The hallways themselves seemed imposing; their very colorlessness made them daunting and cold. Islana heard her heels clicking against the marble floor as if from very far away. She felt Ashanen's presence beside her, but it didn't help abate her fear. Her gown felt so unfamiliar against her skin, she didn't feel like herself at all; she hadn't truly wanted to trick anyone, and now she was going to be tricking the entire Royal Family. Islana felt guilt weigh upon her shoulders, as well as worry. She'd never been good at lying. Some of her anxiety must have shown on her face, for Ashanen suddenly spoke.

"Islandria, are you alright? You're looking pale." She started at the sound of her faked name; he looked at her in concern, but that just made her feel worse about her deception. But how can I tell him now? She shook her head.

"No, I'm fine. Perfect." She swallowed and smiled. You're perfect all right. A perfect coward. They continued walking, and Islana wondered how big the palace actually was. But you mustn't gawk. Of course, being a princess, you would have seen all of this before, and spoken to plenty of Kings and Queens. You will not make a fool of yourself. You will not. Islana dared a quick, furtive glance at Ashanen's profile; he was so handsome, and he had been so nice to her. Hardly anyone was ever nice to her, except for Eiran. But Ash was different too. How in the world am I going to make this work? And her world tilted when Ashanen came to a stop.

"Well, here we are," he said, with a smile grin. "Are you ready?" He held out his hand. No, no, no, no! I am not ready and will never be ready. I should just run now, and forget about you, my one night as Princess. She slowly put her hand in his; it felt so nice.

"Of course I am."

The Queen had blue hair.

That was the first thing Islana noticed about her reigning monarchs. The second was that they greeted her with enormous smiles, which, of course, ended with the pit in her stomach sinking ever deeper. Why do they have to be so nice, if they were terrible, I wouldn't feel so awful about tricking them. Islana tried to paste a huge smile on her own face, hoping any signs of nervousness she showed would be interpreted as normal, a girl who was meeting the parents of her…well, Islana wasn't sure exactly what Ashanen was. Just that she liked him. A lot.

"Princess Islandria, here, please sit with us for a bit." The queen motioned to a chair, which Ashanen promptly held for her. Islana gulped, smiled even wider, and sat. Thank goodness. I might have fainted in another minute. She gazed up at the king and queen, and found that Ashanen really didn't resemble either of his parents; a similar bearing was there, a crinkle around his eyes echoed his father's, but otherwise, she couldn't find any traits they shared.

But then the King smiled, and she thought everything might be alright after all.

).0.(

Elloise put her head in her hands, and let out a moan. Something was going on here, and it was something that she couldn't quite put her finger on. At least the day of the ball was over, and she'd had a good night's rest.

Charles wanted to speak with her later that day, about Allie she was sure, but she had nothing to say to him on that matter. Besides that, she had that wretched Chancellor watching her whenever she got close to the wing where she'd been the night of the ball. He was certainly suspicious, although she didn't see any undue reason for this, unless somehow, someone had ratted her out before she'd even arrived. But that would mean…well, it would mean something that Elloise had no wish to contemplate at the moment.

At the very least, she thought that perhaps she could move with more ease around the palace now that she was supposedly there as Charles guest; however, she was thwarted at every turn by that infuriating Chancellor. I haven't had a chance to search, I haven't been able to make contact with home…I really haven't been able to do a thing. Elloise stood, and stopped in front of the mirror. I don't look like someone able to break that Chancellor's neck, although it is very tempting to prove that wrong. Something tickled at the back of her mind while she stared into glass, but.... That was it! Glass. I'd better run to see what I can find before I have to meet Charles, and get out of explaining anything about Allie. She owes me. Elloise grabbed a heavy coat from the wardrobe, and slipped it on, as she herself slipped out the door. She thought she had just enough time to see the glass works in town and be back to the palace before anyone knew she was gone. However, as Elloise descended the stairs, she might have felt eyes watching her every move.

).0.(

Chancellor Quinton looked up from his book keeping and sighed. Why did anyone ever hire a bookkeeper with such atrocious handwriting? Sweeping a stray strand of dark hair off his forehead, he stood, glanced over at the window—just in time to see a slight figure hurrying down the garden lane in the direction of the gates. What is that fool girl up to now?

Quinton couldn't quite decide if the Lady of Cinders was the idiot she acted, or whether the flashes of wit he thought he'd glimpsed were truly there, and she was playing them all for fools. She certainly doesn't seem like Charles' type, that's for sure. Charles had always liked serious, slim brunettes. And here he was, supposedly courting a buxom blond who acted like a half-wit. Does he have something up his sleeve, or is this some sort of infatuation? Charles has always had his head screwed on right, but this past year, he's seemed, distracted. And so Chancellor Quinton watched the Lady of Cinders. But not carefully enough, it seems, for there she goes.

Quinton paused a moment, leaning against the cool pane of the window glass, wondering what he should do. He could follow the girl…but that would mean hours of work wasted. And he did have plans to meet with the King this evening. But what in the world could she be going off, alone, to town for? Unless she's up to no good. He sat back down, and attempted to finish the figures he'd been working on. He couldn't concentrate. I'm never going to finish until I find out what the chit is up to. Muttering to himself about unneeded distractions, Quinton put the papers away, and found his cloak. He hurried out the door; he knew he might not find her, now that she'd gotten this far ahead of him.

But he was going to try.