I’ll be posting a new deleted scene or excerpt from The Lunar Chronicles every Friday through January 27, spanning the releases of The Lunar Chronicles Coloring Book on December 6 and Wires and Nerve, vol. 1 on January 31.
SPOILERS WARNING: Even though this scene was ultimately deleted (or heavily altered), it still contains information and references to things that did make it into the book. I strongly encourage readers to enjoy the published books before proceeding!
Lunar Chronicles Deleted Scene #2
Okay, you guys wanted to see the original ball scene, so here it is! Some similarities, but a lot of differences, too…
From: Cinder, 1st draft
Featuring: Cinder and Kai
Naming Notes: Like last week’s, Adele later became Adri, Merlin became Dr. Erland, and Coen became Konn Torin.
Helpful set-up: Two semi-important things to know about this early draft to keep from being too confused:
1. Originally, the Lunar gift was much more sorcery-based, to the point where talented Lunars could literally shoot fireballs out of their hands.
2. Part of Cinder’s cyborg programming in this early draft included being installed with a “codeword,” and anyone who used the codeword would be able to control her. I ultimately decided this was much too similar to Ella Enchanted and removed it, but the concept did become the basis for the Lunar ability to use mind-control.
Also, notice the stuff in ALL CAPS? That’s me leaving revision and editing notes to my future self, a tactic I still use all the time!
* * *
She sucked in a quick breath when she emerged from the hallway and found herself standing at the top of a grand staircase that overlooked the ballroom. The high ceiling had been hung with hundreds of crimson paper lanterns, each one glimmering and sending a rich, golden light over the room. The dance floor had been set up in the center, with round tables surrounding the space. Each table was bedecked in tealights and bouquets of orchids and peonies and small jade statuettes. The walls of the room were lined with folding silk screens hand-painted with intricate designs of cranes and tortoises, and each screen was flanked with massive urns filled with green, thriving bamboo stalks. All ancient signs of longevity passed on from the Commonwealth’s ancestry that hinted at a single defining message: Long Live the King.
From the vantage point, she could see almost all of the people gathered for the ball, and it was not hard to spot King Kai in the crowd. Her heart swelled to see him alive and safe, grinning and holding a glass of wine in one hand and speaking to a man that Cinder didn’t know. He was dressed in the same crimson red tunic he’d been wearing during his address earlier that evening, and his cheeks were slightly flushed—with joy or beverage, she had no idea.
“Good evening, Miss… Cinder, was it?”
She turned to the voice and felt her heart jolt to see Coen standing beside her at the top of the stairs, hands clasped behind his back. She could not help but imagine he had a LASER? gun hidden there, even as logic told her that was a ridiculous assumption.
“Sir Coen,” she croaked, dipping into an awkward curtsy, made more so by Nainsi’s small foot. (Marissa 2016: I *think* Nainsi was an escort-droid in this draft, and lent her foot to Cinder at some point? Hmmm.)
“I did not think you would be able to join us this evening.”
“Oh—It was… a last-minute decision.”
He was smiling, but there was a cold ruthlessness in his eyes. Cinder wasn’t sure if she would have picked up on their distaste if she hadn’t been aware of his intentions, but in these circumstances, it was quite obvious that Coen despised her.
“Well,” he said, pulling his lips into a tight grin. “I’m sure King Kai will be delighted to see you.”
“I heard his announcement earlier today,” she said, nervously bunching her skirt up in both gloved fists. “Congratulations on becoming next in line.”
He stared at her a moment, still with his smile stretched uncomfortably across his face. The expression didn’t change when he said, “Hopefully the need for it will never come.” There was a pause, followed by, “Long live the king.”
The words stung Cinder, hollow as they were. She gulped. “And hopefully soon, it will be long live the king and queen.”
“Yes,” Coen said dryly. “I do believe there will be an engagement announced by the end of this evening. How lucky the people of the Commonwealth will finally be allied with the Moon Kingdom after all these years.”
It occurred to Cinder that one good knock to the man’s head with her metal fist would probably lend him unconscious for the rest of the evening, but she doubted that was a wise course of action to take. At least, not while she was standing on this platform for all to witness.
So instead, she forced herself to bow her head politely and agree. “Yes. How lucky. Good evening, Master Coen.”
She turned away from him and found herself scanning the crowd again as she carefully descended the stairs, gripping the railing with one hand and her skirts with the other. She found Kai roughly in the same place as before, but now speaking with a group of two women and a man—none of whom Cinder recognized. Content that the king was in no immediate danger, she set to looking out for Adele and Pearl. They were harder to spot as their pink and silver dresses—pink for Adele and silver for Pearl—blended well with all the other pastel and shining metallic ballgowns in the room.
Cinder, who had thought her gold dress would stand out like a sore thumb (EXCEPT SOMETHING ELSE THAT ISN’T SO CLICHE), was happy to see that almost every other girl in the room was wearing some gold or silver.
Pearl and Peony were nothing if not trendy.
Finally she did spot her stepmother and her daughter though, standing together to the side of the dance floor. Their eyes were glued to the king. They both looked nervous, and Pearl’s cheeks were bright pink—she must have been drinking.
That was another thing to be glad about. Clearly they had not yet had the opportunity to introduce themselves to Kai, which meant that he was still unaware of Cinder being cyborg or Lunar.
That is, unless Coen had told him about the whole cyborg thing.
At the bottom of the steps, Cinder threaded her way through the crowd, thinking to head toward the food tables where she would be both covered by the large crowd gathered around them, and inconspicuous, but also able to keep an eye on the king and his advisor.
She tried to find Merlin in the crowd, hoping to have a reliable ally in him, but he was nowhere to be seen.
And then her eyes swept by the king again and her feet stalled beneath her.
He was looking right at her, wide-eyed and disbelieving.
She cursed and ducked her head. How was it possible that in this huge room, filled with so many people, so many women, so many ball gowns, that he had spotted her?
When she dared to glance up again through lowered lashes, she saw Kai apologetically ending the conversation he’d been having and then he was walking toward her.
She spun away from him, knowing without looking that Adele and Pearl would still be watching the prince, and that in mere moments they would spot her and everything would be ruined.
Keeping her head down, she started through the crowd, praying that Kai wouldn’t follow her even while she knew such a hope was useless. She spotted an exit on the other side of the ballroom and hurried toward it, all the while chanting “be graceful” in her head, and then she heard Kai calling her name.
Not loud. He wasn’t yelling by any means, but loud enough that she was forced to stop and hold her breath. At least Adele wouldn’t be able to see her face.
“Cinder?” Then he was at her side, and then standing before her, staring at her with a mix of confusion and concern and wonderment.
“Your Majesty,” she stammered, dipping into a curtsy.
“I did not mean to interrupt your conversation,” she said. “And so thought I might just step out for a breath of air. Are the gardens this way?”
He glanced at the massive double doors she’d been heading toward, then looked back at her with the beginnings of a smile. “Yes, they are. May I come with you?”
She was forced to think about the question for a moment. On one hand, if she got Kai alone she would be able to tell him what she knew—if he would listen. On the other hand, she was certain that Coen was watching and if Coen was planning on murdering Kai that night, Cinder doubted he would have any qualms about murdering her too, in which case the two of them being alone could be a dangerous prospect.
She gulped. She would just have to be quick about it.
“I would be honored. But I don’t wish to keep you from your guests for long.”
“They won’t even notice I’m gone,” he said, holding out his elbow toward her.
She was forced to take it with her left arm, carefully avoiding touching him with the concealed robotic hand.
As they made their way outside, she found that Kai was watching her from the corner of his eye, and his face was positively glowing with joy.
“I knew you would come,” he said, his voice low even though she doubted they could be heard above the violins and OTHER ORCHESTRA INSTRUMENT.
“Yes. I just had a feeling.”
She opted not to tell him how wrong he had almost been.
“And I’m glad that you’re here. I was beginning to fear that I might never see you again.”
“I had something I needed to tell you,” she said, glad when two guards opened the double doors before them and they were free to step out into the chilly air.
Above them, the moon was full and bright, spreading its silver sheen over the entire courtyard.
“I wanted to speak with you too,” Kai said. “I sent you some comms.”
Her gaze dropped as Kai led her out onto the brick pathway, edged with pavers and small ornamental statues and moss-covered stones.
“I know. I wanted to reply, but my stepmother forbid it.”
“Forbid it?” He seemed honestly shocked, and she supposed she could see why. What mother would forbid her daughter, or even stepdaughter, from communicating with the king?
“Well I’m glad to hear that you weren’t outright avoiding me,” he said, his eyes twinkling at her.
When they had gone far enough down the courtyard pathway that the music had faded behind them in a dull din and their faces were lit more from the moon than the glowing golden halo from the windows, Kai came to a standstill. He turned to face Cinder and took both of her hands into his. She couldn’t help the intake of breath when his fingers wrapped around her metal hand, but he must have had too many things on his mind to notice the hardness beneath her glove.
“Merlin told me about you.”
Her heart jolted. Her gaze flew up to meet his.
“And about your meeting with him last week, the day that we met by the meeting rooms.”
“What? He did?”
She found herself trembling, and all the while Kai’s sensitive fingers holding her, caressing her. His thumbs tenderly rubbed along her knuckles until her nerves were squirming with the touch.
“Yes. I wish you would have told me, Cinder. It explained so much.”
He knew. He knew everything and yet… he wasn’t pulling away from her. He wasn’t looking at her differently. If anything, he seemed even more compassionate, more adoring.
“I… I didn’t know how.”
“I understand.” His lips turned into a faint smile. “But when he told me, I felt so insensitive. There I was, kissing you, trying to convince you to marry me, going on and on about all these responsibilities and decisions, and all the while, you…”
She what? She knew that she could never be candidate for queen? She was harboring this awful secret? She was short-circuiting?
“You were still in mourning.”
“For your sister.”
He jaw dropped.
Merlin had told Kai about her sister, about Peony, dying from the plague. That was all. He hadn’t told Kai that she was cyborg. He hadn’t told Kai that she was Lunar.
Her hopes began to crumble. Of course. Of course, he would not be touching her or speaking to her if he knew.
“It was your sister, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” she breathed. “But I… I mean, I’m okay now.”
Finally his hands released hers and moved along her upper arms, bare and chilled in the autumn air. She drew in a shuddering breath. His hands were so warm. So soft. So strong.
“After he told me, I kept thinking about the conversation we’d had, and what you must have been thinking. I thought, no wonder she wouldn’t marry me. No wonder she only wanted to go see Merlin. I do wish you would have told me.”
She shut her eyes. “I… Yes. I’m sorry, Kai. I should have told you.”
It wasn’t a lie. She wished that she had told him the truth. Much, much sooner.
Then maybe he would have forgotten about her. Maybe he would be dancing with a beautiful Earthen girl at that very moment, preparing the words he would use to ask her to be his queen.
Instead of wasting his time out in the gardens, where every moment brought him closer to midnight, and a future with the Moon Queen.
“Cinder,” he said, “you must know that seeing you here has given me a great deal of hope. And… I… I need to know if that hope is justified.”
She ducked her head with guilt, but could not bring herself to pull away from his heat and his touch, despite the fact that it both thrilled and terrified her.
“I know the timing is horrible. And I know you have a lot on your mind right now and the last thing you need in your life is what I’m… proposing.”
She chewed on the inside of her cheek, wishing he would never finish the question, because she didn’t know what she would answer.
Marrying him was not an option.
But she did not want him to marry the Moon Queen.
“I know it’s unfair of me. Even selfish. But…” His voice dropped to a whisper and he shifted toward her so that her hands were snuggled between them and she could feel strands of his hair tickling her forehead. “Cinder, I do believe that I’m falling in love with you.”
Her breath snagged. There was a strange heat in her lower back and she was sure that if Kai’s declaration had given her such misery and filled her with such turmoil, she would be suffering excruciating pain from that spot that refused to allow her emotions.
“Marry me, Cinder. Be my queen.”
She shivered. His hands automatically gripped her shoulders in a futile attempt to warm her.
“Rescue me, Cinder.”
“Rescue you?” she murmured, eyes flashing.
He chuckled mildly, as if now that the words had left him he saw that they were silly. Melodramatic, even. But he did not retract them.
“Kai. That’s why I’m here. I need to… I need to tell you something. It’s important.”
He drew back from her, just barely, his brow creasing in confusion.
Clearly, he had noticed that she had not answered his question.
“It-it’s about Coen.”
Kai frowned. “Coen? What about Coen?” Already, hurt and betrayal were in his eyes and she could not begin to imagine what he suspected her to say.
She opened her mouth to speak, but stammered on the words now that they were so dire.
And then she heard another voice from the shadows. “Yes, my dear. What about Coen?”
She turned to see Coen himself standing in the courtyard, on the pathway between them and the entrance to the ball. He was standing quite still and complacent, his hands tucked into their opposing sleeves.
He was smiling, a cold, secretive smile that filled Cinder with dread.
“Coen,” Kai said in confused greeting. “What is this about? What’s going on?”
“Why don’t you ask her? After all, she is the one with something very important to tell you. And I am quite intrigued to know what it has to do with me.”
She gulped and felt Kai’s gaze on her again, but she dared not look away from Coen.
Did he have a gun in that sleeve? Would he dare kill Kai, and herself, out here in the open courtyard?
“Well? We are waiting,” he said in his level, ironic tone that grated along her skin.
She opened her mouth to speak, but a chill rushed up her and she found her tongue frozen solid.
Like in the elevator with Coen. When the world had gone so cold and still. When she could not move or speak or hardly even think.
And this, she realized, was magic.
She forced her jaw shut and glared at him, cursing herself for not being better prepared. She should have thought to bring a weapon at least. Or to find Merlin first and ask for his help.
But—she was a weapon in her own right, she thought, flexing her heavy metal fingers. If only he would move close enough…
She wasn’t sure when Kai’s grip had left her shoulders, but the cold was now suffocating against her skin.
She opened her mouth again, and forced her tongue to form the words. “I know… the truth.”
Coen quirked an eyebrow, as if impressed with her ability to speak.
“The truth? Ah yes, the truth.” His arrogant grin broadened. “I know the truth too,” he said. “I know that you are a Lunar rebel.”
Her jaw fell. “What?”
“I know that your fugitive, outlaw group does not want to see an alliance forged between the Earth and the Moon. I know that they have sent you here to keep our King from marrying Queen Levana. Even if that requires force.”
She could only blink at him, desperately attempting to make sense of his words through her muddled brain.
Lunar rebel? Outlaw group?
“I know that you intended to assassinate King Kai tonight in order to succeed in your mission.”
“What? But that’s—”
“Tell him.” Coen’s voice rose, clear and powerful and stinging in the quiet night air. “Tell him, Miss… Ashes. ”
Her body stiffened. Her head buzzed with an electric heat seething through blood and bones. “No…”
Kai did not bother to correct Coen on the name, he was too busy gaping at her, wondering if such an accusation was possible.
“Tell him that what I have said is the truth.”
She wet her tongue and her lips opened of their own accord, her teeth and tongue in league against her, and even as her mind shrieked and body rebelled, she heard herself saying, “It is the truth.”
“Cinder…” Kai breathed, but she dared not look at him.
She watched Coen with loathing as his smirk grew.
“Tell him you are a Lunar rebel.”
“I am a Lunar rebel.”
“Tell him you’d meant to kill him tonight.”
Her voice was scarcely above a breath and warbled as it left her, but she complied. “I’d meant to kill you tonight.”
Kai took an uncertain step away from her.
“Good girl,” Coen said. “Now then, I brought force with me, to make sure our prince was well-protected.” His gaze darted up to the castle walls surrounding them and Cinder and Kai followed the look.
Half a dozen gunmen filled the windows on the above stories, dressed in black and silhouetted in night. Cinder’s heart pounded as she scanned the walls and their guns.
All poised at her.
A cry escaped her.
One gunman had targeted Kai. She knew. Not his head and not his heart, nothing too obvious, but it would be fatal all the same.
And it would look like an accident. It would look like he’d been aiming for Cinder and Kai had gotten in the way.
They probably wouldn’t even be able to tell which of the gunman it had been.
“Coen, this isn’t—”
“I apologize for endangering you like this, Your Majesty,” Coen said. “Please understand it was necessary… for everyone to hear the truth.”
Cinder stretched her fingers, glad that Coen had only taken possession of her voice. If only she could be quick enough. If only she could protect Kai.
She had to look at him, though the pained, horrified expression nearly tore her apart.
If only her eyes were not so dry. If only tears of sorrow and anguish would well up inside her, so that he would know, at least part of him would know, how much she was hurting inside.
But no. She knew that she must look only cold and emotionless before him. Unable to speak the truth. Unable to cry.
But there was one thing she could say. Even if he would never believe her.
She tried to soften the agony of her face. “Kai,” she whispered. “I’m falling in love with you too.”
She heard a snort from Coen, but ignored him, only interested in Kai’s reaction. It was confusion, disbelief, maybe even disgust.
Certainly not hope. Certainly not happiness.
“Don’t shoot,” he said desperately, which was something. He glanced at Coen, and then up at the gunmen. “Don’t shoot.”
“They won’t shoot. Not if she comes easily, without any trouble,” said Coen. “But, Miss Ashes, you won’t come easy.”
She smirked at the man’s irony. “No. I guess I won’t.”
“Cinder,” said Kai, almost scolding.
“Which one’s going to fire first?” she said, looking at Coen. “The one in the north window, to make sure he has a clear shot?”
He ignored her question, and that same smug grin curled up his lips again. “Take one step toward the king,” he said, and it sounded like a threat, but she knew it was an order.
“Fine,” she snapped.
And she managed three steps and a lunge before the gunshot rang out. Her arms wrapped around Kai and pushed him to the ground. A startled cry. A thud.
Lightning in her spine.
Cinder screamed and crumpled over the prince.
Even in the agony she could feel the pride in knowing that she’d succeeded. The gunman hadn’t hit the king.
She gritted her teeth as flames arched through her back, scorching her bones, igniting her nerves.
She did not think a bullet would hurt so badly. She had expected pain, but she’d thought it would be followed by a dulled shock, at least.
It felt as though her entire body were about to combust. It felt as though flames were licking at her skin. Her muscles stung. Her marrow sizzled.
There was nothing, nothing but the fire.
She sobbed, without tears, and when she sucked in a breath, her lungs filled with smoke.
But then, slowly, slowly, the pain began to ebb. And there was no fire. There was no smoke. The scorching heat burned down to embers and coals within her—a power only needing to be stoked.
She was still on Kai, straddling his waist, curled into a ball against his chest. He was breathing hard beneath her. She could feel his heart racing. She could feel his lungs contracting. She could feel his tendons stretched and the muscles in his arms taut as he pressed his body into the soft earth of the garden, trying vainly to escape her.
She pushed herself away and looked down at him. He was okay. He was not hurt.
But he was terrified.
He was looking at her with such blatant, unconcealed horror that she shrunk away from him, wrapping her arms around herself for naive protection.
“You are Lunar,” he murmured.
She gaped at him a silent, confused moment, then dared to look down at herself and peel her hands away from her waist.
Still gloved, the left hand did not appear changed.
But the right hand, the human—Lunar—hand, was glowing.
The revealed skin of her arms, also glowing. Not bright, but a subtle, luminescent silvery glow. Like the moon filtered through a cloudy haze.
She gasped and mindlessly moved her hand behind her, feeling for the wound in her back.
The bullet had hit her spine. It was warm and wet, but she was not broken. She was not paralyzed. She was not dead.
“Stop her! She is Lunar! She is after the king!”
She looked up at Coen’s enraged voice. He was staring at her, looking stunned, but not terrified.
He had probably seen his share of Lunars before. But had he not actually believed that she was one before this? Had he been making that up, in an attempt to criminalize her?
And a crowd had begun to gather in the courtyard, drawn by Cinder’s screaming and the spectacle of the injured Lunar assassin.
But her attention was focused on the true villain, the true traitor, crying for her blood. Coen’s glare turned on the gunman who had attempted Kai’s life and loathing and bitterness boiled up in Cinder and she knew that, while her fate might be sealed unfairly, his fate would be all too well deserved.
And it suddenly did not matter to her if she was the only person who knew that.
While his gaze was still turned from her, while she still hovered protectively over Kai’s body, while pain still lingered at the base of her spine, while this new power tasted fresh and crisp on her tongue, she raised her palm out toward Coen and released every ounce of burning hatred at him.
It was easier to use the mysterious Lunar gift than she ever would have guessed.
The fire welled up inside of her as beckoned and soared out from her fingertips in a glowing, seething ball of flame.
Coen glanced at her just in time to see the white-hot flames before they enwrapped him.
“No!” Kai screamed, scratching at the earth beneath him, but unable to move. Cinder’s metal hand on his chest held him captive—she was only protecting him, but he would never know that.
Coen’s scream of agony filled the courtyard. But it was over fast. While the terrified crowd remained stunned and frozen in terror, Coen’s body dissolved into nothing more than a pile of white-ash upon the cobblestone path.
And that is when Cinder noticed Adele and Pearl among the crowd, staring at her.
Even more horrified than the king.
“You,” she breathed, panting from the exertion. She narrowed her eyes at Adele. “You did this. You told him the word for controlling me. It was you!”
Adele stumbled backward, colliding with the other faces in the crowd, and shook her head.
“You are not mine,” she said, then, louder, “She is not mine! I do not know this demon!”
Cinder’s fingers twitched. She could reach out right now and—
Adele cried out and collapsed into a faint, barely supported by the people behind her.
That is when the crowd was hit with sudden realization, and the stampede out of the courtyard began, terrified men and women alike running for their lives, crying and screaming, but Cinder barely heard them.
She turned away from her fainted stepmother and looked up into the windows around the courtyard. The gunmen lingered, looking much less bold than they had before.
But any minute now, they would regain sense and shower her with bullets.
And Kai, too.
No one would attempt his life again, not with so many watching. But so long as she was this near to him, he was in danger.
She looked down at his face. He was still staring at her, wide-eyed, shocked, pale.
But more than a little curious.
“I am sorry,” she whispered.
And then she jumped to her feet and ran.
Not expecting to escape. She never thought for a moment that she would escape.
And she was right.
But it was not even a storm of bullets that ultimately led to her undoing. It was not magic, eating her from the inside out.
Rather, it was that stupid, useless mechanical foot.
The model was too small for her. Too imbalanced. Too loose.
Definitely not meant for sprinting.
She’d made it to the stairs at the end of the courtyard, stairs that she hoped would lead to the city streets beyond the castle walls, when she heard the bolts snap. She felt the wires tear loose, and the loss of power at the base of her calf.
She screamed and stumbled forward, crashing to the bottom of the stairs. She landed sprawled on her side, knowing without looking that her left leg would be dinged and battered and her right knee would be bleeding. There were holes in her gloves where she’d tried to catch her fall. Blood was staining the beautiful cream-colored silk over her right hand.
She did not bother to get up as the guards caught up to her at the top of the stairs and stopped, gawking down at the beaten and tattered girl before them.
It briefly occurred to her that she might be able to kill them all where they stood. She wasn’t sure. She hadn’t really any idea what this subtle burning in her core could accomplish.
But it was an idea.
If only she really had been a villain. Things would have been so much more simple.
Kai reached the stairs not long after.
What an idiot he was for following her. But how she somehow adored him for it, even if it was only masochistic curiosity that propelled him. Even if now he would know everything. Truth and lies alike.
His eyes drunk her in and as if he could not process any more surprises, his expression became only pure loss. Pure despair. Pure pain.
She could not face him, so instead, gasping for breath, she let her eyes drift up to the cold, dark night sky.
The moon had never looked so big and bright.
And somewhere in the distance, she heard the subtle, rhythmic chimes of a clock striking midnight.