Act 8:

For Clarity's Sake

As the ball resumed, the two acquaintances continued to stare at each other in disbelief.

"Alex, I… I came here to make sure, but I didn't think it would be true! Y-you're… the prince?" Gina asked.

"Your situation comes as a surprise to me, too. I believe you were having financial issues the last time we met. How did you manage to obtain the funds for that dress?" Alex asked.

"Actually, this gown was a gift from my Granny Martha…" the maiden in pearl explained.

"You mean that seamstress called "Fairy Godmother" Martha? That's certainly another surprise." Alex replied in amazement.

"Not really. If you saw her, you'd notice the resemblance." Gina grinned.

"I take that the both of us have far more interesting life stories than we initially assumed…" Alex noted.

"I guess…" Gina agreed, "But mine isn't quite so "privileged" as yours, I assume…"

"I wouldn't exactly say my so-called "privileged" life is all it's cracked up to be…" Alex sighed to himself.

Surprisingly, the dancing duo was well-coordinated in their waltz. Not one step was out of place: they were perfectly in sync. Quite a few guests took notice at this; some were in awe, while some were in jealousy. The strangest thing of all is that the two weren't all that aware of this during their little chat until just now.

"Hm. You're doing quite well for your first formal ball. I assume you've had previous experience?" Alex inquired.

"Yes, I've actually practiced with my step-sister Dia. We used to do little things like this when we were children. I'd usually be her partner since we'd rarely have any boys over. I just thought it would make for nice etiquette. I didn't think I'd be applying this knowledge for myself, to be honest." Gina explained.

"It looks like it's being of great use to you now, doesn't it?" Alex grinned.

This initiated a blush from the pearly maiden.

"I… um... didn't expect something like this. At all." Gina replied. "Honestly, though, I haven't practiced in ages, and I should be a little rusty by now. Surely with all the young maidens here you've had at least a few dozen partners more elegant and graceful than I."

"I'd have to say you've been my best partner all night." Alex shrugged.

"W-what?!"

Gina's flushed face immediately intensified.

"I mean no flattery by this: at least you're actually paying attention to your steps on some level of consciousness. Most of the other ladies were too busy selling themselves or swooning over me to not realize they were abusing me like a rag doll. Although there were a few spare moments I ended up being a source of counsel for some." Alex shared.

"Sounds like you had a long night…" Gina replied with an awkward laugh.

"Indeed it was..." he agreed flatly.

"So, what were you doing outside the castle that day, anyway? You looked quite inconspicuous for a member of royalty at the time, and you weren't accompanied by anyone at all…"

The curious prince flinched upon hearing those questions. He then looked around cautiously before grabbing on to his partner's hand.

"I think it would be wise for you to come with me for the moment…" he suddenly told her.

"What? Why? Wouldn't that look a little suspicious?" Gina asked.

"It'll be better than if anyone overheard our conversation. I'd rather avoid those consequences and the inconvenience of being cut-in." Prince Alex told her.

By some stroke of luck, the pair managed to sneak out of the ball and into the Prince's private quarters. However, a few maidens became dumbfounded in trying to find their man of honor.

Inside the private quarters was a neat, pristine room full of white. From the curtains adorning the windows to the fancy bed sheets and blankets; even the carpets and walls were all white and pearly.

"Wow. Your room is… very white and clean." Gina stated without shame of the obvious.

"Er…I apologize for my cleanliness fetish, but thanks" Alex muttered audibly.

"So, um… about my question?" Gina reminded him.

"Right, right…" Prince Alex nodded. "I suppose I do owe you an explanation for this mess, Miss Gina. If you remember, I told you back then that I aspire to be an apothecary. However, noting my current circumstances, that can be a very big problem interfering with my inherited duties."

"So, this possible distraction is something your father looks down upon and he'd rather you stop your studies altogether?" Gina guessed.

"Exactly."

"Well, that's just… that doesn't sound okay!" Gina protested.

"Yes, well, unfortunately, my father's son's cries fall on deaf ears. But his concerns aren't entirely misplaced: How will I be able to properly practice this profession when I'm too busy dealing with dire kingdom politics? It's my bloodline, sadly enough. It could cause an unwanted incident if I advocate my throne to my dear sister Maria, and I'd rather not die to do it. I'm in a bind, I'm afraid." Prince Alex sighed.

"Th-that's just crazy! Wouldn't the kingdom further praise a future ruler with other talents? A medicine man for king sounds like a very interesting proposition to me!" Gina argued.

"It's irrelevant to the people. What I've witnessed from this ball is proof enough: all that matters is if their ruler is a scintillating man of poise, charisma, etc. in their mind. They don't really CARE about the intellect of the intellectual as long as he has the look of one. Everything else is boring and irrelevant to them…" Prince Alex scoffed.

"What?! That's really all they care about?" the blue-haired maiden cried in outrage.

The frustrated prince gave a long, hard sigh.

"I doubt they'd understand…. Or even care to do so…"

"Then make them care! Have them try to understand you! Speak to your people in a way they will understand and have them listen!" Gina suddenly blurted in outrage.

Thus, the last moment in their conversation left an awkward silence between them.

Stares were abound as Gina's expressed panic and Alex expressed astonishment.

"Ha, wow... you make a fine point." Alex approved with a slight chuckle.

"What? Really? What did I say just now?" Gina cried.

"Something that makes a lot of sense, actually. The problem is, how I could go about doing that. As underhanded as it may feel, I could take advantage of my position and find a proper way to plead my case and convince Father otherwise, but it seems I lack the persuasive tongue…" he began to ponder.

"How about having somebody by your side that does?" Gina suggested.

"I don't know if there's anyone of considerable power and influence… then again, Lady Lyla is always willing to lend a hand in affairs, and she has an agreeable voice amongst the aristocrats. And then there's the Royal Messenger who has fair maidens hanging on his every word. By George, I actually might have a chance!" Prince Alex realized.

"Truly? This is all a big help?" Gina asked.

"They say great ideas can come from the most unusual of circumstances, actually. And I'm glad you've helped bring about this little plot." Alex grinned.

The young maiden was awash in joyous energy, until the word "plot" hit her hard. A nasty memory had just reared its ugly head.

"Oh… my gosh… Alex! The time! What time is it?! I have something important to share!" Gina cried.

Alex looked outside a window towards the clock tower rather curiously.

"It's close to midnight, actually. Why are you so--"

He was immediately cut off by the chime of ringing bells.

One by one, each chime rang, counting down the hours, until it finally stopped at twelve.

The pearly maiden dropped to the floor, stricken with fear.

"Oh no…" she whispered.

"Gina? I don't understand. What's wrong?"

Somewhere within the castle grounds, a loud, frightful scream pierced the night sky.

"Maria!" Alex gasped.

Without further hesitation, the pair picked themselves off the ground, then headed off towards the direction of the scream.

At that very moment, pandemonium was about to hit the ballroom…