October 28th – The Festival of the Sinister Soirée

Throughout most of the nineteenth century, the occult was a popular subject of study, entertainment and fascination amongst the upper and upper middle classes of Buentoille. Fortune tellers were suddenly in vogue, and were welcomed to, rather than chased out of, ‘respectable’ areas of the City. All manner of spell merchants and purveyors of lucky implements sprung up all over. You could buy an exorcism or ghost-laying on any street corner. Yet this newfound passion for all things magical and strange was more than simply a fad; it had a lasting impact on world events.

Catwen Fineverse was a medium and séance-leader from the east of the City, in fact she was perhaps the best medium and séance-leader that the City had to offer. Amongst those who attended her séances, known then as ‘Sinister Soirées’, were leaders of industry and politics, including the Parliament Leader, Vaster Micklebright. Micklebright had spent, at this time, an unprecedented fifteen years as the central force in Parliament, holding together various different voting groups to pass legislation that he deemed worthy. Unlike other parliamentary systems, which have an organised government and opposition, the Buentoilliçan Parliament had a melange of various different landowners and highborn folks who never saw any reason to divide themselves because they broadly agreed on everything. It was the job of the Leader to direct the consciousness of this over-privileged group toward productive subject matter.

Access to such powerful people made Fineverse very powerful herself, especially as Sinister Soirées tend to last much longer than mere séances; they are essentially an extended dinner topped off with the séance itself as entertainment at the end. Some were more effective than others in this endeavour; Fineverse was a master in this art, only holding the Soirées in her own home, a dilapidated manor which had supposedly been passed down through many generations of her family. In this setting she was able to control the environment, and therefore the tone and mood of the Soirée, ensuring that it was suitably spooky with dark furnishings, inky mirrors and low lighting. Her servants would welcome the various guests, and serve them dinner, and they would be entertained by Fineverse’s wife Cerys, an agreeable, somewhat pallid and nervous woman who would say very little about her spouse. When asked why Catwen didn’t join them for dinner, Cerys would avoid the question, yet at the strike of midnight, she would step from the shadows, as if she had been there the entire time.

Fineverse’s taste for the dramatic was not only confined to her entrance; in person she was, apparently, a powerful presence, for whom the room went silent as she spoke in deep, hushed tones. ‘She had a way of staring into the eyes of a man so directly that he lost all thoughts he had been storing up for their conversation, so I never got to ask her why I’d never seen her eat,’ wrote Lord Quicktamper in his 1857 diary, ‘it was alike to that feeling which one has when confronted suddenly at parties with young and beautiful women, amongst whose ranks our lady Fineverse must be counted, I suppose, yet she had something else to her, a sense that she was reading your mind, that your most private moments were laid bare to her. I felt as if I should suddenly cover myself, as if I had spent the entire Soirée entirely in the nude. Perhaps it was the way she met my gaze so forthright, as nanny did on occasion when I had been thinking naughty thoughts, with this knowing expression on her lips, perhaps even tinged with a little cruelty.’

Fineverse lived to the age of 107, persisting well into Revolutionary Buentoille. In 1930 she wrote a book about her life, Placing the Veil, in which she revealed, as many by this point knew, that she was no impoverished countess, as she presented in her Sinister Soirées; it was all an act. She was actually a working class actor, as were her ‘servants’ and wife (though their marriage was no act), a troupe who had been left the manor house by an aristocratic patron, and had decided to put it to good use. The ‘servants’ would gather pertinent information from the guests, which would be later sold on to interested buyers. The food contained a very small amount of a mild hallucinogenic compound, designed to make the guests more suggestible. Cerys Fineverse (both of the women used their real names) would surreptitiously direct the conversation, loosening the lips of the aristocratic and bourgeois visitors and preparing certain expectations in their minds before Catwen’s arrival.

Today, in many homes around the City, folk will play a game called Fineverse and the Leader, designed by Seraph Delilah in 1946 to commemorate the deceptions of this group. The game is played collaboratively with special cards, similar in appearance to tarot cards (this is perhaps misleading; Fineverse never used cards in her séances), and is supposed to model the interactions between Fineverse and Micklebright. The players must ‘convince’ the ‘Leader’ that he is really speaking to his dead mother by raising his ‘credibility’ score and countering ‘sceptic’ cards randomly drawn from a stack. It is a complex game, roughly separating into two stages; the ‘setup’ and the ‘denouement’, with the characters of Cerys and Catwen being most effective in each, respectively. It usually takes several hours to complete the game, and whilst most report that they enjoy it, few choose to play it outside of today, when they feel they have a duty to do so.

So why do Buentoillitants feel they need to commemorate the deceptions of fake occultists? Well, quite simply, they averted a war. For some time, Micklebright had been considering going to war against Litancha, which had been interfering with Buentoille’s then good relationship with the Seven Cities Trading Company. When the Fineverses caught wind of this plan, which Micklebright had begun testing the waters with, in order to ensure it would go down well with Parliament, they immediately began hatching a plan. When Micklebright next attended their Sinister Soirée, to talk through Catwen to his dead mother as he always did, she used her extensive knowledge of his childhood that she’d gained through their many previous sessions to strongly imply that his mother would not approve of the planned war. ‘Do you remember when you got in a fight with those boys at school?’ she asked, ‘You were looking over your shoulder for months afterwards.’ Never before or since has an actor had such power over the direction of the City.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Dangerous Juice
  • The Festival of Coding Your Dreams
  • The Heat of the Brand Day