Riri was sitting alone in a chair in the middle of the room. She turned her head when she noticed that the door behind her had opened. Mokuren stood at the door with a calm expression on his face. On the other side of the door was a garden which faced the corridor, and she could see that the sun was setting. Mokuren closed the door and sat on the chair in front of her.
“I’ve made my decision.”
Mokuren’s voice sounded stiff, and she could smell that he was nervous.
“I am the head of the Dark Perfumers, and I am destined to lead a revolution to abolish the emperor if he is found to be unvirtuous. I cannot escape that fate.”
He had made up his mind but the hands on his knees were clutched together.
“That’s not true. You’re skilled at making incenses. It’s possible for you to start over. I can help you.”
She knew that nothing she could say would change his mind, but she had to try.
“Thanks, Riri, but this is a fate that can no longer be changed.”
Mokuren smiled slightly.
“There are dozens of Dark Perfumers. They won’t accept it if I say I will stop our revenge. They will probably kill me and continue their attack on the palace.”
“But you’re the head, I’m sure they’ll be people who will follow you if you want to stop with this revenge. You can convince them…”
“That’s impossible. There is one person who will never be persuaded. He has everyone’s trust. There are many who follow him.”
Mokuren’s smile stated that he had accepted everything.
Mokuren’s expression suddenly stiffened, and he stood up from his chair. He approached Riri and gently hugged her. She raised her voice in surprise at this sudden action and he whispered in her ears.
“Riri, consorts who leave the palace receive the death penalty. Even if you don’t receive the death penalty, the palace will be chaotic from now on. I don’t want to see you cry when you see your loved ones suffer.”
His words were gentle and his arms warm, but she still moved and freed herself from his arms.
“I will return to the palace if you don’t change your mind. It will be painful to see the palace in chaos, and it’s scary to see people fight, but I don’t want to run away. There must be something I can do at the palace.”
She had left the palace without telling anyone and didn’t expect to make it back in one piece, but she believed she had to tell Kousho that they were planning to do something at the Elegant Incense Gathering since she couldn’t convince Mokuren to stop.
“I can’t let you return.”
Mokuren grabbed her arm when she was about to stand up.
“I’m going to keep you here until everything is over… You can’t leave.”
It was the first time she had heard such a passionate voice from him.
“… Let me go!”
She managed to get out of his arms and stand up, so she opened the door and tried to escape.
But she couldn’t get any further than the door.
“I told you that you wouldn’t be able to return, didn’t I?”
A shiver ran through her when she heard Mokuren’s voice from behind her. Two black masked men were standing in front of her.
“Lock Riri up.”
The men nodded in response to Mokuren’s cold voice.
Her cry echoed throughout the deserted clinic.
Kousho stood in front of an old building while holding his breath as darkness fell over the area.
This was the clinic according to the information that Garan had gathered, but the people here weren’t doctors, they were perfumers who heal the sick and injured with their incenses.
The perfumer who wore glasses was very skilled and was a popular person around here.
“I can’t believe Mokuren was this close to the palace.”
Kousho hadn’t expected him to be living downtown so close to the palace when he was being hunted for the attempted assassination of the Emperor. Garan, who was standing next to him, nodded slightly.
“This area was searched right after the Emperor’s attempted assassination, but this place was vacant at the time. Mokuren probably opened the clinic after the investigation was over.”
“He must have thought this place would be safer since it had already been searched, and he was right.”
Garan was in charge of leading the chase for Mokuren. He looked down with a regretful expression on his face.
“There’s no point in regretting the past. Just think about getting Riri back safely. Gather everyone.”
The soldiers formed a circle.”
“The most important thing is to get Riri back safely. These people are assassins who use poisonous incenses. You’ll die if you let your guard down. Be careful. Let’s go!”
He gave the signal and started running towards the clinic.
Riri was locked in a cell. The door had a sturdy lock, and she could see that there were two guards through the wooden frame. If she could make the Sleep Incense then she might be able to put the guards to sleep and get the key, but her tools were taken away by Mokuren.
(I must quickly let Kousho-sama know that Mokuren is trying to do something at the Elegant Incense Gathering.)
She couldn’t avoid death since she had left the palace without permission, but she still had to tell him about Mokuren.
She suddenly smelled certain fragrances as she was thinking about how she could escape.
The fragrances belonged to many people. They seemed excited and were fighting among themselves.
After that, voices and footsteps reached her eyes.
“What? What’s going on?”
She grasped the wooden bars. The guards seemed to have noticed the commotion as well and began to panic.
“You stay here.”
The taller man told the other to stay before running down the corridor.
He suddenly fell backwards as he was about to turn the corner.
The guard in front of the cell widened his eyes in shock. A man appeared at the corner of the corridor.
The man had flaming red hair and calm greyish-brown eyes. He had a large build and a sharp blade in his hand. She looked at Kousho, who was staring at her, and tightened her grip on the wooden frame and yelled.
“There you are, Riri!”
“I won’t let you free her!”
The guard rushed to unsheathe his sword, but Kousho slashed him before he could.
She screamed when she saw the guard fall.
“I didn’t kill him. Tie him up!”
A soldier came out from behind him and tied up the guard, then he took the key from the guard’s waist. The soldier handed the key to Kousho and took the guard away.
Kousho rushed towards her.
“Are you alright?”
She felt relieved as soon as she saw Kousho’s face up close. Her legs grew weak, and she was about to collapse on the spot, but she kept herself up through sheer willpower. She teared up when he unlocked the door and opened it.
“Come out quickly.”
She wiped her tears and stepped outside, then Kousho suddenly embraced her.
His arms were strong and felt hot. The heat made her realise that he was really in front of her.
She was prepared to never see him again when she left the palace.
She thought she might die, but she was happy to see him again. She wondered when he became this important to her.
She knew that he was searching for his first love for a long time. That woman’s presence haunted her mind and made her feel suffocated, but she decided not to think about her right now. Kousho whispered over her head.
“I’m glad I found you.”
“I apologise… for making you worry.”
She looked down and Kousho slowly let go of her. His gentle demeanour instantly turned into an angry one.
“I was really worried about you! How can you do something so selfish!? You promised you would tell me everything!”
She made herself look smaller as he yelled at her.
“I am really sorry!”
Although she had her reasons, she knew that she had broken her promise to Kousho, so she couldn’t argue with him. She bowed down sincerely and Kousho put his hand on her shoulder.
“I was going to give you a good scolding, but we’re in a rush, so I’ll stop here. Only a few people know that you have left the palace. We can pretend that nothing has happened if you return to the palace now but be prepared to be punished for this when you return.”
The word ‘punished’ made her shudder, but a ray of light shone down when she heard that she could still return to the palace.
(There is something that I can do for this nation if I can go back to the Beautiful Flower Palace again. I can let Kousho-sama know that Mokuren and the Dark Perfumers are planning on doing something at the Elegant Incense Gathering and I can even plan a counterattack with Kousho-sama and Garan…!)
She could endure whatever punishment Kousho gave her.
Just a few minutes ago, she was lost between working with Mokuren or going back to the palace to face the death penalty. She didn’t know how to thank Kousho when she saw that he had come to her rescue and that he would take her back to the place where she could do her best.
She looked up at him quietly and saw that he was smiling gently.
She was captivated by his smile.
(Why am I blushing!? I already know he’s cool, but why does he look so radiant today? Why!?)
She was startled by the sound of someone calling her. She turned around and saw that Garan was running towards her.
“I’m glad you’re safe. I’m so glad…”
Garan smiled softly with a relieved expression on his face. She bowed towards him.
“I’m sorry for worrying you.”
She was happy that she was able to talk to Kousho and Garan like this.
She wiped her tears with her sleeve and Kousho turned towards Garan.
“Do you have the clinic under control?”
“Yes, we have captured everyone inside the clinic, but we have not found Mokuren.”
Kousho clicked his tongue.
“He must not be here. Let’s hurry back to the palace right away. We have to get back there before anyone realises that Riri isn’t there.”
Kousho turned towards Riri and held his hand out.