Ahhh…what can one say about the annual Yule Ball? A fine tradition by any reckoning, and ours had been weeks in the planning, but here’s the thing, and a topic I suspect we’ll be wrestling with for years to come.

The sorry truth of it is that Kumala is an unforgiving bitch of a Mother. She’s a hard, brutal land, and as such, the fairer sex tend to shy away from her, preferring to keep their lands in climes that take less effort to wrestle to the ground and bend to their will. For this reason, our Balls were always something of a tense, lonesome affair.

Sure, there are no shortage of fair maids from the local townships, and these very definitely get invited, but nothing glitters in the night quite like a highborn Lady wearing her very finest, jewels glittering and hair dressed as she takes a turn around the dance floor…these are the Angels of the Evening, and the competition for their attention is fierce indeed, even to the point of death, though this is rare.

Still, it’s truer than true that not a Ball comes and goes without things coming to blows or blades at some point in the evening, with first blood generally (but as I say, not always) deciding the matter.

This year was…different. Different in ways I struggle to define, and I’m not talking about the new additions to my face.

We had come through, you know? In many ways, there was a sense of…not merely survival, but of arrival.

We’d had our first diplomatic crisis, and it didn’t blow up in our faces or kill us, and it could have. We all understood that it could have.

So there was that, but it wasn’t just that. There was also a sense of taming this Great Beast of a land, and in that, enormous strides had been made.

The Devil’s Road, once a deadly shortcut taken at one’s own risk, was now more like the Devil’s Highway, with paved lanes and heavy traffic (a fairly even mix of foot, wagon, and horse), and the jungle was beaten and cut and burnt back on a constant basis to keep it from encroaching too heavily on our civilized areas.

At last survey, there were in the neighborhood of sixty cities on Devil’s Island, and more than half belonged to members of our proud Alliance. Nearly 90% belonged to us, or members of our extended alliance family, so there was much to be proud of by way of accomplishments so far.

Even better, with less than twenty members, and only three quarters of a million people under our banner, we had managed to scrape and claw our way from 101st place on the King’s Roster of Noble Houses to 53rd, and in a very short time, at that.

Our rise was nothing short of meteoric, and we had just (for the first time ever) taken our place as the highest ranked of the three alliances in our alliance family (consisting of [REALM], [STEEL], and [FORGE]). These were good things. These were big, important milestones for us, and the future was bright indeed.

This was the spirit that so infused the Christmas Ball.

That sense of momentum.

Of purpose.

Of not merely waiting for Fate to hand down this or that decree about our futures, but rather, boldly striding out to meet it. To work it with our hands, wrestle it to the ground if needs be, and truly make it our own.

We were the little alliance that could, and there was a bounce in our collective step because of it.

The Ball was all glitter and light, and although it was not cold, I had my Court Mages summon snow as we gathered around our Christmas tree in the courtyard of the Main Hall.

It lasted about an hour, then melted away…claimed by the thirsty Goddess, Kumala, and when it did, we retired inside for an evening of dancing and feasting and song.

Lonsome Christmas Tree

A beautiful, glorious night, and we all danced the tribal dance (fittingly enough, simply called ‘Come Kumala’), and our Angels of the Ball were gracious and took the time to dance with each of the men of the Court.

Kleodora even complimented me on my tattoos, putting me at ease about them and telling me they made me look savage and roguish, and that she very much approved.

After blushing an even deeper shade of scarlet than the ink on my face, I murmured my thanks, and she spun off to dance with another.

I caught sight of an intoxicated Velociryx…our HighLord, dancing atop one of the feasting tables late in the evening after our meals had been long cleared.

Shirtless, I could plainly see the ropy scars that seemed to grasp toward his heart, thought about Kumala and her Heart, even as we danced the dance called ‘Come Kumala,’ and wondered for the thousandth time at what power this land…this fierce goddess had over us, and what she ultimately had in store for us.

But mostly, I lost myself in the moment and danced with our assembled host.

There was life here, and love and family.

There was purpose here, and the land itself seemed to be calling out to all of us, both to whisper in our ears about the trials and dangers ahead, and also, to embrace us.

To welcome us home.

Come Kumala, it seemed to whisper.


And we did.


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