Her voice was almost intimidating. Hisui looked down slightly.
Riri was surprised by Ranran’s overbearing attitude, but she was also surprised that Riri hadn’t gone against it.
Hisui’s rebukes would normally silence Ranran, but now it was the complete opposite.
(What’s going on here?)
Riri looked at Ryouka.
Ryouka nodded softly without changing her expression. Riri couldn’t ask her what had happened under these circumstances, but it seemed that something had happened while she was away, then she realised.
(The ‘bad smell’ I have been smelling since a while ago is the smell of sweat that comes out when people hate each other or are fighting. A lot of people smell like this. Did…)
There are more than a hundred consorts at the Beautiful Flower Palace and most of them feel that way. It was horrible.
Juka took a step forward.
“Hey, Ranran. What’s wrong with you? Why did you suddenly start behaving that way towards Consort Hisui? Also why aren’t you scolding her for behaving this way towards you, Consort Hisui?”
Juka’s question was reasonable. Riri watched the scene play out, and Hisui shook her head slightly.
“It’s nothing. Let’s go… Consort Riri, I’m glad you returned safely.”
Riri finally saw Hisui smile. She lightly bowed to Ranran and headed back the way she came.
Riri looked at Hisui in amazement. Ranran covered her mouth with her fan.
“Fufu. This Beautiful Flower Palace belongs to me. I won’t let her act as if she owns the place just because she’s the Noble Consort… Consort Riri.”
Ranran approached Riri and quietly leaned over, then she bent her knees and put her mouth close to Riri’s ear.
“Half the consorts in this inner palace are on my side. Just between you and me, Hisui can’t go against me, and her father will lose his position soon.”
Riri widened her eyes in surprise. Ranran continued.
“You seem to be on good terms with Consort Hisui, but you should carefully think about who you should get along with if you want to continue living in the Beautiful Flower Palace.”
Ranran smiled widely and stood back up.
She waved her fan and walked away gracefully with her followers.
“What does she mean…?”
“It is as Consort Ranran said. Beautiful Flower Palace has changed completely while you were away.”
Ryouka said as if she wanted to cry after Ranran and the other consorts were out of sight.
“I wanted to tell you this. Consort Ranran became aggressive about half a month ago, but Consort Hisui didn’t chide her. Consort Ranran’s followers have been increasing and now Beautiful Flower Palace is divided into two groups: those who follow Consort Ranran and those who follow Consort Hisui.”
Riri couldn’t believe it. She had only left for a month.
What on earth had happened in just one month?
“Something must have happened since Consort Hisui didn’t say anything. And…”
It was bad that the Beautiful Flower Palace, which was supposed to be united with Hisui at its centre, was now split in two. Disputes at the Beautiful Flower Palace became Kousho’s responsibility.
She believed she had to do something about this but noticed something that was more important than this.
She stared dumbfoundedly at the corridor where Ranran had left and Ryouka looked at her in a panic.
“What is wrong, Riri-sama?”
“I smelled a fragrance from Consort Ranran. A fragrance that she definitely shouldn’t have.”
Riri’s lips trembled and Ryouka leaned forward.
“A fragrance that she definitely shouldn’t have? What fragrance was Consort Ranran giving off?”
She stared at Ryouka while holding her breath, and her lips trembled as she spoke.
“She smelled of… Mokuren.”
Ryouka gasped in astonishment.
Mokuren, the previous head of the Ministry of Incense and her master.
He is leading the Dark Perfumers to abolish the Emperor and take possession of Shinzui.
He has set up various traps to achieve this goal.
The fragrance he wore was slightly emitting from Ranran.
It was a fragrance that she had mixed herself and gave to Mokuren.
No one else uses it and the fragrance wouldn’t have transferred to Ranran unless she had met him directly.
The fact that this fragrance was coming from Ranran and the fact that her attitude had completely changed from a month ago couldn’t be a coincidence.
She shuddered when she realised that the fragrances of darkness had invaded the Beautiful Flower Palace.
Riri had gone to the guard station at the Beautiful Flower Palace.
The guards who are protecting the Beautiful Flower Palace were supposed to be here in shifts.
“Excuse me, is General Garan…”
She wasn’t allowed to enter the station, so she called out from outside the door.
The door opened immediately and Garan appeared.
“What’s wrong, Riri?”
She looked at Garan’s face and remembered that he had hugged her in Koran.
She hadn’t been alone with him since then, so she had yet to ask him why he had done that. A strange tension enveloped her body when she thought back to that time.
But she had made up her mind and came here thinking it would be best to report what had happened with Ranran earlier.
It would be better to talk about this to Kousho, but it would cause trouble if she had mistakenly smelled Mokuren’s fragrance from Ranran.
So, she thought she should talk to Garan first.
“I need to talk to you. With just the two of us, if possible.”
There were a couple of soldiers in the doorway. They were probably preparing for their duties.
“… Let’s talk in the back garden.”
There was a small garden at the back of Beautiful Flower Palace. It was barren, but a somewhat relaxing garden.
She followed Garan to the back garden.
He was silent. They walked together and arrived at the back garden where there was a small pond.
There were plants around the pond and a small pavilion on the right.
They walked to the edge of the pond and Garan turned around.
He suddenly opened his mouth as if he was sorting out what he was going to say in his mind.
“Riri, I know you have something to say to me, but I would like to speak first… I’ve been acting weirdly towards you lately. I’m sorry.”
Garan bowed his head.
She didn’t know what to say, so she kept silent, then Garan stared at her earnestly.
He gazed at her with his dark eyes, and she was startled. There was a hint of sweetness in his eyes.
“I was never going to tell you this, but my feelings for you are overflowing and I can’t help it. I can’t suppress my feelings anymore.”
She didn’t know what Garan was trying to tell her.
But she could tell that he was going to tell her something important, so she just stayed still.
Garan took a step closer to her. He came right in front of her and suddenly hugged her.
“――― I like you.”
His confession was sweet like honey and painful like the thorn of a flower.
Kousho was lying down in his favourite place in the palace.
There was a small pond and a pavilion in the back garden of the Beautiful Flower Palace. He felt most at home here as he read and napped. Most importantly, this place held precious memories for him.
He first met Riri here as a child.
She tried to help him when he was attacked by rebels.
It has been six years since he had fallen in love with her. She had tried to protect him even though she didn’t know that he was the Crown Prince.
She had lost her memories because of the treasured incense. He had tried to force her to remember once before, but he had failed, and she got a terrible headache. He knew that she would be in danger if he tried to force her to remember again, so he decided to wait until Riri had completed the treasured incense.
She would remember everything once she has completed the treasured incense.
He believed that she would complete it, but the seven months or so until its completion felt like an eternity.
He was truly scared for the first time in his life when he learnt that she had been kidnapped in Koran.
He had sworn that he would never put her in danger again after her safe return.
“… I’m sorry.”
He had finally returned to Shinzui, so he was thinking about what he could do to get closer to Riri when he suddenly heard voices by the pond.
He got up and looked in the direction of the voices and saw Garan and Riri standing there.
He didn’t know how long they had been there, but they were talking.
They couldn’t see him in the pavilion and looked to be in serious conversation.
He missed his chance to call out to them because of this.
He had no choice but to wait for them to finish their conversation. Garan looked much gentler than normal.
He was the person that Kousho trusted the most in the palace.
He was skilled and most importantly, he was faithful, so Kousho believed that Garan would never betray him.
He used to think that Garan was a rugged and inflexible man, but now he has come to believe that this is a part of his personality. He entrusted him to guard his precious Riri because he trusted him more than anyone else.
Riri was kidnapped right in front of Garan in Koran, but he still did his best to save her.
There were few people in the palace who Kousho could trust, and he was the only person who Kousho could call a friend.
“What are they talking about?”
Their voices were so quiet that Kousho couldn’t hear them. He listened carefully and heard Garan’s voice.
“――― I like you.”
He couldn’t believe his ears when he heard those words.
He also couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Garan hug Riri tightly in front of him.
He could see Garan’s face clearly from where he was.
The expression on his face, which was loving, and filled with smiles, was proof that he really liked Riri.
A strong shock pierced through Kousho’s body when he saw that expression.
He stopped moving. The scene that was playing out in front of him was beyond his expectations.
He held his breath as he stared at them, and a strong wind swayed his long hair.
He had a premonition that a storm of love was brewing…