She approached the door after bowing. She gently placed her hand on the door and slowly opened it.
It was dark inside. The spacious room was filled with expensive looking furniture.
The room was luxurious, but it felt cold, and she shivered.
“Where is the evidence…?”
Her heart was beating wildly from nervousness and fear, but she took a deep breath and managed to calm down.
Then she focused on her nose. It was Ranran’s living room, so her scent filled the air.
She sniffed around carefully and noticed that there were several places in the room where Ranran’s scent was stronger.
“The place where she often sits, the place where she drinks tea, the place where she relaxes and…”
She stopped in front of a display cabinet in the corner. It was a plain and old display cabinet.
It was the only simple piece of furniture in this room that was filled with expensive things. The only things on display were paper flowers and old teacups which gave the room a slightly different aura. Ranran’s scent lingered strongly on the shelves, even though it was probably her less favourite piece of furniture here.
“She sat down here and touched the display cabinet several times, and recently too.”
Riri sat down and touched the display cabinet, then she suddenly felt something strange.
She couldn’t see it, but her hand was telling her that there was a bump at the corner of the shelf.
“There’s something here…”
She searched around with her hands and then heard a rattling sound.
To her surprise, she found a hold in the display cabinet. It was a hidden shelf.
“It might be here…”
She put her hand in as her heart beat like crazy.
Then something touched her hand. She grabbed it and pulled it out. It was a piece of paper which had been folded three times.
She nervously opened the paper and found a Chinese bellflower imprinted on the paper. It was said that the Chancellor used paper with Chinese bellflowers on them.
On the piece of paper was an amount that would allow her to live comfortably for the rest of her life and Jin Koudoku’s signature.
It stated on the paper that he had indeed received this sum of money from the Department of Incenses.
“This is it…!”
The first thing she did was smell the paper. She could smell a lot of information from a scent because of her super olfaction. The paper smelled like Ranran and…
“It smells like Mokuren―――.”
She imagined the sight of a dark presence creeping upon them and a shiver went down her spine.
The evidence of the Chancellor’s wrongdoing which she had found in Ranran’s living room gave off Mokuren’s scent.
Riri’s lips trembled as she imagined what that could possibly mean.
“Calm down. I smelled Mokuren’s scent coming from Consort Ranran when I got back from Koran. I’ve known since then that he might be involved with her. Why am I crying so much right now after all this time…?!”
She wanted to think that she had been mistaken since she hadn’t smelled Mokuren’s scent coming from Ranran after that. But if this piece of evidence also has his scent, then there was no doubt that she was in contact with him.
“It’s possible that this piece of evidence is fake. What if Mokuren was the one who had prepared this fake piece of evidence…?”
It was one possibility, but she strongly believed that he did when she said it out loud.
She had this nagging feeling ever since Hisui told her that Ranran had evidence against her father.
This piece of paper had a Chinese bellflower watermark, which was only used by the Chancellor, and Hisui also said that the handwriting belonged to her father. It was too perfect if it had been prepared by Ranran to trick Hisui.
But if Mokuren had prepared this piece of evidence then it would make sense.
Mokuren was a perfectionist, so he would be able to prepare something this good.
“It will be difficult to prove that this piece of paper is fake if he did make it. I’ll have to investigate how Mokuren is connected to Consort Ranran.”
She regained her composure and once again focused on his nose. She smelled the piece of paper and suddenly realised something.
“Huh? This is…”
The door behind her suddenly swung open as soon as she muttered.
She turned around in surprise to see Ranran smiling triumphantly at her with her followers.
“What are you doing, Consort Riri? I don’t remember inviting you to the Pure Consort’s palace.”
She would normally be able to tell if someone was approaching by their scent, but she was so focused on her search that she didn’t notice at all. Ranran, accompanied by several other consorts, entered the room without seeming surprised.
Among them was Shoei, who had her eyes wide open in surprise.
Riri hadn’t told her that she would be sneaking into the Pure Consort’s palace today, so that was why Shoei was surprised.
Her head was in turmoil at Ranran’s sudden appearance, but she didn’t forget to signal Shoei to stay quiet with her eyes.
It didn’t seem like Ranran knew that Shoei had told her about the Pure Consort Palace from the way she was acting. If she did know, then she would have punished Shoei by now. Riri wanted to avoid that.
“Give back what you have in your hand.”
Ranran put her hands on her hips. Riri looked around frantically while wondering what she should do.
(I may never get my hands on it again if I give it back to her now. I have to examine this piece of paper more carefully and somehow prove that it’s fake. To do that…)
She managed to catch her breath and put the piece of paper in her pocket.
She knew she was in a pinch, but panicking wasn’t going to solve anything. She chanted in her mind to stay calm, then quickly got up and slipped between Ranran and the other consorts.
She heard Ranran’s voice but didn’t slow down. She managed to get outside after bumping into a few consorts who were standing at the door. She was so focused on running away that she didn’t even know who she had bumped into.
She was desperate to escape. She ran as Ranran screamed then someone grabbed her arm. She looked to see that it was the court lady who she had put to sleep earlier. The court lady was holding her head as she glared at Riri.
“An intruder! Everyone come!”
The court lady was so strong that it was hard to believe that she was a woman. More and more court ladies were gathering in the garden and corridor.
She screamed in her mind and turned pale, then someone came running from the garden.
“What’s going on?!”
She felt relieved when she heard that voice. She turned around and saw that it was Garan with the gatekeepers.
“I heard screaming, so I entered the Pure Consort’s palace as the person in charge of security. What is going on?”
Ranran’s wandered about for a while as she pondered.
Then a wicked smile appeared on her face.
“… Consort Riri sneaked into my living room. Consort Hisui sent her because I have proof that the Chancellor has been taking bribes!”
Ranran loudly declared. She pointed at Riri with a smug look on her face.
“I happened to come across it when I was in Consort Hisui’s room. I didn’t know what to do, so I talked to her about it, and she told me that she would give me some time to think about what to do. So, I kept that piece of evidence in my living room, but then she ordered Consort Riri to steal it back!”
Riri widened her eyes in shock. Ranran was determined to drive Hisui into a corner.
Everyone started whispering to themselves. The court ladies probably didn’t know anything. The gatekeepers who Garan had brought with him also looked at each other and raised their eyebrows. Garan calmly held out his hand.
“… Then, I will interrogate Consort Riri. I will let you know immediately if any evidence comes to light.”
(Thank God… I can hide this piece of paper if Garan can get me out of here. Thank God he was close by…)
She was about to take a step forward towards Garan in relief…
“What is going on here?”
… when she heard a clear voice and blinked. She turned around to see a man who she had never seen before standing in the garden.
He had several soldiers with him, and she assumed he was a soldier from his iron breastplate and sword at his waist. But he didn’t look like a soldier. He was slender and had a kind face. His elegant appearance was like that of a scholar. He looked to be in his late twenties, had a handsome face and wore his long black hair in a ponytail.
Garan looked at him and frowned.
They knew each other, but from the expression on Garan’s face, this man was not someone who Garan wanted to see. The man named Rarai bowed slightly.
“Hey, General Garan. I have returned from patrolling the border to serve as extra guard for the Elegant Incense Gathering. His Majesty has ordered me to be on guard while the dance performance is on, so I have come to ask Consort Ranran for more details about the performance. I have already received permission to enter the Pure Consort’s palace, so I have come to pay my respects.”
Rarai’s greeting was polite, but it seemed condescending. He looked older than Garan but Garan was probably his senior since he had a higher status. However, she could clearly see that Rarai was looking down on Garan.
Rarai looked around.
“It seems like you are quarrelling. What happened?”
He smiled kindly but his smile seemed to have a hidden meaning behind it. Garan looked at him harshly.
“I can take care of this. Go about your own business, Rarai-dono.”
It was the first time she had heard such a cold voice from him. She could smell the ‘scent’ that emitted from Garan when he was nervous.
She wondered if he disliked Rarai and then realised that that wasn’t it.
The scent that Garan was giving off in reaction to Rarai was the one he emitted when he was in front of an enemy.
“I cannot let you do that… Oh, is that Consort Riri?”
Rarai called her name and she blinked.
“I’ve heard a lot about you. My name is Gou Rarai. I am General Garan’s cousin. I heard that you make incenses in Beautiful Flower Palace. I’m also interested in incenses. I even considered whether I should become a perfumer at the Ministry of Incenses or if I should become a soldier to succeed my family.”
His smiling face was honestly a bit shady.
He said that he was Garan’s cousin, but he gave off a very different impression from the sincere Garan. And the fact that Garan was on his guard meant that she shouldn’t let her guard down in front of him either.
Because of this, she hesitated on how to greet him. Rarai approached her while giggling.
“Oh, my apologies.”
Rarai almost fell over when he was right in front of her.
“Ah, are you alright?”
She quickly put out her hand to support him. Rarai immediately pulled himself up and smiled.
“I apologise. I got dizzy. It seems that I am tired since I rode on my horse without taking a rest from the border. But you are very kind, Consort Riri. We share the same hobby which is incenses and I hear that you are Kousho-sama’s favourite. I am so glad I got to meet you.”
With the unnecessary remark of ‘Kousho-sama’s favourite’, Ranran glared at Riri with jealousy.
Rarai sighed slightly in the tense atmosphere.
“… Oh, by the way, I picked up something absurd over there.”
Rarai pointed in the direction that he had come from. He had entered from the back door, past Ranran’s living room, and had come to the garden through the corridor.
Rarai reached into his sleeve with a nasty smile and produced a piece of paper.
He unfolded it and showed it to everyone. Riri almost stopped breathing as soon as he did this.
He was holding the piece of paper that she had found in Ranran’s living room which had contained the evidence on a piece of paper with a Chinese bellflower watermark on it. When she quickly reached into her pocket, she found that the piece of paper, which should have been in her pocket, was gone.
(Huh…?! No way!)
She found herself turning pale. Rarai pointed to the paper with his left hand.
“On this piece of paper is the Chancellor Jin Koudoku’s signature and the amount of money he had supposedly received as a bribe. I’ve worked with him many times before and this is definitely his handwriting. This is really terrible.”
Rarai amusingly showed the piece of paper in his hand to everyone.
“I must report this to His Majesty immediately. But still, how did this piece of paper fall on the ground?”
He tilted his head to show his confusion and Ranran took a step forward.
“I have been keeping that piece of paper for certain reasons. Consort Riri snuck into my living room and stole it under Consort Hisui’s orders!”
Ranran pointed towards Riri. Garan quickly stood in front of Riri.
“… Rarai-dono, please hand me that piece of paper. I will take over the investigation from here.”
Garan looked at Rarai and Rarai sneered, then he fluttered the paper in the air.
“I can’t give this to you. You’re close to Koudoku-sama, General Garan. I will take this paper and officially present it to His Majesty during his meeting with the officials.”
Rarai folded the paper carefully and put it in his pocket.
“Consort Ranran, you say that Consort Riri snuck into your living room, but can you prove it?”
Rarai asked and Ranran nodded.
“I can! All the consorts and court ladies here are my witnesses. They all saw Consort Riri in my living room. I want to take Consort Riri to court! She’s a thief!”
The harsh glint in her eyes was accompanied with jealousy.
Ever since Rarai said ‘Kousho-sama’s favourite’, she had been releasing a scent that smelled full of anger and jealousy. Perhaps she was motivated by those feelings.
“… I did sneak into her living room, but I didn’t sneak in there because Consort Hisui ordered me to. I did it of my own will.”
Riri knew she could no longer escape, so she had to tell the truth.
She couldn’t trouble Shoei and Garan who had helped her. Ranran widened her eyes in shock.
“That’s a lie! It must have been an order from Consort Hisui. Arrest her!”
Rarai turned towards Riri.
“There are many witnesses who saw you sneak into the Pure Consort’s living room, and you will be charged with a crime as long as Consort Ranran says she wants to take you to court. I will have you come with me.”
Garan shouted in a panic, but Rarai smiled.
“You don’t believe I’ll let her get away, do you? I’ve heard rumours that you’re close with Consort Riri. If you forcefully take her away, then won’t you be confirming those rumours? It will cause a lot of trouble if rumour spreads that you are good friends with a consort in Kousho-sama’s inner palace.”
(Oh no! If Garan and Rarai-sama start arguing here, then Garan might be accused of a crime…!)
Riri turned towards Rarai before Garan, who smelled full of anger, could say anything.
“I will go with Rarai-sama…!”
Rarai widened his eyes in surprise but then he immediately chuckled.
“She’s a consort with a lot of guts, then let’s go. Please tell me everything.”
Garan was about to speak but Riri stopped him with her eyes.
Then she turned towards Rarai again and followed him while being surrounded by soldiers.
She trembled since she didn’t know what was going to happen to her from now on.
But if Garan senses that she was scared then he would surely try to help her and do something reckless.
So, she kept her nerve and left the palace calmly.