“Riri, I heard you got a palace.”
Seirai opened the door as Riri was putting away her mixing tools.
“Seirai-sama, you’ll be in trouble again if you come to the inner palace without permission.”
“It’s fine. I’m going back to Koran today. It’ll take me half a month to get to Koran on a horse drawn palanquin. The journey will be boring.”
She quickly went out into the corridor when she saw Seirai sigh.
It wasn’t a good idea to let him in the room, so the two of them went to the garden which was facing the corridor.
She walked to a thicket a little further away and turned to Seirai.
“Seirai-sama. Thank you for getting Kousho-sama at that time. I didn’t tell Mokuren about the treasured incense thanks to you.”
She bowed her head again and Seirai shrugged.
“I’m the one who kidnapped you. How can you thank me?”
“I don’t know what would have happened to me had you not informed Seirai-sama about my whereabouts… I think you’re a great Crown Prince. You reconsidered cooperating with Mokuren for the sake of your kingdom and its people. You made a splendid decision as a Crown Prince.”
“I’m not too happy to hear you praise me like that. I wanted to get the treasured incense and bring back the mining concession for my father.”
Seirai’s expression didn’t change, but his brown eyes were shaking slightly.
“Are you worried about Princess Keika?”
Seirai was planning on offering the mining concessions to his father, the Emperor of Koran, to stop his younger sister from marrying a rural noble who was much older than her, but he lost this opportunity when he saved her.
“Well, I have a lot of siblings with different mothers, but Keika is the only one who has the same mother and father as me. I want her to be happy, but I’m the Crown Prince of Koran. I can’t put my people in danger to save my sister.”
He had made up his mind, but his voice was a little shaky. Riri leaned forward towards him.
“Seirai-sama, I told you I had an idea. If things go well, you might be able to stop Princess Keika from getting married.”
Seirai looked at Riri curiously.
“You were serious? I thought you were just making it up to save your life.”
“I wasn’t. I’m not going to lie at a critical moment like that. Here you go.”
She took out a cloth bag from her pocket. She had been carrying it around with her with the intention of giving it to Seirai when she saw him.
“It’s an incense made from ambergris. Please give it to Koran’s Emperor.”
Seirai tilted his head in confusion.
“If this incense is as valuable as the treasured incense, then I can use it as a bargaining chip to stop my sister’s marriage, but this isn’t the treasured incense, is it?”
“Then it’s not worth enough to make my father consider my sister’s marriage.”
“No, it is. This incense is worth it for the Emperor of Koran.”
Seirai’s eyes widened when he heard this.
“What do you mean?”
“This is an incense that my late father used to make a lot so that it can be used as medicine. I’m the only person who knows how to make it. Do you know that ambergris is used as medicine for heart disease?”
Seirai looked up in surprise.
“I’ve heard about that, but it’s never been used as medicine in Koran since we have no oceans and thus therefore can’t get ambergris.”
It wasn’t easy to obtain ambergris in Shinzui too since it was extracted from whales and there weren’t any oceans near Shinzui.
Riri had a small amount of it on hand to make the treasured incense, but it wasn’t enough, so she asked Kousho for some ambergris from the Ministry of Incense.
“The incense that my father made using ambergris can soothe seizures. The effect of the incense is tremendous. I used to mix and sell incenses to clinics downtown before I entered the Beautiful Flower Palace, and this incense for seizures was quite effective.”
Ambergris was hard to find downtown. But Doctor Choumei had received some from a rich patient and she made some of this incense using that.
An old man who was suffering from frequent hard attacks was so happy to burn this incense because it had relieved his suffering.
“I heard that the Emperor of Koran has a bad heart and often has seizures. If you burn this incense during his seizure, then it can soothe his heart.”
Seirai looked at the cloth bag which contained the pastille as if he couldn’t believe this.
“My father does suffer from seizures. He has medication for it, but it doesn’t work right away, so he says he suffers a lot. Do you really think that burning this incense can stop his seizures?”
“Yes. How about using this as a bargaining chip to stop Princess Keika’s marriage? People with heart disease are always afraid of getting seizures. An incense that keeps you healthy is worth as much as the treasured incense or mining concessions.”
There was no such thing as a person who didn’t get sick. The emperor was the same as commoners in the face of disease.
Everyone was struggling to get healthy, no matter their status.
“Won’t you be able to stop Princess Keika’s marriage if you give this present to the Emperor as a gift and successfully persuade him?”
Seirai looked at her puzzlingly, then he suddenly smiled.
“… Thanks. I’m sorry for thinking that you were lying to me. You made this incense because you were concerned about my sister. I’m grateful.”
Seirai accepted the cloth bag. She was happy that she could help him.
“I’ll just take a horse and deliver this to my father straight away rather than taking my time on a palanquin, and I’ll make sure to stop my sister’s marriage. Riri, I’ll never forget this favour.”
The cheerful expression on his face also made her feel happy.
“I only made the incense you wanted as your guide. Please be careful on your journey home.”
She was about to bow her head, when he suddenly put a hand on his chin, then he made her look up slightly.
She wondered what was going on and he kissed her on the cheek.
She was stunned.
“I’m just thanking you. It’s a shame. I’d like to stay here and flirt with you more, but I have to do something about my sister’s situation first. I’ll be back soon, so wait for me.”
Seirai left with a bewitching smile and one eye closed.
Confused by the feel of his lips on her cheek, she watched him as he left and prayed that he would be able to successfully persuade the Emperor.
Mokuren believed that the palace, decorated with gold and vermillion, was a symbol of the Emperor’s authority.
He gazed at the palace from his high position and remembered his childhood vow of never stopping until he had defeated the enemy from within. A long time had passed since then.
Of course, the vow he had made back then was still on his mind. And yet… he quietly lowered his eyes and clenched his fists. It was unexpected that someone could threaten that vow.
He suddenly felt a presence behind him. When he turned around, he saw a palanquin pulled by a horse coming towards him.
The soldier on the horse was familiar. The palanquin stopped in front of him, and the soldier kneed down on the spot.
“… Mokuren, you failed. That’s why I told you that Seirai isn’t a man stupid enough to be easily manipulated.”
A muffled voice came from the palanquin. He knew the owner of the voice. He honestly felt that this was the last person he wanted to see right now. He really didn’t want to get involved with him, but there was something that was bothering him, so he spoke.
“Seirai told me that Kousho was looking for the culprit who gave Riri sweets. Kousho suspects that the culprit is among the consorts of the Beautiful Flower Palace…”
He turned his sharp gaze to the palanquin door which was still closed.
“According to what Seirai found out, it seems that Riri almost ate poisoned sweets, but Kousho realised this and confiscated the sweets. I realised something was strange when I heard this. Riri’s sense of smell is special. It would be difficult even for me to make a tasteless and odourless poison that she wouldn’t notice.”
Even Mokuren, who freely handles poisonous incenses as a member of an assassination squad, couldn’t make a poison that would go unnoticed by Riri, so it was unbelievable that a consort from the Beautiful Flower Palace could get access to such a special poison.
He only knew one person that could make a poison that even Riri wouldn’t notice.
“That’s right. I planted the poison and sent it to her. I’m well versed in medicines as well as incense.”
I knew it, he thought. He racked his brains for a way to answer.
“Why did you do that?”
“To kill her, of course. I’m the one who will make the treasured incense, not her.”
His voice was full of confidence. He was a genius when it came to incenses and medicine. Even Mokuren recognised this.
He knew that if anyone could make the treasured incense, it would be either Riri or this man.
“I’m angry that she completed the treasured incense first, so I decided to kill her.”
He never backed down once he made up his mind. Mokuren was well aware of how he was. Therefore, he thought of how to persuade him to stop attacking Riri while trying not to let it show on his face.
“But I’m not going to kill her anymore.”
Mokuren opened his mouth to persuade him, but his eyes widened when he heard his words.
“What do you mean?”
Mokuren heard a chuckle from the palanquin.
“I would rather have her be useful than kill her. You know that I made the incense that brings back memories.”
“I was told that you weren’t complete.”
“I finished it.”
His voice lowered a pitch. Mokuren was almost frightened by how confident he sounded.
“I finished it, but I haven’t confirmed that it works. I can’t experiment with the memory retrieving incense without someone who has been exposed to the memory erasing incense.”
Mokuren was surprised when he said that.
“Don’t tell me…”
“Yes. Riri’s father used the memory erasing incense on her. That’s why she’s forgotten that her father made the treasured incense as well as other things. If I can make her remember those things with my memory retrieving incense, then that will prove that the incense I made is complete.”
Mokuren didn’t want Riri to remember. Of course, he wanted to know how to make the treasured incense.
That’s why he wanted Riri to regain her memories as the head of the Dark Perfumers.
But he was certain that she would hate him if she were to remember.
Even while they were on opposite sides, there was a small part of him that didn’t want her to hate him.
“You don’t like this? ――― I see, you don’t want her to remember the past. Because six years ago you…”
Mokuren commanded in a low voice, and the man from the palanquin stopped talking.
After a few moments of silence, a voice came from the palanquin again.
“Mokuren. Isn’t it too much of you to ask her not to hate you now?”
The cold voice made Mokuren shudder.
“You are the head of the Dark Perfumers and the Nine-Tailed Fox. It is the duty of the Nine-Tailed Fox to abolish an Emperor who has no virtue. You haven’t forgotten that duty, have you?”
Mokuren was well aware of this, so he spoke with determination.
“Then that’s fine. I’ll ask Riri to be my test subject, then I’ll make her recall her memories and prove that I have perfected the memory retrieving incense. I can just get the memory erasing incense from her, then the treasured incense will be complete. The Qilin title will be mine.”
His excited voice sounded like that of a child.
Mokuren tried to speak in order to stop him, but he couldn’t find the right words to say.
He glanced down at the palace from his high position.
A great storm will soon hit the palace, and Riri will surely be caught up in the middle of it.
His mind was torn between wanting to protect her and wanting to follow his destiny and sacrifice her in order to destroy the royal family.
He couldn’t calm himself down and bit his lip in agony.
Mokuren remembered Riri’s smile and closed his eyes.