March 19th – The Day of the Darkening Storm

You can see the Darkening Storm from a long way off, but despite its immense size it seems to travel very quickly. Most years it will visit Buentoille, taking a few hours to pass overhead. Some years it decides to release its vast stores of water on the City, but usually it passes over into the plains to the east unhindered. This year the meteorologists have gained advance warning from the Inner Sea research station, and have predicted a dry passing at midday.

The Storm is so large and dense that it blocks out the sun (or, if it passes at night, the moon) and plunges the City into darkness for a few hours. It usually has a clearly defined front, curved like a wide bow wave, the front clouds turning over themselves, reaching down, tendril-like towards the City’s tall buildings, then being overtaken by the bulk of the cloud and being sucked back in once again. The effect is almost as if there is some great invisible ship floating on the atmosphere.

The clouds stretch back for over thirty miles, and go out to the sides as far as the eye can see. As they approach, red lightning can often be seen above the clouds; red flashes and clusters of twisted branches reaching up into the sky. As the Storm passes overhead a cold wind picks up, where before there was an eerie stillness, and blooms of red light occasionally illuminate sections of cloud. Were it not for its regularity, the spectacle would certainly have caused some to speculate on the end of days in times passed.

Atmospheric science has not yet progressed to a sufficient point to properly explain the phenomenon entirely, though many metrologists posit that it is probably due to a large section of warm, damp air passing over the top of cold air somewhere in the outer ocean and cascading over the top, to create the distinctive weather front. Unfortunately, the absence of comprehensive maps and research into of the region means that little can be known for sure.

Most Buentoillitants will go outside in the charged air and stillness that precedes the Storm, today, watching its approach with some trepidation. Rooftops are a favourite location, and often impromptu parties are held atop high buildings and apartment blocks. These are strangely excitable events, though they only last for around twenty minutes, and people eagerly break off from their day’s activities to attend. Music is rarely played, and voices are muted with anticipation, but instead folks throw paper darts off the building tops, revelling in the way they seem to pitch upwards for some time before gravity takes its due. The static which hangs in the air that is thought to cause this is also used in a number of other party games, where folk hold hands in a circle and watch sparks leap between the last to join hands. This atmospheric static charge and the sense of anticipation brought by the approaching Storm is often said to increase feelings of attraction and desire between lovers, and there are many babies born nine months after the event, especially if the clouds break over the City.

When the Storm gets too close, most mentally sound people move indoors for their own safety, as lightning strikes on the City’s tall buildings are not uncommon. One group of people who choose to stay outside are the Lowly Followers of the Glowing Magnificence, a somewhat suicidal cult formed after the Storm caused a ‘ball of pure energy’ to enter a card hall in 1762. The ball lightning was six foot across and reputedly entered the room through the chimney, scattering the fire burning in the grate across the floor. It then proceeded to kill fifteen people before mysteriously passing through the wall. A few people ran to the window, where they either saw it return to the clouds or sink into the earth (there are conflicting reports). Those who were killed seemed completely unmarked by the experience, except for the identical rapturous smiles on their faces. Thinking that these unlucky few had been summoned to heaven, the cult now seeks out ball lightning whenever they can, and today is deemed a holy day.

In another instance a young man, called Hans Rideh, was locked out on the roof of his apartment block, and took refuge in a small cabin, on top of which was the building’s lightning conductor, which was then struck at least twenty times. Whilst he was physically unharmed, he developed strange psychological symptoms after the event, including the persistent hallucination of a golden female figure that he refers to as ‘Katherine.’ According to Rideh this woman is his protector spirit bound to him by the Storm. It’s not clear whether the event influenced a pre-existing psychological condition in Rideh, or whether the hallucinations were caused by over-exposure to an electromagnetic field. The latter theory is supported by other reports of hallucinations during and before the Storm.

When the Darkening Storm has passed and the sun shows its face again, there is a strange moment where real life comes jolting back, along with the sun. The playful, excitable mood that lay over the City is pulled away like a magician’s blanket, and propriety once again takes charge. The Lowly Followers of the Glowing Magnificence dejectedly slink from their rooftop perches, bound to wait for heaven for another year.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Opening of the Taranter Card Tournament
  • The Festival of Swallow Spotting (postponed until Storm has passed)
  • The Festival of the Flattest Pizza Base