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Chapter 33 Summary

Cinder puts on Peony’s wrinkled ball gown, her grease-stained princess gloves from Kai, and her too-small cybernetic foot. She looks disheveled and dirty, and she can barely walk. She is not sure the palace staff will even let her in, but she has to try. She sets out in her pumpkin-orange refurbished car and drives to the palace.

The car barely works, and just before it reaches the palace, the brakes give out. To stop herself, Cinder smashes into a cherry tree. A downpour has just begun, so she gets drenched on her walk to the gates. She is already so dirty and stained that being wet hardly makes any difference—but she still feels embarrassed as she enters the palace dripping dirty water and limping on her ill-fitting foot.

Inside, Cinder makes her way onto a balcony and hides behind a pillar to scope out the room. Kai is on the dance floor with Queen Levana. Cinder stays hidden, hoping to escape the queen’s notice. She watches the dance, noting how beautiful the queen is and how stiff Kai seems.

As soon as the dance ends, the queen leaves the ballroom for some fresh air. Cinder thinks this might be her chance to run in and give her message to Kai, but before she can move, she is horrified to see Pearl approaching the young emperor. Cinder freezes, imagining Pearl telling Kai all about the cyborg secret.

As Cinder hesitates, a palace servant approaches her and haughtily demands to scan her ID card. She asks why, and he says that he needs to make sure that everyone in attendance responded to their invitations. From his tone and manner, she guesses that he’s hoping to find an excuse to kick her out. Glancing down at Kai, who looks confused but not revolted or angry about whatever Pearl is saying, Cinder holds out her wrist.

The servant scans Cinder’s ID and then, looking astonished, completely changes his manner. He makes a respectful bow and says that she is on Emperor Kai’s personal guest list. This is a complete surprise to Cinder, as is the fact that personal guests of his majesty are publicly announced to the gathered crowd. Before she can stop it, Cinder hears a trumpeting fanfare. A magnified voice rings out through the room:

Please welcome to the 126th Annual Ball of the Eastern Commonwealth, a personal guest of His Imperial Majesty: Linh Cinder of New Beijing.