Have you ever gone to the seaside and found a rock pool in which to gaze? Have you ever found a shallow pool, lifted out a rock and found a crab or a starfish hiding underneath? How about those deeper pools, where guppies flit in and out of the seaweed walls, anemones pulsing gently? The water there is green-blue, the seaweed swirls, and something about the refraction of the water makes you wonder how deep down things really go that little world unto itself. If you are out looking for creatures in the pools around the coast from the Buentoille Bay today at low tide, you might find more than you were expecting, specifically a member of the Fraternity of Wild Swimmers, dipping into a particularly large pool.
This ‘dip’ is not for the faint of heart, no matter how inviting the pool looks (although, with its conglomeration of slimy red anemones, sharp barnacles and who-knows-what hiding in the seaweed forest that lines the walls, some might describe it as distinctly uninviting); there is a reason the famously thrill-seeking Fraternity of Wild Swimmers are the ones swimming in the pool today. Besides the occasional venomous sea urchin that may have found its way into the pool, there is little real danger, but it takes courage and a good lungful of air to swim as far down as the Fraternity do, especially when it gets dark down there.
It’s difficult to spot from above looking in, but at what looks like the bottom of the funnel-like pool it actually twists horizontally for a few feet before heading straight down again. Without the light there is less seaweed in this ever-narrowing section of the pool, but touching the walls is still a squeamish affair, especially now the walls cannot be seen without an underwater torch. Perhaps anyone else exploring the pool on a different day might use a light, but this is the Fraternity, and part of the fun for them is being able to boast afterwards, so they wouldn’t use a torch even if that wouldn’t ruin what they are delving down to see.
The festival could take place any time this week, but today was chosen primarily because it was the day someone finally got to the bottom. That person, Grieve Bastonville, had been in competition with Mai Tradshell to see who could get deeper for most of the summer of 1838. Every couple of days they would break off from the rest of the Fraternity who were most likely larking around in the local rivers or competing to see who could swim fastest to their summer house on a small island off the coast. They would come down to the pool which had been found by Bastonville, and try to push themselves further down the dark chute before they either ran out of air or panicked in the tight darkness and had to resurface. Getting down that far takes rigorous training to maintain the necessary steely sense of determination and calm. When Bastonville finally reached he bottom she was so surprised with what she saw that she let out a stream of bubbles and almost drowned in her haste to get back to the surface.
What Bastonville first saw on this day in 1838 is what the Fraternity swimmers will see today, if they are determined and calm enough, and have big enough lungs. At the bottom of the pool it starts to get thinner and thinner, until you are squeezed between the two walls and the hole dwindles to about a hand span across. If you squeeze right up to the hole and peer through you might at first see nothing but darkness, but then as your eyes adjust (remember you need enough air to get back to the surface!) you see it: hundreds of bioluminescent fish swimming in an enormous cavern. Apparently it’s something like looking into the night’s sky, if the stars moved and you were looking straight down instead. The depth and scale of the place is astounding, as much as the light show playing out within it.
Since that first visit, plenty of folk have been down, with torches and without. It seems that the species of fish that almost fill the underwater cavern only light up like this during their breeding period, which occurs for about a week, pivoting on today. Normally they are, like the rest of the cavern, dark in an attempt to avoid predators, but breeding takes precedence and to breed you need to be able to find a mate quickly. It seems that Bastonville was very lucky in terms of her timing, and due to the regularity of the environmental conditions in the enormous cave (which appears to be cut off from the ocean except through this pool at high tide) the breeding season occurs at precisely the same time each year, so modern Buentoillitants also get to benefit from her luck.
Obviously you can only get a glimpse of the spectacle below due to air concerns, but more than once people have taken oxygen tanks down with them to allow for longer spectatorship. A group of scientists went down there outside of the breeding season with several strong lights, trying to peer further into the darkness. They even dropped a flare into the cave, and it only illuminated one wall, before it fell into blackness. That sort of thing might be allowed on other days of the year, but today it the Fraternity’s day, and nothing but the human body and a swimming costume is allowed down the pool. In their brief glimpses, the Swimmers claim to have seen some astounding things.
More than one swimmer has claimed to have seen another person floating past the viewing hole, long dead. Perhaps there is another entrance, through which the bodies of unfortunate sailors have become swept at some point, but this seems unlikely, as the fish that live down there would have undoubtedly eaten the flesh from the bones before they appeared as old as they did. Most likely these ‘sightings’ are either entirely made up for boasting and prestige or were a hallucination created by lack of oxygen to the brain. Similarly, the claims of a city down there, its lights twinkling in the darkness, are probably hallucinations formed via a combination of the fish-light and oxygen deprivation.
There is some credence to some of their claims, though. Six Swimmers claim to have seen a predator chasing and sometimes catching the glowing fish. Their reports vary, must most claim not to have actually seen the beast, just a huge dark shape that at points obscures the points of light, and at some point creates negative space within them as they scurry out of its way. Those who had a closer glimpse of the aquatic monster speak only of rows and rows of long, sharp teeth.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Inglorious Tablemaker’s Festival
- The Festival of 1000 Keys and Only Three Locks
- The Night of the Passenger Star