All Strings Attached

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Chapter 13: My Darling, My Beloved

 ~Arika’s POV~

 In the Gardenia Kingdom, Suni sat on the edge of Arika’s bed. Both sitting in Arika’s dimly lit room with the only light coming from the moonlight.


 “Who are you?”


 “Sibylla Purcell. The perfect doll.”


 Suni grasped onto Arika’s hand and pulled her into a tight hug. Keeping the girl close to her chest. Arika only leaned in and didn’t bother to argue.


 “You aren’t her. You aren’t her. You’re Arika Purcell. My friend…” Suni corrected her as she played with her hair. “Push your father’s words out of your head, idiot. He wants to erase who you are…” She reminded Arika as she cradled her in her arms.


 After running into the king, Arika went through extensive sessions for days until she was let go in the evening. These were given whenever she was caught not acting like her living sister.


 Though she didn’t feel the pain humans felt, but her memories of pain made it real psychologically. He would dismantle her piece by piece and show it to her. Asking who she was and what her purpose was. Reminding her that she was already dead endlessly.


 Whenever she was going through her sessions, everyone would say she was ‘ill’ and wouldn’t bother with her. Suni was the only one who would check on her.


 All Arika could think about was how to behave like her sister. How she would laugh and act around everyone. She only wanted to find the perfect partner for her sister to marry.


 “Arika? Are you listening?” Suni asked as she looked at the girl. She had a small smile on her face and her eyes stared ahead. Her lifeless ruby eyes sent chills down Suni’s spine.


 Arika tilted her head to the side. “My name is Sibylla Purcell. I am the perfect doll. I was given life to fulfill my duty.”



 “Stop saying that… please” Suni pleaded, staring down at her trembling hands.

 Arika placed her hand over Suni’s. “Now now. Try to relax your body and clear your mind, dear. I must bring ease to everyone in my kingdom. Would you like to talk about your problems?”


 Suni brushed her hand off and stared at her. Arika continued smiling peacefully, she couldn’t even bother to fake her concerns. Just like her sister…


 “I know you’re just scared of him.”


 Arika’s smile twitched before closing her eyes. “The Gardenia Kingdom takes pride in being the most peaceful kingdom in the country. We are free from our troubles and our biggest worry is making the most of our peaceful days.” She opened her soulless eyes again. “No. One. Is. Scared…”


 “You’re acting like her to avoid getting in trouble again! But then he’s getting his way!” Suni shouted. “You’re nothing like Sibylla! You’re fun, loud, and incredibly reckless! You can never be someone you never were! You’re not two-faced like her!”


 “…” Arika sat in silence as her smile slowly dropped and eyes became fixated on her hands. “I can’t take any more of this torment, Suni. If I go back in that room again, I might actually kill him…” She buried her face in her hands. “His eyes are always filled with such hate. Why does my dad hate me? Am I supposed to apologize for dying as a kid? What happened to the dad who would chase me with toys and play pretend? When did he become a monster?”


 Suni gently pats her head. “I think he’s always been one. He just never showed it until now. You did nothing wrong, you’re just another victim of his madness.”


 “I feel so disconnected from everything. I am not my sister, but when he makes me go through these sessions, I feel less like Arika.” Arika placed her hand over where her heart would be. “I don’t remember what my real face looks like, it’s terrifying waking up every day with the thought of how everyone would react if my secret was out. I know everyone can’t love me, but it’s scary knowing they all see me as a monster!”


 Suni continued comforting her the best she could. “I can’t assure you that they’d all love you. I noticed some of the guards are uncomfortable around you. While I can’t speak for everyone who knows your secret: you should judge someone for who they are. Not what they’re made of!”


 Arika covered her mouth as she giggled. “You suck at motivational speeches!” she grinned.


 “Hey! You’re the one who needs it! I took off days from preparing just to take care of you!” Suni huffed as she looked away from her.


 Arika sat beside Suni and leaned against her. “That’s exactly why I still value what you say. You’re the only one who tries to cheer me up, but you should leave to get some sleep. Thanks for spending the nights with me. I’m finally grounded just in time for the festival!”


 Suni smiled and leaned her head towards her. “Speaking of that festival–” her tone was much more teasing. “You excited to see Vira all dressed up for your date?”


 “It’s not a date! We’re just going as acquaintances. We’ll just act like it’s a date so our little ‘love’ seems genuine,” Arika corrected her with a sigh.


 “I’m offended, Bylla.”


 Suni and Arika looked over to see Sin-Vira resting his elbows on the window seal. “I’ll have you know I went through Hell just to learn how to dance for you. At least say we’re going as friends.”


 Arika knew she was mostly covered, but she still felt embarrassed rather than upset by him. She had never allowed anyone but Suni in her room, having a boy only felt scandalous. “How did you even manage to get up here? The guards would’ve seen you.”


 “Funny story! I managed to find a climbable path that was a nice detour around them. After that, I just followed the only noise I could hear. But don’t worry! I only just got here!” Sin-Vira explained, now looking slightly panicked. “C-could you help me up? It’s pretty high up here.”


 Arika hesitated before looking at Suni.  


 “You’re gonna be fine. Go for it.”


 With reassurance, Arika held onto Vira’s hands and pulled him into her room. She was thankful her arms could handle the weight.


 “Thanks. Sorry for the sudden drop-in. Since I was always busy with my lessons, I couldn’t even send a letter to make sure you were okay. You suddenly left without a word and it kinda made me uneasy, and Suni’s reaction only made me worry more. Are you doing okay, now?” he asked. His glowing emerald eyes stared directly at Arika.


 Arika sheepishly looked away from him with guilt. She couldn’t burden him with the truth, but it felt wrong to add more to her house of lies. “Mhm… I get feverish around this time, but I was okay after some rest! Sorry, you had to worry about me, I’m doing just fine!”


 “Oh um… good. I’m glad you’re fine. I wouldn’t be allowed to come if you were sick and that would ruin an opportunity to play the part as your prince charming!” Sin-Vira joked before looking away as well.


 “My prince charming, huh?” Arika questioned. “Nothing more romantic of a gentleman than to break into his maiden’s kingdom and enter her room unannounced. Oh! My delicate heart could never handle a brute like you~” she spoke before tilting her head back and holding her wrist to her forehead.


 Sin-Vira clicked his tongue. “‘Delicate’ my ass. Don’t forget when you jumped on my moving carriage. You’re as much of a brute as I, my lady.” Arika looked up at him and made eye contact.


 “Since we’re both uncivilized, let us agree to be civil to each other for the night.” She held her hand out to him.


 The prince looked at her hand, grasping it without hesitation. “So long as you don’t throw any food, I’ll behave as always.”


 The two laughed as they took turns adding silly rules to their agreement. Shaking their hands as they continued.


 “So long as you don’t eat off the ground.”


 “Only if I get to eat as much as I want.”


 “You have to eat like a gentleman.”


 “Then you have to call me your beloved.”


 “Then call me your darling!”


 Suni groaned and separated their hands by force. “And I’ll hurl my dinner if you two don’t end this.”


 Vira and Arika looked at each other before smiling at Suni.


 “Deal!”

 Suni smiled in relief and released their hands. “We should all get some sleep. Thanks again for popping in, prince Vira. I hope you’re able to stop by my bakery before we’re sold out!” She picked up a rope from beside the bed and tied it to a hook over the window. Suni then began descending the rope.


 “I’m guessing you two do this a lot?” Sin-Vira asked.


 “Only when it’s safe to do so. I’m technically only allowed royal guests to come inside, so she has to take an alternative route. Oh, and men are prohibited from entering a princess’s room alone. But since you came to check on me, I’ll let it slide!” Arika giggled.


 Sin-Vira sighed in relief as he readjusted. “I won’t make it a habit, unless that’s what you want, darling?” He winked. Arika was tempted to throw a pillow, but her thoughts became cluttered with his attempt at flirting.


 “My beloved prince charming is willing to risk his very life just to visit little ol’ me at night? My heart is racing just thinking about it. Perhaps I’ll consider it.”


 He chuckled. “Then I’ll leave you to think about it. Just don’t get a heart attack to think about me too much, okay?”


 “You’re so full of yourself.” She then smiled. “I’ll see you tomorrow at the festival. Get some sleep till then.”


 Sin-Vira climbed onto the window seal. “Have pleasant dreams, princess.”


 “You as well, prince.” Arika waved and watched as Sin-Vira disappeared to use his method of escaping.


 Arika wrapped herself in her sheets and shut her eyes tightly. She wanted to fall asleep easily, but her mind was filled with Vira and how well the festival would work.

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