November 18th – The Festival of the Dieiner Box

The Museum of Traditional Antiquities is without doubt the largest museum in Buentoille, so long as you don’t count the Unfathomed Archive, which to be fair doesn’t really meet the definition. There are over seventy exhibition rooms within the sprawling building, which was purpose-built in monarchic times but has since been expanded, each cataloguing in its own way the twists and turns of Buentoilliçan material culture throughout the City’s long history. The room which is usually of most interest to both Buentoillitants and visitors is the so-called ‘Mystery Room’, in which various undated, unidentified objects reside.

Most obviously within the Mystery Room is a miniature wooden tower that appeared on the Museum’s doorstep one morning in 1956, presumably made as an architectural model of a potential build, though no further information has ever been intuited or discovered. In addition to this item in the collection, there are various other objects of intrigue, including undeciphered manuscripts, a small collection of miniature wooden hands, and perhaps most intriguing of them all, the Dieiner Box.

The Box rests in a small glass cabinet for most of the year, and it doesn’t look like much. At a casual glance the Box is a simple wooden cube, sized at just under a foot in each dimension. It’s dark, shiny hardwood, with a few tarnishes here and there, but no other obvious markings or openings. Along the edges of the top plane, where it meets the other sides, there is a hairline gap, almost invisible to the naked eye. If you whistle next to this gap at the correct pitch (precisely 2000 Ux) then there is a small click, and the top side of the Box slowly slides out and up, revealing a smaller box inside, with what appears to be a simple keyhole. This is as far in as anyone has ever got.

One of the reasons that the Dieiner Box is included in the Mystery Room collection is that nobody knows what’s kept inside, but there’s also the fact that, as with many of the objects displayed there, nobody knows really where it came from. It came into the museum’s possession via Isyu Dieiner, a locksmith from Whight Hollow who was apparently sold it in a pub in 1916. Her written account of the distinctly dodgy deal is displayed next to the glass cabinet; apparently she was well into her cups when the ‘tall, handsome man’ entered her local pub and spoke to the barman ‘as if they were childhood friends,’ although the barman later stated that he’d never met the man before. After a few minutes, this stranger walked over to Dieiner’s table, set the Box down in front of her, looked straight into her eyes, and whistled. ‘The box opened and he named a price, just like that. I laughed, of course; it was far too much for a silly box. Then he said, “open it and it’s yours, for free.”’ Three frustrating hours later, Dieiner’s pocket lockpicks had done nothing. ‘I need to take it home to get a better look with my good picks,’ she told the man, but he simply pushed the cube closed and named the price once again. This time she paid, and moments later he was gone.

She had managed to get some information out of the stranger as to where he got the little hardwood cube; apparently he’d looted it from the home of an aristocrat during the Revolution. She kicked herself later that she’d been too engrossed to pry further. It wasn’t until 1952, when Dieiner died, that the Box came into the possession of the Museum; her family had seen her obsession with the Box throughout the rest of her life and they didn’t want anyone else to fall foul of it. They ensured that as part of the terms of ownership, the Museum could only take the Box out of its cabinet once a year. Unwittingly, they got the whole City hooked.

Today is the appointed day, when the Museum will take the Box out of its cabinet, perform the appointed whistle, and invite people from all across the City to bring a key. There are thousands of found keys in Buentoille, and the theory is that presumably one of them will fit, where lockpicks have failed. Not that they aren’t tried also; whilst the afternoon is taken up by key-toting Buentoillitants trying their luck, in the morning seven professional locksmiths are each given an hour with the Box. Not that the result is ever any different; in the words of Dieiner; ‘it’s like the thing changes itself each time you push down a pin or rotate a sub-cylinder. But it’s more than that, more than reactive; it’s like it knows what you’re going to do before you do it.’

Of course, there’s one surefire way to get into the box; by breaking it or cutting it open. However, since nobody knows what’s supposed to be inside, there is a general reluctance to try this method, seeing as it might break the contents as well; presumably they were of great value to have been protected so securely? Given the mind-boggling complexity of the lock, some have theorised that there’s conversely nothing inside at all, because it would need all the space inside to change its design so often. To these theorists, the lock is a prototype, a proof of concept that was perhaps being sold to the aristocrat from whose house it was taken. Others think that there was no aristocrat at all, and that, given the debilitating obsession the box created in Dieiner, the stranger who sold it to her was actually the Grenin Waurst himself, with one of his fiendish tricks.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Beneficent Smugglers
  • The Rude Festival