All Strings Attached

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Chapter 15: Stinkin' Cheater's Game

~Sin-Vira’s POV~

 Vira was amazed by how many decorations and structures there were. There was a small band playing music beside the fountain that filled that air. The pleasant smells of fresh food almost had him drooling.

 “So this is your festival? Their festive energy feels contagious. I’m more excited than anxious to be here.” He glanced down at Sibylla who was scanning the crowd. Her hold on his arm was quite secure. “Are you okay? You seem out of it.”

 She raised her head to look at him. “Sorry. All royals are welcomed to attend our festivals, which means…” she trailed off with a sigh. “Corn-hair might be here.”

 Sin-Vira grit his teeth and balled his free hand into a fist. “That prick wouldn’t dare show his face after being humiliated. If he does show his freckled face again, I’ll smash it into the ground!”

 Sibylla already brightened up with a laugh. “Well, now I’m just hoping he does!”

 As they continued to walk, an unpleasant smell assaulted Vira’s nose as he scrunched his face up. He looked over to the source of the smell and saw an unexpected sight. A woman was desperately pulling a child who was gripping onto the counter of a booth. Behind it was a smug man with stacked glass bottles.

 “Please give me another chance!” The boy cried with tears streaming down his face. “I want the sweets!”

 “Sorry kiddo. But it’s gonna be three more silver coins!” The man held his hand out.

 Sibylla sighed before releasing Vira’s arm and approaching the booth. “Hello there. May I ask what’s going on?”

 “Oh good day, princess! My son is just being fussy over this silly game. He spent all of his money just for sweets,” the woman explained, finally getting the screaming child away from the booth.

 Vira stared at the stacked bottles before looking at the man. He had a line of sweets and a jar filled with coins. A lot of players and not one winner.

 “Hey old man. What’s the point of this?” Vira asked.

 The man grinned at him. “Well, it’s quite a simple game! Simply knock one of the stacked bottles with these balls and win a prize! Only three silver coins for three balls!”

 “…Sibylla, gimme some coins.” Vira held his hand out. The man, woman, and even child looked at Sin-Vira with looks of disbelief. Sibylla went through her bag and gave him what he wanted. “Thanks.”

 He handed over the coins and received three balls that seemed quite light. Sin-Vira tossed a ball a few times before throwing it at the first stack. It missed and Sibylla was trying not to laugh. He threw another at a different stack as well and barely grazed it.

 Ivy walked in front of Vira with boredom written on her face. “My prince, please give me the last ball before you embarrass yourself more.”

 Vira begrudgingly handed it over, grumbling to himself. He had forgotten she was even with them.

 She aimed for the middle stack and reeled her arm back. Her throw was both precise and powerful. He could hear the air around it move as it hurled towards the stack. But it didn’t so much as move from the direct hit.

 Vira felt his blood boil as the man laughed in hysterics. “Whoops! Sorry, little lady! Guess you couldn’t do it either! Wanna try again?”

 “Hey, what gives? She hit the stupid bottles but they didn’t even move!” Vira shouted.

 The man glared at him. “You need the strength for it, kid. Now pay up for another shot or get out of the way.”

 Sibylla sighed as she looked over at the kid. “Sorry little guy. Could I buy you something instead?” she offered sweetly. Though to Vira, it seemed forced.

 “Hold on.” He placed his hand on the counter and jumped over it.

 “The hell?!– get outta my booth!” The man shouted.

 Vira only ignored him as he grabbed the neck of the bottle. When he pulled it back, it didn’t even budge. He gave it a few more tugs before the bottle shattered. The bottom was still attached to the bottles.

 “No wonder this place smelled so bad! You used that stinky mucus stuff didn’t you?” Vira questioned as he covered his lower face. The stench only made him feel nauseous.

 “What do you mean, Vira?” Sibylla asked as she leaned over the counter.

 Vira dropped the bottle in his hand, which only shattered more. “The Hyacinth has that one lake. In it, there’s a fish that releases a stinky fluid that attracts its prey. But it solidifies the moment something applies pressure to it. Like biting or in this case–” he glared at the man. “Sticking bottles together. You’re a stinkin’ cheater! Literally!”

 The man became red in the face. “You little– how dare you to accuse me of scamming? Maybe they just happened to get stuck?” He jabbed his finger in Vira’s chest as he looked at Sibylla.

 “Princess! You wouldn’t believe this chump’s words over mine, right?”

 “Well, this ‘chump’ happens to not only be the prince to the Snapdragon kingdom but is also my date. He’s an idiot, but not a sore loser needing to lie.”

 Vira looked at her. “You’re a great backup, darling.”

 She only pretended to gush. “Anything for you, my beloved.” She laced her fingers together. “Unless you want me to report this incident to the committee: you will return this boy’s money, give him a treat, and track down everyone you scammed. If I find out you pocketed the good, I will take matters into my own hands! Okay?” she giggled.

 “Y-yes princess…” the man began filling out her orders as Vira went over the counter again.  

 Sibylla clapped for him as they continued walking. “I’m impressed! How’d you know he used the mucus and it was from that kind of fish? I never knew they existed!”

 “They’re the only fish that gets imported to our kingdom. Vira had to learn the hard way about the mucus part,” Ivy explained.

 “Oh gosh! Please tell me about it!”

 “Please don’t!” Vira interjected.

 Ivy giggled. “It was pretty embarrassing! I’ll have to tell you when he’s not around.”

 “Do that and I’ll tell her about your amazing soup from before!”

 Ivy’s pale face became tinted with pink as she crossed her arms over her chest. “Your story was funny! Mine almost made me lose my job!”

 Sibylla’s laughing grabbed Vira’s attention as he looked down at her. “You guys are close friends! Suni and I have our own embarrassing stories we’d keep between us. What matters is Vira’s unstuck and you still have your job!”

 “I doubt your sister would have any! Even when she’d do something I’d crawl in a hole and die over, she proclaimed it to everyone she knew as if it was an accomplishment!” Vira laughed.

 “My sister…?” Sibylla questioned before sheepishly laughing. “Ahah. Oh yes of course. Silly girl she was! I used to worry if that was normal…” She became quiet as they continued to walk through the crowd.

 Vira looked ahead and saw a long line parting the crowd. His eyes followed it until it stopped at a bustling booth.

 “Poor Suni. She’s probably been working nonstop…” Sibylla commented. “Her mom should be here helping, hopefully.”

 He saw Suni for a brief moment handing out a cloth. “Suni’s here as well? What makes this one so popular?”

 “Melon bread! It’s something she makes only during the festival! I placed an order earlier for you two to enjoy!”

 Vira gave her a concerned look. “Shouldn’t you eat as well? I don’t mind splitting mine with you.”

 “Oh! I’m just… waiting for the dance tonight! Many chefs expect me to try their food, so I try to save room for it!”

 He couldn’t bring himself to question how her reason sounded more like a lame excuse.

 “Right! Of course…”

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