November 1st – The Festival of the Squid

For the last few days, and indeed this morning before the sun rose, most of the anglers and fishers of Buentoille will have broken from their normal routines and swapped their normal nets and other such equipment for specialist squid poles and lures. These lures, or ‘jigs’, to give them their proper name, sink down to near the sea floor, and have many spiked barbs designed to catch hold of a tentacle or two with ease. Most of this kind of fishing is done close to shore, in the bay, and generally before it gets too bright, when squid, with their large eyes, tend to slink off to murkier depths. There are those, however, who have more specialised equipment still; thicker lines, heavier weights, enormous rods to catch enormous creatures. These fishers go far out to sea, into the inner ocean where its gets incredibly deep, and if they are very lucky they will pull up gigantic squid, metres long, not even counting the tentacles.

All of this is in aid of today’s festival, The Festival of the Squid, where the streets and plazas of the dockside districts will be heaving with folk munching on this seafood delicacy. Brightly coloured stalls line the streets, selling fried and battered squid rings, squid soups, squid-ink pasta and rice dishes, stuffed squid, pickled squid, squid salads and stir-fries. There are squid sauces and pieces of salted, dried squid to dip in them. For the brave there are whole squid, freshly killed (serving live animals of any sort is illegal in Buentoille, so please do not believe these myths), fermented squid, or squid marinated in super hot chillies. Squid potato cakes are there for those who don’t want to be reminded that their food lived recently. The stalls centre around Saint Fibrass’ Dock, where the central event, the giant squid, are unloaded and butchered into large steaks, which are served in a number of ways.

Other than a nice boost for the fishing industries, what is the real purpose of today’s festival? As with many of Buentoille’s food-related events, the festival is tied in with the early days of the Communal Reconstruction, when hunger was rife and starvation waited patiently at the window. No longer able to depend upon imported food after the Revolution, when the Seven Cities Trading Company attempted to destabilise Buentoille by cutting off their supply, the City was forced to look to neglected sources of sustenance. One instance of this was foraged foods and peas, as is celebrated on Pea Day, but also many more folks gave up their jobs and became fishers, where a more immediate source of food could be found. Before this point, squid and other tentacled creatures were seen as ‘dirty’ and not worth eating by Buentoillitants, and fishers would throw them back into the sea, but it didn’t take long for these attitudes to shift once hunger came knocking.

The real turning point of these attitudes was this day in 1909, the day that today’s festival commemorates, when starvation in Buentoille was looking most likely. This time of year is supposed to be the most bounteous, when the harvest has recently been brought in, and nature is a larder. Yet there were serious issues with the harvest in 1909; the weather had been awful and destroyed many crops, and a plague of squinnich beetles had overrun the fields. This latter detail was an extremely rare occurrence, and the beetles were almost definitely planted by the Trading Company or monarchists. The terrible weather had also meant that the City’s fishers hadn’t been able to go out on the water safely, although many had tried nonetheless and had been killed. For now there was still a small stock of non-perishable foods, but these were being kept for the long winter months when even less food was available. Things were beginning to look desperate.

What a relief it must have been, then, to see Warral Bastian and his small fleet returning safe and sound through the stormy waves, an enormous catch filling their hulls! They had gone out a week before and had been presumed dead, but now they were back with enough food to feed half the City, if you counted the gigantic squid dragged along by Bastian’s vessel, an enormous fishing ship called ‘The Smell of the Morning’. Stories of the squid’s size have no doubt been exaggerated over the years, but documentary evidence can prove that it was well over twenty metres long, too big to be hauled aboard. Bastian had apparently fought with the monster for seven hours before it succumbed to its harpoon wounds. Since that day nobody has caught anything even approaching the size of that squid, the nearest being fourteen metres. Perhaps the terrible weather that year stirred the monster of 1909 from the depths? It’s not that they haven’t been trying; every year before the giant squid are cut into steaks they are measured and the catcher of the largest each year is awarded a trophy, hat and title (Feeder of the People) as their prize.

Ultimately, this sudden influx of food was just enough to tip the scales in Buentoille’s favour. Whilst by itself it would not have fed many for long, it meant that the winter foods were not eaten straight away, and whilst many went hungry and malnutrition was rife, a tiny minority actually starved to death. Today those hungry days are long passed, and the celebrations are more about gorging oneself silly, rather than avoiding starvation, but why not? This was what those pioneers, those Communal Reconstructors dreamt about in bed with any empty stomach, after all.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Venerating the Deep Fathers
  • The Festival of Plant Feasting
  • The Sky Looks Lonely Day

November 2nd – The Festival of Hunting the Greedy Lord

Looking out over the marshes from atop one of Buentoille’s hills of a morning is often a rewarding sight, as the morning mist is slowly evaporated away by the morning sun. Alternately there is that which crowns the hills of Ceaen Moor, occasionally reaching down into the valleys below. Mist and fog are common in the spaces that surround the City, and sometimes in the dead of winter misty tendrils work their way into the streets themselves, but the kind of blanketing, suffocating fog that covers the City today only happens once a year. It’s always at the start of November, or sometimes the end of October, that it comes, creeping over the City in the night so that, in the light of morning when you look outside it is as if someone had placed a white sheet over your bedroom window.

Today Buentoille is a dreamlike place. People and places suddenly strike out of the white seemingly from nowhere, as there is usually only a few feet of visibility, and it is easy to get lost if you don’t know your way very well. It is possible to feel entirely alone in what is normally a bustling, busy street. It is impossible to drive safely, so for today (and possibly the next few days – the fog can last for some time) the automobiles, trams and carriages of the City are all left well alone, excepting of course the emergency vehicles which are still active, just a little slower. It can be quite startling to have your little quiet world suddenly interrupted by a blaring siren and bright lights dissipating strangely through the clouds.

With the restricted visibility and hearing range, today is perfect for performing secret tasks and rituals. It’s likely that more of these happen than most are aware of; the Coven of Irah for example, are very cagey when questioned about what they get up to in the fog (this doesn’t necessarily mean a lot, really, seeing as they are cagey around any questioning), and tales abound of lone walkers stumbling upon strange scenes in the parks and streets. If these are to be believed then there are trees full of men hanging from their feet chanting Chastise Church liturgies backwards, naked women dancing around stones, black-garbed strangers burying goose eggs on the beach. Some of these are simply stories told indoors tonight by the fire in the pub, but some surely have an element of truth to them.

One ritual which definitely occurs today is the Hunting of the Greedy Lord; it’s been going on for hundreds of years although those who participate in it claim that it has not, or at least that they aren’t involved personally. They say this with a knowing wink. If you hear their horn calling out in the mist today, get quickly to the roadside, lest you be knocked over by a masked rider going hell-for-leather, seemingly careless of anyone in their path. This reckless manner is part of the reason for their masks and hooded grey riding cloaks, to protect themselves from prosecution, not that anyone is under any illusion as to who hides beneath. For a long time this garb has been worn mainly out of tradition rather than as an actual disguise; everyone knows that the riders are all priests of the Chastise Church.

Thankfully there haven’t been any deaths from the festival for many many years, although after a Tallboys district woman had both her legs broken by the wild horses of the Hunt in 1743 many local folks hunted down the hunters and beat them thoroughly. Similarly, when the Hunt attempted to enter the Warrens one year, they found themselves severely punished. Eventually the violence got so bad in Tallboys and the surrounding districts (the locals lay in wait each year with nets and clubs) that a route was set through several wide streets, through which the riders had to keep off the walkways, which were fenced off accordingly with bright red tape. This has remained same the way ever since, although the hunters have been known to go off course, whether by design or accident, considering that the priests are usually inexperienced riders.

The quarry of these hunters is, as the name of the festival suggests, a lord, or rather, someone dressed as a lord. This person has their own horse, and is decked out in traditional aristocratic riding gear; a gaudy jacket in bright red with several golden tassels. This ‘Lord’ will these days actually be another priest, usually one who lost some arcane forfeit. The longer they stay out of the clutches of the hunters, the more reparative wine they will be plied with later on in the evening. Once they would also have had to spend a night in the stocks, as did the Lord of Iglow’s Garden, Kannis Moldreddi upon whom their character is based, but this has now been replaced with an effigy instead.

Moldreddi was a dilettante and a carouser, who held lavish parties in his father’s mansion that were notorious across the City. He was famously cruel to his servants, and had a hatred of all things to do with the Church, which he saw as stuffy and boring. When his father died he forbade any of his staff from going to church, and turned the abbey attached to the manor into a brothel. He also stopped paying any tithe to the Church, which was traditionally taken at harvest time. The clergy decided that something had to be done, and since Moldreddi seemed to care not a jot for the shame of his actions, they decided to take more drastic action. When the thick fog of November fell that year they masked themselves and attempted to abduct the carouser on his way home from a drinking club. After a horse chase they had him, and publicly shamed him in the stocks outside the district courthouse, inviting folk from all around to come throw the contents of their privies and bedpans at him.

Initially the events were re-enacted to keep the Lord’s memory of the event sharp, to display their power, but eventually it became tradition, and a good way for normally stuffy priests to let off some steam anonymously. The event is still technically disallowed by the Hierarchs of the Church, but that does little to discourage more junior members, for whom the event is almost a rite of passage. Not every priest is actually involved in the Festival; there are plenty who are vociferously opposed, so in this regard the masks do still serve some purpose. Be careful out there in the fog today.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Closed Space
  • Mittens Day

November 3rd – The Festival of the Fog Moon

It can get quite stifling on the second day of the November fog. Whilst some enjoy the feeling of anonymity, privacy and peace that the dense fog imparts, others long to look at a distant view, or even just to the end of their street. It can get a bit much, the feeling of constant enclosure, so much so that those Buentoillitants who suffer from claustrophobia are offered temporary MHS funded residence outside the City in a country retreat.

For those of you looking to have a breather of your own, who don’t want to travel far, there is another option; the BBS Television Tower. Today and yesterday there will be special viewings inside the cafe near the top of the Tower; an odd, brutalist structure that was built on top of an existing tower block due to be knocked down. The block was mostly filled with concrete for structural integrity, but still outwardly maintains the illusion of being inhabited, even down to a number of lights in the windows that turn on and off randomly throughout the night. The tower itself is formed of three ‘needles’ poking out from the tower block, all angled in so that they meet just above a hexagonal viewing platform and cafe.

Being the tallest structure in Buentoille, the Tower just pokes out above the banks of mist that fill the Buentoille basin, only petering out when they reach the moors and the western forests. Coming up from the whitish darkness below, it is searingly bright for new arrivals, what with the bright white clouds hovering below, reflecting the sun. Still, these short sessions (kept down to ten minutes per person as the platform can only hold 500 people safely and there are plenty queueing down at the innocuous street entrance) are not only a spectacle but something of a lifeline for those getting increasingly fed up of the strange sense of entrapment that has spread across the City.

It’s not often that the full moon coincides with the November fog (the last instance was 2009), but when it does they tend to make the most of it in the BBS Television Tower. Whilst the moon isn’t technically full until early tomorrow morning, it looks full enough tonight to make it worth the celebration. The lights inside the viewing platform are turned down very low or off entirely to eliminate excess reflections in the glass (there is no outside section due to safety concerns), giving the richly mosaicked space a quiet, relaxed feel. The gold and silver tiles laid out in intricate and representative designs still have a residual lustre in this low light, but even with this added glamour, all eyes will be fixed outside.

At night, under the light of the full moon, you can better see all the swirls and eddying currents atop the pearlescent fog ocean below. The moon herself is as always mesmerising, her reflection catching on the spectacles of the open-mouthed viewers inside the cafe, which sells moon-themed cocktails to the assembled masses. To keep the feel of the night ponderous and calm, there is no ten minute rule tonight, merely a very small guest list, chosen by randomised selection from the electoral register. The invites are delivered via post, but also, obviously, by television; the names were drawn and read out live on BBS1 two weeks ago. Apart from the prestige that this lends the invites, it also discourages folk selling their invites for vast amounts of money.

At about 8:00pm the band, Cerz Mayer’s Players, will start up, playing relaxed jazz and mournful folk songs. They know they are the sideshow, and don’t seem too bothered by it; if you’re going to be upstaged by anything then it might as well be an amazing natural spectacle that only comes once every 5-10 years. The event is filmed and broadcast live on BBS1, as part of the BBS’s new Relaxation Season. There are no annoying interruptions from presenters, no commentary; it’s just shown as it is, the camera occasionally cutting between the inside and the out, a shot of the band, the tower from the ground, the hands of two lovers entwined.

To top it all off, the bats arrive at about half nine, usually. They dip in and out of the mist like playful dolphins, they scatter up and around the tower, they skim of the mist’s swirling surface, creating ‘spray’ that splits the moonlight beautifully. Nobody’s ever studied this behaviour in depth, but it’s likely they aren’t just going it for the cameras; presumably they find navigating in the fog tricky, given that they use sound, which is dampened, to see their way. Perhaps these elated-looking aerobatic twirls are simply attack-patterns, ways of hunting moon-led moths and other insects that aren’t easily visible to the humans, or perhaps they, like those humans, are just happy to see the moon, the view, the white swirling sea below.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Drinker’s Call
  • The Festival of the Retreating Herd
  • Blankets and Hot Chocolate Day

November 4th – The Festival of the Welcay Transmission

It’s a good job that the fog is expected to disperse today, because it means that the amateur radio enthusiasts all across the City will not be disappointed. Of course, a lot of other folks, especially those who didn’t get the chance to go up the BBS Television Tower last night, will be happy to have more normal weather return to Buentoille, but radio enthusiasts have particular, additional cause. Thick fog such as that which blanketed the City for the last two days has a tendency to interfere with radio signals in a minor manner. This usually isn’t problematic; the interference is so minimal that it causes no issues; but today a specific signal, the Welcay Transmission, is going to be studied in minute detail, and any changes, no matter how small, might throw off this intense research.

Considering how long the Welcay Transmission has been going on for, it’s strange that we know so little about it. It was first identified in 1826, shortly after radio receivers were first invented, and was thought to be a natural phenomenon, given that the first radio transmitter came in 1831. Quite what this regular sound, a steadily descending tone that loops over a period of two minutes and twenty two seconds, was caused by in the natural world was unknown, but the scientist who identified it, Estee Welcay assumed that it could not have been deliberately man-made. It’s possible that this misconception was because Welcay mistook the Transmission for a ‘whistler’ (a naturally caused signal which sounds like whistling caused by lightning strikes), but whatever her reasons, Welcay was such a giant in her field, known for humiliating anyone who disagreed with her theories, that her assertion was merely accepted for many years, until 1844 when Grieve Balant tuned in on November the 4th.

This was a time when there were perhaps only one hundred receivers and a single radio station in Buentoille, Egg Street Tidings, run by a group of scientists and enthusiasts, so unlike today it was highly unlikely that anyone would tune into the Welcay frequency on the correct day. It was only because Balant had been using the strange noise as a relaxation aid whilst bathing that she heard it at all. At 3:21pm the Transmission suddenly broke off from its undulating tone and there was the sound of a voice, low and gravelly, speaking in an unknown language. The exact same recording plays today at the exact same time; the recording is poor and full of static, like a dusty record, and the language is entirely undecipherable. It sounds a little like Lowest Canaring, but only to the untrained ear; according to extensive research there are simply no known languages that match this unnerving voice.

Unsurprisingly, Balant was pretty shaken up by the sudden interruption to her relaxation experience. At first she thought that it was a trick played on her by someone; that they had overlaid the signal with a stronger one produced locally, but if they had nobody owned up to it. Eventually she put the incident aside and forgot all about it, not expecting to hear that voice ever again. Five years later her neighbour knocked on her door, shouting that she needed to tune into Welcay’s Transmission, where, lo and behold, the same voice was at it again. Her neighbour, also a student of the electromagnetic sciences, had been looking through his diary from five years ago on a whim, to see what happened on that day, and, reading the report he’d written of a rambling Balant turning up at his door, he absent-mindedly tuned to the correct frequency.

A lot of the research going on today, by amateurs and scientists alike, will be directional studies trying to locate the source of the signal. This is a complicated matter, as the Transmission is a shortwave signal, propagated by being ‘bounced’ around the planet between the ground and the ionosphere; in this manner it isn’t stopped by barriers like mountains, and can travel vast distances, right around the globe even, to places where Buentoilliçan geography is sketchy at best. Obviously the terrain of both these surfaces varies, and this can affect the propagation, and there is no real way of knowing how many ‘bounces’ have been completed before it reaches Buentoille. However, by triangulating these various different directional readings, and collating them over the years, the resulting theorised location of the source can be narrowed down. At the moment several locations are being considered, each further east across the globe, becoming less precise as they advance in that direction. The Chenorrians in the east have been contacted about the signal but they seem to know nothing about it.

Other pieces of research are concerned with trying to decode the strange words, or to analyse the background noise and speech to see if there are any modulations each year; it’s a possibility that the signal is similar to the ‘spy stations’ used by Revolutionaries during the rule of the Traitor King that modulated seemingly innocuous transmissions in minor ways that could be decoded by resistance listeners using a code book and specialist equipment. Any results which can be presented immediately will be heard at the Colbatha Institute in de Geers University this evening, and will be properly analysed there over the coming days and months. Whilst most of the amateur radio enthusiasts listening in today will be working from their homes, a small contingent of scientists will be gathered at the Institute all day, eagerly awaiting and then discussing the Transmission.

The main reason that the Transmission has endured for so long as a point of fascination in Buentoilliçan life is the mystery that surrounds it; who makes the signal? Why has it never significantly changed? Why does it transmit useless tones for most of the year? What’s so significant about today? Obviously there have been many theories, but none seem to fit well; if it were a ‘spy station’ it would function more randomly and frequently, surely? Others suggest that it is some kind of scientific test, or a beacon used to triangulate position, the reasons for both being explained by that unsettling gravelly voice once a year. Again, this makes little sense. Perhaps the most compelling explanation, coincidentally the one which has been sponsored by the Guild of Conspiracy Theorists, comes from unexpected quarters; in the Firrahm Mweni science fiction novel, the Welcay Transmission plays from an abandoned, automated station, the advanced civilisation who made it long fallen. In this novel it has been playing for thousands of years, announcing the birthday of a young boy over and over into an uncaring, unhearing world.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Good Woman
  • The Festival of Lacklustre Music
  • Spine Tingle Day

November 5th – The Festival of Changing the Guard

In 1733 a man called Oglaw McStannitch made three big mistakes. He was digging in Fallow Fields, the old-village-green-turned-allotments in Lost Palace district, when he found a small hardwood ring box. It was in a pretty sorry state; the hinges were rusted away and the cloth that had once covered it was almost non-existent. The wood itself had just about survived but it was ready to disintegrate. The first big mistake he made was not reburying the box deeper in the mud, letting his vegetable roots grow around it, and forgetting all about it. The second big mistake he made was prising the box open, allowing it to partly disintegrate in the process. The final mistake was plucking out the gold band inside and putting it on his ring finger. Later, when he looked back at that moment he didn’t know why he’d been so hasty. ‘It was as if she were compelling me to do it, now I think of it,’ he said to Buentoille Today magazine in 1942. By putting that ring on his finger, McStannitch had unwittingly caused himself to be possessed by a ghost.

If he’d grown up in Lost Palace he would have perhaps been a little warier; he might even have recognised the box from the stories and let it be. Every Lost Palace child knows the story of Beliah and Caster, though it spread little further. The couple were childhood sweethearts, fiancées due to be married, when the day before Beliah was crushed to death in an accident at her mother’s windmill. Struck with grief, Caster took himself to the church and asked that they be married nonetheless, so that he may never be separated from the one he loved. Apparently the priest was young and easily swayed by Caster’s passion, else he would not have granted the small ceremony, performed there and then with only the gablelarks as witness. From the moment he put on the wedding band, he felt her there, by his side.

Yet it was not all conjugal happiness between man and spirit, as one might hope. Though this was Beliah, to be sure, there was something changed about her, a certain melancholy which had not existed before. She constantly spoke to Caster’s heart of that place beyond, from where she had been so rudely ripped. The place where happiness dwells, a place of spices and honey sweet, of a sun that never sets, a place where smiles are worn constant and do not flower from sadness. And he felt that place call to him, sinister in its charms, where they would be together, and he would have been taken there were it not for some rancour, a sickliness to the honey that he detected, and he came back to himself, standing atop the belfry about to jump. It was then that Caster took off the ring, placed it in the box and tied his handkerchief around it tight, saying her name and the first words that they spoke once for each knot he tied, remembering the times they had spent so happy when she still lived. Binding the ghost to the ring in this way he then took it to Fallow Fields and buried her deep.

Some versions of the stories say he found another love, or that he would dig her up once a year, always careful to never place the ring on his finger, but just to be close. Some say that he changed his mind but that he forgot where she was buried, and that his spirit searches for hers, digging holes every night. It’s for this reason that Lost Palaceres call mole hills ‘Caster’s holes’. In none of the stories is the poor woman’s spirit released from its prison; she is trapped beneath the earth, growing ever more vengeful. When McStannitch opened the ring box he momentarily freed her, but as soon as he put on the ring she was once again trapped, this time in the body of this new man who had never loved her. He felt her presence immediately, but he didn’t, at that point understand what had happened. It was only later, after talking with another local, and to an Occultist that was recommended by that local, that he understood his predicament.

There have been various attempts to send back Beliah to that place alone, but the boatman only goes across the waters once for each soul. No matter the amount of rituals, consecrations or benedictions performed, the way is barred for Beliah. The only way that she could leave would be through eventual entropic decay, or by hitching a ride with another soul to which she had been purely bonded in true love. This may once have been Caster, but his spirit is seemingly lost or long departed alone. But love, unlike the boatman, may come again. This was, at least, the belief of Martha Belledere, the Occultist visited by McStannitch, and it was on the basis of these beliefs that today’s somewhat dubious festival came to be.

The first thing that happens is that everybody gathers in the early morning at the Lost Palace District Hall. Out of the gathered masses most put their names into a hat, and a single person is chosen to take on the burden for a year. You’d be surprised how many people are willing, eager, even, to be possessed by an ancient and possibly vengeful spirit. The hope is that, over precisely a year together, the spirit and volunteer will fall in love, allowing Beliah to pass back over the waters to that other place when they die, but so far most have simply guarded the spirit, stopping it from wreaking havoc, as it would if the ring were taken off and the spirit therefore released. Many of the volunteers report being asked sweetly, nagged and harangued by the spirit to ask them to take off the ring, but they are all trained to resist by the Society of Ghost Friendship. Apparently you only have to look to the alleged ‘Incident of 1847’ when one volunteer, Timothy Squealing, took off the ring for five minutes and in the process his house burned down, all the milk for three miles went sour, and several local elderly folks suffered simultaneous heart attacks, to see the danger of setting the ghost free.

After the volunteer is coached, the crowds reconvene for the main ceremony, the Changing of the Guard, in the evening. On the floorboards a member of the Society draws a special magical circle with sanctified chalk, into which the two ring-guarders step, alongside the Ceremony Leader, who places their ring fingers end to end and slips the ring between them. Often some form of sanctified grease is used in this process, to make it smoother, and if anything were to go wrong, the belief is that the chalk circle would temporarily keep the freed spirit close, and stop it doing any harm. Once the ring is transferred, the Leader says a few magic words, then passes their hand quickly between the two fingers, severing the connection between them. Only then may the three step from the circle.

Perhaps this year the ghost of Beliah will find her soulmate, and the terrible cycle will finally end. Various feminists throughout the ages have pointed out the hideousness of this yearly ritual, comparing it to forced marriage, but seeing as the spirit probably isn’t real most people don’t get too worked up about it. Besides, in modern times her influence and presence is apparently less keenly felt, so perhaps it will be by that first method, entropic decay, that she will find her long-awaited peace.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Pine Scents
  • The Annual Buentoilliçan Modern Art Festival
  • The Candlestick Trick Festival

November 6th – The Festival of Submerged Sanctification

There are catacombs within the Unfathomed Archive, somewhere within its myriad ways. They are down there, next to the inverted copy of Saint Justin’s Church carved out of the rock, and are packed full of bones. Whilst the traditional resting place for bones is a graveyard, when graveyards are dug up, replaced with buildings for the living in an ever-expanding City (nobody wants a house built atop the dead), they have to be put somewhere, and sometimes the answer isn’t another graveyard, especially when the bodies are buried deep, their names lost to the ages; what would you put on the headstones? Bulch Road Graveyard was one such place that ended up being replaced (first with a public bathhouse, but this was later knocked down and replaced again with housing), and it was for the ancestors who rested there that the catacombs were first carved out of the deep rock beneath Ranaclois.

Nowadays, however, these catacombs are a little less full than they once were. Once the shelves were full to bursting with neatly categorised skulls, femurs laid like bricks, ribs stacked high, but now they are half empty. What happened? Thankfully there isn’t some demon dog eating them all (well, there is according to some people, but it is different bones, and that’s a subject for another day), but the truth isn’t much better: they lie at the bottom of the Buentoille Bay, skulls making homes for crustaceans, kneecaps blending in with the stones and algae in the murk.

On this day in 1499 there was an enormous storm over Buentoille. It came from nowhere; one moment conditions were clear, the next black clouds coalesced over the bay, lightning striking down into the water, a prodigious wind. According to the Chastise Church, this was caused by the spirits of the dead, whose bones were at that moment being sped out of Buentoille via a large sailing vessel. The weather came on so quickly, just after the vessel left the docks, that it was sunk only a few miles down the coast. The crew went down with the ship and likely drowned in the waters; their bodies were never recovered and as a result, nobody is exactly sure what they were doing, why they were making off with several tonnes of human remains.

The heist was discovered when a Church official went down to the catacombs for a weekly service, and found them almost empty. Most of the bones in there today are those that were recovered from the water, either washed up still in the crates they were packed inside, separately with the tide, or pulled from the waters by net and rod, sometimes long after the event. Very occasionally in the modern day another bone is recovered by fishers, and small toe bones or bone fragments, worn smooth like sea glass, are often gathered on the beaches by local children and sold back to the Church for pocket money.

Plenty had their theories when the bones started turning up in a steady trickle over the years. To most it seemed obvious that the bones were going to be sold to the Strigaxians for use in their magic, or that they were going to be ground down for fertiliser to use on the barren soils of Helmuud’s Hill. Others proposed that it the boat was unmanned, or they would have found the bodies; it was a ghost ship. Perhaps most disturbing is the theory that the bones that wash up today are not the same ones that were stolen, but some strange witch-made copies that Buentoillitants were tricked into bringing to the heart of our City, the components of some dark and complex spell. To proponents of this theory, the ‘sinking’ was all a deliberate ploy and the real bones were made off with beforehand.

Today, on the anniversary of this event, a small contingent of priests will row out into the bay, to the site where the boat originally sank. It is from there that they will re-sanctify, in accordance with the Chastise Church’s dogma, the bones that still remain submerged for another year. Any kind of disturbance of bones in Buentoille requires that this ritual is performed, lest the spirits of the dead do not rest easy on the Other Shore. Of course, the movements of the ocean and the creatures that live in it inevitably mean that the bones must be disturbed every year, so every year the ritual must be performed. An interesting side-effect of this is that all the waters of the Buentoille Bay are, technically, holy water; there are plenty of sinners who will enjoy a dip today, before the tides mix in too much normal water, and the holiness is diluted.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Cream Spoiler
  • The Wasted Repast Festival
  • The Sun, the Sun, Day

November 7th – The Festival of the Foaming Fountain

Sometimes it’s difficult to fit in at school if you stand out from the crowd, but what people forget is that it’s equally, if not more, difficult if you are very quiet, shy, small or forgettable. You end up getting pushed to the back of the queue, kept on the edges of friend circles. It has its advantages; you get a lot less attention from bullies than the ‘weird’ kids who stand out, and you are the last one the teachers look at when they’re trying to find the source of disruption at the back of the class.

Bili Warrendor was one of these unfortunate children. She was very quiet and forgettable, as she had a nervous disposition and a speech impediment that meant she spoke as little as possible, to so avoid ridicule. Warrendor was a model pupil, as far as her grades were concerned; she was one of the brightest pupils in the school, but she had little to show for it. The other children had been given various awards and certificates for doing well, but nobody seemed to notice her, not even her teachers who would often glide past her desk in favour of the noisier, more troublesome children, who required more support. In October 1972 she decided she’d had enough.

Warrendor spent a long time preparing. She saved up her pocket money for four weeks, performing all sorts of odd jobs around the house to earn enough for her purposes. Her parents were pleasantly surprised, and forgot about it soon enough; they never asked her what she needed the money for. Then again, the ingredients of her plan were fairly innocuous, nothing that would cause alarm.

In the centre of her school, Bannever Street Secondary, is a fountain with a statue of the school’s original benefactor in the centre, Mrs Itenna. It is a very flattering composition, of Itenna as a young woman, children gathered at her feet staring up lovingly, her arms outstretched, holding a pile of books. When everyone came outside for their lunch break on November the 7th 1972 there fountain was a sight to behold: draped over the books and arms of Mrs Itenna was a large banner which read: ‘MR MORHAN SUX’ (Mr Morhan was the headmaster), and out from the fountain itself mountains of foam were spewing forth, covering everything for metres around.

Of course, all the children who saw this immediately ran straight into the foam piles and started throwing them at each other, making an almighty mess even messier, much to the dismay of the teachers and caretakers. It was at this point that from on high came a fluttering of hundreds of leaflets, all printed on nice card so they wouldn’t run or disintegrate in the foam. The children screamed and laughed and caught them. At the top of the leaflet were the words ‘IT WAS ME’ in red, below which was a photograph of Bili Warrendor, alongside a short paragraph; ‘This piece of artistic prankery was brought to you by the wonderful, the loveable, the ineffable, the one and only BILI WARRENDOR of Class 12.’

On the roof was the young girl, throwing off leaflets and standing proudly. Her teacher hadn’t even noticed her leaving class before lunch, sneaking off to carry out the prank, but Warrendor didn’t have a lot of trouble getting noticed after that, especially since the children of the school have been re-enacting the prank every year as a gesture of respect.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Giant’s Due
  • The Reaper’s Hand Festival
  • Pottery Refinement Day

November 8th – The Festival of Activating the New Lord

The Foundry of the New Lord has a strange and imposing edifice. It towers over New Culvet Road, an otherwise unremarkable residential street in Ranaclois district, with its townhouses and housing blocks. It is built to look as if the whole thing was cast from iron, although this is of course only the front, a facade stitched on to a fairly normal brick building behind. There are two great black towers on either side, imitation radio dishes topping them off, pointing straight upwards. Between the two complex arches of metalwork, as you might find inside a railway station, holding up the roof, frame a great oval stained glass window. The window is not representational or finely wrought – it appears more industrial than religious, with great panels of amber glass being supported by more black-painted iron edifice, which instead of remaining flat, undulates like a low-poly computer image of a ripple caused by a stone thrown into the centre of a pool. The wrought iron double doors, through which many folk will enter today, slide back simultaneously at the press of a button.

As you may have guessed, this is no foundry in the traditional sense, although there are several pieces of specialised metal-working equipment inside; there are no great furnaces or crucibles manned by burly Buentoillitants. Foundries are normally noisy places, but here there is a quietness that comes with respect, and whilst this is not officially a place of worship, it’s the closest thing to it. The workers who come to this factory every day are well turned out, as if they were going to church, and they work with meticulous patience on intricate parts. The quality of the metallurgy produced at the Foundry of the New Lord is unmatched in Buentoille, it has to be. They are making a god.

Or, at least, that is the as-yet unrealised hope. There are about fifty workers in the Foundary, and a further two hundred who work for it in other locations, creating unrelated metal products which are sold to fund the operations at the Foundry and to train up new masterworkers, as the highly skilled workers there are named. Every one of these masterworkers helps to produce ‘black iron’, a very strange and unstable form of iron that appears matt black under almost all forms of light. As this iron is easily oxidised and destabilised into less complex forms by common contaminants, it must be produced and worked in low-oxygen, sealed environments which have been scoured of all contaminants. As such, it takes a long time to get to the point they are at today, when the ‘god’ is complete and ready for ‘activation’; in this instance it took three years two months and five days.

That it can happen this quickly is a testament to the skill and speed of the workers, many of whom are driven to work long hours by their religious devotion (the Foundry has been the subject of investigation by the Council of Fair Practise, who found the overtime to be the result of ‘genuine choice and enthusiasm,’ and not coercion). Here again the boundaries between workplace and place of worship seem unclear, to say the least, but according to the management council of the Foundry, they are indeed a place of ‘work and scientific study,’ and that the religion of the workers is their own business.

This distinction can be perhaps better understood by understanding how the Foundry came to be. It was a scientist, Sirileth Magoonan, who first discovered black iron in 1881, and she set up much of the Foundry to study and produce the illusive material. What she was most interested in was the strange behaviour exhibited by black iron under the influence of intense ultraviolet light: firstly it suddenly appears very shiny and iridescent, almost like crude oil, and then it starts to move, as if alive. The seemingly solid substance begins to warp and bend as if it were suddenly a very viscous liquid, but when handled it feels solid and does not ‘give’. At first these movements were only possible when under the direct influence of the light, but quickly Magoonan worked out that she could ‘activate’ the black iron with a quick combination of flashes at specific frequencies and intensities, at which point it would seem to come ‘alive’ for several minutes, after which it would stop moving, become matt again, and be entirely unresponsive to any form of UV light.

When word reached Canaring of a form of iron which can be brought to life, many travelled to Buentoille to see it. It is a foundational belief of that city that humans were first made of metal, with each class being formed from different types. Iron is the metal of the working classes, and it was therefore they who came, seeking some evidence of their creation. Many of these folk were disappointed, seeing the movement as a cheap parlour trick and not ‘life’ as they had hoped. Yet there were those, The Fellowship of the Holy Cycle, Canarings who believe in the cyclical nature of the world, and who maintain that one day, as Triglaw, their god, created them, they must one day create him. It seemed that this radical sect, outlawed in their city, had found a new home.

For a long time, these Canarings lived with Magoonan and learned all they could of the substance under her tutelage, as part of the Black Iron Foundry. Later, when she died and the Revolution came, these workers gained unprecedented amounts of control over their workplace, and they decided it was time that they started making a new Triglaw. In law their Foundry is not a religious site, but in practise it certainly seems that way.

Today there will be a certain pregnancy to the air today in the Foundary, as the intense ultraviolent lights are turned on. Yesterday each piece of the New Lord, as the assemblage of black iron is termed by the workers, was carefully slotted together so that there were no gaps between each section of its body, meticulously modelled on the human anatomy, from the lungs and skin right down to the ear bones and hair follicles. Today he is placed on slab, still matt black but entirely naked. The hope is that when the light flickers on, he will get up, walk, talk, and not phase out, but it’s most likely that he will remain lying down by contort and move in strange formations, slowly becoming less visibly human, and then stop, frozen in some half-melted form, the once handsome face stretched out or caved in or simply changed in some indefinite way. One time the hand clenched and unclenched. One time it fell off the bench and a great arch formed out of its stomach. One time it sat bolt upright, opened its mouth and inverted itself, its organs spilling out. Who knows what will happen today.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Spurious Allegations
  • The Festival of Sweet Succour
  • Drink Ye Spirits Day

November 9th – The Festival of the Little Folk

Forests are strange things, they change and shift identity over time. Everyone knows that all the forests of the Buentoille Bay region were once connected up, but now they are fragmentary they’ve taken on new names and characteristics. There is Hope’s End, the largest patch of forest that is close to (but not bordering) the City, Dunmonii Wood, to the south, is smaller but closer still, filled with its characteristic fast-growing Dunmonii trees. Closer to Buentoille, however, things get smaller and more fragmentary still, being mere strips of trees only remembered as something greater before the humans expanded their homes outward. Bordering, or even enveloped by the City there is Calewynch Forest, and that strip of trees in Iglow’s Garden district simply termed ‘the forest’. All of these trees would once have been connected, or so the theory goes.

Yet there are new forests, too. Down south, around the Municipal Paper Mill is a new forest of pine and other fast-growing trees, neatly regimented into lines. It replaced an ancient forest there, certainly, but that does not make them the same. And down the way, past Logger’s Rest, where the forest becomes more natural, is a mound that overlooks the surrounding forest, entirely covered on its crown with tall, thick trees of various breeds; oak and maple and many-branched yews, elm and beech and walnut and apples, all spaced nicely out, irregularly with moss growing between, their canopies intermingling but trunks distinct, so the ground beneath is cathedral-like, but still enclosed, private. As you get further into this space, the trees get more tangled, larger and older.

An old stone wall, moss covered and crumbling, bounds the hilltop off from the surrounding forest. It has holes and gateways here and there, and on the north side is a small stone hut attached to it, with an old firepit outside and a partially-collapsed wood store leant up against it. It’s derelict now, but for a very long time it was inhabited by an old man called Jasper Kettlerow. He moved there from the City in 1737 as a hermit, and lived there until he was 106, dying in 1794. For most of his life he survived on donations from pilgrims who came to sit in the wood and experience the sense of tranquillity and peace it gave them, but he also sold blessings if he was in the mood. Most people assumed that he built the wall and hut, ignoring the obvious age of the construction; the fact is that nobody really knows who put it there, but it is assumed to be of ancient Escotolatian origin.

When he started to go blind from cataracts in the 1770s, the hermit claimed that he had been given ‘second sight,’ and was able to see the spirits of the little contained forest that he watched over. He began whittling their forms at his hut, and selling them to the pilgrims, a remarkable feat considering his blindness. Slowly this became an obsession and Kettlerow built up quite the collection of these ‘Little Folk,’ as he called them, who remained for most of the year scattered around his house, and sat along the wall. They looked (and look, as various original examples still survive) almost like little eggs with spindly arms and legs, deep-set holes for eyes, bark capes and bushy eyebrows, and they sat or stood in various poses. Apparently the ‘real-life’ Little Folk would sit for their portraits; each had its own peculiarities.

When Mack Rowe came by to visit the old man in November 1786, the hermit’s works had disappeared. He’d been told to expect a whole wall of them, but they were all gone. The old man was there, though, and Rowe, an amateur historian, asked him where they’d all gone; he wanted to buy one (they were starting to become very popular amongst the City’s middle classes). ‘They’re all busy today,’ said Kettlerow, who was at that point boiling some tubers in a pan, and seemed distracted. Eventually Rowe got some more information; in the night some men from the paper mill had come and cut down one of the trees on the hill. Kettlerow had argued with them on several occasions, telling them to steer clear of the trees within the wall, but they seem to have bypassed him this time. The Little People were probably ‘doing sommin about it.’

Rowe went along the perimeter to check for himself, and there, by a very large hole in the wall, a tree stump, and a furrowed track where it had been dragged off, were various Little People, unmoving, posed as if he’d just caught them. They were Kettlerow’s models, of course, but how had he known to make ones sitting and crying on the stump, or shifting the stones of the wall back into place? It was all very strange, but stranger still was the fact that the next morning the two young men who’d cut down the tree brought it back and grovelled at Kettlerow’s feet, pleading with him to ‘call off’ the Little People who had allegedly been causing havoc in their homes overnight.

Kettlerow replied that he had no power over the Little People, they did what they wanted, but that if they wanted to get on their good side, they should bring them gifts, and leave them on the stump of the tree they’d slain. ‘Once a year should do it,’ he said, ‘starting tomorrow. Bring them something new and interesting, tell them you are sorry, and they might just decide to leave you alone for another year. But don’t ever forget, mind! They’ve got long memories.’ Kettlerow died a few years later, so the folk who’d looked to him for blessings had to look elsewhere; the yearly gifts left by those two young men suddenly became a rather popular tradition.

Today there will be various models of the Little People scattered all across the little circular hilltop, sitting on low branches and around the roots and even sitting on the walls. They tend to gather around the old stump, too, where the gifts are laid, although a large stone has now replaced it as the original eventually rotted away. Apparently there were human bones found tangled in amongst the mouldering roots, crushed bones that had almost disintegrated themselves. This has led archaeologists to suggest that the site may be an ancient Escotolatian burial ground, where each body is buried with a tree seed in its mouth or held between its cupped hands. Perhaps these trees really do have spirits within them.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Lonely Quadrangle
  • The Depths of Cool Festival

November 10th – The Festival of Harvesting the Appointed Limb

The greatest sport in Buentoille is undoubtedly Streetball, but it is not all-encompassing; there is also flipflop and volleyball, charge and all manner of races and endurance sports. Catchout is a curious mix between an endurance and a ball sport, played in the summer months when the light lives longer, on large grassy areas like greens and well-mown fields. As such, the season is now over, and it won’t be played much except for perhaps in shorter form by overenthusiastic children. If they were to play catchout properly, they could be there for days.

Yet despite the lack of organised matches, for the catchout community today is a big day, a day of honouring past heroes and making new ones. Catchout can be, at times, something of a spiritual experience for its players, who in the latter stages of a game will inevitably be suffering from extreme exhaustion and possibly hallucinations, helped along by the chewing of coortool roots. These starchy roots aren’t actively hallucinogenic, but they do have plenty of sugar and a mild stimulant in them that keeps most of the body active but has less effect on the brain, meaning that players are often pushed past normal fatigue boundaries into a place where hallucinations and altered sleep states are more common. With the players often venturing into this more suggestible, possibly spiritual, state of mind, it’s perhaps not surprising that there certain aspects to catchout and its associated traditions that border on religious ceremony.

Today’s festival is a prime example of the pseudo-religious characteristics of the community surrounding catchout. It centres around the historic, heroic figure of Yattam Ongolae, the fabled catchout paddler, who famously won every match he played through skill and sheer endurance. He was only ever caught out twice in thirty matches; in all other instances he either helped to beat the final score of the opposing team, or kept playing until they all passed out. Besides his winning streak, Ongolae is so famed because he personally won the longest ever catchout game, remaining in the post of paddler for just over half of the eight days of continuous play, a tremendous feat of self-control and athleticism.

There are six ‘rounds’ to catchout, where the ‘pitcher’ stands precisely three metres away from the ‘paddler’ (so called because they use a short wooden rowing paddle to hit the ball) and throws the ball to them, which is then thwacked (this is the technical term) as far away as possible. For every second it takes the ‘catchers’ (comprised of seventeen players, the entirety of the opposing team) to bring the ball back to the basket next to the pitcher, the paddling team scores a point. Making the job of ‘catching out’ the paddler more difficult are the ‘jostlers’, the rest of the paddling team besides the paddler and pitcher (who work together), who push around the catchers but are not allowed to touch the ball or to use their arms, which are tied behind their backs. Once the paddler is ‘caught out’ they and the pitcher rotate for another team member, until all seventeen players have paddled, and then the teams switch sides and the round is over. There is no other way (besides passing out from exhaustion, or simply leaving the grounds) for the paddler to be deemed ‘out’.

It is for the high bar to ‘catching out’ a player that the matches tend to continue on for so long. Every year there seems to be a new movement within the sport that advocates for the rules to be changed, or another form of the sport started, which has timed rounds, or that players are deemed ‘out’ when other conditions are fulfilled (such as committing too many ‘faults’ such as missing the pitched ball), arguing that the extreme levels of endurance required put off new players to the sport, which remains somewhat niche as a result. So far, however, the traditionalists have always won these arguments, and the game has remained somewhat ascetic, although some concessions have been made; there is now a maximum score from any one ‘hit’ of three hundred points (five minutes), for cases of lost balls, and the ball is now coated in a glow-in-the-dark substance to enable better location during the night.

As it turned out, the longest ever game was also the final game for Ongolae. Generally, because of the sleep deprivation endured, the first thing catchout players do when finishing a match is to go straight to bed, assuming that they have not already passed out and been carried off the grounds on a stretcher. When Ongolae finished that longest ever match on July 24th 1672, he turned to the gathered crowds who, having been rested themselves, cheered tremendously as he bowed. He then walked out of the grounds and went on a walk, ending up on a small grassy piece of open ground called Barrowman’s Hill. At the top of this small hill he allegedly planted his paddle deep into the ground so that it stood upright, and lay down to go to sleep. Unfortunately for Ongolae and his fans, he never woke up again, falling into a deep coma.

It’s generally believed that the coma may have been worsened by the sleep deprivation that Ongolae endured, but not caused by it outright; there was presumably some other illness at play. Whatever the reason, he remained in this state for many months, force fed each day through a tube. Finally, on this day, November 10th, the legendary player died, and his mother, Trittine Ongolae, went walking to visit the place they had found him lying. Nobody had ever bothered to take his paddle with them; it was wedged deep and they had more pressing concerns to attend to. Now, when she came across it in the cold November air, she saw that it had miraculously sprouted small shoots.

Whilst this story maybe somewhat apocryphal, given that plants tend not to sprout in the autumn, it is nevertheless believed by a great many catchout players, who will today walk up the hill in their best clothes, a kind of pilgrimage or procession. The willow tree, for that is now what it is all these years later, that stands atop the hill is protected by law, and its use is governed by the Trust of Yattam Ongolae. This is because the wood of the tree is said to create legendary catchout paddles, imbued with the strength and endurance of the man who accidentally planted it. Every year a limb of the tree is assessed for severance to create a few of these paddles, but, despite the festival’s name, it is unlikely that it will actually be cut; this generally tends to only happen about once every fifty years. Instead, measurements will be taken, along with some willow whips which are wound around player’s paddle handles for good luck. The players will also pour a small quantity of coortoolee, a drink made from a solution of powdered coortool root, around the base of the tree, as a mark of respect but also in the belief that it helps the plant grow.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Semantic Tomfoolery
  • Wood Pigeons are Fantastic Day
  • The Festival of the Immovable Boulder