August 31st – The Benetek Station Massacre Remembrance Day

We’d been planning it for a couple of weeks, since the protest at Ranaclois station where they’d managed to cause quite a lot of disruption and then get out quickly when the scum [the Royal Buentoilliçan Police Force] turned up. I say we but to be quite honest I wasn’t much involved in the planning, I got the message just like everyone else and turned up. It’s funny, at the time I didn’t see myself as an anarchist or socialist, like those who organised it. I didn’t dislike them, but it always seemed a bit extreme to me; all I wanted was the King gone. Even a different king would have done for me back then. It’s funny how quickly that changed, how looking back I see myself as some great dissident, when really I wasn’t. But I did have my connections; I had known for some time that something was going on; Derrik was more agitated than normal in our chemistry lessons, and that always meant he was up to some kind of mischief.

It was this day in 1905 that many historians have identified as the point when the Buentoilliçan Revolution became an inevitability. Others say that it was the first day of the Revolution itself, although that day is generally accepted to be tomorrow by most. Others still point to events before this, the protest at Ranaclois station on August the 17th, for example, or to the self-defence classes organised by Edith Trouvier before she was murdered in 1902. Whenever the true beginning of this momentous struggle, which has determined the course of Buentoille ever since, was, the events at Benetek station were a pivotal moment of history.

We all gathered at rush hour, so it was less obvious to any spies what we were up to. I remember the concourse was particularly full, and it was very hot, too hot for the Benetek Savant [the University Streetball team] scarves we all wore to identify each other; there must have been about two hundred of us in all, loads more than I had expected. We forced open the turnstiles and barriers, breaking quite a few, letting everyone through for free. It was pretty exhilarating, the feeling of power it gave, I remember I got quite carried away. The LEPOMO [League of Elderly Persons in Opposition to Monarchic Oppression] folks had gone over to the station guards and knocked them out, one seemingly kindly old lady distracting them with questions whilst another came up behind them with a bottle. There were quite a few guards because the station was owned by the King himself – he made a lot of money off of students trying to get across the City. The old folks tied them up and locked them in the ticket booth.

Today thousands of people will flood into Benetek station, most wearing Benetek Savant scarves, or some other symbol of the revolution. The crowds spill onto the streets, filling up the surrounding roadways, the Benetek Bridge, even reaching into the squares and social spaces of Benetek University itself, where special seminars and speeches will be held all day. The usual methods of remembrance, the pouring out of tea into the streets, will today form rivers, whole pots poured out, not a drop drunk. Just like on that fateful day 112 years ago, entry to the platforms will be free. The gathering begins at about 4:00, but the ceremonies do not properly begin until 6:32, when the massacre began. Over the tracks hundreds of flowers are piled up, laid like the dead into a mass grave. Photographs of the deceased line the walls, brought by descendants and relatives.

I’ve often wondered whether I would have come if I knew he was coming down the line. Part of me thinks I would have, that what he did was so unexpected and brutal, but I think I know I would have been too scared. I cannot hate the organisers, but I cannot think of them kindly either; they knew that the Traitor King was going to visit the station that day, but few of the rest of us did; they knew most would be too scared to come if they told us, and word would have got out about their plans too. I know that without the sacrifices made that day we may not have this wonderful world we have now, but do not ask me to say that it was worth it, that it was necessary. I still see their faces contorted now.

Most of us had moved down to the platform when the gilded carriage arrived, led down there by Derrik and his comrades for a reason then unknown to us. We almost went quiet when we saw it round the bend down the line, and for a moment you could hear the rails sing beneath our excited chatter, chants and songs of dissent. It was still quite quiet when the train pulled to a halt, and he was there, looking surprised behind the bullet-proof glass. We had tied up the guards and RBPF scum who were supposed to ensure everything was safe at the station, and whilst there were certainly some King’s Finest [paramilitary, monarchist secret police] there, they obviously hadn’t had a chance to get word to the signal boxes to tell the royal carriage not to stop. Or perhaps the King was so stubborn he knew we were there, but he wouldn’t have his schedule disrupted.

Perhaps he thought we were there to welcome him at first, but then the placards came out and the chanting began in earnest. Someone started taking photographs to publicise our great moment of dissent later. You can see me in some of them, towards the back. My face is half covered, but it’s me. I look bewildered, scared, not angry as I should do. I think the photograph was taken just as the gas started spurting out of the train carriage. Nobody noticed it at first; it wasn’t a green fog like in the murals, but invisible, not even like steam. Folk must have thought it was something to do with pistons or breaks, the noise, I mean, but I knew it was something wrong, something bad. When I saw folk started covering their eyes and mouths I knew what it was, and I knew the only way to survive was to run. It is to my shame that I only shouted ‘run!’ when I had got clear of most folk, but I do not know whether I would be here now to tell this tale had I yelled earlier. As it was, four of us managed to get into a cleaning closet, stuffing our clothes and the rubber gloves we found there under the door to stop the gas coming in. I think a little still did; Julie still has trouble breathing today. But we survived. When it was over and they came to open up the door I saw the twisted faces and scorched flesh, the dead lying in piles, but I made certain not to look down at the person who had been outside the door, rattling the handle, trying to get in with us. – Excerpt from an interview with Jarem Keralla, survivor of the Benetek Atrocity.

At 6:31pm, everyone goes quiet, standing shoulder to shoulder, back to chest, packed in to that space once so dreadful, sweating in their scarves and the last of the summer heat. And then, as soon as the clock hits 6:32 the song begins, low and slow at first, the bass notes resonating person to person like ripples in an ocean. By the end of the first verse, people begin to cry, singing through the tears. When the Birds Return is a sad, bittersweet song, but one that is hopeful for the future. By the last chorus, folk are shouting out the words, wracked with tears, feeling the lungs of those all around them resonate together. And when the dawn comes, they will sing, and the sun strokes your face, you will see them there, returned amongst the birds.

There are no other festivals happening today.

August 30th – The Festival of The Barge

According to the traditions of the Chastise Church, the family of the recently deceased must watch over their grave for three nights and three days. Technically it can be anyone who does the watching, but traditionally this activity is performed by the family, as they are the most willing, and can make use of the ‘dead time’ (this is where that phrase originates) to emotionally reflect on the passing of their loved ones.

Three days is the chosen amount of time, because that is how long it takes for the soul of the deceased to cross the Dragelow, the enormous river that flows through the afterlife. Other Buentoilliçan communities have similar traditions, but ones which prioritise the time before the funeral, rather than after, with family members ‘keeping the dead company’ until their burial. For the Chastise Church, however, the soul only begins its journey when it is set on the path by the words of a priest at the funeral, who call upon their ancestors to come and guide the recently deceased to the next world.

During the journey, this long transitional period between our world and the next, there is opportunity for nefarious purpose to have its way; the Waylayer, in particular, may try to drive them from their path, or take them into their own dimension as a slave. By remaining by the graveside, the family members act as a protective influence, ensuring that the correct way remains clear. If they were not there then the soul of the deceased could not tell where they were coming from, and therefore couldn’t tell which direction they should travel; the River Between Worlds is a strange and confusing place, even with a guide who knows the way.

Followers of the Church believe that it is usually when this process is disrupted in some way that ghosts and malevolent spirits haunt the world of the living. In most cases, if a spirit becomes lost crossing the Dragelow, then it is swept somewhere else, down river to some great unknown. In certain cases, however, the spirit may resurface in our world, either by accident, when they are unlikely to cause harm, or on purpose, in the case of those who have darker intent. Once a year, on this day, something else comes that complicates matters significantly; The Barge drifts by.

Nobody seems to know much about The Barge, save a few small details. In Conversing wyth thee Othur Syde, the mystical religious text written by Saint Berlegraph, The Barge is described as a ‘vessle of madenyng liyte and eksessif jollyte’ which draws souls towards it with ‘musik grayte raptureus.’ On the deck beautiful people dance naked, but once the soul has gotten aboard they are trapped, thrust down into the hull where thousands like them labour endlessly, rowing the vessel inexorably onwards. The Dragelow seems to be in some way cyclical, for The Barge passes today and today alone, scooping up any unfortunate enough to be crossing the River Between Worlds today.

It wasn’t until 1298 that the Church gained knowledge of The Barge, though Berlegraph’s mystical conversations. No funerals will be held for the deceased today, or in any of the surrounding days, so as to avoid its passing, but there will be folk out in the graveyards around the City, though only those that were lain before 1298. The catacombs beneath the Church of the Holy Host will also be filled with folk there to witness the bones, to bless them with their presence, for the night. The hope is that they will act as a beacon which will alert the spirits of those trapped on The Barge, letting them know they are near home. In the Church of the Holy Host there will also be a special service held, where all the Hierarchs will ask that guides from the afterlife will row out to catch those who cast themselves overboard.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Ennui
  • The Reach of the Underking Day
  • The Silk of Eddina Festival

August 29th – The Festival of the Imaginary Friend

There is something arresting and fantastical about the short piece of film. When they project it onto the stage today at the Mellifluous Theatre in Whight Hollow district, the room goes quiet, the audience enraptured. There’s no music or sound; it was made in the days when a pianist would play live at each film screening, and actors would shout out their lines from the wings. It’s the only film they ever made of Jielle Versant, she was a stage performer through and through; it was far more exciting to see the magical feats she performed with your own eyes.

Many children have imaginary or invisible friends, it’s very common. As a form of play, these pretend personages can prove very rewarding, comforting and funny for those involved, and in some instances when parents and other children play along, they can provide opportunities for interaction with others, and are not the sole reserve of children with no siblings or friends. In most instances, children will eventually grow out of their insistence upon the reality of their friend, admitting that they are made up, but in the case of Jielle Versant, she never did. Versant continued to talk to and interact with her imaginary friend well into adulthood, right up until her early death at the age of thirty three.

The film was shot about five days before Versant’s death, an apparent suicide as her body was found washed up on the banks of the Moway, the cause of death drowning. Versant had been heard arguing with herself, or rather, with her imaginary friend (now also her lover), back stage at the Mellifluous Theatre where she regularly performed, a day or so after the footage was shot. Some people say that it was the footage itself that they were arguing about, with Versant wanting to move more into the new world of film and her friend apparently finding the notion abhorrent. Others say that Versant had been seeing another man of flesh and blood, and that her silent, invisible friend was heartbroken. Critics of Versant who tell of invisible wires at her performances say that these arguments were either made up later or were part of an elaborately constructed myth with which Versant surrounded herself.

If it was deliberately constructed myth, and not a genuine belief in an invisible presence that could only be seen and speak to her, then it must have taken a great deal of acting skill to keep up the charade, and presumably a great deal of self-denial to live such a solitary existence. There were, however, great rewards to be gained – it was partly because of her seeming belief in the man she called Empter Drann that the crowds flocked to see the pair dance. The Theatre would regularly be packed with those who wanted to see the spectacle for themselves, who were on the lookout for wires and mirrors or other forms of trickery.

You can see what they came to see quite clearly in the old, grainy black and white footage: Versant has long, flowing hair that whips up around her, the long dress she wore billowing sympathetically. You can’t see in the footage, but according to contemporaries the hair was bright red and the dress the starkest white. She dances as if with a partner, performing turns and seemingly gravity-defying dips and leans. Her passion for this invisible other is clear, especially in dances like the Musrant and the Redang, but it is the Yattetenko with its long lifts that is most spectacular and unbelievable. Yet it looks real – even on the grainy footage that folk watch today.

Before they show the footage as the finale to the festival today, there will be various dances, some with men dressed in black on black backgrounds, others with wires and other such stagecraft, but none of them look as realistic as Versant’s performances did. There really is an atmosphere of awe in the stalls as they play the film in silence, and many of the watchers reach out a hand to the empty space next to them. The Guild of Artistic Dancers will send out a small contingent to the festival today; a mark of respect on this, the death day of one of Buentoille’s most famous and innovative dancers.

Perhaps thankfully there is no footage of Versant’s final performance. Apparently she was visibly distressed when she began, eyes puffy from crying. ‘Empter’s gone home,’ she said quietly to the audience at the start, ‘but you’ve all paid to see me dance anyway. I’m sorry but it will just be me today.’ Apparently it looked just like someone dancing on their own; she held out her hands in front of her, to where his hands would meet them, but there was no resistance – this time it really was empty air. She didn’t try any of the leans or lifts – how could she? She left quietly when the booing started. Today there will only be applause.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Judicious Conservation
  • The Festival of the Appliance of the Saintly Mistress
  • Dirty Feet Day

August 28th – The Festival of the Scribe’s Lament

There are plenty of artefacts, preparations, and other items of magical significance that are prized by occultists. The Finger of the Damned is one of the most macabre (and therefore one of the most famous) of these items, it being the severed and mummified finger of a person who was unfairly convicted of a crime and hanged. The Finger has many alleged powers, including the ability to poison the drinks of guilty persons when briefly dipped in, and to point towards a liar. There are, however, less bloody occult items that are highly sought after, and the creation of one such item is the focus of today’s festival.

There is only one Drattika’s Scripture in existence, and it is held by Garrik’s Museum of Infernal and Occult Curiosities. This is perhaps a slightly misleading statement to make, but nevertheless true: there are plenty of copies of the Scripture in existence, but whilst these books are identical in their text, and even appearance (there are several facsimiles which copy the overall appearance of the document, including its oak bark binding), they are not true Scriptures, and cannot be, because of the methods by which they were created.

Drattika, the scribe and mythological figure of occult Buentoille, was said to have created his Scripture in a single day, today in 1243, hand-writing all 150 pages in a single sitting. Apparently this was made possible by a visiting ‘ayngelle’ which manifested itself as a ‘darke dystorshon’ in the complex setup of mirrors that surrounded Drattika’s writing desk. The event is recorded in the book Intervewe wyth a Wyssard by Ordinare Glasshand, wherein Drattika relates that as soon as this presence made itself known the ‘candell snuffd owt’ and he heard the words of the Scripture as if they were being whispered by lips at his ear.

According to Glasshand, this book was a powerful artefact, which, when opened to the right page by Drattika, could open any lock, make him or any other person or object invisible, make distant things appear close, and even allow Drattika to kill chickens and small dogs simply by staring at them. Glasshand’s book details various other spells the ‘wizard’ could cast in the latter half of the book in a manner somewhat akin to a picaresque novel. The hero, Drattika, gets into various scrapes and confrontations with authority figures, including the monk who ran the seminary at which Drattika was a scribe, and uses the book to get out of them. In many of these stories, the antagonists attempt to cast these spells themselves by opening or reading from the Scripture, but the magical effects are only apparent when Drattika himself simply opens a page.

At the end of the Intervewe, Glasshand relates how he had come into possession of the book; having interviewed the old scribe on his deathbed it was bequeathed to him. Glasshand was actually a publisher who sold thousands of copies of his book, and then later offered up the Scripture for sale at an auction, from which he cannily made a small fortune. Unsurprisingly, there is absolutely no evidence of the alleged wizard’s existence outside of the fictional tale, but now the figure has passed into legend, and the Scripture has only increased in value ever since.

Today there will be several writing desks set up in Garrik’s museum, each with a copy of the Scripture on them, photocopies ready to be copied from in turn. Each desk has a number of mirrors set up in the manner described in the Intervewe, and all the desks are arranged around a small glass cabinet in which the original book is housed. The festival could technically just as well be performed elsewhere, but there is something satisfyingly symbolic about this set up. In that cramped, crowded space, surrounded by witches in bottles, straw people, spider silk death masks, and other occult artefacts gathered from Buentoille’s long history, several hopeful scribes will try their hand at creating their own Scripture.

The mirrors are mostly there for show, more than anything else. To date nobody has reported an experience similar to that in the Intervewe, and instead of creating new words the scribes will attempt to copy out the entirety of the Scripture, beginning and ending at midnight. The book is relatively small, about the size of a modern paperback, and it’s thinness is perhaps what keeps a steady flow of hopefuls to participate in the festival; it appears eminently doable, to copy out this tiny book. Nobody has ever managed it, and the furthest anyone has ever got has been a third of the way through. That person was later hospitalised with severe repetitive strain injury.

It’s a gruelling task, and one made no easier by the fact that the text itself is almost entirely gibberish phrases or lists of words. Many cryptographers have tried to discern some kind of pattern or code from within the unpunctuated torrent of words (‘oregannik gore severrd ayteen dogge’), but the general consensus is that it is exactly what it looks like: pure nonsense. Some have tried to make the task easier for themselves by typing it out on computers or typewriters, but even then they haven’t managed it and occult authorities claim that these methods (along with using a photocopier, scanner, camera or having several people co-writing the text by hand) will not work to create a true, magically powered, Scripture.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Dog’s Breath
  • Atrophy Day
  • The Festival of Truly Terrible Singers

August 27th – Sleepwalker’s Night

If you are staying in the City and wake up tomorrow morning with dirt under your toenails, mud on the soles of your feet, grass stains on your pyjamas, then please do not be alarmed. You are perfectly safe. You just went for a walk whilst you slept, is all. It’s very common.

That is to say, it is very common tonight in particular. Roughly about 0.5% of the population will tonight be out and about, roaming the streets of Buentoille in a state of semi consciousness. This is much higher than the usual incidence of sleep walking, especially those more extreme cases which lead a person out of their home. On any other day, most sleep walking will be a short event that takes place within the home, usually by children but also occasionally by adults. In contrast, almost all the sleepwalkers who make their way into the streets tonight will be adults between the age of twenty three and thirty two.

As with normal sleepwalking, the exact causes of the event are unknown. Normal sleepwalking is thought to be caused when the natural sleep cycles of the individual become confused or disturbed during the process of waking up, meaning that the individual’s mind becomes temporarily trapped in a liminal altered sleep state, somewhere between dreams and being fully awake. This explanation makes sense in a lot of ways, but it lacks key evidence and details, so is not entirely convincing. The essential problem is that the human mind is a strange, convoluted beast that eludes understanding on many fronts. Naturally, then, there will be other, perhaps more folklorish explanations.

One of the most recent theories to become favoured by the press, which embarks upon an annual delve into sleep psychology this week (it is, after all, a subject that fascinates many) was proposed by Renne Querlan, who comes from the somewhat surprising background of a civil planner. In a paper referenced by most of the main papers this week, Querlan suggests that there is something about the shape of Buentoille, the way it guides people around through mandated pathways, that leads to the sleepwalking. The minds of those who repeat the same actions and routes over and over become trapped in a spiral which culminates in their somnambulant excursions. This would certainly explain why members of the Union of Lamplighters, who conform to specific routes each day, seem to be afflicted in higher numbers than the general population, but it lacks any real scientific basis.

For those concerned for the safety of the somnambulists tonight, please be aware that the Step Behind will be watching over them, ensuring that the common points of injury such as precipices and bridges are patrolled and safe. They are a voluntary organisation, fuelled by coffee and caffeine pills, whose primary aim is to reduce the harm caused by tonight’s dreamland festivities whilst simultaneously studying the phenomenon first hand. As such, they attempt to interact with the sleepers as little as possible, although this is not because of any safety concerns, but an attempt to reduce the extraneous variable of their presence from the studies; they will only wake a sleeper when they are in immediate danger. It is a common misconception, however, that waking a sleepwalker is dangerous to them in some way. If you awake to your loved ones trying to leave the building tonight then please carefully wake them, in a calm and gentle manner, and guide them back to bed. They will probably be very confused.

Because many thousand people keep themselves awake tonight, and because some sleepwalking folks will be prevented from sleepwalking by their friends and family, there is presumably a higher amount of potential sleepwalkers than is reflected in the statistics. This is probably a good job, as patrolling every dangerous point of the City is a huge task and occasionally injuries and even deaths do occur. The job is made easier as the night wears on, however, as the sleepwalkers all tend to converge in one place: Bastion Grubb street.

As far as anyone is aware, there is nothing particularly interesting in Bastion Grubb street that would lead to this convergence of sleepwalkers – it’s just a residential road. There are usually a few thousand who make it that far, though many more travel in the street’s direction but awake before they get there. The road is relatively central in Buentoille (it even has an outdated ‘centre of the city’ plaque somewhere along it), and the shuffling masses will pile up along its length and the surrounding streets. It can be quite a creepy spectacle if you live in that road and are awoken by the noise; most somnambulists are quiet, although a few will mumble nonsense or occasionally scream or loudly swear.

Some have suggested that something significant lies beneath them, like the tomb of a king or some kind of infernal machine, but maps have been checked, delvers have delved, and again, there is little more than an underground rail line nearby and some sewer pipes. Others have suggested that some great event happened on this spot in the past, and the psychic essence hangs there, drawing dreamers to it, its power rippling through time. Others still, the Guild of Conspiracy Theorists in particular, suggest this event is yet to happen. Sleepers have been woken, asked what they are dreaming about to test this theory, but usually the answer is ‘nothing’ as they are not actually in a state of sleep where dreams occur.

Despite this, the (possibly fabricated) answers given by a couple of sleepwalkers in an interview with Buentoilliçan Psychic magazine has been used by the Guild as ‘evidence’ that this theory of a future psychic disturbance is true, alongside fragments of speech recorded falling from the lips of sleeptalkers. In particular, the Guild focuses on references to a ‘powerful painter,’ though quite what they think that means is unclear. What is clear is that the conspiracy theorists are selectively choosing their evidence in these instances, as there are plenty of other gibberish phrases which have been spoken by the sleepwalkers, some of which even repeat more times than ‘powerful painter.’

One final theory often bandied about as if it were truth is that there is some strong magnetic force that influences the sleep cycles of the somnambulists and draws them to this point. The obvious issue with this theory is that there is absolutely no evidence of such a force, such as a solar flare, which various accurate devices would notice immediately, even amongst the chaos of radiodance. Any such force would also affect non-human animals strongly, in particular birds, who use the earth’s natural magnetic field to navigate, yet no disturbances have been noticed. The only exception to this would be the high instance of slugs and snails reported by members of the Step Behind who patrol near Grubb Street, though no conclusive study has been conducted.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Broken Plough
  • Pigtail Day

August 26th – The Festival of Opening the Door

As you might imagine, the Warrens are a portion of Buentoille where linearity is lost, where direction deceives and streets intersect with wild abandon. At points, the labyrinthine ways seem to extend in three dimensions, not just the usual two, delving downwards and upwards in the higgledy piles of masonry that flaunt all building safety regulations, yet have seemingly lasted for centuries.

At times, the Warrens can feel like their own city, and in some ways this is correct; they certainly have contained an identifiably unique subculture for most of Buentoilliçan history, flaunting a kind of progressive, communal mentality and political brazenness which the rest of the City has only in the last 100 years caught up to. For hundreds of years before that the Warrens were seen by the rest of the City as a place of criminals, of vagrants and anarchists where ‘respectable’ people didn’t go: it is a trite observance that the eponymous heroine of Camel Viram’s Emily Down the Rabbit Hole was actually travelling into an allegorical depiction of an imagined Warrens, full of vice and unspeakable degeneracy.

Now that folk walk freely in those involute passages, without fear of anything but getting lost, the inhabitants of stacked houses there retain a great deal of pride but are seemingly less insular, less aggressive to outsiders. There has even been a little gentrification of the houses there, although this generally involves knocking through a few of the cramped dwellings to create more comfortably inhabitable homes, now possible with lower birth rates and the eradication of poverty. At today’s festival everyone is welcome, of course, provided they can find it.

Quite how long the door stood there unused and unnoticed is unknown. It was probably the way it is with many tales like this: that the locals passed by the door every day and thought nothing of it. Perhaps they had wondered about it as children (children are, as Heinbrow wrote, merely agents of the god Curiosity), but had never managed to pick the old rusted lock, to scale the tall brick wall, to break the thing down. Nowadays the door stands out amongst the surrounding doors on the passage, somewhere high up in the north east quadrant of the Warrens. It looks comparably sturdy and expensive, but before it would have faded into the background, a dusty, cobweb-ridden thing with detritus piled up at its base.

It was during one of the purges that wracked the Warrens in the days leading up to the Revolution that they finally broke down the door. Monarchist snatch squads would venture into the dark alleys at night, and whilst they were usually driven back by the area’s home-grown protection brigades of local folk wielding improvised weapons, some got through and caused havoc amongst the lesser-prepared Warren dwellers. It was a woman who went by the name of Wikked Sharpe who broke down the door, trying to find a place to hide with her children, Alf and Quick. She had a crowbar, and prised the old rusted lock in two, then ran inside and held the door closed. She didn’t look around her for a short while, not until she felt Quick quietly pulling on her skirt.

Behind the door there is a single twisted, interlocking colossal rhododendron tree. It completely fills the space, and displays wonderful, bright pink flowers in springtime, the petals falling to the ground as a beautiful carpet in early summer. By today the petals will mostly have turned brown, become mulch between the sweeping boughs of dark green foliage. Nobody is quite sure how the rhododendron got there, or became so large, but the general consensus is that it was a walled garden that became neglected and eventually taken over by the tree, which was probably at first only a shrub. Other plants presumably once eked out a living there, but there are no traces of them today.

The garden is open all year around, and is maintained by the folk who live in the houses down the alley, but today they will give over care of the space to the descendants of Alf and Quick, who host a small party to celebrate the events which probably enabled their very existence on this, their anniversary. This gathering of family and guests will first perform a long-held ritual of ‘bashing down’ the door, where the youngest family member runs directly at the door, which is left unlocked and slightly ajar.

Once inside, they hang lanterns from the various branches and sit on those which are lower and more horizontal. The space is probably about thirty feet squared, and the way in which the tree grows means that there are three ‘rooms’ only accessible comfortably via three ‘doors’ or ‘arches’. The guests will generally mill around in these spaces, eating food cooked in a nearby house and drinking beer from a bucket of ice. Someone generally brings a guitar of mandolin, and soft music emanates from this intimate space, this place of peace and refuge.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Synthesised Foods
  • The Deer in the Basement Festival
  • The Festival of the Final Witness

This festival has associated artwork, take a look!

August 25th – The Festival of the Ancient Trade Delegation

Apparently, it takes a long time to learn to be a trader if you are from Iisa Quelith, but being a trader is the only way you get to leave, so many take up the opportunity. Once a year they set out, groups of three people bound by common purpose and harmonised vocalisations. A great festival is organised in their honour, with those who head north west (rather than north, or east across the ocean) being held in highest esteem; their journey is the longest and most fraught, taking them across arid plains and deserts where not a single person can be seen for many miles. They will not return home for around three years.

Why does it take so long to learn to walk across the land, carrying goods and leading beasts of burden? Surely these are things that everyone has some basic understanding of, and could carry out with ease, if able bodied. The answer is, of course, that they must learn their way. The folk from Iisa Quelith have no maps, and whilst they know what they are, and have no trouble reading them, they simply have no need; they sing their way across the continent.

Each of the three people that make up the group have their own part to sing, but they all know the first part which, in an astounding feat of memory they spend about twenty years learning before they are allowed to leave their homeland. The first part details the journey their ancient ancestors took, long ago, and the landmarks and the trials and tribulations they came across. This forms the basis of the trade route, which has been faithfully kept to for the hundreds, if not thousands, of years that the traders have been walking. The first part will be sung continuously for the entire three year journey, whenever the trader’s move onwards, by two of the traders, who switch their roles each day.

The other role held by the new traders is to sing what they see ahead of them, modifying the song wherever the land has changed. There are still sections of the route where both the ancient and the modern remain the same, but they are increasingly small, especially around Buentoille and other built-up zones. At the end of the day, the singer of this second part will sing the new song back to their counterpart in a kind of shorthand that omits most of the timing fillers, so that both remember the song perfectly for the next time around, when they may return as veteran traders. The third member of the group is one such veteran, who sings the song they created the last time they came across the continent, and it is from this that the new song is primarily adapted.

The songs do not merely act as a path-finding tool (although this is their primary function), but also as a record of the places they passed through, and the events that happened there to them. The linguist and cultural historian Fernal Bough walked with the traders for about a year, learning their language more fully than the ambassadors understood at the time. They learned much about the construction of the songs in this time, and about what kind of details were retained and remembered. In between each short story, landmark or other recollection about a place (‘it was here that Trader Elem found the mushrooms that they are and became ill’), there are timing fillers or ‘spacers’ which take the form of beat sounds made with the mouth or by hitting the chest, and simple direction names at regular intervals (so that when travelling the traders sound something like, ‘left left left straight straight right,’ except that they have many more words for more accurate degree measurements.

Basically everything we know about the traders was learned by Bough, who despite being disallowed from writing down any of what she learned, managed to remember a few choice stories told by the traders about their surroundings as they passed through. Bough said that the whole of human experience was retained in these songs, remembering little phrases ranging from ‘here a man was killed by falling beer barrels’ to ‘three pregnant women stood here and talked excitedly about the moon.’ As a historical document about Buentoille, the newer versions of the song tend to work well but aren’t particularly interesting, whereas the ancient song is intriguing but frustrating, too. Bough reports that the song mostly talks about meadows and pathways when the singers walk the streets of Buentoille, but that it occasionally mentions a house or church.

Bough also calls into question the veracity of the ancient song, as it seems to be metaphorical at points, especially in reference to what was traded: ‘the heart of a woman left alone for six months’ and ‘three wheat branches’ were allegedly given to the people of Buentoille in return for ‘a necklace of indescribable beauty’ and ‘the pride of a stag.’ Bough seemed to belief that these legendary items hold some additional symbolic value to the traders, and perhaps tell some additional, metafictional story of nation. That said, Bough did identify that geographically the old song was accurate, it mentioning the river Moway in the place it once flowed, before it was diverted to a different part of Buentoille. Bough also admits that she may misremember much of her research, as the traders she followed for so long did not allow her to write anything down; they see this as a sacrilegious act.

The trio of traders arrived late last night and will stay in the City for another one or two days, trading various items from their stalls. They are a little late this year, having been held up by some kind of violence back down south east across the deserts; they were not very clear on the matter. They cut through the City east to west, taking their time about it and singing frenetically as they walk; compared to the open desert Buentoille abounds with sights and sounds. One year they were taken off route by a foolish ambassador who tried to take them to a meeting, prompting two of the traders to become very quiet, and for the other to begin singing very fast and anxiously, attempting to record everything they saw accurately in verse as they saw it.

Amongst the things the traders are most anxious to buy are dark honey and quilts, and they bring all sorts of treasures from around this fair earth, including jewels and silks, gold and weaponry. They usually get a good price for their Ogram stones, if they still have any, which radiate a strange warmth if kept out of sunlight, but most popular are the various spices they carry which cannot be grown in Buentoille. From Buentoille they head along the west coast of the Inner Sea, visiting the Cities there, before crossing the Tibizian Straits by boat and continuing back along the eastern coast once again and back the way they came. It will be over a year and a half before the traders see their home again, but the people of Buentoille will see others like them at the same time next year.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Library Amnesty
  • The Repeal of the Good Law Festival
  • Green Bowyer Day

August 24th – The Festival of the Seal Renewed

There are certain streets around Buentoille where you might feel warm draughts of air coming up from grates in the street. These are caused by the passing of underground trains; air is pushed in front of them, escaping at points like this to avoid excessive drag. There are other points, however, where standing atop these grates would do you quite some damage, and they are necessarily raised high above the ground, in chimneys and funnels. These are the exhaust systems of the Patrimony Delanik Atmospheric Rail, the quickest way to get from one side of the City to the other.

There are only three stops on the Atmospheric rail; it was, after all, built for speed. Running west to east, through Ranaclois district in the City centre, the stations are marked not only by the exhaust systems, but also by bright signage and lighting, and a tall semaphore tower. The system is only operated by seven workers, although more provide assistance on the platforms, sell tickets at the entrances, and crucially perform maintenance works.

Today the railway will not be running, but closed for these essential annual works. Checks are carried out every week, with small repairs made when necessary overnight, but today the seals will be replaced. At the front and back of the train carriage there are lubricated rubber seals which are designed roll, maintaining an almost perfect vacuum whilst reducing friction to the lowest point. Unfortunately, as these are moving parts they require regular replacement as they can otherwise become worn out quickly. Each seal is designed to last for at least a year and a half, but they are replaced once a year for reasons of safety, efficiency, and Buentoilliçan almanachial tendency.

The Atmospheric Rail functions much like a pneumatic tube, and the term ‘rail’ is fairly misleading because there are no tracks beneath the single carriage that runs back and forth along the tube-like tunnel. Rather than using electricity or steam or a combustion engine to drive the carriage, there are powerful air pumps at each station which create a vacuum in the tunnel in front of the carriage, propelling it forwards at great speed. To slow the carriage when it approaches each station (only three minutes down the line), the opposite is enacted, pumping air out behind it and into the area before it.

In order to ensure that the carriage reaches its destination safely, it is progressively slowed for the second half of the journey, in a process that requires exact timing. As such, the system is run quite literally by clockwork, with the operators’ only role to ensure that passengers are safely aboard and to shut down the system if anything is out of place. The operator on each platform ensures, along with the attendants who control access to the carriage, that everybody is onboard in the allotted time, shutting off the system (and simultaneously changing the signal atop the semaphore tower in the process) if anybody attempts to get on too late, or if they notice any issues with the timing of their system. The operators atop the semaphore towers of the other two stations will then shut down operation at their ends, too. The system is only re-engaged at the next quarter of the hour when the issues have been resolved and the signals turned green once again.

The system could probably be a lot safer and cheaper if it were run on rails and without the seals, but then it certainly wouldn’t be as fast, and Patrimony Delanik, the woman who invented it, was nothing if not a speed freak. She had pioneered automobile racing circuits in Litancha, and, not finding the roads for such things in Buentoille, she turned instead to pneumatic transportation. Delanik was also highly superstitious (she was, for example, never without her lucky scarf on a race day), and this is probably the root of the pomp and ceremony that surrounds the replacement of the seals today. The lubricant that covers them is first blessed by a Hierarch of the Chastise Church (quite how Delanik persuaded them to do this in the first place is unknown, but the tradition has been carried on), and then several charms protecting them from ‘weather and rodentry, fault or failure, sabotage and accident’ are cast over the prepared seals by the gathered staff of the Atmospheric Rail. Finally, after they are securely attached, a large feast is held in the carriage, where the staff and their families repeatedly toast the seal’s health.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Totem of Idam Festival

August 23rd – The Festival of the Taxman’s Headstone

Buentoille has slowed down its expansion somewhat in the last 100 or so years, what with improved infant mortality rates and the general prosperity of the City post-Revolution leading to lower birth rates. Rapid expansion is, however, part of Buentoille’s history, and it had its winners and losers. One of the losers in the 1680s was a small, poorly tended graveyard that nobody seemed to own.

Usually the City owned municipal sites and structures such as graveyards, even in those darker times of privatised rail and healthcare. This was probably because they weren’t particularly profitable, and therefore undesirable as an investment. It seemed with this little chunk of land that nobody even knew who was buried there; it was one of those places that just existed. Nobody, not even the City itself, had laid claim to it, or at least that was the case until 1684 when Iris Augnender decided to build a block of flats over it.

Although there was no legal reason to dissuade her from this course of action, there was plenty of resistance from the local community, who treated the graves with a strange reverence, more strongly felt than the normal levels of respect for the dead. This was probably down to the age of the graveyard, which seems to have been mentioned as far back as 1148 by Rebault Irkshire in A Trype Abowt the Sityee. There were several rumours and pieces of folklore associated with the small patch of sanctified ground; it was home to those killed in some awful pogrom, or that they all died in the same instance from an unknowable cause, or even that the graveyard had been there before even the first Buentoillitants, that it was the last remnant of some former civilisation besides the Moway.

There was a tradition within the surrounding houses of the Catathon district, where historically fish caught at sea were brought to be smoked, and before that where the central hub of charcoal production was located, to try to keep the graves well tended, despite not knowing who they were for. They left offerings of wild flowers in the summer and holly branches with bright red berries in the winter. The reason didn’t seem as important as the act itself, although perhaps it is down to the fact that charcoal burners and fish smokers tend to have a bit more spare time on their hands than other workers. In the years leading up to the graveyard’s destruction, it had begun to fall into disrepair, the great changes of that era leading the families who traditionally looked after the graves elsewhere, with newcomers ignorant to these ways replacing them.

Perhaps if Augnender had proposed her plan to build flats there somewhat earlier, there would have been more resistance and it would not have happened at all. As it was, the locals convinced her to let them retain the bodies and headstones so that they could be moved elsewhere. The workmen did as they were told and (rather haphazardly) piled up the 100 or so headstones against a local tree, in readiness for relocation at another plot when it was found. They found no bones beneath them in the soil, which sounds strange but was probably down to the high acidity of the soil there, the age of the graves and the lack of care shown by the workmen. Presumably there were a few fragments still dwelling in the soil, but nothing big enough for the archaeologically untrained workmen to take notice of.

When no bones were found, there was less of a need to find a new home for the headstones, and there was no land cheap enough nearby to rehouse them, so they stayed leaned against the tree, and are still there today. The tree in the centre has now grown over a significant proportion of them, which are piled up in a large circle around it, leaning inwards. A few of the headstones broke in the process of moving them. In some cases the pieces are wedged back together and held intact by the pressure of the surrounding stones, in some cases the pieces were left in an untidy pile that punctuates the circle as a lower point. In some cases, pieces are missing altogether.

One of the headstones that has pieces missing is the gravestone of a taxman. We know they were a taxman because this is written clearly at the top of the remaining piece, but all the other text has since been worn away by weather. It is a very ornate headstone, with only the top, semicircular section missing. According to a story told by the folk who live in the houses by the tree, this semicircular section was very beautiful and ornate, and was taken by Augnender to become part of the chimney breast of the home she was building for herself. It would have sat behind the mantelpiece, framing the items she chose to place there. Two weeks after the building’s completion, it burned down from a chimney fire, with Augnender inside. If the stories are to be believed, the night before a taxman had knocked on her door asking her to pay the tax due on the land she had acquired. She closed the door in his face.

This story may account for the reason that the gravestones have never been moved from beneath the spreading branches of the maple tree, which now has a considerable girth, and might also be the reason for the rituals carried out there today, the anniversary of their transplantation. Much alike the offerings of before, wild flowers are laid around the gravestones, but now they are hung from the tree’s branches, too. They seem to be hung in a circle, the kind of offering that is designed to ensure that the spirits residing in the stones are kept in, and do not go about burning down anyone else’s home. They also read out the names on all those headstones still visible, and a few others that were once visible but are no longer. Finally, they hang one last thing from the maple branches, a precaution just in case: a copy of their tax records, to show that everything is paid up in full.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Jolly Mountaineering
  • The Precocious Teenagers’ Festival

August 22nd – The Festival of the Silken Tree

There’s a huge weeping willow down on the edge of the City, sat on the inside of a bend in the Moway river that cuts through Buentoille. It’s long teldrilous branches dip into the water, and are a favourite place for lovers to steal a moment alone; there is a boat hire place just down the river and the little rowing vessels part the foliage like a curtain as they pass into the private space within. A cycle path gives the tree a wide berth, avoiding its roots and creating a nice space for picnics on the rabbit-mown grass. Trains pass intermittently on the railroad that the cycle path runs alongside. This evening, an three hours before the sun sets, a strange group will gather beneath the ponderous curtain, in that private space.

The Intricate Web are a loose association for most of the year. They are a religious group, apparently, although they don’t seem particularly interested in talking about their beliefs or in gathering new members (new members, when they do come, usually seem to have sought them out rather than vice versa). As a result not a lot is known about their worldview, except that they seem to believe that there is a very large spider in the spiritual realm behind ours which causes important events by pulling on many interconnected threads that it laid long ago throughout its world. Tonight they will cross the mantle between these worlds, but first they must prepare.

You can recognise the Web by the many little boxes they carry on their belts. You might occasionally see them drop a live grub or insect into each box, or perhaps you’d be lucky enough to see them in the process of weaving an article of clothing on the tram or underground. Out of each box comes a long thread of spider silk, almost like a fishing reel, which is then wound around thin birch twigs to make articulated, armour-like garments. The gloves they make are somewhat disturbing. This evening they will set their many captive spiders to more ceremonial use.

The first thing they do is weave a number of threads into a rope, which is still only the thickness of a cotton thread but far far stronger. They attach these ropes to many of the willow tendrils, a couple of hundred each, so that when the ropes are pulled, the tendrils raise up, like puppets at a show. They devise complex systems of pulleys and load-bearing structures, a task of fine engineering completed in the three allotted hours with seeming ease. As the sun begins to set, each member of the Intricate Web (or each Fly, as they frequently call each other) will climb into position: the Flies will have created a sling from the tendrils, large enough to hold a human body horizontally, just off the ground.

They lie on their backs and pull on the ropes they carefully set up beforehand. If you were to walk upon them, to cycle past on your way to a friend’s house, at this point, you would be in for an unsettling spectacle. As they pull on the ropes, they are raised into the tree by the willow branches, wound upwards and cocooned, as if there were some great invisible spider living in the tree. In the morning the tendrils will once again distend downwards in the curious motion, but until then the Flies will remain in the tree, ravelled and asleep, dreaming their way into a world beyond ours, where strings are pulled with unerring precision and design.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Dutiful Daughter
  • The Release of the August Balloons
  • The Festival of the Entombment of the Eight