How long has it been since the sun had risen?
Riri hid in the shrubs that grew on Densou Temple and stared at the Jizo statue without sleeping a wink.
She should be sleepy, but she wasn’t sleepy at all.
She was waiting for Mokuren to come here but no one visited the temple even during the day.
Silence, the sound of insects and the scent of the tree filled the air.
Doubt swirled in her mind, and she wondered if Mokuren would really come.
(It’s alright. He’ll definitely come. I must meet him and prove that the evidence is fake. I’m sure I can change things if I can do that.)
Nobles and the Emperor exist for the people. She wanted the world to be like that.
And she wanted a world where even women can become perfumers.
She had no choice but to do what she was doing now to make her wish come true.
Riri smelled a certain fragrance as the sun was beginning to set.
She held her breath and focused her attention on her nose.
A man wearing a black hood slowly entered the grounds as she remained still.
The man walked towards the Jizo statue while looking around.
(This fragrance… it’s him!)
It was a nostalgic, yet painful scent. It was the fragrance that she had concocted for Mokuren.
She took a deep breath and stood up, then inhaled.
“Mokuren… I can finally meet you.”
She said and the hooded man turned to her. He stood there frozen in surprise and then slowly took off his hood. The gentle-looking man was wearing glasses.
She wanted to see him, but she couldn’t. She had been worried about how to talk to him for a long time.
But she had made up her mind.
“I want us to talk.”
Mokuren’s eyes widened in surprise but then a smile appeared on his face.
“I didn’t expect to see you outside the palace. Did you get kicked out of the palace for being too much of a tomboy?”
He seemed to be joking but his eyes weren’t smiling.
“I came out on my own. You should know why I did this.”
She smiled a little and Mokuren turned serious.”
“It’ll be troublesome if someone sees you. Let’s go.”
Mokuren turned his back towards her. It took a lot of courage for her to take the first step.
Even so, running away wasn’t an option. She took a deep breath and followed after him.
Mokuren brought her to a small building in the downtown area where she used to live.
She followed Mokuren and stepped into a building.
“Welcome back, Sensei.”
The young woman inside the building smiled. The room was filled with the scent of therapeutic incenses.
“I’m back. Did any patients come today?”
“It was unusually quiet today.”
“I see, then you can go home now.”
The woman glanced at Riri but left with her things without asking anything.
“Riri, come this way.”
Mokuren beckoned. They entered a tatami room at the back and sat down on a desk across from each other.
“This is a medical clinic. Is it yours?”
“Yeah. I only accept patients who can be treated with incenses, but we still get busy.”
Mokuren was the head of the Ministry of Incenses. He was peerless when it came to making incenses and was especially skilled at making incenses for medical use.
She was in disbelief when she heard that Mokuren was the head of the Dark Perfumers who use poisonous incenses.
“Have some tea, Riri.”
He smiled as he offered her a cup of tea, just like he used to, but that didn’t mean she could let her guard down.
Mokuren looked somewhat surprised.
She would not have dared to drink tea offered by her enemy, Mokuren, a few months ago.
But it was different now, she had made up her mind.
The tea smelled good. Mokuren might have poisoned the tea with an odourless poison since he used poisonous incenses, but she drank the tea without hesitation.
Mokuren tensed when he saw this.
“You’re a bit different today. You said you left the Beautiful Flower Palace, but you look like you’ve prepared yourself for the worse.”
She set the teacup on the table and straightened her posture.
“Yes. I really wanted to ask you something, so I came to see you even though I knew my life would be in danger… You fabricated the evidence that was used against the Chancellor, didn’t you?”
She asked directly. She didn’t think she could ask Mokuren this in a roundabout way.
She believed that it would be easier to identify the scent of sweat that emitted when people’s emotions changed if she asked him directly.
Mokuren’s scent had changed slightly to the scent that he emitted when he was nervous.
He put on a calm expression and sipped his tea.
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t play dumb. I could smell your scent lingering from the evidence that was used against the Chancellor. You probably fabricated this evidence to throw the court in chaos. Admit it, Mokuren.”
She leaned forward and Mokuren chuckled.
“I don’t know anything, and even if I did, I won’t admit it.”
“Tell me the truth, if you do then…”
It took her a lot of courage to say this out loud. She could see Kousho’s face in her mind. She wanted to help him with his dream. She didn’t want to see Hisui cry. She wanted everyone who lived downtown to be happy. Those thoughts were giving her the courage to say her next words.
“If you admit it, then I won’t return to the palace and will join the Dark Perfumers.”
Mokuren was caught off guard. He widened his eyes and gulped.
“I can only make fragrances at the Beautiful Flower Palace, but I believe I can be of great help to the Dark Perfumers. You know about my super olfaction. We can do anything with incenses with my olfaction and your skills.”
She had been thinking about this even before she left the palace.
She had to resolve herself if she was going to convince Mokuren, so she took a deep breath and continued.
“You know about the Heart Calming Incense, don’t you? It’s very effective against heart diseases. Koran’s Emperor desperately wants this incense. We can make incenses that can cure all kinds of illnesses just like the Heart Calming Incense.”
Stay calm, she chanted in her mind. She spoke while observing Mokuren.
“Everyone gets sick. The Dark Perfumers want a place where they belong. We can make incenses that heal illnesses, increase our assets, and build our own nation. It would be much easier and more realistic than spending time on revenge. I will drop everything and follow you. So please. Admit that the evidence was falsified and leave Shinzui.”
She folded her hands as if she was praying. Mokuren looked surprised and tilted his head a little.
“Then your dream of concocting the treasured incense to clear your father’s name won’t come true. That was your purpose for entering the inner palace, was it not?”
It made her heart ache to hear him say that.
“I don’t care if my dream doesn’t come true.”
She declared and Mokuren widened his eyes in surprise again.
“I began to wonder if my only desire is to clear my father’s name after I entered the inner palace and met a lot of people.”
She calmly put her feelings into words.
“I want to help Kousho-sama create the nation of his dreams. The friend I made in the inner palace is trying her best to get everyone in the Beautiful Flower Palace to get along. I want to help her as well. The people will suffer if the palace gets more chaotic. I don’t want my friends downtown to suffer.”
She had made up her mind, so the words came out easily.
“I want to help others achieve their dreams as well instead of just chasing after my own dreams. Even if ――― I have to leave the inner palace to do so.”
She firmly stared at Mokuren and he looked at her questioningly while sighing.
“You’ll never see Kousho-sama or General Garan again.”
Those words pierced her heart. The pain was unbearable, but she endured it.
“I know. I came here even while knowing that.”
Mokuren was about to say something when he heard how determined she was, but immediately closed his mouth.
He remained silent for a while then spoke.
“Let me think about it.”
Kousho walked quickly through the Fragrant Princess Palace. It was quiet inside the palace and there was no one in sight.
He knew that Riri wasn’t here, but he still had to see for himself.
Hisui had visited the Fragrant Princess Palace because she needed to discuss something with Riri, but the maid told her that Riri wasn’t feeling well and was resting. Hisui became worried and wanted to see how Riri was doing, but the maid’s behaviour was strange.
She had a bad feeling when she saw this. Hisui was in charge of the Beautiful Flower Palace, so she was allowed to enter all the palaces without permission. When she entered the Fragrant Princess Palace to search for Riri, she didn’t find her and when she asked the maid about this, she didn’t answer, so Hisui rushed to inform Kousho.
He knew he sounded as if he was panicking but he didn’t care.
He heard a rattling sound and turned around to see Ryouka, the maid, standing at the end of the corridor.
“Where did Riri go?”
Ryouka trembled as she stood still.
“I… do not know.”
Even her voice was trembling, and she looked more regretful than frightened.
“I heard you tried to cover up the fact that Riri isn’t here, so you must know where she went.”
Kousho asked sharply and Ryouka shook her head.
“A consort will be executed if people know that she has left the inner palace. Riri’s head will be chopped off and she will die.”
Ryouka trembled when he deliberately said this in a disgusting way.
“Few people know that Riri is gone right now. We can cover this up for a few days, and we can pretend that nothing has happened if I can bring her back in time. Don’t you want to help her?”
Truthfully, he was against Ryouka serving Riri because she was connected to Mokuren.
But Riri said she believed in Ryouka.
“Riri regretted that the court was in chaos because she dropped a piece of paper. She also said she could smell Mokuren’s scent from that piece of paper… She must have heard where he is from you and went to see him in person.”
Kousho had no proof, but he was confident this was what had happened. Ryouka gasped and looked down.
Ryouka stopped speaking as soon as she said a word. Her gaze wavered as if she was at a loss about what to do.
Kousho grabbed her shoulders.
“You promised Riri that you wouldn’t tell anyone, didn’t you? But she won’t be able to escape the death penalty if people find out that she’s left the palace. ―――Please. Tell me where she went… I’m worried about her.”
Ryouka’s eyes widened in shock because the Crown Prince had bowed to her.
“I am but a servant Kousho-sama… you do not need to bow to me…”
He wouldn’t normally bow down to another person no matter what, but he could do anything for Riri.
He looked up and stared into Ryouka’s eyes.
“Riri is important to me. I want to bring her back. Please tell me where she is.”
Ryouka closed her eyes once at Kousho’s desperate plea.
“… Riri-sama has gone to Densou Temple. I leave letters about how Riri-sama is doing there every month since Mokuren-sama asked me to do so….”
Kousho nodded as Ryouka’s sentence drifted off.