“Mokuren, I won the bet, so tell me the truth. I risked my life, so please meet me halfway.”
She knew this was selfish of her. She had made the bet and carried it out without his confirmation.
Mokuren didn’t need to reply, but she waited for him to reply anyway. He seemed hesitant and was repeatedly mumbling. But he finally spoke after she waited patiently.
“I know one answer which is worthy of what you risked your life for. I wanted to keep this a secret for a long time, but it seems like I have no choice but to confess.”
Mokuren’s voice sounded heavy. She waited patiently to hear what he would say.
“Riri, I… am not the real Nine Tail Fox.”
The words he said were shocking. She widened her eyes in surprise and couldn’t understand the meaning of what he had said for a moment.
“You’re not the Nine Tail Fox…?”
“There is a genius who is a part of the Dark Perfumers who has overwhelming talent when it comes to making incenses. Everyone thought he would be the next head, but he was still a child when the last head passed away. That was why I was entrusted with this position until he came of age. The real Nine Tail Fox has grown up now and he is taking every opportunity that shows up to target this nation.”
Mokuren put his hand over his chest.
“He told me that he had succeeded in making one of the treasured incense, the Memory Restoring Incense. It’s only a matter of time before he recreates it perfectly. He will destroy Shinzui completely once he perfects the treasured incense.”
Mokuren sounded strained. She listened, stunned by a truth she had never expected.
“I am still in a position where I can restrain him since I’m still the head of the Dark Perfumers. As for revenge… I’m actually more inclined to end it all now. I also believe that it would be better for everyone if we lived new lives instead of trying to get revenge, but he doesn’t think like me.”
Mokuren looked very sincere.
“He would use any means he can to destroy Shinzui if I don’t restrain him, and then many people will die from incenses. You’re right, I want to save people with incenses. I think that’s what makes life worth living. I don’t want to see people die from incenses. He is ――― a very dangerous person.”
“… Then, you were worried about everyone…”
He wanted to stop seeking revenge, but he won’t be able to stop ‘him’ from going out of control if he does.
She could understand his feelings so well that it was painful.
“I know I can’t be like this forever. I can’t hold him back forever.”
It was the first time she had seen Mokuren’s lips tremble with pain.
He must have been suffering too. Riri’s heart squeezed tightly when she thought that.
“Mokuren, there’s no need for you to suffer anymore. Just leave the Dark Perfumers and run away.”
She grabbed both his hands, but he shook his head.
“I won’t be able to restrain him if I do that. What will happen to this nation if he gets serious… Besides, he hates you.”
Mokuren stared at her, and she gulped.
“As I said before, he’s trying to make the treasured incense. From my point of view, you and he are equally talented. I don’t know which one of you will complete the treasured incense first.”
Mokuren gently reached out and rubbed her cheek.
“He seems to think that either you or him will complete the treasured incense, that’s why he hates you. I don’t know what he’ll do to you if I’m gone.”
“Mokuren… So, you’ve stayed in the Dark Perfumers for me…?”
She asked and Mokuren smiled wryly.
She immediately knew he was lying. Tears welled up in her eyes because of his kindness.
“Please, Mokuren, don’t do anything you don’t want to anymore. I’ll be fine. I told you that I’ve made a lot of friends since coming to the palace. I’ll work together with my friends to overcome anything that happens. I don’t want you to suffer alone…!”
She shook her head repeatedly. She was crying, but she wiped her tears with her sleeve and did her best to stop herself from crying.
Just crying wouldn’t deal with difficulties or suffering.
She knew she had to stop crying to move forward.
She wouldn’t have thought like this if she was still living downtown.
She knew since she came to the inner palace a few months ago.
“It’s not right for you to be torn between conflict because of an unwanted vendetta. I’m fine, so run away.”
She looked at the kind eyes behind the glasses and Mokuren looked slightly troubled.
“It’s not that easy… I don’t have time to run away and if I don’t burn this incense then the Dark Perfumers who have infiltrated the palace will come and kill me. They all believe I have betrayed them. The only thing I can do is burn this numbing incenses instead of a poisonous incense, so that no one will die.”
Mokuren’s smile was philosophical, and he looked as if he had given up on everything.
“No. I will buy you time to run away. I’ll make the Dark Perfumers believe that you burnt the numbing incense, so use that time to escape.”
“It won’t go well.”
“Let’s try to make this work. I’ve said this to you many times, Mokuren. I’ll be fine. Both Kousho-sama and Garan help me when I need them to. I will complete the treasured incense before ‘he’ does and I will stop the Dark Perfumers from taking revenge. So please, don’t suffer anymore…!”
She wanted to save Mokuren. He saved her life, was her teacher and was still protecting her without her knowing.
Now it was her turn to protect him.
“Mokuren, I’m not a child anymore.”
Mokuren looked shocked by those words.
“I’m not a child who doesn’t know anything, and without any skills to survive like I was when I first met you. I can take care of myself and when I can’t, I have friends to help me.”
She continued as Mokuren widened his eyes in shock.
“I don’t need you to protect me, I can look after myself. You taught me how to do that. If you keep worrying about me then it means you don’t recognise me as an adult. It may become dangerous, but I have my friends with me, so I’ll be fine.”
She looked at him straight in the eyes and tried to speak strongly.
Her persuasion would fail if Mokuren felt even the slightest hint of uneasiness in her voice. She didn’t want him to sacrifice himself anymore than he already had.
He quietly closed his eyes, pondered for a moment then smiled gently.
“… You’ve grown up. You were still… a child who feared nothing before you came to the inner palace. You were reckless, never had a plan and strong-willed. TN: LOL Isn’t she still like that?”
Mokuren smiled wryly and then pouted.
“I may have been like that but you didn’t have to say it out loud.”
“You grew up in the blink of an eye, and sadly, you’re no longer under my care.”
Mokuren narrowed his eyes. His other hand reached out and he gently cupped her cheeks with both hands.
“I’ve been looking after you ever since I met you. I first approached you to find out more information about the treasured incense, but soon, that wasn’t the only reason why I came to see you.”
Memories of her childhood flashed through her mind.
“You would scold me harshly every time I failed to make an incense, but you always gave me candy after scolding me. You used to say it was my reward for the day.”
The sweetness of that candy still lingered in her mouth.
“I want you to be happy. I don’t want you to suffer. I believe you would suffer if I ran away… But I was wrong. You’ve become an adult. Leaving might be the best thing I can do for you right now.”
He slowly removed his hands from her cheeks.
“So, I will disappear. I’m sure you will suffer a lot in the future, but I believe you can overcome your suffering.”
“I can, so please don’t suffer anymore.”
He nodded, then took something out of his pocket.
“Take this. It contains everything I can do for you right now. I’ve been holding onto it for a long time, hoping that I would be able to give it to you one day. This is the least I can do to ‘atone’.”
She took the letter while wondering what was written on it.
Mokuren suddenly hugged her just as she was about to open the folded letter.
Then he whispered in her ear.
“I hope you’ll forgive me since I won’t be in the Dark Perfumers anymore. There are some Dark Perfumers who share the same opinion as I. They make up half the group. The Dark Perfumers will weaken if I take them with me. Just be careful. The real Nine Tail Fox has already infiltrated the palace.”
Those words came as an unexpected shock to Riri.
“‘He’s’ in the palace?”
“He is. He’s hiding and waiting for an opportunity in the palace. You mustn’t let your guard down.”
Mokuren hugged tighter.
“I can only do so much now, but I will always watch over you. I had something I really needed to tell you, but I’m a coward, so I’ll leave without saying it. I will become stronger, and I will come to rescue you when you’re in danger. Stay healthy.”
The lonely expression on Mokuren’s face as he let go of her imprinted in her mind.
“Mokuren left the palace with the Dark Perfumers who agreed with him. The incense that was burnt earlier was made to look as if the numbing incenses had been lit, so that I could buy them time to escape. I’m sorry for worrying you.”
Riri bowed her head at Kousho. Kousho lifted his eyebrow.
“I told you to let me know if something was wrong!”
His scolding was drowned out by the sound of the fireworks and went unnoticed by the others.
But she heard it clearly.
“I’m sorry… I know, but you were addressing the audience on the stage, so I couldn’t interrupt you. I was going to report to you as soon as I confirmed that Mokuren was really in the palace. I told Consort Shoei to give you a message, did you not get it?”
“I didn’t. I went to look for you as soon as I finished my speech, so she was probably too busy to tell me at that time. I know you had no choice but to go since it was urgent, but I was terrified when I realised that you were missing from the hall.”
She bowed again at Kousho who had his hands on his hips.
“I really am sorry, but I succeeded in persuading Mokuren. He and the other Dark Perfumers who share his opinion retrieved all the incense burners containing the numbing incense that was planted all over the palace.”
Kousho folded his arms in astonishment.
“Thanks to them, the banquet wasn’t ruined. But still, who is this real Nine Tail Fox person that Mokuren mentioned?”
“I… couldn’t ask him because someone was walking towards us. Mokuren called that person ‘him’. He said that ‘he’ was still a child when the former Dark Perfumer head passed away, so Mokuren became the temporary head. So, we can assume that he is still a young man, and I’m sure he’s skilled in making incenses.”
Kousho looked conflicted as he pondered on Mokuren’s words.
“That’s not enough information to identify him. Who in the world is he…?”
Fireworks went off with a bang as Kousho spoke.
People cheered louder and the party had reached its peak.
“I’ll need to investigate this… but first, let us celebrate that the Elegant Incense Gathering has concluded successfully despite all that has happened.”
She was relieved to see the satisfied faces of the guests.
A little further away to the right, she could see Emperor Tou Aren.
He noticed her gaze and raised his hand slightly. She bowed deeply towards him.
(I poured a strong fragrance at first to buy Mokuren and his fellow Dark Perfumers to escape, and I was worried that the guests would panic, but His Majesty Aren did a good job calming everyone down.)
Aren said that he would help her out if she needed his help.
She was certain that he was one of the first to notice that something unusual had happened and managed the crowd.
Aren who helped her when she needed help the most and Seirai who taught everyone how to dance. The consorts at Beautiful Flower Palace who worked together to prepare the banquet. Shoei who helped Hisui and Ranran who changed her mind. Garan who always gives her advice and Kousho who protects her with his influence; they were all important people.
She knew that a great enemy would continue to target Shinzui in the future and she didn’t know what she could do.
She had been protected by Mokuren until now, but it will be different from now on.
She had her olfaction which no one else had and incense making skills taught to her by Mokuren.
Riri wanted to make use of those two skills for Kousho, who will become the emperor and to protect Shinzui and her friends who live here.
|↑1||TN: LOL Isn’t she still like that?|