Light streamed from every window out into the dark night. A group of caudipteryx skirted the edge of the shadows, snapping up insects drawn to the light, and leaving little three-toed tracks in the snow. In the distance, a train whistle sounded, setting several triceratopses to honking. Inside the thirty-room mansion of the Drache Girl, every gas lamp was lit and fires burned in all of the fireplaces. Recorded music played, but not loudly enough to drown out the happy conversation and laughter of the party guests. It was still an hour away, but everyone was excited to see the premier of the New Year. The gentlemen were dressed in black tie and tails. The ladies in their finest evening wear, the current fashion exposing as much of the shoulders and back as possible while their bottoms already enlarged by magnificent bustles, were exaggerated even more so by huge bows or cascades of lace.
“Another beer?” asked Kieran Baxter, waving to a lizzie servant, who was even then weaving through the crowd in his direction with a silver tray loaded with frosty bottles. The lizzies were members of the cold-blooded reptilian native race of Birmisia Colony, on the Continent of Mallon, where the city of Port Dechantagne was located. Ranging in color from light olive to deep forest green, they gave the appearance of an alligator crossed with an iguana, if either had been able to walk around on their hind legs. Thick tails followed behind them, the tips a few inches off the floor.
“I say, Baxter,” said Gyula Kearn, looking around. “I was just telling Vishmornan here that I feel like an old man in this crowd.”
Kearn was an unprepossessing and slightly chubby man in his mid thirties, with thinning blond hair, but easily recognizable for missing his right arm below the elbow. His companion, Tait Vishmornan, was at least ten years older, and looked older still. Tall and gaunt, his still thick hair had long ago gone completely grey, and only the warm glow of the gaslights gave his pasty pallor any hint of health. Baxter on the other hand, about the same age as Kearn, was tall, lean, and well muscled. His red hair and boyish good looks made him a popular subject of discussion among the ladies of the town. He looked around the room.
“We do seem to be the oldest ones here.” He grabbed two bottles from the tray carried past by the servant and handed them to the two men. “At least you have two young and beautiful wives.”
Both men smiled and looked across the room at their wives. Bertice Vishmornan was probably the oldest woman at the party, though fifteen years younger than her husband. Her long blond hair wound up into a bun, she sat on the sofa listening intently to something that Honor McCoort had to say. Honor, a dark-haired beauty despite the scar running down the side of her face, clad in a simple brown dress, gestured with her left hand as she talked. Her husband Geert McCoort, sat next to her, holding onto her right hand like a child holding on to a balloon, as if she might, at any moment, float away. Behind the sofa, Melis Kearn was surrounded by a group of other young women, but there was no mistaking her. In addition to her dark skin and thick mass of black hair, she wore a gauzy Mirsannan gown of blue and gold, and had a thick, gold ring piercing her nose.
“Carry on, gentlemen,” said Baxter, continuing on his circuit through the room. In the far corner, he found three young couples. Didrika Goose, Tiber Stephenson, Questa Hardt, Philo Mostow, Talli Archer, and Samuel Croffut all seemed to be talking at the same time. It was hard to tell, but the subject seemed to be steam carriages. That made sense, since they were all, at fifteen and sixteen years of age, ready to start driving. Tiber Stephenson and Samuel Croffut were strapping young men, and both frequently were found on the rugby field. Philo Mostow was tall and thin. Talli Archer was a pretty blond girl with a large gold cross on a chain around her neck. Stopping next to them, Baxter waited for their conversation to pause.
“Did you get something to eat?” he asked them.
“Those little meat pies were delicious,” said Questa, her dark skin giving away her Mirsannan heritage, though her clothing and accent were all Brech. “I’m stuffed full now, though.”
“There’s plenty more of everything. Try the little meatballs. You look like you could still eat, Croffut.”
Young Croffut gave a half nod-half shrug.
“I’ll send around more Billingbow’s, too.”
“Yes, I wouldn’t mind a drink,” said Didrika, a thin, blond young woman with a strong family resemblance to the hostess.
Baxter snapped his fingers in the air and waved to the lizzie who was now serving Billingbow’s Sarsaparilla and Wintergreen Soda Water to the Colbshallows, the Shrubbs, and the Hertlings.
“Is Birmisia still all that you thought it would be?” asked Saba Colbshallow, quickly grabbing another bottle from the tray as the lizzie turned to leave. He was a tall handsome man with a slight bend in his nose.
“I could never have believed my life would be so wonderful,” replied Leoni Hertling. “Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to leave Freedonia. It’s harder for girls there now than it was before the war. So when they offered passage to the new land in exchange for six months of service, I jumped at it. But never did I imagine that I would meet such a wonderful man as my Hertzel.”
She wrapped her hands around her husbands arm and squeezed as he smiled happily. Both, like most ethnic Zaeri, had jet-black hair. His was shaved close around his ears, while hers, still very thick, was bobbed just above the collar.
“As fine a man as any woman could want,” said Eamon Shrubb, raising his bottle in salute. Though just as tall as Saba, he was much more heavy set, giving one the impression of a stone wall.