July 31st – The Festival of the Proof of Residence

Sometimes, when we get into the habit of doing something we keep doing it, even when it becomes obsolete. For some people this is about routine; there is an old woman down in the Warrens who cleans and oils her old delivery bike every Wednesday, never mind that she hasn’t made a delivery on it since 1988. For others it is an act of remembrance, a thankfulness in action. This is the case for the Cadre of the Carved, a commune of artists who have lived inside a disused factory for 144 years. Today the Cadre will send a letter to themselves, as they have done ever year since 1873, the year they first moved in. The letter acts as proof of their residence there, despite the fact they’ve had no need of it since 1883.

The Cadre of the Carved didn’t always live within the tall walls of the old factory, before that they existed for thirty two years in an extended worker’s cottage, the type of building which would once have covered most of Ranaclois district, before successive gentrification and developments led to the large office blocks and swanky townhouses which exist there now. The Hoitswain family, who owned the house, had resisted selling it to developers for many years before Netter Hoitswain, a famous printmaker, gave the somewhat ramshackle cottage over to become the home of the commune. It was a somewhat startling sight, the wooden walls with dog roses growing up the side, utterly overshadowed by the grand facades either side.

Unfortunately for the Cadre, Netter Hoitswain never changed her will, and when she died (from tuberculosis at the tragically early age of 43) the house was inherited by Ermingus Hoitswain, her younger brother who had for many years been on the run from several gambling debts. The land upon which the cottage was built was worth a vast sum of money, and it wasn’t long before the commune was turfed out, their beloved home sold to a property developer and demolished. They were given just enough time to take out all their wood blocks, printing presses, fabrics, inks, hand-turned furniture, their reams of carved and printed artworks. The problem was, with their home gone they had nowhere to put all these items which had been slowly accumulating in their home for thirty two years. It was then that one of them found the factory.

It was a shell, really. All the equipment and machinery of the former wool mill had been stripped out long ago, and there were several empty floors, gathering dust, performing no productive purpose. The company who had owned it had gone bust several years before, and ironically enough it was now owned by the same property developer who had bought and demolished their home. The doors and lower windows were all boarded up, but they found a way in through the cellar of the pub next door, the Wailing Sycophant. The landlord was an old friend of Rusty Beverage, the Cadre’s oldest member who had spent a long time working in the construction industry, and had helped build an extension onto the pub.

Initially the factory was just a place to store their tools, materials and artwork, but when they found out who owned the old factory, the Cadre had a new idea. Suddenly there was a lot more wood being ferried through the pub than was being used for artworks. Tiles and bricks, too. They prised open a side door from the inside, when it became clear that the cellar route wasn’t going to fit many of these new materials through. It took about three years, but with the combined labours of the commune under the supervision of Beverage, eventually the new project was finished; a worker’s cottage, identical to that which had been demolished, constructed in the centre of the factory.

They had to take out the first floor where it stood, that was one of the main stumbling blocks. But sure enough, a large square chunk was removed, and new supporting columns placed beneath the edges of the new hole to keep the structure stable. Today you can stand on the edge of the hole and look straight into the fist floor windows of the cottage, if you like, though of course only on open days. It wasn’t the case back then, but now even the dog roses are back on the side of the cottage, enough light having now been created by the replacement of several sections of roof with impact-resistant glass. It might seem depressing, having the inside of a factory outside your bedroom windows, but for the commune it was an excellent change; they now had enough room to spread their working spaces across the factory, and didn’t have to sleep in the same room as they stored all their materials.

The Cadre knew that if they were to keep their new home they would have to be clever. Surely, at some point the development company would want to sell or develop the factory, and what then? They refused to once again be forced to leave their home, and begun researching properly law in earnest. On the 31st of July, 1873, they sent their first letter to themselves. It was, like all those that have followed it every year since, a single sheet of paper, folded in such a way that it was both letter and envelope. Like all the others it was beautifully designed, printed in tricolour relief; that year it was Bertraine Aquesce who cut the woodblock, but each year a different person was nominated. Most importantly, it was addressed to: The Cadre of the Carved, The Little House Within, Tellglib’s Weaving Factory, Sycophant Street, Darksheve’s District, Buentoille.

They sent it as a special delivery, one which needed to be signed for. This was partly so that the evidence that they lived there was stronger, but also partly so that they could ensure that the letter actually reached its destination; these were the bad old days of privatisation, when the Postal Speed Bill targets were still being routinely missed. Later, when the property developer attempted to evict the artists, they used the letters to prove that they had lived within the cottage for over ten years without complaint, and therefore legally owned the land. As it turned out, they were very lucky, as well as smart; in 1876 the development company was due to survey the site but the surveyors were off sick and the paperwork was misfiled as ‘surveyed’. Had they been found then, they would have been evicted with no legal recourse, and probably convicted for property damage too.

Today the Buentoilliçan Postal Service (BPS) sends a special contingent to honour the ceremony which has developed around the delivery of the letter. At precisely 12pm the postmaster will arrive, their deputy behind them. They will personally hand over the letter, which has been stamped with a unique cancellation stamp, commissioned by the BPS but designed and made by the Cadre themselves. Before they hand over the letter to a Cadre member, the postmaster presents identification in the form of their hat, and asks the member to verbally confirm whether they are ‘the truthful and legal representative’ of the commune. The member replies that they are. The letter is then exactingly held out by the postmaster, who says ‘delivered with all due diligence.’ The Cadre member then holds the other side of the letter, and says ‘received with all due thanks.’ They both shake the letter thrice, and the postmaster releases their grip, and promptly leaves, not looking back at the bizarrely placed cottage, the midday sun falling on it in a perfect square through the glass.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Colour of the Sky Changes Today if You Look Closely Festival
  • The Festival of Jelly
  • The Dahtzhim’s Gifting Festival

July 30th – The Night of Red Spots

The gablelarks know it is coming, long before the Buentoillitants below. Tonight they won’t settle into their roosts, but will instead circle restlessly in the sky all night, perching warily only for a moment here and there. They are very noisy, continuing to chatter nervously all night. Natural philosophers have long debated the purpose of their circling formations, with some claiming it is to ensure they do not lie vulnerable in their nests to tonight’s other aerial visitors. Other, perhaps those overburdened with a sense of civic pride, claim that it is a hunting formation, or even an attempt at protecting the City’s human inhabitants by scaring off or preying upon the migratory needlenoses that will swamp Buentoille tonight.

The gablelarks are certainly much larger than the needlenoses, and are known to occasionally hunt the new arrivals, although probably for the normal reasons of survival and opportunism, rather than some lofty inter-species sense of duty. It is also the case that the gablelarks will indeed find themselves preyed upon, though not fatally, by the other birds, much like every other prostrate warm-blooded creature that lies in their path. A small, quick-flitting bird with a long, thin beak (its ‘needle nose’), the needlenose’s primary food source is the blood of mammals and other animals, which it extracts from their bodies in a manner similar to which a nurse takes blood donations. Unfortunately for most Buentoillitants, this includes them.

Closed windows is the first port of call when trying to sleep without the dreaded ‘red spots’, the ghastly calling card of the needlenose bird. It’s no surprise that the animals spread disease and somewhat weaken their victims (whilst a single bird takes less than a few thimbles full of blood, en masse they can prove quite dangerous), even with the natural coagulant that their beaks are covered in. One particularly nasty disease spread by the needlenose is Saint Agarix’s Fire, a bacterium which causes damage to nerve endings and creates the sensation that one is on fire at random intervals. Whilst antibacterial treatments are effective, once the damage has been done it is irreversible, and before the burning sensation there are few noticeable symptoms, besides the characteristic red spots of needlenose incisions. Therefore it is imperative that you protect yourself from the depredations of the needlenose tonight.

For a bird that causes such pain, the needlenose is paradoxically very beautiful. It is a dark blue with little white flecks, and seems almost coated in an iridescent sheen. Unsurprisingly, this beauty is lost on those who have, forgetting to secure their sleeping quarters, suffered under the piercing beak of the animal. The creature featured heavily in sixteenth century anarchist propaganda as a stand-in for the aristocratic classes, looking far more malevolent and ugly than it does in real life. Similarly, in late 18th century public service posters, a similar black and greasy appearance is shown, in an attempt to scare folk into keeping the ‘blood stealers’ at bay.

It’s not just windows that must be secured tonight, but also fireplaces, cat flaps, in short any possible point of entry to the home by something which could easily fit in the palm of your hand. The needlenose is a determined creature and seems to be able to seek out large mammals like humans from many miles away. Thankfully this also means that they will not stop for more than a night, being lured away in their migratory fashion by the promise of much larger, more easily accessible mammals across the plains to the east; the enormous herds of horses that allegedly roam the great plains that stretch out in that direction. Presumably they come back around to Buentoille via other routes, as they always pass west to east. Unless they are new birds each time, going east to die. The appearance of the birds is pretty regular, usually falling within five days either side of July the 27th, except for 1912, when the birds are thought to have had their navigation senses confused when the magnetic pole flipped for three weeks.

There are, of course, those who seek out the stabbing wounds, believing them some godly penetration. For these Buentoillitants, The Pierced Covenant, Saint Agarix’s Fire is a blessing; a glimpse of the divine, the infinite pain that their god suffers so that we might exist in the ‘void’. The soporific compound extruded as a powder from between the feathers of the needlenose probably had some hand in creating these beliefs, as it acts as a mild hallucinogen as well as deadening the flesh and keeping the bird’s victim asleep whilst it stabs into their flesh and sucks up the blood through its straw-like beak. Humans have been known to awake during the process, but often in their dazed state they do not view the bird as a threat. This is probably for the best, as killing a needlenose or yanking it out mid-sup can cause fatal bubbles of air to enter the victim’s bloodstream.

If tonight you find a needlenose in your room or attached to your person, or find the characteristic red spots about your body, especially above arterial veins, or even small patches of blood on your bedclothes, then make sure to follow these four steps:

1. Raise the alarm and send a runner to the local paramedic.

2. Do not remove the bird or kill it when it is still attached to your body. Wait until it is full and detached, and then kill it, if you wish.

3. Encourage the wound to bleed for two minutes by pressing the flesh around it, and then wash with clean water and (if possible) an antibacterial compound.

4. Get to the nearest hospital or medical centre as soon as possible, preferably with the aid of the paramedic, if they are available.

If you believe that you anyone you know is planning on wilfully exposing themselves to needlenoses tonight, then please inform your local MHS representative as soon as possible (if necessary, confidentially via the post), so that they can be offered the relevant support. Whilst the Pierced Covenant have long-standing healthcare arrangements, wilful exposure is discouraged in the strongest possible terms, and is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Electric Brood’s Festival of the Second Lens
  • The Festival of Buentoilliçan Handicraft
  • Bowtie Day

July 29th – The Festival of Waitglim by the Tower

It’s easy to get used to something, to become blind to the beauty and majesty of everyday life. The poet Julian Sermava perhaps expressed the tragedy of this familiarisation in their 1965 work ‘On Returning Home’; ‘and here, these hedgerows/ the morning light on the cobwebbed dew/ was always here before/ I went away for so long/ that returning home is starting anew.’ So it is that you can tell the newcomers to Buentoille, speeding from district to district beneath those ancient streets in rail carriages, pressing their faces up against the windows to peer into the darkness. There are great delights to be seen beyond your reflection in the glass.

If you are travelling beneath the area around Ranaclois hill, where the other underground chambers and passages are particularly dense, you are quite likely to pass through or over several of these spaces on your journey. About halfway between Pilgrim’s Rest and Yerman Street, if you manage to angle yourself just right, you can see down into an old vertical mine shaft which has been intersected by the tracks. It has since been used to carry electrical cables down into sections of the Unfathomed Archive, but is a notoriously faulty section, so if you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of it when the maintenance lights are on, spiralling down into the earth.

There are less fleeting, more easily visible sections of wonder beyond the windows, such as The Hall, a large section of salt mine which the tracks run through on the way to Marcher’s Table. The lights from the fixed lamps that line the well-worn tables of each carriage bathe the remnants of salt that still cling to the walls of the man-made cave in warm light, causing them to sparkle lustrously. Even some of the most seasoned, those indurated against the beauty of the City, can be seen surreptitiously peering out of the windows there on their morning commute.

Perhaps the most popular underground route, the first part of any self-respecting Buentoillitant’s tour of the City, is the part of Saint Canticule’s Line that briefly breaches into the Hidden Library’s twenty third reading room. Since 1983 a toughened glass barrier has been built around the sweep of track which hangs above the lamplit desks and chained reference shelves, an attempt to keep out the fumes which were troubling the readers and (more importantly) leaving sooty residues on the books. The glass is regularly cleaned, and the train slows down on the bend for safety reasons, although you will often erroneously hear that this is in order to be quieter for the readers. There are some folk in the twenty third reading room who no longer even look up when the train passes, it briefly lending its light to the well-studied pages before them. For them it tracks time, down here where there is no sun; ‘I will read for seven train passes’ they might say. And then, glancing up hours later at the train which swings by in an arc, like the Ladies of Time Gone who pass in and out of their little clock face doors, they will wonder how many times it has been now – was it six or nine?

The underground is a tenebrous tangle, a knotted line with many of these pearls strung along it, if you know when and where to look. It’s easy to see how strange tales would grow down there in the dark, with all the half-glimpsed dark tunnels running off into nowhere. The abandoned, or half finished stations (of which there are certainly three, perhaps more) are notable breeding grounds for such stories. One of these disused stations (Houndlow’s Slump) is accessible from the surface, if you are willing to squeeze through a few rusted old bars and ignore the dust-covered ‘DANGER OF DEATH – KEEP OUT’ signs. It is a favourite haunt of teenagers, and has hosted many an illicit party over the years, which, glimpsed from a passing train carriage, have been misconstrued as ghost sightings, which in turn have fed more parties and visitations from ghost hunters.

The unnamed second station is only accessible via an old twist of the Hidden Library; it was intended to be an alternate access point to that cast repository of knowledge, but due to poor planning and map-keeping, the stubby tendril of track that leads off into the darkness from the empty platform never connected to the East Wending Line, which was actually over thirty metres above. They say that every six years a phantom train materialises through that rocky dead-end, ready to take the souls of departed Buentoillitants to their final destination.

There is only one day of the year that a train stops at the third station, Waitglim by the Tower (so called after the apparently inexplicably named road that lies overhead), which is fully finished, except that its route to the surface was blocked when a monarchist bomb went off in the building above and a memorial was built there instead. It was due to open a week after the attack, so when the rubble sealed the only entrance other than the tracks it became something of a time capsule, glimpsed in snatches.

It was 2001 when the video first surfaced. It was on the long-defunct eight grade format, so it took a while for Benni Rumshaw to get hold of something to play it. She had taken it from one of the tables at the Festival of Lost Property on a whim many years before, she doesn’t remember when. What the video shows is three teenagers (a girl and two boys, none of whom have ever been positively identified) walking down a train tunnel. The date stamp in the corner of the image shows ‘July 29th 1986.’ it’s filmed in snatches, presumably to retain battery life. A lot of the footage is quiet, just the sound of feet on gravel, dust falling through torch beams, close ups on their faces, shushing sounds and gestures, excited and just a little scared. Near the start, one says to the other ‘make sure you don’t touch the central rail or you’ll die.’ Later on, another says ‘we need to hurry up,’ then, ‘we have two minutes before the train comes.’ Then they are running, panting hard, torch beams swinging wildly, trying hard not to misstep on the central rail.

It’s probably spoiling it to say that they get there, to Waitglim by the Tower, without being hit by a train. You can hear the rails sing behind them, over their laboured breath. The train lamps on the wall as it rounds the corner. But they get there in time. The rest of the footage feels less interesting when the tension has dissipated. They look around the abandoned platform, pulling out old mouldering timetables from their slots on the walls, blowing fountains of dust into the air. They muck about with the ticket stamping machine for a while. Eventually, one of them says ‘we need to go,’ and the footage ends.

Today you don’t have to run along the tracks between trains to get to Waitglim by the Tower. For one night only you can get a special ride there, if you are at Two Coin Stop at 11pm; they put it on after folk started walking down the tracks themselves, trying to emulate the video that was copied, distributed through samizdat channels. There’s nothing about the train that seems special, no tour guide or anything to suggest it is going anywhere out of the ordinary – just the name of the station on the ticker. The passengers eye eachother excitedly as they approach.

The train doesn’t stay, but it does come back through at 12am and then 1am after, to pick up any stragglers. There’s no lighting to the platform but that which the revellers bring themselves; a few torches, perhaps an oil lamp or two. Some years there is a party, other times not. Some years folk clean up the dust and detritus of age. The parties are always clean and nobody breaks anything; the appeal of this place is its pristine nature, the way it feels stuck in time.

Most years there is a séance. They do it in the centre of the platform; they bring chalk and candles. It makes no sense – how would the video have reached the surface if the teenagers had not survived, had become trapped down here by some malevolent spirit of the overhead dead as the occultists believe? Yet belief rarely listens to reason. Even down here there are ways for lost things to become found, they say.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Treasure of Saint Adennin
  • The Wisp of Eventide Festival
  • The Festival of the Red Klaxon.

July 28th – The Day of the Castiagra Feasts

In the early days of Buentoille, before it became a City in the modern sense, way back in the fifth century, there was a plant called castigara. For about thirty years there was an economic boom based around this plant, a small empire built on its production and distribution. But as is the way with all booms, there must be a crash. For the castigara plant, and those who relied on it for their living, the crash was particularly catastrophic; it went extinct.

It was a leafy shrub, by all accounts (which are unclear at best), stubby with a milk-white sap when broken. The leaf shape seems to change in the different depictions of it that we still have, but it’s likely that they were roughly circular and thick, rubbery. It was the sap that was attractive for those early Buentoillitants. It dried into a hard resin, which when powdered could be added to food as an apparently delicious spice. Whilst this seems to be the primary usage of the sap, there are plenty of sources which point to various medicinal effects.

According to Ayer the Gnostic, the sap could be mixed with asses’ milk, then heated to create a ‘healthy tonic’ that would relieve muscular ailments, although it is not clear whether this was to be consumed internally or rubbed into muscles externally. Ayer also prescribes the ‘tonic’ in instances of ‘mania of the left brain,’ and suggests smearing the raw sap into open wounds that ‘refuse to knit themselves.’ According to Orphelliam, the resin could be burned to ward all sorts of ‘malevolent spirits,’ ‘bears,’ and ‘gentlemen of dark intent.’ Apparently it smelled very pleasant when heated slowly, but terrible if burned.

Despite these, and many other, health-bestowing claims, it seems strange that the herb had such a dramatic effect on the region. There are reports in the Hidden Library of farmers giving up tilling the land to pick (and unsuccessfully attempt to cultivate) castiagra, of great fortunes being made on the substance, of temples being formed around it, of people coming from many hundreds of miles over hard country to buy it. These sound like the effects of some potent psychoactive and addictive drug, but there are no testimonies, written or otherwise, which seem to point to this. There are no hallucinogenic artworks, or accounts of ecstasies induced through consumption of the plant, just a great respect for its taste and medicinal effects.

Perhaps this was an example of early social advertising. Perhaps the notoriety and popularity of castigara was accentuated precisely because it was so popular and notorious. Perhaps it was a fashion, a fad, one accessible to almost everyone at first because the plant was relatively widespread across the Buentoille bay area. Unfortunately this wasn’t to last. It seems the insatiable appetite for the plant led to rampant over-harvesting. All attempts to cultivate castigara failed, and it wasn’t long before it was all used up. Towards the end, the herb commanded such a high price that even though they knew they were using it all up, the people of the day could do nothing to prevent its extinction.

The marks of the fall have now been erased by time, except for a few accounts, poems, and passing references within textual works, and a couple of images here and there. When the empire of foragers fell, it fell hard, and the effects of the depression that followed the boom were felt for far longer. There were a few dangerous years, when possession of any castigara necessitated armed bodyguards, when everyone knew the fall was coming but could do little to stop it; the whole region’s economy had become subservient to the herb. It’s strange to think that the history of Buentoille is not all progressive; there were slumps and knockbacks here and there, too. Buentoille was not always on a straight path to the present day; there are alternate and very different forms of the City, there are dead ends.

And yet when it comes to castigara, there might not have been a dead end after all. Whilst she never told anyone in life, when the famed botanist Xers Pignyon died (in 1921) she left a very short note on her desk: ‘There is a castigara in my garden.’ Presumably one specimen had escaped the frenzied uprooting. Or maybe some long-dried seed had been washed over by rain, that life-giving substance, and had burst back into life. The issue was, nobody knew which plant it was. There were plenty of plants in Pignyon’s garden, quite a few of which exude whitish sap when broken. In modern Buentoille, castigara has never had quite the notoriety that it once did, and it was some time before anyone realised the significance of this desktop declaration.

Today there are three plants which contend for the position. Two are likely of the same genus as castigara, the sap dying to a resin, the leaves roughly circular and rubbery. The third has brown sap and heart shaped leaves. Three feasts will he held today, all containing elements of these possible castigaras as their main spices. Each plant is carefully looked after in Pignyon’s garden, and that is where the spice is taken from, earlier in the year so that the resin is properly made in time for the festival today, on the anniversary of Pignyon’s death. It turned out that she had conducted a large amount of research into the plant, and was planning on announcing its existence publicly when she had finalised her studies. Unfortunately she contracted a debilitating and ultimately fatal lung disease before she finalised this research.

Each feast is held in a different location across the City, and those who have managed to obtain access to all three (generally if you favour one you are shunned by the others) have reported varying tastes. Two are rich and delicious, a sweet, warm, cumin-like taste, whilst the third (one of the white-sapped plants) is acrid and quite the aquired taste, though this doesn’t dampen the spirits of those who advocate it, pointing to a link between a passage in the work of Orphelliam that says the plant ‘revives the sexual organs,’ and the fact that the leaves of their chosen plant are heart-shaped. Whilst the organisers of each feast are convinced that they have the correct plant, there are those who believe that none of these plants is a castigara, and even those who claim that the plant never existed at all.

In 1976 Douglas Termline posited that the plant was fabricated by Ayer as some kind of moralistic story that warned against the perils of gluttony, and that the other sources all gained inspiration from them. This was generally accepted as the most plausible explanation until 1993 when a cache of clay tablets depicting the harvesting of the plant were unearthed, alongside specific cutlery and plates which would have been used when consuming food spiced by castigara. Since 1993 there has been renewed interest in the plant, or rather plants, and the feasts have gained many hungry attendees, looking to taste the spices of the past, to understand what it is worth forming empires over.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Nodding Off Without Fear
  • The Wave of Saint Feman
  • The Day of the Disappointed Chorus.

July 27th – The Victory Celebrations at the Picked Skeleton

Above the bar of the Picked Skeleton, a seaside pub just down from the Buentoille docks, is the skeleton after which it is named. Before the skeleton arrived, the pub was called the Ugly Lamprey, a far better name, but, crucially, one which did not capitalise on and mythologise the events of 1841. Partly as a result of the establishment’s new name, today about two hundred people will cram into the pub, and a further three hundred will spill onto the benches and beach outside, to celebrate this mythology.

It was in the early months of 1841 when the first fisher was attacked. Their small craft, a mere rowing boat, was smashed into by some hulking underwater creature one uncharacteristically balmy February evening. They had fallen asleep beneath the thick blankets they had brought with them, staying out on the water far longer than they intended. The sun was just beginning to set when a great crash awoke the sleeping fisher. At the second crash a hole was torn in the side of the vessel and it began to take on water. The fisher was thankfully not far out, and whatever it was beneath the water seemed interested only in smashing their boat, so they managed to swim to safety.

Over the next three months there were seventeen other attacks where the fishers survived, although three of these lost limbs to a ghastly maw. One narrowly avoided death when the aquatic menace became tangled in their net and dragged them out to sea at some speed before biting through the net and escaping. In the process their boat, a smallish sailing boat, sustained significant damage and was slowly sinking. It was only proximity of another saviour vessel that saved them.

Others were not so lucky. Over twenty incidents were recorded in which body-parts and boat debris washed up on the shores of the City, although some may have been the product of a single attack. Most of these brutalised individuals were never identified, but twenty five fishers and sailors were reported as missing at the time. Many folk who would normally be out casting their nets in the bay stayed on dry land where it was safe, spending their days and nights in the pub waiting for the danger to pass. Occasionally someone would declare they would catch the monster, or would head out despite it either out of bravado or financial desperation. Sometimes they wouldn’t come home again.

It wasn’t long before rumours and stories began to spread, as they do amongst fishers who spend too long in the pub. The creature was the King of the Ocean, come to defend his realm. It was a mermaid (an undead drowned woman, turned foul denizen of the sea) enforcing retribution upon boats similar to those from which she was pushed, in a blind rage. It was a spirit of vengeance, a whale twisted, turned dark with grief, come to take human lives in recompense for its partner, murdered against Buentoilliçan maritime law. Or was it a natural fish, grown massive and aggressive through some filthy effluence spewed from the City’s factories? Had it been mutated from some witchery, some arcane run-off?

Eventually these stories attracted adventurers, master fishers, wannabe heroes. Iaeme Veddik, a muscle-bound member of the king’s guard, rowed out, harpoon in hand. He managed to wound the beast, spearing one of its roving eyes, but his boat was smashed and he was bitten in two. Three sisters rowed out in circular coracles, spreading an enchanted net between them. Only one sister survived. An aristocrat with a large rifle tried shooting it from the safety of the shore, but made no impact if they did hit it. There were several other instances of foolish heroism, and for a month or two the monster was well fed. Many of the fishers had taken to travelling well up the coastline where things were safer; you can still visit the makeshift lodges they built, their abandoned settlement known in its time as ‘Safe Harbour.’

When Salléman Quiddot announced he was going to swim out to the beast and fight it from the water, everyone thought he was mad, and there was a serious attempt to stop him, to restrain him somehow. The landlord of the Ugly Lamprey actually locked him in a store cupboard ‘to sleep it off’ (Quiddot proposed the feat when extremely drunk), but when he was let out the next day his resolve had not faltered, and he set off immediately, stopping only by his home to retrieve a net and harpoon.

Quiddot never talked about what happened over the next five hours, except to say ‘I killed it.’ He had swum out to where it had been sighted last, and because he was not in a boat had managed to sneak up on the beast without provoking its ire. Even after getting the drop on the terrible creature, he must have struggled with it for some time. When he finally crawled onto the beach, falling almost instantly asleep, the enormous pile of gouged, dead muscle bobbing, net-entrapped behind him, he was quickly taken to the Ugly Lamprey, where his wounds were taken to and he was given a bed. Three of his ribs hand been broken, and his shoulder bore a deep tooth mark, but he was alive.

The next day, when he had awoken, he walked down to the beach with a huge knife, and butchered the creature. The contents of its stomach were buried down the coast, but the rest was cooked and eaten that day, in one huge feast, attended by hundreds of fishers and other coastal Buentoillitants. The bones were picked entirely clean, and hung above the bar. Today’s festival happens pretty much the same way, except there are many regular sized fish eaten, not just one large one. The smell of cooking fish wafts for miles around.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Bright Paintings of Derman Elmhouse Are On Sale For One Day Only
  • The Festival of Seaweed Consumption

July 26th – The Pantomime of Crustown

As with yesterday, today’s festival centres around a place that was once outside the bounds of the City, but which found itself surrounded as Buentoille grew fat. Unlike yesterday’s monastery, the village in the south west, Crustown, retained some semblance of autonomy for some time after it was conquered by absorption. For a time it maintained a ‘green belt’ of farmland around it, just a few fields, but enough to stop rampant development. Eventually these were bought up. They resisted paying taxes to the King for a time too, until the tax collectors came with soldiers in tow. They were never large enough to be their own district, but the village elder maintained a (mostly ceremonial) post as advisor to the mayor of Marked Forest, the district of which they lay within the boundaries.

It took a few generations, but at some point Crustown stopped being just Crustown and started being Buentoille, too. People moved in and out of the homes, and despite the fact that they still had the village hall and the church, named after the place and not a saint, there was no longer a community of people who were authentic Crustowners. When the old village leaders died it no longer seemed so important to keep the place separate, to keep the land in the families and stop ‘outsiders’ from moving in. Yet the village didn’t disappear entirely; it remains to this day in the form of street signs, some of the original buildings, and today’s festival.

There were originally several festivals, each performances or ‘pantomimes’ are they were more frequently named, devised by the village elders to keep the memory of this place they loved alive. Only today’s festival survives, the others lost to unpopularity and water damage. Some of them told the story of the village’s inception, based around a pub which then became a pie shop that mysteriously burned down in the early 12th century. There’s a plaque in a place that probably wasn’t where it stood. Some of the pantomimes related to ‘the incursion,’ as the villagers called it, i.e. Crustown’s annexation by the City. The one that survives, however, is less obviously about the identity of this little place. It’s a ghost story.

The first thing that happens in the pantomime is a large fire, a bonfire burned in a small courtyard, next to where the plaque is. This happened last night, actually. Today, the ghost will arrive, a soot-blackened man or woman with charred nightclothes. For today they will go by the name of Gruban Umplet, the erstwhile owner of the long-departed pie shop who was asleep above it as it burned down. Apparently he was an upstanding fellow, the kind of person who always paid his debts and treated others with kindness, giving generously to the poor in the form of pastry goods. He surely would not have become a ghost were it not for the curse placed upon him by a witch, whose familiar he had allegedly butchered and baked into a pie, mistaking it for a regular pig.

For all of today, the ‘ghost’ is given license to cause mischief wherever they choose, on the condition that when asked to stop they must pose a riddle to their arrester. Should this person correctly solve the riddle they must then submit to their instruction, and perform some boring task until midnight. This closely mirrors the original story, in which Umplet became something of a terror after his fiery death, but was challenged to a battle of riddles with a quick-witted farmhand (these quick wits were apparently news to her family and friends; she had hidden them well).

The ghost, who apparently still smouldered at the edges, traditionally asks the classic riddle ‘If I eat I grow, but if I drink I die, what am I?’ (the answer, of course, is fire). The farmhand guesses correctly, then asks the ghost ‘I appear twice in a day, I exist where the sea ends, but do not occur in ponds, what am I?’ The ghost answered ‘the letter “a”,’ but were told that they had got it wrong; the correct answer was ‘the tides’. Of course, had the ghost answered the other way, then the farmhand would have switched to the alternate answer. As recompense, the ghost was tasked with returning all the tideline debris into the sea until it was entirely clear, and is presumably still doing so to this day.

To keep things interesting, the riddles now change each year, and are set only by the ‘ghosts’ themselves. Usually the mischief-making involves the pilfering of small items from local shops, especially the pub where they will pour themselves several pints, or mix some damnable concoction from several bottles behind the bar. As a result, the landlady of the Querulous Dandy has become something of a dab hand at riddle-solving. Some ‘ghosts’, who are picked from a hat each year, push the envelope a little far and go about breaking windows or peeping into changing rooms; expert riddle-solvers are despatched post-haste in these situations, but less extreme ‘ghosts’ are usually allowed a little fun before their inevitable chores.

Quite often the tasks the Umplets are set are merely cleaning up the mess they’ve caused, or paying off their excesses through their labour, yet some folk are more poetic with their task-setting. In 1749 a pantomime ghost was told that they must sort 3000 dried beans in order of age, and another in 1631 was tasked with counting the number of dandelion seeds in an acre of grassland. More recently, in 2001, a ghost woman was given a toothbrush and thirty six stones, and asked to make a bag of sand.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Treacle Smiles
  • The Festival of Swinging All the Way Back Around and Turning Inside-Out
  • The Festival of Modern Music

July 25th – The Orchestra of the Fields Festival

Not all Chastise Church festivals are based around saints and their exploits, some of them are more esoteric, tied to other aspects of religious life. The Church is an old thing, and old things inevitably become mixed up, confused at some point along the way. What was written down in one century might take on different meaning when viewed through new eyes in the next. Such is the way in which the annual Orchestra of the Fields came to be.

There is a line in the Sanctotemporal Index, thought to have been written by Hierarch Kirim at some point in the fifth century (though authorship is always a difficult and contested thing with the Index), which states that ‘Yff thee haff a glyutt aff peryshabble fodder ynn the sunniyer dayes aff the yere, thee muste notte let ytt gow to wayste, thee muste haff harmoneyuss festyvale.’ For about two hundred years this was interpreted as an exportation to eat unreservedly of the summer bounty, at least of those vegetables which are easily wasted if not eaten quickly, like courgettes and beans, and to do so in such a way that you included your neighbours, a ‘harmonious’ feasting that left nobody hungry. The passage was even used by the more egalitarian Buentoillitant Chastise Church-goers to argue for a more inclusive Church that donated more liberally to the poor.

Then, for a while, roughly another two hundred years, the line fell out of fashion. There were many new saints, with new declarations, and new ways of thinking of the world. And then, in 1037, a monastery near Buentoille (now inhaled, consumed by the City), under the leadership of Nerma Deen, interpreted the edict rather differently. The monastery was based around values of musical Attunement attainment, and when, after many hours reading the Index, Deen came across the line, the naturally took the words ‘harmonious festival’ to mean that there should be some kind of musical element to this festival of summer gluttony.

And so it was that the Orchestra of the Fields was created. It hasn’t happened every year since; there were plenty of years when the harvest was lessened so that there was no ‘glut’ of summer vegetables, when the monastery’s gardens couldn’t keep up with the number of new arrivals, and later, when the monastery was swallowed up by the roaming streets of Buentoille, the Great Grain Crisis kept the festival away for several years. But for the last 70 or so years the Orchestra has developed and grown past a religious observance, a liturgy born from the twists and turns of textual interpretation. As is the case with these things, the Orchestra became associated with a particular day; today. Nowadays hundreds of musicians, amateurs and professionals, children and adults, religious and irreligious, will submit themselves and their new instruments to the direction of Pastor Brundwytch upon the cavernous stage in the Church of Acoustic Refinement.

The most popular, and probably most traditional instrument is the courgette. Hollowed out and cut just right it can make a sweet, earthy tune. Carrots are higher pitched, more defined, sometimes played like a flute, sometimes like a recorder or even a clarinet, with a thin flap acting as a ‘reed’. Radishes and parsnips are common additions, sometimes cut in such a way that they can be hit together to make a note. Aubergines are cut down the centre and used like clappers. In recent years, less seasonal instruments have been included in the ensemble, mostly percussion instruments such as pumpkin ‘drums,’ or dry gourds full of dried beans or rice which are shaken. Sometimes bell peppers are used as bell amplifiers on the end of the wind instruments. Very occasionally someone manages to make a working guitar with a microphone, a halved squash and a stick of celery.

In 2007 there was a small coup by a group of self described ‘acoustic technicians’ who sought to create electrical music through notes created by the relative electrical conductivity of different vegetables, but it didn’t last long. They performed sublimely, movingly, with their alien noise far surpassing the disorganised clattering of the regular Orchestra, but despite this people seemed to care less. They could be making that noise with anything, it doesn’t have to be vegetables, they said. And besides, it simply wasn’t as inclusive, you couldn’t have the messy parades of folks on their way perform, snaking through the streets, proudly brandishing their home-made instruments. Frankly it went against the spirit of the thing.

Practice takes place for about five days beforehand; they usually play The Imperious Leader and The Saga of Hom as a finale, but the other songs are mostly new, devised by group leaders as the festival day looms ever closer. No matter how much practise is done, the results will never be perfect, or even seem practised. It takes a long time to get used to the particular resonances of vegetable musical instruments, and they change and break with extreme ease. No matter though; what the Orchestra lack in skill and accuracy, they make up for sevenfold in enthusiasm and sheer joyousness. There is a reason that today’s festival is one of the most popular events of the musical calendar. Thousands will fill up the church pews today.

It used to be that the vegetable instruments were made into an enormous pot of soup, but for many years this has been considered extremely unsanitary and instead they are turned to compost, just after the children have a bit of fun with them: they are all spread out on a large tarp outside, and everyone is invited to jump up and down, pulping them all whilst singing percussive songs.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Oracle of Saiem Festival
  • The Ungodly League’s Festival of the Visceral Scream
  • The Festival of Milk and Bread

July 24th – The Festival of Casting the City in Mirrors

If you were to write down a magic spell right now, how would it go? What magical words would you use? What items would be needed, what gestures? When would it need to be performed? Under the last full moon of the year? On the anniversary of a gothic musician’s death? Perhaps you know the answer to these questions, stored up for such an occasion, but when Marshall Trivumsted was asked suddenly to make up a spell, they didn’t really have a clue. They just said the first thing that came into their head.

It was at a gathering of the Troubled Arcanists Working Group that the typist blurted out the spell which forms most of today’s festival. He had walked into the wrong meeting, but hadn’t wanted to be rude, when someone asked him what his favourite spell was. He didn’t know any spells, so he made up one on the spot. There was a mirror there, angled in such a way that he saw himself staring back, his face shadowed by a long hooded waterproof coat (it was January and raining hard outside). He said the spell quickly, and then, when there was stunned silence, left back the way he had come, and nipped into the next meeting room in Berto Verana’s Meeting Hall, where he had a knitting class.

Needless to say, this enigmatic stranger (besides his dramatic raiment, Trivumsted was very tall and handsome) busting in to their meeting, blurting out a spell and then quickly leaving made quite an impression on the gathered arcanists, who had been working through some of their favourite spells to gain inspiration for new ones. Most of them had been experiencing the equivalent of writer’s block, so when this stranger walked in and announced a spell they’d never heard of before they were suddenly galvanised; there was obviously something important, something auspicious about this spell. They would perform it, later in the year when the stranger specified.

To perform the spell of the City in Mirrors, you need to stand between two mirrors whilst chanting the entirety of Galucen Indermen’s A Life Half Lived, turn anti-clockwise seven times, and then walk into a large, still pool of water at precisely midday on July the 24th. You must have eaten only cherries, the type attached in twos, for two days before hand. You must walk in slowly, disturbing the pool as little as possible. You must be called Ungol and have recently sold a lock of your hair to a child. What Trivumsted didn’t say, before he rushed out of the room, was what the spell was supposed to do; this seems to have been left up to the arcanists.

Most of the arcanists believe that when you re-emerge from the pool you will be in an inverted, alternate City. You won’t notice the inversion, because you too will be inverted (only your mind will retain knowledge of that world you were in before), but there will be other subtle differences; some acquaintances will act as if you never met, others you do not know will walk up to you, shake your hand, and wink, slyly. Perhaps that mole you have is on the other side, or maybe it’s gone, who knows? Who knows what your past truly is, in this alternate Buentoille? Is this the world into which you routinely look when putting on your makeup? And has the true owner of this body you inhabit also walked into a spell-cast pool in unknown synchronicity? Or are they displaced to some dark void, your true body left lifeless in the water? Are they still in your head with you?

It seems like a dangerous spell to cast, one full of mystery and trickery, so of course there are plenty who want to try. Because of the insistence on keeping the pool still, only one person can perform it at a time, and an indoor pool with steps is best used to ensure it retains a mirror-like quality. The arcanists will choose a member of their order at the end of the festival today, when the chosen one emerges (with a new mind?). This person will legally change their name the next day, in readiness for next year’s festival, and will begin learning the epic poem A Life Half Lived, if they have not already memorised it.

Later, when the arcanists found out that Trivumsted was just a man who had blurted something out in the moment, rather than some visiting angel of forbidden magic, some of them were disappointed. He hadn’t wanted to ruin their fun, so even when he found out about their little festival based around his rushed words, he didn’t rush over to tell them what had really happened, but eventually a journalist tracked him down and had asked him for an interview and it would have been rude to decline. Some of the arcanists were disappointed, but others were unfazed; how would we know when something other, something from that mirror realm beyond speaks through us?

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Lovers of the Bradden Gate Festival
  • Ophelia Vermond’s Annual Chimney Pot Tour
  • Fear Not the Idle Hands Festival

July 23rd – Flag Day

Hopefully the weather will be good today. Flag Day is always better when the sun is shining, and there is a good, strong breeze. One of those kite-flying beach days, your hair all in your face. Walking down the City’s streets on a good weather flag day is a singular pleasure, the flags all hanging out the windows, strung between the washing lines, there’s even the occasional broomstick flagpole. A cacophony of fluttering colour.

On Flag Day you could walk through thirty different principalities in as many paces, although often streets join together under a single banner, peaceful annexations based on persuasion and popularity. Some streets, blocks even, are awash with one colour; the greenish blue of the Soralm Sea Nation, for example, or the stark red of the Eternal Worker’s State. The true number of segments that Buentoille is cut into today is uncounted; it tends to change each year. Thousands upon thousands of hand-painted flags twist and turn in wind-blown collage.

They call it the Condominium of July, or sometimes the Commonwealth, or the Commonality, but mostly folk call it flag day. Representatives from each of these micro-states meet on street corners to conduct negotiations with each other, for natural resources, political union, to form migration treaties or establish new relations. Some of these representatives are also their only citizens, proudly waving a flag of their own devising. Generally they range in age from five to sixteen, although occasionally older siblings get dragged in to act as chancellors or vice presidents or even serfs. These tiny nations are mostly utopian, filled with abundance and happiness, although there is the occasional totalitarian regime spotted here and about.

It’s important to remember that the physical nature of the City isn’t the extent of these magical lands. They extrapolate outwards at imaginary angles, and our world is only a signifier of what lies beyond; that hydrant is a great mountain, or a well full of fizzy pop, the little stream that runs down the middle of the street is a gushing torrent, the centre of a thriving trade network. States may inhabit several different locations here in the streets of Buentoille, but they are one unified space out there, where the state really is. Some of these principalities and nations might exist on the same planet, but others are planets unto themselves, back gardens made enormous and wrapped around a celestial globe somewhere in the great out, only represented here, a strange embassy.

Some of them are flat, great disks hovering in space, their undersides covered in lava and strange beasts, their rivers flowing off into space and propelling them onwards. There are volcanoes that spew fresh fruit out periodically each day, represented in Buentoille by a lupin plant in the back garden, or the pit where mum always makes the Midsummer fire. Younger siblings are often gifted small sections of land, part of the garden or the house or the street that suddenly evaporates and becomes a new planet, hanging somewhere in this infinite universe.

There are some of the flags hanging out today that have seen many years, that were made long ago by some creative young person who is now long dead. The Gareval family have a particularly old example, made by great aunt Trelly when she was fourteen way back when. Deep in closets and under beds are many thousand other flags, the state they signify long abandoned. Other original flags have been lost, but their nation remains, several streets remaining loyal, the design handed down through generations of children. Some of these oldest states have long-standing relations with their similarly venerable neighbours (yet neighbours only here, in this City of impossible embassies), with whom they have gone to war and then reconciled many times; empires have risen and fallen, grand narratives have been carried out over many years.

It started with a school project assigned by an imaginative supply teacher, they say, back in the 1800s. Some don’t agree, the Union of Children states that an adult could not have started a celebration so filled with imagination and life, and that it must, therefore, have been the work of children. Whoever started it, it’s been a long time since you could walk down any Buentoilliçan street on the 23rd of July and not see the flags, potato printed and proud, no matter what the weather.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Hoarsest Folk Voice
  • The Feathered Band Day
  • Stretch Yourself Tall Do Not Fall Festival

July 22nd – The Festival of the Penrath Hill Woman

It’s a way down to the south, where the hills gently undulate, that you can go see the Penrath Hill Woman. She’s naked, hunched over, carrying a sack over one shoulder, a tall pilgrim’s stave in the other. She’s cut out of the turf, a geoglyph in grass and the chalk of the hillside. Despite the simple nature of the depiction – she is made of little more than an outline – you still get the distinct impression that she is struggling with whatever she’s carrying.

Because of the repeated re-cutting of the hill figure, an act which will form the central part of today’s festival, it is difficult to tell when she was first cut into the hillside. The earliest textual reference we have for her is from the early 13th century, a court record from the trial of Semval Aiesache, who was accused and then convicted of stealing several sheep from a Buentoilliçan farmer’s field and ‘taykinge theye wullen lyfestocke to the rewyned vylage in the shayde af thy Pennryth Gyante Hagge.’ The ‘ruined village’ referred to here still sits beneath Penrath Hill, though it would no longer provide shelter for a fugitive sheep rustler; the walls are now little more than stones laid out in rows.

The fact that the small collection of buildings beneath the Woman was already ruined in the early 13th century shows us that presumably the geoglyph was also old by that point, assuming that it was made by the folk who once lived in the valley. Of course, the Woman could be far older still, if we instead consider that the village could have been build around her, rather than having created her; there is nothing to suggest that the truth lies one way or the other.

The last archaeological survey into the town was conducted in 1867, and was generally considered to be an unmitigated disaster. The dig was directed by self-described ‘antiquarian’ Hadean Quaternary, whose approach was somewhat unscientific, paying no attention to the position of buried artefacts, or to the depth at which they were buried. Quaternary’s theory was that the site had been built as a site of worship, made in the preserved footprint of some ancient giant, the last of those which some mythologies claim ruled the earth in a bygone age. The Woman, he said, was a depiction of this final giant.

Besides the obvious scientific implausibility of his theory, there is little evidence, besides a few artefacts which were doctored and misinterpreted to fit the story Quaternary wanted to tell, which suggest that it was anything but fanciful nonsense. Modern supporters of Quaternary point out that the valley in which the village is situated does bear some resemblance to an enormous footprint, yet this observation is based upon ‘geological surveys’ completed by the frankly fraudulent antiquarian himself, and do not stand up to scrutiny.

Because of the way in which that original dig was conducted, the site has been avoided by modern archaeologists, as there are worries that any evidence or artefacts found would not easily lead to any conclusions, because the soil was so disturbed. However, recently a team from the Union of Archaeologists, Ground Historians and Affiliated Workers has proposed a new dig looking into the site, after it was observed that some of the smaller buildings (termed ‘peasants’ huts’ by Quaternary) were not excavated, the antiquarian feeling that they would have nothing of value buried within.

The hillside upon which the Woman is situated faces towards the City, and can be seen from some of the higher towers and hills on a clear day. Folk have been travelling out there for many years, but there are surprisingly few theories as to who created it and why. Quaternary could well have based his own theory on the popular folk myth that the Woman was a giant killed by Queen Gylfan, an early Buentoilliçan monarch about whom little is known but her diminutive size and general ferociousness. When she felled the giant after a wrestling competition which she inexplicably won, she apparently ordered that its outline was cut into the hillside so that her exploits would not be forgotten. Whilst this story is clearly just that, there are those who say that the Woman may have been cut into the hillside as a hyperbolic commemoration of a battle between Gylfan and a naturally large opponent, and that the sack which she carries could have once have depicted the Queen, attempting to strangle the giant.

This theory seems to suggest that the grass-cut image has been changed over time, a fact which must be true to some extent, given how often it has been cut. The fact that the court document from Aiesache’s trial refers to the Woman as a ‘hag,’ but that the modern image seems to depict a youthful woman, suggests that some ‘wizening’ lines may have been lost over time, or that it may have been deliberately changed in response to some event, or even due to the artistic tastes of the time. Nowadays the emphasis is upon conservation when re-cutting the chalk lines, but in times past it may have instead seemed more of a malleable, artistic endeavor.

The fact that it is the Chastise Church who lead a contingent of Buentoillitants out to the hillside today to cut the turf, alongside the pilgrim’s staff which the Woman carries, may point to an alternate explanation, that perhaps this is some forgotten saint or instruction of in which direction pilgrimages should take place. There are those who believe the figure may be a strange depiction of Saint Yedvam, who gained Attunement from the hallucinogenic mushrooms she foraged, but the chronology doesn’t seem to match up. It seems more likely that the reason behind the Church’s involvement is instead down to the passion for preservation of one priest becoming tradition upon their death.

The conservationists will meet at the Church of Saint Osslaw at down today before they set out. Upon arrival, some will wait for the priest to say a few consecratory words, whilst others will simply get to work, hewing off those tendrils and patches of grass which have the audacity to grow across the (presumably) ancient monument. Hopefully she will not morph further from her original shape today, so that future generations can continue to wonder at the mystery she represents.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of 300 Houses of Cards
  • The Sand Worm Festival
  • The Day of the Lessened Strain