Riri looked up at the sky as she walked through the Beautiful Flower Palace. The rain that had fallen last night seemed to have stopped by dawn, and the sky was clear, but seeing this didn’t clear her mind and she sighed.
“Riri-sama, you seem tired. It does not seem like you have been sleeping well lately, is something bothering you?”
Ryouka, her maid, looked at her in concern and she smiled vaguely.
“No, I’m alright.”
She looked at Ryouka as if nothing was wrong, but Ryouka was right, she was worried about something.
The cause of her worry was her dear friend. No, she didn’t even know if she could call him a friend anymore.
(Garan telling me he likes me isn’t a dream, right? Because he hugged me…!)
The shock of being confessed to by Garan, who she thought of as her close friend, still hasn’t faded even a month later.
Her face turned red when she remembered the warmth of his arms. She turned her head to hide it and sighed.
(Garan had been ordered to patrol the border since then and has been away from the palace, so we haven’t seen each other but I heard he’s coming back soon. How should I face him…?)
They could speak anymore after the hug since people came before Garan could say anything.
Her mind was buzzing, but she lightly shook her head and took a deep breath.
(I have to get it together. I can’t be thinking only about myself right now.)
She managed to regain her composure and was walking when she suddenly heard a voice from in front of her.
“… I’ll serve Kousho-sama tea!”
She knew that voice. She rushed to the corridor leading from the garden since she had a bad feeling about this. She turned around the corner and saw Hisui, and her followers and Ranran and her followers all facing each other.
The Beautiful Flower Palace was the inner palace of the next emperor of Shinzui, Kousho, and more than a hundred consorts who are candidates to be his empress live here.
The Four Consorts who were chosen by the beauty pageant have the highest chance of becoming his empress, they were respectively given the ranks, Noble Consort, Pure Consort, Virtuous Consort and Worthy Consort.
Of the four, Hisui, the Noble Consort, had the highest rank. Everyone expected that she would become Kousho’s empress since she was the daughter of the Grand Chancellor. The Beautiful Flower Palace was supposed to be united around Hisui with her overwhelming beauty, wisdom and persuasiveness, but things changed while Riri was away in Koran. Juka, the Virtuous Consort, who was standing next to Hisui, looked at Ranran and raised her eyebrows.
“Ranran, it is the Noble Consort’s duty to entertain the royal family whenever they are in the inner palace. It’s Consort Hisui’s duty to serve Kousho-sama tea.”
“Oh my, how rude of you to call me by my name without any honorifics. You are the Virtuous Consort. My rank is higher than yours since I’m the Pure Consort.”
Ranran raised her head aloofly and said in an arrogant manner which caused Juka’s eyes to widen in shock.
“That may be, but you and I have been friends since before we arrived at the Beautiful Flower Palace.”
“Don’t say nonsense words such as friends. We’re all rivals in love. I will definitely be Kousho-sama’s empress! I won’t let you all beat me!”
“Hey, what’s wrong? Do you have any idea how much we owe Consort Hisui? When we arrived at the Beautiful Flower Palace, we were both so nervous about greeting Kousho-sama that we made a mistake. It was Consort Hisui who helped us out. The three of us have gotten along well since then.”
Juka stepped forward and tried to grab Ranran’s sleeve, but Ranran lightly shook her hand away.
“Stop it. I didn’t come to Beautiful Flower Palace to get along with everyone.”
Juka was speechless and her expression hardened when Ranran declared this clearly.
Ranran stared at Hisui with her chest puffed out proudly.
“Kousho-sama will be here soon, so I’m going to serve him tea. You’re fine with that, right Consort Hisui?”
Hisui stared at Ranran emotionlessly.
“――― Go ahead.”
Juka gasped not believing her ears and Ranran smiled victoriously.
“That’s how you should behave, Consort Hisui. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get the tea ready.”
Ranran and her followers left. In the past, the consorts of the Beautiful Flower Palace would call the Four Consorts by their title, such as Noble Consort or Pure Consort, but no one did that anymore since Riri came back from Koran. This was enough to tell Riri that something had happened in the Beautiful Flower Palace.
After Ranran disappeared, Juka turned to Hisui.
“Why did you stay quiet? Please scold her. Her recent behaviour has been quite unacceptable.”
Hisui quietly looked down and said nothing.
Riri stared at Hisui and Juka from the corner and bit her lip.
“The Beautiful Flower Palace is being filled with the disgusting aroma of hatred. If this continues, the Beautiful Flower Palace will…”
She couldn’t let this situation go on for the sake of Hisui, who was her friend.
“It’s about time for the seeds of disaster which I have planted at the palace to sprout. I can’t wait to see what kind of hatred flower will bloom. Aren’t you excited as well, Mokuren?”
Mokuren looked up when his name was called. In front of him was a comrade who also bore a grudge against the Emperor of Shinzui.
“Yes. You’re always perfect. I can get information and set things up more easily thanks to your covert actions at the palace.”
His emotions were mixed despite his praise. This man was perfect, but he was more ruthless than anyone else.
Mokuren knew better than anyone about the terrors of the seeds this man has sown.
“What’s wrong? You don’t look happy, Mokuren. You are the Nine-Tailed Fox now since you’re the head of the Dark Perfumers. It is the destiny of the Nine-Tailed Fox to rebel against an emperor who isn’t virtuous. Have you forgotten what the Emperor has done to us Dark Perfumers?”
“I haven’t forgotten. We are a group of assassins who use poisonous incenses. We have served the emperor for generations, but he has abandoned us after one failure. It has been decided that the Emperor who abandoned us isn’t virtuous enough to rule a nation. Therefore, as the Nine-Tailed Fox, it is my role to abolish the Emperor and bring about a revolution.”
He had lived his life thinking only about taking revenge on the Emperor for a long time, but when did those feelings get overshadowed? He knew why he felt this way.
“You’re thinking about Riri, aren’t you Mokuren?”
He almost widened his eyes in surprise at the man’s sharp words, but he held back. He looked at him and tried to remain calm.
“I am not.”
“You’re a terrible liar… Listen carefully, that girl is in our way. I’ve succeeded in re-creating the ‘Memory Retrieving Incense’, so I’ve been holding back on killing her since I want to test it on her.”
The treasured incense was a legendary incense that was said to be a dream in Shinzui, a nation where incenses are held in high esteem. It has the ability to manipulate memories and consists of two types of incenses: the incense that erases memories and the incense that restores them. It was said to bring great wealth and power to the one who obtains it and is coveted by everyone.
Ou Saido, Riri’s father, the previous head of the Ministry of Incense had succeeded in re-creating the treasured incense.
And his daughter, Riri, had witnessed the entire process, but he erased her memories with the secret incense to prevent his daughter from being tormented by those who wanted to steal the incense.
“But it would be bad if Riri remembers how to make the treasured incense after she smells the incense that will restore her memories. I want to complete the ‘Memory Erasing Incense’ on my own. I really want to get rid of her as soon as possible, but I’ll let her live a little longer since she might be of some use to me, but not for that long.”
Not long ago, Riri had told Mokuren that she had created the incense that erases memories, but the treasured incense is an incense that manipulates memories, and it was only successful when you can not only erase memories but also control how much you erase.
And this man said that he had perfected the memory restoring incense, but he has yet to prove that it really works. Neither of them is close to perfecting the treasured incense, and he didn’t know which one of them would perfect the treasured incense first.
“The final battle will begin soon, Mokuren. Riri may be cute, but what will happen to the Dark Perfumers who have been following you if you act so fickle? We have inherited the arts of poison from our ancestors and are assassins who live in the darkness. None of us can live on the surface.”
The man quietly approached Mokuren and sat down next to him.
“You will be abandoning them if you choose Riri. Besides, do you know what will happen to them… if you destroy the Dark Perfumers?”
“… I know. I won’t abandon everyone, since I am the head of the Dark Perfumers.”
He had no choice but to reply as he swallowed down the feelings and words that welled up from within his heart.