Hundreds of faces turn towards Cinder, taking in her damp hair and muddy dress. Kai’s jaw drops, and Cinder feels guilty for embarrassing him. She also realizes that Queen Levana is likely watching her and will probably try to kill her. Still, she makes her way down the steps as carefully as she can and approaches Kai, wondering if Pearl has already told him that she’s a cyborg.
Cinder underscores how she has come to the ball at great personal risk, as Queen Levana seeing her there could being imprisoned or even killed. Still, she puts Kai’s safety over her own in the hopes of saving the Eastern Commonwealth from Levana’s wrath, demonstrating the value of bravery and self-sacrifice.
Before Cinder reaches Kai, Adri confronts Cinder about Peony’s dress, and Pearl glares at her for stealing her boots. Adri calls Cinder a thief and lifts her hand as if to slap Cinder, but before Adri can move, Kai grabs her wrist. Adri apologizes, saying that Cinder shouldn’t be there, but Kai assures her that Cinder is his personal guest. Kai urges his guests to resume dancing, and as the music starts up again, he takes Cinder’s hand and begins to dance with her.
Here, Cinder is finally able to reverse the dynamic between herself and Adri. Because of Kai’s power and status, he is able to protect Cinder in a way that Adri never has. This again distinguishes the protagonists from the antagonists as those who help vulnerable people versus those who take advantage of vulnerable people.
Kai guides Cinder through the dance as she tries not to limp on her small foot. Cinder apologizes for Adri’s behavior, and Kai grows serious, asking her why she didn’t tell him. For a moment, Cinder thinks that he knows she’s a cyborg—and that he’s dancing with her anyway, that he might still like her. But soon, Cinder realizes that Kai is asking why she didn’t tell him about Peony’s death. He says he feels bad that he didn’t know. Cinder is devastated, realizing that he still doesn’t know that she is a cyborg.
Cinder feels the weight of the secrets she has been keeping about her identity. Her devastation at the fact that Kai doesn’t know she is a cyborg shows how much she wishes she could be honest with him. Instead, she’s deprived of that relief as she feels forced to keep hiding her identity, underscoring the counterproductivity of keeping secrets.
Cinder pushes away her disappointment and explains that she came to tell Kai something: he can’t marry Levana. Levana knows the information about Princess Selene that Kai was looking for, and if they marry, she’s going to try and kill him. Just then, Torin approaches Kai and informs him that it’s time for his announcement.
Cinder explains her reason for coming, once again demonstrating her willingness to endure any backlash from Levana in order to protect Kai and the Eastern Commonwealth at large.