has created. I don’t want to do anything that could spark a war. I don’t want my people to shed blood. That is, if you’re willing to accept this.”
Seirai was implying that he had changed his mind.
Riri waited for Kousho to say something. She was so nervous that she almost stopped breathing.
(The relationship between Shinzui and Koran will change drastically depending on how Kousho-sama reacts. If he pursues the possibility that Seirai and Mokuren had joined hands, and obtained evidence of this, then the relationship between the two kingdoms will deteriorate, and in the worst case, a war may start…)
She turned pale as she imagined that horrible future in her mind.
“… Do you think I will be satisfied with that?”
Kousho’s voice was low as if he was suppressing his anger.
(Kousho-sama… is angry. Will he really pursue the link between Seirai-sama and Mokuren?)
He closed his eyes once when she stared at him with begging eyes, then sighed.
“Seirai-dono. I don’t accept your explanation, but I won’t pry any further since Riri is safe. I also don’t want to fight with Koran.”
He was cold, but it was the best thing he could have said.
She was happy and Kousho glared at Seirai while sulking.
“I won’t investigate the truth. But ―――.”
Kousho paused and took a step closer to Seirai, then he violently grabbed Seirai’s collar and put his face close to Seirai’s.
“Be prepared for the consequences ――― if you ever put Riri in danger again.”
His quiet and low voice was fiercer than anything he had ever said before.
Seirai widened his eyes, then he smiled a while later.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’ll be careful not to anger you.”
Kousho let go of his collar when he heard that.
“I hope you’ll keep that in mind. I don’t want to get into a fight with Koran’s Crown Prince either for the sake of both our kingdoms.”
“I understand. I’ll leave while you’re being polite.”
Kousho suddenly put his hand over his mouth when he heard those words.
“There’s something else that’s bothering me. I’ve been aware of this ever since Mokuren disappeared, but after hearing Riri’s story earlier, I’m convinced. Mokuren’s associates are in the palace.”
Riri’s eyes widened when she heard what Kousho had said.
I knew that she shouldn’t have interrupted them, but she was so surprised that she spoke.
“Yeah, Mokuren told you he had an associate who has perfected one of the treasured incenses. However, the materials for the treasured incense can only be obtained in the palace. That’s why you came to the palace in the first place.”
She nodded her head when she heard that. All the sacred bamboo wood needed to make the treasured incense was managed by the palace. It was absolutely impossible to get it elsewhere.
“One of Mokuren’s associates is in the palace, and he’s using the sacred bamboo to make the treasured incense. I’ve been trying to find out if he still has associates here ever since he left the palace, but I still don’t know who they are. Riri, there’s a good chance you’ll be targeted again. You need to put up your guard more.”
Kousho looked at her with concern. She couldn’t help but stare at his eyes and turned red.
(It feels embarrassing to be stared at like this by Kousho-sama, but I’m happy…)
He had been treating her coldly for a while now, so the fact that he was being considerate towards her like this was proof that he didn’t hate her. Seirai spoke while looking sullen.
“… I’m sorry for interrupting you two while you’re staring at each other, but is it alright for you to take it easy like this, Riri?”
She was startled by Seirai’s voice and looked down to hide her reddened face.
“Wh-what are you talking about?”
“It’s almost night-time. The banquet is about to start. You have to get ready.”
He said and she widened her eyes in surprise.
“Oh. The final selection for the beauty pageant!”
There was still enough time for her to get ready for the banquet, but there was a grave obstacle stopping her from dancing.
She didn’t have the outfit and mask that she needed for the final selection dance.
The box that had contained her costume and mask smelled like a certain person.
“Kousho-sama and Seirai-sama, I have to prepare for the final selection, so please excuse me!”
“Wait, Riri. It’s dangerous for you to move around so quickly…”
She heard Kousho’s voice behind her as she left the room and rushed to where the owner of the scent was.