December 19th – The Festival of Finding the Second Aquarium

If you want to be a member of the Benetek University Society of Aquatic Life (BUSAL), one of Buentoille’s most exclusive and mysterious student societies, then you have to find the Second Aquarium today. The Second Aquarium is a legendary place, often whispered about in university corridors with a strange reverence, yet not a great deal is known of it. The rumours tend to get a little out of hand; it’s highly unlikely that, for example, the Aquarium has living whales within it, given that it is deep underground within the labyrinthine ways of the Unfathomed Archive. Neither is it likely that there is anything like the vast glass tanks of water that make up the City Aquarium on the surface, considering it would be neigh-on impossible to get the sheets of glass down the twisting tunnels and corridors that interlink the archival rooms. Whatever it looks like, it’s very difficult to find.

Part of the reason for this difficulty is the extreme secrecy with which the route and hidden entrance is treated by BUSAL, an organisation which, although it is registered with the Benetek University Student Union, officially has a membership of one, a now forty eight year old man called Tennovious Joy who is paid a small retainer each year and who knows precisely nothing about the actual members who communicate to him only through dead drops. Rumour is the only way by which today’s festival has become known, that and the fish-shapes daubed across the campus yesterday which signified today would be the day to go looking for the Second Aquarium; the festival day varies each year.

When a festival day varies it is usually for a particular reason; perhaps to align with the moon phase, the weather, or some other natural phenomenon. Given that the first two options don’t seem to make sense given the conditions of previous years, the most likely possibility is that it marks the day of some animal migration or unusual behaviour that cannot be observed on other days. This, at least, was the theory of Enchan Tress, the amateur detective who became famous for the short series of pamphlets that she self-published, which catalogued the details of her sleuthing, and which she never finished. Some say that she was paid off or intimidated, others that the cancer she suffered from became too much to handle, others that the trail simply ran cold.

The first thing that Tress did, in her self-directed quest to expose the secrets of BUSAL, was to find out who was daubing the fishes on the walls. She hung around the University grounds at night, luckily managing to find the man on her first stakeout. Yet she lost him in the moments after, when he seemed to be going directly away from the archives. The next year, however, she found him early, now that she recognised him; he was fishing. Every night for two weeks straight he would be at a specific point on the river bank, fishing. He caught a few things but always quickly threw them back in, until finally he pulled out a small glowing fish, which he transferred to a jar of water, put in his rucksack and set off for the University to daub fishes on the walls.

In the pamphlets, little hand-printed things on thick card with sewn binding that she left all over the University, Tress wrote about the possible theories she had, based upon this strange behaviour, and some other details she noticed when (unsuccessfully) trying to navigate the depths of the Unfathomed Archive, or reading up about it in the Benetek libraries. ‘Few people seem to know much about it, but there must be a substantial pumping system somewhere in the Archive, to keep it as dry as it is. I have seen the pipes lining some of the walls down there. My research indicates that this could well be maintained, and even built and powered, by the Pohlatiné, who obviously have an interest in keeping the items stored there securely. I may never find the Second Aquarium, I have tried many times but each time the maze of corridors seems almost to shift and before I know it I am back at the beginning, or lost in some dark conduit deep below.

‘Yet despite my own failure, perhaps I can inspire others to try, and perhaps I can shed some light on what they might hope to find, at their journey’s end. The type of fish I saw that man take from the river is a blepherlight fish, which likes to find natural caverns and crevices in which to lay its spawn, at this time of year. Perhaps this is what the Society of Aquatic life are waiting for each year; perhaps these fish worm their way into the extensive pumping systems of the Archive, which could well have some outlet to the Moway, and somewhere inside there is a still place where they can lay their eggs. Perhaps an observation tank, where detritus from the system settles and is scooped out. A glass tank with glass pipes feeding it, filling a room, with little glowing fish flitting around providing lighting: that is what I would expect to find, perhaps with the various preserved oddities of the sea gathered from the Archives positioned around, their formaldehyde solutions glowing sympathetically with the pipes. Yet you know I could be wrong.’

You can still get a copy of the pamphlets, from specialist book dealers, although there was an attempt from BUSAL to suppress and destroy them. Yet some have said that the continued existence of the pamphlet suggests it could be a deliberate publicity stunt from the Society, or some way of surreptitiously gathering new members by setting them on the right tracks. Others believe that there is no Second Aquarium, nor truly any secret society that guards it, and that it is all an elaborate hoax made up by Tennovious Joy. Of course, neither of these theories do anything to suppress the great excursion of students and others who search the Unfathomed Archive today. Yet if any do manage to find the Second Aquarium, it’s unlikely that they’ll want to tell anyone about it, for then they too will be a member of the Benetek University Society of Aquatic Life.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Her Mysterious Cadence
  • Terma Lyst’s Day of Listing Lists
  • Sparrow Day