December 21st – The Longest Night

The year is coming to an end. As of today, autumn has officially come to an end, and as such tonight will be the longest night of the year. Although nobody has ever seen it and returned, astrologers and physicists say that at the north pole today you would see no sun at all. Here in Buentoille, things are a little brighter, but there are still around nine hours less sunlight today than there was earlier in the year, on the longest day. Today has, like midsummer, retained a certain significance since early times, and as such there are various different ways of celebrating this shortest of days.

A common sight on doorways and above the windows of many Buentoilliçan households today are midwinter decorations made from holly and mistletoe. Any homes which bear these bright symbols will have a bowl of punch, wine, or other red-coloured booze kept inside the front door, ready for any who call, along with a loaf of brown bread. The callers, or ‘wassailers’ as they are also known, will each dip a slice of bread into the alcohol before consuming it, then dance a short jig, often with singing or musical accompaniment, known as a ‘wassail caper’.

The reasons behind this strange tradition have been long debated, but the most popular theory is that it is a hangover from Helican myths, in which the ‘world-ox’ was slain after it had grown so massive and fat from eating stars that it had begun to block out the sun. The wine, like the red berries of the holly, represents the blood that flowed forth and nourished the land which was previously barren, making it fertile for farming. Presumably in this analogy the bread represents the land, soaked as it is in wine, and the mistletoe is variously said to represent pus, flesh, or semen, as the testicles of a bull are often one of the things first eaten after they are slain.

This explanation doesn’t really explain the ‘caper’, but it does align with the fact that many meat-eating Buentoillitants will have roast beef for their main meal today. This consumption occurs to the extent that there are small yearly massacres of cows in the weeks leading up to today, a fact which causes much dismay to the eastern Buentoillitants who have adopted the tradition of wassailing today, despite the fact that they trace their ancestry back to the vegetarian Escotolatians, rather than the omnivorous Helicans. For the eastern Buentoillitants, today is the first day of the year that you are allowed to open the goods pickled that summer, although this is obviously a rule often broken. If this has any links to the ancient Escotolatians, it is not clear what they are.

Outside these general practices which have spread across the City as a whole, there are also smaller celebrations or traditions associated with this day. In the halls of the Kindlers, those worshippers from the Circle of Light, great mounds of wood will be burned all through the night, growing the Holy Fire to account for its lack in the sky, but also out of a paranoia that it too will be extinguished. The City’s witches are usually up to some mysterious deeds on days such as these, although whilst there are rumours of strange rituals in seaside caverns, witches seem curiously absent from Buentoille today and nobody has ever found out where they go or what they do there, possibly because everyone is too drunk from eating wine-soaked bread.

A more modern tradition which has come to prominence recently is the ‘Midwinter Rave’. Organised primarily by young Buentoillitants, a ‘rave’ is simply another word for a party or gig, although particularly one which goes on for an entire night, and involves electronic music. The Midwinter Rave is of particular significance as this is the longest night of the year, so dancing all the way through it is considered a great feat of endurance. The Rave will be held in one of the now-empty banana storage warehouses, by the docks, and thousands of people are expected to turn up. Any who can remain moving on the dance floor the entire night are awarded with light-up trophies shaped like a crescent moon, and things are tied in nicely with wider tradition by many of the revellers wearing garlands or crowns of mistletoe and ivy, as a substitute for holly, given the latter’s rather uncomfortable nature. The doors open at 3:30pm, ready for the dancers to begin at sunset, just after 4:00pm. Live footage of the sunset and sunrise is broadcast by the BBS today, and is displayed at the Rave on an enormous screen to great cheering and applause from the packed crowds.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Mawkish Children

December 20th – The Festival of Saint Geltrab

You can tell with just a glance at the name of the ‘saint’ being celebrated today that they’re made up: Saint Geltrab. Of course, all saint names are made up, but there’s something off about this one; sure enough it won’t take you long to find out that Saint Geltrab, or, to call them by their real name, Belini Querno, is not an official Chastise Church saint, nor the saint of any other religion either. Belini Querno was a woman much loved by her partner, their children, grandchildren, and the friends she gathered through her long life. She was also a woman who, during her lifetime, was in a long-running dispute with the Chastise Church, of which she claimed to be a disciple.

The central sticking point, the factor that soured Querno’s relationship with the Church was that she wasn’t one for bureaucracy; her favourite saying was, ‘why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?’ (or, as she often more succinctly put it, ‘do it, do it, do it!’). This isn’t say that there was no fault on the side of the Church, just that these faults are fairly well known and established, and that there was, from the off, going to be some friction between the bustling efficiency of Querno and the glacial pace of change within the Church. Querno seemed to have a need to be constantly busy, and was always ready to speak up with suggestions to improve upon well-worn systems and structures, and she never understood why they wouldn’t just get on with it and implement these changes, rather than passing things around committees and meetings.

Despite her bustling nature, Querno took relaxation very seriously. Her father had suffered from serious mental health issues, exacerbated by the stress of not being able to take adequate breaks from work, and she vowed to herself when he died early as a result of his illness that she wouldn’t suffer the same fate. The way that Querno chose to relax was by climbing up trees and closing her eyes. In the summer she’d listen to the rustle of the leaves, and in the winter she’d hear the wind and feel the boughs move slightly beneath her. She built a tree house to better stand the weather, in the big tree in her garden, and it was whilst lying on the floor there looking at the storm lamp strung from the ceiling swaying back and forth that she had her first experience of Attunement.

It wasn’t long after that she designated the tree house a church, writing a perfunctory note to the local Hierarch, ‘This is just a quick note to inform you that I have built a new church at the address given above, and will be welcoming any who wish to worship there, provided they are able to climb the rope ladder. Please do not trouble yourself with sending an official acceptance or thanks: I have no need for it and I’m sure you have many more important things to be getting on with.’ From this point, things got a little hostile between Querno and the Hierarch, and whilst she always claimed that her little treetop church was part of the official Chastise Church, it essentially functioned like a new offshoot, a schismed sect, with Querno holding special services every Wednesday.

When she died, Querno’s family and friends named her a saint, once again sending a letter to the Hierarch informing them of their decision. There are only about thirty people who form the little schism, and they still gather together, to hold service up the elm tree. The wooden construction there is now known as the Church of Saint Geltrab, and it is the location of today’s festival, positioned on the day of her death, where instead of a showy procession or even a sermon of any sort the friends and family of Belini Querno will lie down on the floor of the tree house and close their eyes. They’ll feel the tree sway in the last of the autumn winds. They’ll feel the light through the small stained glass window that Querno leaned to make in a week, shining on their faces. They’ll think about this industrious woman, whose boundless energy made their lives a joy.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Shake of the Hips Festival
  • The Classics of the Oboe Music Festival
  • Based on Nothing Day

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

December 18th – Saint Brussel’s Day

The fact of the matter is that nobody can agree on why Buentoillitants named the little cabbages on a stalk ‘Brussel’s sprouts.’ There are plenty of theories, none of which seem to align perfectly, but clearly with all of them there has been some connection made with Saint Brussel and the vegetable. Indeed, Brussel’s sprouts seem to be a generally controversial plant, one which inspires the most heated disagreements on this, Saint Brussel’s Day.

The most popular explanation for the name and also the positioning of today’s festival in the calendar is that the sprouts were brought to Buentoille by Saint Brussel in the early 13th century, when they were popular as a late autumn crop that would store into the winter better than other, larger leafy greens. Adherents to this theory point to the images in the Saint’s tomb, which appear to show a saintly figure holding aloft a stalk of Brussel’s Sprouts, which then are placed into the ground, as if being planted.

Yet there are some scholars who say that this ‘stalk’ is actually a club, similar in design to those used by a number of ancient tribes that were later subsumed by the Chenorrian Empire. The images are perhaps symbolic of the Saint’s flight from these lands, and their renouncement of violence when they got safely to the City. The official Chastise Church version of the story straddles these two theories, claiming that the Saint performed a transmutation of his weapon into vegetable matter, symbolic of his devotion to peace and prosperity.

Today, as with all saintly festivals, the Church will hold a special service in honour of the Saint and his teachings of laying down arms and performing useful labour. At the end of the service the priest and a small entourage of faithful farmers will take the best stalk of sprouts from their harvest, which will have been cut from the fields very recently, perhaps even this morning, and place it upright in a pot at the tomb’s entrance, behind the iron gates that lead into one of Buentoille’s most ancient tombs, a locked offshoot of the catacombs.

Even for those who are not followers of the Chastise Church, today is a day to cook and eat Brussel’s sprouts. Generally they will be roasted along with other vegetables of the season, or perhaps sliced thinly and used as a salad or stir-fry. Another popular dish is Brussel’s Pie, where the peeled and quartered vegetables are mixed with a cheese sauce and potatoes. This dish can go without a lid bit traditionally it will be lidded, with the image of a sprout stalk made from extra pastry laid on top. Much like with Pea Day, experimentation is encouraged, and meals tend to be shared to larger-than-average gatherings; it seems that Buentoille has a fondness for round green vegetables.

A popular story told about the Saint today, which again seems somewhat at odds with the other versions of his association with the sprouts, is that he invented them as a way of making a group of peasants happy. In this story, the Saint is Buentoillitant, a man who makes pilgrimage to the Anscestor mountains every year, and every year on his way out of the City he would pass by a pub, where he would eat and would hear the same argument about cabbages. The nub of the argument was that the peasants could not agree who would get the sweet inner core of the cabbage they’d cooked, and who’d get the bitter outer leaves. One day, in a fit of annoyance, the Saint walked into the pub’s centre, planted his staff and out from it sprouted many little cabbages, so that everyone would be able to eat the sweet centres.

There are at least three pubs which claim to be the very pub from this story: the Saint and Staff, the Tiny Cabbage and Saint Brussel’s Halt. Each will put on great feasts of Brussel’s sprouts today, trying to outdo each other with their grandiose recipes, and one of them (The Tiny Cabbage) even has its own alcoholic concoction made using the veg, which is said to be quite foul. Ironically enough, Saint Brussel’s attempt to make peace amongst the people of Buentoille has actually led to further argument; after this story is told there is traditionally an argument about whether or not sprouts are actually sweet or not. It’s clear which side of the argument most young Buentoillitants fall on, seeing that today’s festival is officially unrecognised by the Union of Children.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Weighing the Good
  • Temmule’s Day
  • The Rested Lover Festival

December 17th – The Festival of the End of the Line

What are urban myths, if not the folk tales of yesteryear dressed up in modern garb? Whilst some of these myths are obviously new tales, inextricably linked to the modern world and all its trappings, others have clearer links to the past, where their tropes and broad structures herald from, with the details updated. In Buentoille, the monarchic figures who featured in many folk tales have been replaced with more appropriate characters, and classic stories of candle spirits now tend to inhabit other, electrical light sources. In Litancha, death once rode a horse, but now rides a motorbike. Back in the City, death has always been represented as a boatman, and still is for the most part. Yet in the past hundred or so years other methods of transportation have apparently become available.

Today and tonight Caundle Street Station will be closed for routine repairs, in accordance with the safety code of the Conglomerated Buentoilliçan Rail Service. Every station has at least one day a year, scheduled in far in advance, for assessment and repair of the various ailments that can beset train stations, their rails and signalling systems. Sometimes this work will go on all throughout the night, but usually there will be barely anything that needs fixing, given that important repairs go on throughout the year anyway. Today is more of a yearly checkup, a doctor’s visit to make sure nothing is overlooked. Because everyone knows far in advance that it will be closed, even if all the repairs are completed by 10am, no stops will be scheduled at the station anyway, so the gates will remain shuttered.

Caundle Street Station is an unusual station, in that it is at the end of that particular underground line, yet instead of the tracks ending neatly where the platform ends, the line goes on for about a quarter of a mile; a dark tunnel, fully kitted out with rails, that abruptly ends in a solid stone wall. Presumably there were plans for another station further down the line that did not or is yet to come to fruition, although some people have suggested that it is extra space for any runaway trains to slow down in, given that the rails edge on an upwards gradient. Whatever the truth of its existence, the fact is that if you go left out of the station you would meet only a wall.

In the day there will probably be a few labourers passing in and out of the shuttered gates that lead down to the platform, but they are almost always done by night so there is an empty station, where no trains will even pass through, the normally well-lit staircase a dark portal to this well-kept space. Many pieces have appeared in the papers over the years, most notably in the letters to the editor of Rail Weekly, reporting hearing a train going past the empty station below, in the darkness, at midnight. If you talk to anyone living in the houses directly above, they say they feel it pass by tonight, a familiar faint rumble, but out of time from the normal services to which they have become accustomed; that’s why they noticed.

Some people say it passes at midnight, others that it arrives in the early hours of the morning, at two or three, and stays for some time before it leaves, its engines ticking away ominously, reverberating up the stairs to those who listen in the streets above. According to the myths that circulate around the area, in 1978 a group of six people, all in their early twenties, decided they’d try to see for themselves. The gates above were locked, but the next station down, Lyster Tribute Station, was not. They hopped down onto the trackway in the evening and walked, heading for the empty, repaired station. Only five returned.

Whilst everyone claims to have ‘a friend’ who knew one of these ill-fated adventurers, nobody actually agrees on their names, and there is seemingly no evidence of a death on the tracks, or a disappearance. This doesn’t phase those who leave flowers by the entrance of the station today, or those who wait outside with recording equipment, trying to gather evidence of their own. There may even be people who venture down as the six did, yet this is strictly illegal and very dangerous as the third rail is still powered, so is not recommended, and nobody has publicly admitted to it.

Neither does lack of any evidence stop the typical claim, an integral part of the story, that the unspecified ‘papers’ reported the incident differently from how the young people told it: apparently, the papers said one of the adventurers didn’t manage to get off the tracks in time as the train approached, a train that had suffered catastrophic break failure. What the five remaining young people said privately was, apparently something quite different.

They all got safe and sound onto the empty platform, long before midnight, and set up their camping chairs and took out their flasks of whiskey-laced coffee, their hot water bottles and blankets. And then, at the appointed hour, the sound of a train coming around the corner was heard, and the lights all suddenly turned on, and started getting brighter and brighter, so nobody could see a thing for quite a few seconds. When their vision finally adjusted to the brightness there was a carriage in the station, unmarked and a ticket inspector waiting at the open doors. Unbidden, the sixth adventurer stepped forwards and produced a ticket, a ticket which until that moment they didn’t know that they had, and they stepped on board, and the doors closed, and the train pulled out of the station. The others had been too stunned to speak or even breathe, but now that the lights once more faded, they listened out for a crash that never came from the carriage that was headed towards the end of the line.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Left by the Side Day
  • The Festival of Cold Children
  • The Canticle of Dreams Festival

December 16th – The Festival of the Blessed Glove

Before 1726 there were tens of thousands of individual requests submitted to the Museum of Traditional Antiquities every year, asking for access to a specific pair of Queen Immas’ gloves. It’s not even a particularly pretty or valuable pair, and if it were not for their provenance would be worth very little. They were once white, not lacy or embroidered, or stitched of the finest leather, just simple (off) white cotton gloves, similar to those an archivist might wear. Yet even now, in post-Revolution Buentoille, they are still in high demand.

It was not due to lowering demand that the number of requests to handle the gloves went down so drastically in 1726, but instead the introduction of today’s festival. Today fifty people will each be given the chance to handle the gloves with their bare hands for a short number of minutes each. As is normally the way with this sort of thing, these handlers are chosen via a raffle, held on the Museum’s balcony early this morning at 7:00am. Large crowds generally gather in the surrounding streets.

What’s so good about a pair of off white cotton gloves? Well, there is nothing particularly special about the left glove, which is crisp and white as the day it was made, a sharp contrast to the yellowing right glove, which has had so many different hands touch it over the years. If you believe the stories, this right glove is one of the most lucky items on the earth, or at least in Buentoille; this glove touched the hand of Ellion Sweerwate, the luckiest woman ever to walk this earth.

It was on this day that the gloves were first put on that Sweerwate shook the hand of Queen Immas. At this point, Sweerwate was a mere street child, but a street child who had saved the City from a gang of marauding wolves, escaped from the Queen’s personal enclosure. The wolves, who had previously killed or maimed anyone who stood in their way, seemed strangely intrigued by this young girl. Apparently, she just stroked them, thinking they were very big dogs, and then afterwards they returned home. The Queen gave her a small financial reward for the return of her wolves, and shook her hand, with a glove on of course because she didn’t want to catch anything from the poor.

There were a quite few other instances of blind luck that occurred to Sweerwate, such as when she managed to open the Elder Door on her first attempt, simply by pressing random buttons, or when she stopped a cart crash happening by throwing a ball for a dog, meaning that the two horses slowed before rounding the corner where they would have collided. These stories have been embellished and modified over the years, and it’s unlikely that Sweerwate was quite as lucky as they suggest, but one instance where we have evidence of her luck is in her long and illustrious gambling career.

By the time she died, Sweerwate was an incredibly rich woman, but she started out with nothing. She retained the payout receipts from all of her gambling victories, and they make up a few volumes of thick books. It took an abnormally long time for the gambling houses to figure out that she was seemingly unstoppable at Lid, Caphernon and Knifedice, but when they did, instead of banning her outright from the premises, they kept her on retainer to work out the odds, and to play card games like bezute on behalf of the house against wealthy competitors.

During her life, Sweerwate was fairly famous, and rumoured to have got her awesome powers of good luck by being struck by lightning as a baby, but it was after her death, when Jason Direman wrote a book about her that she achieved true mythical status as the luckiest woman to have walked the earth. All the people vying with each other at the raffle today will be looking to soak up the tiniest remnant of that magical essence, still contained within that white cotton glove which was almost immediately disposed of, but retained by the royal household for many years like all the things that Immas touched. She believed that her thoughts could be read by others if they managed to get hold of anything she’d owned, but could also be used as a time capsule by herself, a way to see what she had been thinking in the past, so everything was preciously hoarded and catalogued, putting the vast empty rooms of the palace finally to some (dubious) use.

Perhaps, then, it will not be good luck that is imparted from the glove to those touching it today, but the thoughts of a very strange queen, long dead and only remembered for a single, throwaway glove she left behind.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Wretched Kirkem
  • The Festival of Longing to Leave
  • Withy Day

December 15th – The Festival of Electrical Avoidance

Back in the days when Buentoille had a surplus of energy, there was little to stop people experimenting with it. Trivalla Minoré was one such person who had something of a penchant for electrical experimentation, a penchant that was ultimately to spell her doom. Whilst many of her creations were scrapped after her death, but one survives still, in the basement of what was once her home. It is cut off from the mains now, thankfully, as this was the machine that actually killed the inventor.

Minoré is often called a ‘mad scientist’ by the folk who attend and organise today’s festival, but this is not a fair description. Firstly, she was never diagnosed with any form of mental illness. Secondly, her experiments were far too haphazard and disorderly to have followed any true scientific method via which proper conclusions could be drawn. Minoré can perhaps be best described as a practical philosopher, though her preferred job title was ‘electromagnetic spiritualist’; she was a firm believer in ghosts, and was certain that they dwelt within the electromagnetic spectrum, that this was the same as the ‘spirit realm’ or even the afterlife itself. Her beliefs can perhaps be best summed up by the words she had engraved on her tombstone: ‘Our bodies are electromagnetic capacitors, binding our spirits to this world, working against the innate gravity of the spirit realm.’

At first, Minoré’s experiments focused on the recently deceased: she managed to persuade a number of individuals to donate their corpses to her, on the misplaced belief that she would be able to revive them when they died, re-trapping their spirits in their bodies by the application of massive electrical surges. Whilst it was pretty obvious that this wasn’t going to work, she kept tweaking the process, and was only made to stop when the neighbours began complaining about the smell of burning flesh. Somehow, despite a very lax approach to electrical safety, Minoré managed to survive this stage of her experimentation, and move on to the creation of the Person of Circuitry, the machine which ultimately killed her.

Today, for about five blocks around Minoré’s old house in Ranaclois district, nobody will touch a light switch, turn on a computer, or boil a cup of water using an electric kettle. In fact, everybody in the immediate vicinity of number three Grange Way will avoid all contact with any electrical appliances connected to the mains supply, and many even avoid battery-powered devices as well. The whole area will instead rely on candles and lamps to light their homes, and wood-burning stoves to cook their food. As not every home has this latter requirement, a few of the houses put on big dinners for their neighbours, made from food kept outside their refrigerators. It’s a touching moment of community solidarity, and an exciting time for young children who get suddenly to live in another pre-electrical world.

Yet this annual tradition is not just a quirky bit of fun, but driven by a real fear of possession: on this day, the day that Minoré fried herself on an exposed wire in the Person of Circuitry, on at least two separate occasions, people have found themselves inexplicably in that basement, switching on and off the circuit breaker attached to Minoré’s final creation. The last thing they remember is getting a small shock from an electrical appliance in their house, and thankfully the circuit breaker is no longer wired to the mains or they could have been getting a much larger shock.

Everyone in the area has heard the stories about the house, about the terrible experiments that went on there, about the Person of Circuitry, a tangle of exposed wires designed to mimic the various neurons of the human body, in order to draw in spirits, like the ‘capacitor’ which was written about on her gravestone. Everyone the area knows about her spirit, kept trapped in the electrical supply, released only once a year to find a new body to inhabit, yet tragically (or thankfully) unaware that the machine, her only way back, has been cut off.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Internal Temple Festival
  • The Development Fantasy Festival
  • The Festival of Endurance Tasting

December 14th – The Festival of Honouring the Stag

The Brotherhood of the Glorious Stag is a notorious group in Buentoille, known for their secretive nature, parties of wild abandon (from which we get the term ‘stag party’), their rites of sexual virility, and their exclusivity to male-identifying Buentoillitants. As their name suggests, the Brotherhood derive a lot of their symbolism from stags, and during their parties they will often go about wearing large sets of antlers on their heads. These parties are held often in the summer, whenever the weather is good enough, but it is now, on the cusp of winter, when their most important rite, The Festival of Honouring the Stag takes place.

You might think, given that members of the Brotherhood go around adorned with pieces of their chosen animal’s body that they were involved with hunting these majestic beasts, yet nothing could be further from the truth; the Brotherhood are actually entirely vegetarian. Instead, all the antlers used in their practices have either been naturally shed or taken from the skeletons of deer who died naturally. They are gathered across the year, important tokens that the men believe grant them greater fertility and sexual prowess, but today they will be relinquished back to nature, quite literally returned to the earth.

The place they bury the antlers is the same every year, a spot in Dunmonii Wood that is a place of great significance for the group, for it was here that their founding myth allegedly took place. They leave around the sunset, carrying torches, lamps and shovels, wearing their antlers and their traditional swaggering garb, complete with codpiece and cape. The burying place is beneath a large, ancient chestnut tree, from which the lanterns are hung whilst the Brotherhood dig the hardened soil. Rodents and other woodland creatures will actually dig up and eat the antlers, so there isn’t a stored trove of horns here that goes back as far as the Brotherhood’s history (the group is about four hundred and fifty years old). These offerings are put into the soil as an offering for the original Glorious Stag, which itself was allegedly buried at this spot.

The Brotherhood of the Glorious Stag began not on this day, as you might imagine, but in the depths of winter, a cold January night. Three poachers had been hunting deer in the woods, but suddenly became the hunted themselves, by a large group of wolves that strayed unexpectedly close to the City. They began to run, and just as they thought all hope was lost, out of nowhere a huge red deer, its antlers sharp and magnificent, jumped at the wolves, killing several of them, and giving the men long enough to get up the same spreading chestnut tree that they gather around today. After a long battle, the wolves eventually won, taking down the deer at long last, but at the cost of most of their number. All night, the men hid shivering up the tree, the heroic deer being devoured below them. In the morning they buried the deer, out of respect, and none of them ever went out hunting again.

The various beliefs and rituals of the group developed slowly over the next hundred-or-so years, but it has invariably retained today’s festival, the honouring of this first stag which managed to save the hunter’s lives, as a central part of its identity. The reason that the festival takes place tonight is because tomorrow would have traditionally been the first day of the monarchic stag hunt, and part of honouring stags is to protect them by, strange as it seems, scaring them off.

After they’ve buried the antlers beneath the tree, the Brotherhood take a number of items out of their sacks; firecrackers and loudhailers and loud rattles and drums and anything that makes a lot of noise, really. The aim is to scare all the deer out of the wood, away from the City, so that come tomorrow morning the hunt will not be able to find any of them. This tactic worked for hundreds of years, actually making the Brotherhood an illegal organisation (hence the secrecy that surrounds them) because of the frustration and embarrassment that they caused the monarchy.

Obviously nowadays they are just scaring off the deer (and every other animal for miles) for no good reason, and hunting deer with hounds is illegal Buentoille anyway. There have been some internal discussions about whether or not they should continue, seeing as this doesn’t seem like a way of ‘honouring’ the deer any more, but the general consensus has been that the festival should continue. The official reason is that it’s good to keep the animals scared of humans, as some people still shoot them for food, but it seems more likely that the real reason is that the Brotherhood have a lot of fun running around the woods making lots of noise, and, of course, because this is Buentoille.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Crest
  • Simple Sester’s Slightly Scary Selebration
  • The Tinnitus Daemon’s Day

December 13th – Blemmer Vaughn’s Day

Perhaps there is something about Buentoille’s communal mindset that makes it more prone to bouts of mass hysteria? Maybe there’s something in the water? Whatever it is, in recent years there have been new instances of collective psychological symptoms, in addition to the more established Sleepwalkers’ Night and the Festival of Deep and True Laughter; there was the Deep and Resonant Sigh of 1969, and the Phantom Flea Epidemic of 1912. Yet the best well known of these newer hysterias is Blemmer Vaughn’s Day, if only by virtue of its annual nature.

Blemmer Vaughn was a character on the hit 90s television show Praktical Magyk, a sitcom that centres on a coven of witches living in an alternate version of Buentoille where the Revolution never happened, and where witch hunts have emerged as a government-sponsored sport. Vaughn was a side character, a morally grey fixer who gets them out of many scrapes for pay, but who, just when they have begun to trust him and see him as a friend, betrays the witches to the hunters. Apparently in the original plot this change of allegiance was never planned, but when Maker Dorritch, the man who played Vaughn, abruptly went missing, the show’s producers added the betrayal in to explain his absence, unintentionally creating one of the greatest television moments in popular memory.

It was many years before Maker Dorritch was pronounced legally dead, and investigators have never found a single clue as to where he went, or why. Whilst he was not a main character, his career was progressing well; Praktical Magyk was one of the most popular programmes on television at the time. He had an excellent relationship with his girlfriend, a good group of friends and family who supported him. He was well regarded and despite the shady character he played, in person was of good character, the kind of person you could go to for advice. There was no reason for Dorritch’s disappearance, he simply walked out his front door to go to work one day and never made it there. His absence still haunts his family and friends.

It is not just those who knew Dorritch who find themselves haunted, not by his absence but by his image. On this day every year, thousands of people right across the City report seeing Blemmer Vaughn when they close their eyes. Apparently it is quite a disturbing experience, and most are glad that they don’t have to experience it for longer than a day. Strangely enough, even people who allegedly never watched Praktical Magyk see the character’s image right besides them, sitting slightly off to their left, uncomfortably close. He seems blurry, an effect that worsens the more they try to focus on him, and no matter how much they turn their heads, they cannot look directly at him; he remains off to the left.

It would perhaps make more sense if this strange phenomena happened on the day that Dorritch went missing, or on the day that the episode of Vaughn’s betrayal was aired, but both of these events happened in the summer, not on the edge of winter where we are now. The first reports of the hysteria (this, surely, is the only explanation) started coming in in the early morning of this day in 1998, a year after the man went missing, and whilst there was a growth of the phenomena in later years, these first few hundred individuals were seemingly unlinked. The City’s medical professionals all seem uncharacteristically stumped, and even the conspiracy theorists have few workable theories, besides perhaps a vague suggestion that the visions are something to do with the City’s power supply.

What we do know, however, is that despite causing anxiety and distress, the visions seem not to have any lasting impact on the health of those experiencing them, and they are not, as some have suggested, the harbinger of certain mental illnesses. There is no observed pattern to the hysteria, no groups of people that it affects with higher incidence, and being affected one year does not mean that you will be the next. Through chance, only one person who personally knew Dorritch has ever experienced the hysteria, and their descriptions seem in line with the general population’s, besides perhaps one aspect: ‘Somehow, and I don’t know if it was maybe just a feeling or a what, somehow I knew it wasn’t Maker I was seeing. It wasn’t Maker, it was Blemmer. I don’t know how I knew that.’

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Delicate Pastries
  • The Festival of the Crush
  • The Droithammer Drip Appreciation Day

December 12th – The Festival of the Mysterious Trail of the Snowbeast

It snowed for the first time this autumn last night (according to the official Buentoilliçan calendar, winter doesn’t start until December 21st), so this morning the City was painted white. The roads and pavements are relatively unaffected, due to pre-emptive gritting, but the parks and buildings will be covered in a layer of snow, come the morning. Nobody’s quite sure when the fist snows since the spring are expected to arrive on any given year, unlike the snows of January 16th, when the City is almost always covered in a thick blanket of the white stuff.

Regardless of whether there are thick blankets or simply a light smattering, the children of Buentoille will of course be out in force, building snowmen and throwing snowballs at each other and anyone unlucky enough to stray into their paths. Green-brown pathways will roam through the parks, where enormous snowballs have just rolled, gloves will be soaked through and left to shrink on radiators, fireplaces will be lit, chilblains formed, hot chocolate consumed with gusto. Out in the streets, Buentoillitants with carts will sell doughnuts and caramelised nuts, alongside highly spiced potato soup and all manner of cinnamon delights.

There’s always something magical about waking up when it snows, for children and adults alike, but especially so on the first day it snows: today the City’s inhabitants have a chance to see a mysterious yearly phenomenon: the wandering trail of the Snowbeast. As soon as the sun is up, a veritable race to locate the trail begins, a trail which has never failed to emerge on the first night it snows after the spring, at least for as long as anyone remembers. The prints are three-pronged, almost as if someone had pressed a handheld garden fork into the snow, though this obviously isn’t the explanation, given the virgin nature of the snow that lies around the tracks. They have been cross-referenced with all known animal tracks, but nothing seems to fit.

Since 1865, anyone who can locate either end of the trail is awarded a small financial prize by the Buentoilliçan Society of Natural Scientists, as well as their picture in many of tomorrow’s papers. This is part of the strangest thing about the prints, which can be difficult to track, given their tendency to cross roads, pavements, and other gritted, snow-free areas: they appear out of nowhere, and disappear in a similar manner. In the place that they begin, there is usually a slight twist to the snow that lies around them, as if a small whirlwind had centred on those first two prints.

The Snowbeast, if a beast is a fair description, is bipedal, and, given the length of its strides, moves with great speed, which could account for why anyone is yet to see it, at least verifiably; every year a new gritter or other night worker claims they’ve seen the prints being made, either by some strange creature or an invisible force. Usually, these alleged sightings are accompanied by feelings of extreme cold on the part of the viewer, and the creature is often said to look somewhere between a rabbit and a man. Seeing as there is no documentary evidence available to support either claim, the idea that the Snowbeast is some great rabbit probably comes from the fact that rabbits often leave trails in the snow, and that it can presumably leap very high, given that the trail often crosses roofs and even tower block tops.

Thankfully there is no suggestion that there is anything to fear from this illusive beast, though of course this is something that the people of Buentoille cannot be certain about until they’ve identified it. Some people believe that there is nothing to identify, that it is someone with a pair of shaped stilts, but according to various studies and experiments, this simply isn’t possible; stilts with ‘feet’ the size of the Snowbeast would cause any human using them to make indentations in the soil, of which there are none, they exist only in the snow. Besides, how would they walk on the roofs? Perhaps tomorrow will shed some fresh light on this enduring mystery.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Umer’s Nightshift Day
  • The Festival of the Lightshafts
  • The Festival of Nothing to Worry About