September 21st – The Feast of Our Beneficent Lady

Today, four small tents will be erected in Votive park, all arranged in the points of the compass around a small patch of darkened earth, over which the grass is never allowed to grow. The tents are little white things, simply adorned with a picture of one ingredient on their side; an ear of wheat for the western tent, an apple for the east, a fish to the south and the marrow of a bone for north. When midday has just passed a fire will be lit in the centre of this space, over the darkened earth, charring it once again.

The people who construct these tents, and who will today hold their festival in and around them, are the Symbolic Chefs of our Beneficent Lady, the worshippers of Ultimar Esplain, who was burned to death on this very spot for alleged crimes of witchcraft in 1585. According to these ‘Chefs,’ however, whilst Esplain did perform magic, this had only beneficent effects, and was gained by ‘leveraging the Deep Symbolism of the world’ rather than any witchery. Many witches and witchologists have also denied Esplain’s witchiness since, but for differing reasons. They call the Symbolic Chefs a ‘pseudo-religious movement,’ and a ‘transparent rebranding of an imagined and misunderstood idea of witchcraft.’

Deep Symbolism was a (frankly rather wooly) concept which was pioneered by Esplain, and written about in her book, Movynge Awaye frohm the Potte, which proposed various ways for Buentoillitant witches to become less reviled, to let their ‘arte aphear lesse feyrefulle’ to those who observed it. The primary methodology which Esplain suggested was, as the book’s name suggests, to ditch the cauldron, which had become one of the main things that people associated with witchery. She attempted to reconceptualise the role of witches as ‘Symbolic Chefs’ who merely fed those seeking their services certain symbolic ingredients, in the correct patterns and order, substituting the disgusting potions boiled up in cauldrons for the tasteful platters of food with similar symbolic power.

The book was generally met with ridicule within witch communities, as it not only completely missed the point of potions, but also seemed to believe that witchcraft was something entirely separate from the ancient arcane practise. Her ideas of what a typical witch did and looked like seemed to be based off a children’s book, rather than any experiences or observed reality. Whilst it may have had the good intention of attempting to save witches from further harm by angry mobs, it came from a place of privilege and presumption, rather than of solidarity and understanding. It was considered by most witches to be fairly offensive.

The other thing that has to be addressed here is that publishing a book on witchcraft at that point in time, no matter how well argued its points were that witchcraft was not actually as scary as it looked (and that its practitioners could make it a lot more welcoming), was an act of monumental stupidity. The Buentoillitants who were going around murdering witches were unlikely to actually read the text, just assume that it was written by a witch, and whilst Esplain is certainly not to blame for her death, nor did she deserve it, most other folk would have seen it coming from miles off.

Despite the fact that her book was roundly dismissed by almost everyone already involved in witchcraft, it did manage to attract a number of folks who found Esplain’s ‘rebranding’ far more compelling. Unlike traditional witch orders, these folk included men as well as women, and in the aftermath of her death, Esplain became something of a martyr for these dabblers in the occult. Thus the Symbolic Chefs were born. On this, the anniversary of Esplain’s death, these chefs will attempt to summon her image in the fire central to their encampment, by each performing a simple spell.

The central tenet of Deep Symbolism is that every major magical force in the world, from the winds to the power that keeps ghosts in the world and the ways in which our bodies radiate heat, has some basic gastronomical symbolic equivalent, and that by eating these in the correct order (as previously stated, Esplain was very clear that these should not be mixed together in a pot), a magical language could be created and spoken. In each tent a head of the Chefs sits and will stare straight into the eyes of whoever enters the tent to eat the substance printed on its side. The foods, which are symbolic of each cardinal direction, will dictate the direction of the summoning of Esplain’s spirit, which is called for by the other in individual in the tent, the Chef leader, by chewing liquorish root slowly. The staring apparently cements the symbolic connections, and amplifies the signal.

When all the Symbolic Chefs of our Beneficent Lady, of whom there are about sixty, have eaten each of the four ingredients, they will all sit in a circle around the fire, holding hands. They say that the four winds mould the flame, shaping it into the figure of a woman, specifically one Ultimar Esplain who will impart upon them words of wisdom from beyond the grave. Perhaps staring into a fire for long enough makes a person see things within it, or maybe, just maybe, the martyred not-witch knew what she was talking about. It seems unlikely.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Preparation of Leaflathe Festival
  • The Festival of Bringing up the Oars
  • Golden Day

September 22nd – The Snuffing of the Light Festival

Today is the autumnal equinox; the last day of summer, or the first day of autumn, depending on how you look at it, and the day will be the exact same length as the night. After today the nights will be longer than the days, and folk will have to wait until the vernal equinox until long days return once again. Preparation for the winter has always been the key activities undertaken at this point of the year, and many see this as a sad time, when the heady days of summer already seem so long ago.

This is not to say that autumn has no delights to offer; the leaf fall in and around the City is beautiful, and the snows of winter are too. There will be the chance to wear lovely thick jumpers and to sit by the hearth, and in Buentoille there is always some celebration to look forward to. Nevertheless, today’s primary festival has a decidedly funereal air to it, and whilst it is indeed a celebration of what has passed, there is a sense that today is more to come to terms with its passing than to celebrate, so that folk may deal better with what is to come.

There are several groups who have their own festivals today, not least the Coven of Irah, who hold the coming of the dark in great esteem. It’s not known exactly how they celebrate today as their rituals are mostly performed in secret, but there certainly seems to be a lot of activity around their tower (which is actually fairly stubby, more of a short cylinder atop an old stone building) tonight. It is said to involve the mass killing of moths, who are attracted to light and therefore deemed traitors, but this has never been confirmed or denied by the Coven themselves.

The primary festival which happens today, however, is called the Snuffing of the Light Festival. This ancient ritual seems to have been celebrated in the City since time immemorial, and is thought to originate with the Escotolatian tribes, who saw the coming shortening days and the leaf fall as an intensely sad moment of the year; it is telling that the Escotolatian afterlife is said to be a place where, no matter the weather, the leaves never fall from the trees and the flowers are always in bloom. It seems fitting that they would wish to see off the summer in some symbolic manner, and this, rather than any real evidence, is what drives the theory that this is where the Snuffing Festival originates.

It happens in most homes across the City; after the sun has set today, the family will take out every candle that they own (sometimes buying in more for the purpose) and arrange them on their dining table or a similar surface. They then light the candles and leave them for half an hour, before taking a newspaper or a large piece of card or fabric with which they then create a great gust of air which blows out all the candles at once. Sometimes, obviously, this doesn’t work, and another try is needed, but contrary to what you might expect, this is thought to bring bad luck to the home. Quite why is again, unclear, but it is possibly linked to the Escotolatian belief that death must happen quickly, if it has to happen, and that leaving an animal alive which is clearly suffering a slow death will lead to the animal haunting you later. Similarly, if the summer must die, it’s best it was done quickly. Others claim that it is because Father Winter looks unkindly on those who delay his coming.

Since 1708 there has also been a much larger version of this yearly ritual held in the sheltered Milliner’s Square in Whight Hollow district. The whole square is covered in candles, arranged into a grid pattern with small pathways through it. At the allotted time, sixty individuals will carefully walk in amongst the candles with large, purpose made paddles. They must not prematurely put out a candle or, again, risk terrible personal bad luck. They do not speak, but all count down together, until the allotted moment, when they swing their paddles in unison. The spectacle is so well designed that nobody has ever failed to put out all their candles in that very moment. Suddenly plunged into darkness, the spectators all walk home quietly, saying very little.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Brightness Gone
  • The Festival of Darkening Shores
  • The Festival of Welcoming the Dark

September 23rd – The Festival of Considering the Immortals

As we all know, Buentoille’s power supply is essentially vast but still limited, and certain decisions must be made about how it is allocated. Storage is a massive growth area, as there are often points of the day when excess energy is generated and this can be rerouted to enormous batteries and other such technologies such as liquid air storage (when needed, the liquid air is rapidly decompressed, driving a motor in the process). In recent years new sources of generation such as wind turbines and solar power are being developed, but these have not been sufficiently advanced to provide any considerable extension to the daily power pool. The burning of fossil fuels are generally avoided to stem the production of pollution which is known to reduce life expectancies.

One of the projects which is, every year, considered for energy supply reduction is the Immortal Bank beneath Dimitri’s Park of Bathing. The entrance is fairly easy to spot, although many will not know its significance; a large white marble triangle sloping into the earth with a hardwood door on one side, marked only with the letters ‘IB’ in gold. The door is flanked with two circular lamps of white frosted glass on golden sconces, which throw out a curiously cold light. For most of the year it is locked, and the only other evidence of the Bank’s existence are the baths heated from beneath by the hot air vented from within. It’s only today that the door is unlocked.

Since 1964, today has been a day in which anyone who wants to can delve beneath the park to see the bodies stored there in cryogenic sleep. Access to the actual room where the bodies are kept is still restricted, as it is dangerously cold, and the addition of the moisture from human breath and perspiration would lead to the build up of frost on the bodies, which could damage them irreparably. Instead, the bodies can be peered at through small glass windows in the observation tunnel, where only caretakers can usually venture. The Bank is some way down into the earth, and is accessed by a spiral staircase that eventually cuts straight into the bedrock, where it is easier to maintain the constant temperatures required to keep the bodies frozen.

There are a number of preservation techniques on show through the little glass portholes, ranging from straight-up freezing of human flesh in ice baths (which are strangely similar to those regular baths above) or liquid nitrogen caskets, to more complex attempts at dessication or chemical preservation, with the cold only acting as part of the process. In some instances there are trails of glass tubing piercing these fragile human forms, carrying salinated water that is pumped at sub-zero temperatures to avoid the formation of ice, and therefore the destruction of cells.

It is this last consideration, the formation of ice, which is thought to have irreparably destroyed most of the bodies beyond the facility’s stated aims of not only preservation but also resurrection. Except for those which have been dessicated by chemical and other means, all the bodies presumably cannot be saved at a later date, because the water in every cell in their body will have expanded and inevitably burst the cell upon freezing. This is, however, a controversial subject, as there are those who believe that Buentoilliçan medicine, the scientific area into which most research is poured, will progress to the point that ‘nanobots’ or other such means will be able to repair this damage.

In this is the central crux of the argument, which today’s viewing and subsequent debate and vote, are supposed to settle for another year. Usually, however, rather than being settled the argument rages on well over the apportioned limit, and the bodies are left as they are, given the benefit of the doubt in that the power supply that keeps them frozen is not cut. There are strong beliefs and complex issues on both sides, and it would be a mistake to favour one side or the other, without at least knowing something of the dispute’s context.

Regardless of whether or not we will be able to resurrect these bodies, all of which died very shortly before preservation, leaving the brain seemingly intact, the argument also extends to whether or not this is a desirable thing to do, or whether the Buentoillitants who legally died deserve such a feat of technology. With the exception of Accidental Charles, the body of Charles Yannae which was accidentally mistaken for that of his rich brother, who died in the same poisoning incident, the bodies contained within the Bank are exclusively those who were rich enough in life to afford the services of the Everlast Corporation, whose owners fled the City during the Revolution.

Some people argue that the Corporation had no intent to actually raise these folks from the dead, and simply wanted to gather large sums of money from the rich who were nearing their deaths, and that therefore we too should not be conned into wasting resources maintaining their sham facility. Others argue that the owners, the Barecast brothers, left instructions (which were ignored) to have themselves preserved at the facility when they died, and that therefore there was clearly at least a belief on their part that the process worked.

Similarly, some folk say that the industrialists and aristocrats do not deserve to have a second chance at life, given how they exploited others on their first run. Others argue that, not being children of the Revolution, they would make good test subjects for future attempts at waking more deserving cryogenic subjects, or that human life is sacrosanct despite political inclinations, or that it would be fun to gall these people used to having vast power over their fellow citizens with the new egalitarian society. Others say that the energy taken up by these rich folks could be put to better use elsewhere in the City. Some think that the place must justify itself, being opened to the public all the year around as a tourist attraction. The chances are that today, as with all previous years, the dispute will once again rage one beyond its allotted time, and the bodies will remain in situ, ready for next year’s viewing and argument.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Sharpening the Claws
  • Aaron Art’s Day
  • The Festival of Energetic Magnetism

September 24th – The Festival of the Cursed Mark

When the tomb of what was thought to be the religious leader Hawa Kantagir was breached in 1777, it was to great uproar from the Kris Grian Templemen who viewed Kantagir as something like a founding saint, a person that they called a ‘Fallen Star’. The Kris Grian Templemen were an exclusively male sect of ex-slaves from Strigaxia, who were granted their freedom in the latter part of the fourth century, travelling to Buentoille in search of safety. During their enslaved lives, these men had been forced to walk constantly in enormous mice wheels, turning some infernal piece of apparatus which, they were told, ensured that they stayed alive. They rarely, if ever, stopped moving, and found the transition to normal life very hard. It was in the nature of these men to keep moving constantly, and it took a great force of will to remain still.

Thus it was that, for the Kris Grians (which means ‘still wheel walkers’ in Low Strigaxian), being capable of remaining still for any large amount of time was a religious, revelatory act, one which garnered accolades from their fellow still walkers, as well as a personal sense of religious enlightenment. The greatest pioneer of this form of consciousness-altering meditation was Kantagir, who was so good at remaining entirely still that he could go for days without food or water. He was so good, in fact, that it was three days before anyone realised that he had actually died during one of these meditative sessions. Instead of removing his body, the other Kris Grians left it in place and built a wall around it, essentially entombing him in an airtight space. It was only when, in 1777, this tomb was broken into by an errant workman working next door who misunderstood his instruction, that the body began to properly rot away; it had been mummified during the many years without fresh air.

At this point all the original freed slaves had obviously died, but their descendants and followers of their religion, formed in the stillness of those early days in Buentoille, remained still, becoming the Kris Grian Templemen. They often rested themselves against the tar-painted bricks of Kantagir’s tomb, and when they saw the destruction they flew into a rage, severely beating the man who broke into the tomb and smashing up the tools on the building site he was supposed to be working on. Other Templemen sensed opportunity here, though; this was the first time the tomb had ever been opened, and it was seen as an excellent opportunity to clear up some of the finer details of the burial, over which several disputes raged frequently (what position was Kantagir seated in, what was he wearing, what grave goods were left near him?). There was certainly no consensus on what the inside of the tomb looked like precisely, but the Templemen surely hadn’t expected to find what they did find within. The body, sat naked and cross legged in the centre of the space, didn’t look right.

They were too in awe, had too much respect for the dead and their religion to pull out the body and lay it in the light for all to see; besides, it would probably have simply crumbled before them, even more swiftly than it did later that day when the moisture of the air melted the finely preserved figure. Yet despite the poor light conditions and potentially biased accounts, there was something deeply wrong with the corpse; for starters it looked more like a monkey than a human. Its flesh was ghostly white, and had various long dark hairs growing out of it at random intervals. The toes were elongated, the head oversized for the small body. In comparison, Kantagir was said to have dark skin and normal human proportions. On the arm of the corpse was a small tattoo of three diamonds arranged in a triangular pattern.

It was this pattern that which appeared on the front doors of the construction company’s shareholders and workers the next day. Three Templemen were later arrested for wilful intimidation, but all of them denied the crime. Regardless of their pleas, these men were convicted and imprisoned for murder when, three weeks later, the worker who owned the first home to be tagged with the mark was found dead from blunt force, and all three were linked to the scene by a witness. After that first year the markings started appearing more and more frequently, being painted onto doors and walls of buildings. Whilst the Templemen were arrested before any other murders took place, the chapter does not end there; the next year, on the anniversary of the tomb’s breaching and therefore the destruction of the corpse hitherto sealed inside, the markings appeared once more, this time on seemingly random houses scattered throughout the City.

There have been no further deaths linked with the markings (save one where an old man, coming out of his house one morning, suffered a heart attack on seeing his house daubed with the three diamond shapes), and it seems that the ‘triangle of death’ as the marking is now known, are placed around the city by pranksters alone, and not anyone wishing or seeking to bring about any real harm to the inhabitants of each building. The difference in ‘handwriting’ of each graffitied marking shows that much, but yet there are still those, notably from within the Guild of Conspiracy Theorists, who believe there is something dark and dangerous about the mark, that it is the symptom of some sort of psychic malaise leached out from the opened tomb; there is indeed evidence that the mark is some kind of Strigaxian slave’s identification mark, though jumping to the conclusion that the sight of the mark alone can influence human behaviour is perhaps a little too much.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Blooded Wine
  • Repeat the Little Code Festival

September 25th – The Festival of Sharing the Vision

Have you ever been out in the woods at twilight, and seen some faint flicker of light amongst the leaves? The chances are that it was just the sky breaking through the canopy for a moment as you walk by, but then again, it might not be; twilight is deceiving. What you may well have seen was one of the Secret People, or rather, the ethereal light which marks their passing, the only sign of their presence visible to normal human eyes.

Of course, if it wasn’t on this day that you saw those briefest dim flashes in the treetops, then it probably wasn’t one of those shy forest visitors, who have only been ‘verifiably observed’ by a ‘true possessor of The Vision’ on this evening alone, specifically in the Luck’s End forest, in a spot where the chestnut trees grow amongst large mossy boulders. In fact, it was here that The Vision first passed on to the people of Buentoille, allowing them to see the eerie parade that passes through the canopy this eve in the moments just after the sun has set.

Caerwyn Oiser had run away from home earlier that day, the 25th of September, 1924. There had been an argument; something about a boy she had been seeing. Fifty years later, when she came to tell her story, Oiser did not remember the details; she’d run away from home, for maybe the seventh time, and had decided that she was going to live in the woods. She was only sixteen, but had read plenty of survivalist books and was pretty sure she could hack it. She found a soft, mossy patch of grass in between two large boulders, and laid down a piece of oiled cloth she’s stolen from her mother upon it, before laying down herself. She used her backpack for a pillow and folded the cloth over herself to keep out the rain, which had been falling intermittently all day. The wind picked up, and sang through the stones, casting water collected on the chestnut leaves at her. It was funny, the wind sounded almost like someone crying, far off and faint.

Perhaps it was her own voice reflected back to her, she secretly thought, in some back room of her mind (as an older, wiser woman, Oiser found it easier to admit she had been crying), this sound of distant wailing. Perhaps the wind had blown the sound back, breaking her sobs on the stones like gurgling sea foam. She didn’t have long to think those thoughts, because then, very abruptly, a tear fell into her eye. Not that she knew it was a tear at first; she thought it was a drop of rain from the trees, but it stung something horrid and she sat up quickly, rubbing it like crazy. Both her eyes were red and puffy anyway, but now her left eye was particularly inflamed. She cursed and lay back down, covering her face a little with her arm. Everything looked a little fuzzy. She closed her right eye to test out the left and there, lying in the arms of the tree above her, was a girl crying.

Looking back, in her interview with Buentoilliçan Weird Weekly Oiser remarked ‘I’m surprised I wasn’t more surprised. I’d been looking up at that very spot, just moments before, and there was nobody there. No, she didn’t look anything like me.’ The girl was strange looking, as if she were elastic, boneless. She lay facing down with her head in her arms, but her body sagged, as if you had laid a slack hosepipe between the branches. The proportions were right, she just, well, was saggy. She convulsed slightly, as she cried, ripples sent through her body. Oiser couldn’t see her out of her right eye.

After a long moment, another person, of the same construction, peeled out from behind the tree trunk and sloped over the her, their hand stroking her hair in a comforting way. This other figure, a woman too, walked strangely and carefully, like a wobbly tightrope walker. Their weight didn’t seem to affect the branch at all, and she wavered on each leg, like a snake rearing upright. Her eyes were large and black, almost all pupil. They looked grey, only half there. Eventually they both got up and walked back over to the trunk, and plunged into it with a small, semi-visible pop of light.

It was a long time before Oiser told anyone what she saw that evening, before the moon rose on the forest. It was only seven years later, on the 24th, that she told her newly wed husband, Batear, about it. When he realised it wasn’t a joke he agreed to go with her to the forest at the same time, to watch the creatures lope between the tree branches, extruding from knots in trunks here and there, before travelling some way across the branch and then disappearing back within the tree, accompanied by that familiar flash, just as hundreds had done above Oiser that evening when she was younger. To let him see them, Caerwyn transferred some of the tears from her left eye into a vial, then dropped then into Batear’s eye. They waited for the canopy walkers, the Secret People, to emerge, and were not disappointed.

After Batear it was her family and friends, and then a few others who’d heard tell of the strange experience, of watching those who couldn’t see in return, those secret people who listened strangely to hanging chestnuts at intervals between their loping walks, flashes of light and extrusive apparition. Some of these chestnuts they carefully touched, making them fall to the ground. Not many, though. After the interview many more joined them, and tonight this motley group will do much the same as they always do; share out their tears, their Vision, to newcomers, and sit quietly on the moss-covered boulders for the Secret People to arrive, each with a hand over their right eye.

Other festivals happening today

  • The Festival of the Honey’d Voice
  • The Festival of Interested Parties
  • Holly Berry Anticipation Day

September 26th – The Festival of the Drunken Escape

The Warrens are a multi-dimensional maze of alleys, covered walkways, houses stacked on top of each other, tunnels leading into the earth. There are places where you’d think you’d been underground for some time, but then you come to the end of a path and are standing on a balcony, looking over the City. At midday the sun lights certain streets, managing, despite the odds, to reach down past three other stories of buildings, to where someone has placed a small potted plant next to their doormat. To increase the spread of natural light which works its way into the piled architecture, hundreds of mirrors are placed around, designed to brighten alleys and homes for a short period each day.

What with the mirrors and the lack of clear directional cues, the Warrens can be a maze-like space, even for those who live there; there are plenty of bawdy plays, performed at pubs, in which a warrens resident might, on their drunken way home, find their way accidentally into the bed of their neighbour. Understandably, this leads to a certain fascination by many of the other residents of the City, and now, since the Revolution dispelled the stigma, misconceptions and fear which existed around the Warrens, there are plenty of tourists roaming the tight streetways, trying to find that particular pub, or the little fountain that Saint Yernine was said to have Attuned to the trickling sound of, or simply to get lost.

The Warrens were an insular, tight-knit place for a very long time, and whilst tourists are tolerated the attitudes forged by centuries of stigma and isolation still persist, even now, over a hundred years after the Revolution. It was this animosity that first began the Festival of the Drunken Escape, although somewhat ironically it now acts as another point of interest to draw in the tourists. The festival begins, as you might expect, at a pub, specifically the Boxing Hare pub, which is located somewhere towards the centre of the north-eastern quadrant of the Warrens. The drinks taken there by the tourists are highly regimented, based upon the weight of each contestant. An old grain scale in the street outside is used to measure their weight, which is then written down on a chit that is exchanged for a sum of money. The contestants then hand this chit to the barman who exchanges it for the requisite number of bottles, usually of Draque’s Wicked Servant, a strong-flavoured, high strength stout that comes in a black bottle with the subtitle, ‘The Downfall of Many.’ They are given two hours to drink these before the festival continues, at which point they must hand over the bottle tops to show they are ready.

The festivals origins are the stuff of legend, now inscribed into a small wooden plaque that adorns the pub’s entryway, next to the carved image of the hare rampant that sits atop many of the doorways in this area, and after which the pub was named (this was the symbol of a self-defence league which ruled that section of the Warrens for some time). A tourist named Dratch Hornwell, who was by most accounts a highly obnoxious man, decided to visit the Warrens for his birthday party, which was today in 1921. He wound up, with a small entourage, in the Boxing Hare, and proceeded to get very drunk and boisterous. The locals, sufficiently incensed, considered simply beating the party up and tossing them out on the street, but this was the new Buentoille, and inter-class relations were supposed to be improving. Instead they introduced Hornwell to an ‘old and venerable tradition’ which involved blindfolding the man, taking him into the Labyrinth, spinning him around a few times, then leaving him for dead.

The Warrens weren’t always this big; they have been built progressively larger over many years, and in that time places have gotten buried. There are streets and whole blocks even, now, where no natural light reaches at all, even with mirror-aid, where the air is stagnant, where folk moved on from long ago, perhaps even building a new home atop the pile, widening this dead zone ever further. The walls of the buildings remain, as they support those higher up, but in many cases the doors have been removed to let folk get from one side of the Warrens to the other more quickly. The Labyrinth is the largest of these spaces, where building and street intermingle, tangle in a knot where it is even easier to get lost than the surrounding inhabited spaces.

Around this twisted zone, sound bounces strangely; there are places where it sounds as if someone far away is whispering in your ear, or where a friend becomes entirely inaudible, though they only rounded a single corner. It’s no wonder they call it the Labyrinth. It is the centre of this place where this year’s blindfolded revellers will be spun and left, just as Hornwell was in 1921, and then in ’22 and onwards when he returned for his birthday each year, declaring the ‘sport’ to be ‘one of the most exciting things a person can do whilst completely bladdered.’ Those who make it back to the pub in the quickest time (the record is 38 minutes) receive a badge and a complimentary hamper of Draque’s Wicked Servant, should they ever want to taste the stuff again.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Harped Festival
  • Yelem Chousmaid’s Dystopian Roleplaying Extravaganza
  • The Bay Leaf Festival Feast

September 27th – The Annual Municipal Conker Championships

There are only a few horse chestnut trees in Buentoille proper, though there are plenty of them in the forests nearby. There is the Wizard’s Tree, that grows out of the side of the Guilgamot district cliff face, a venerable old thing, long-gnarled by the weather and, its roots well knotted to the precipice. There is the Starvom Yard horse chestnut, access to which is normally gained by climbing up the Yard’s wall, where the bricks have been chipped away, even now that the doors are left open to let the local children in. In the last few days there has been a flurry of activity around these trees, children combing the ground and branches for the best conkers, getting ready for The Annual Municipal Conker Championships.

There are a few other trees as well, each with its own adherents, believers in the strength of the conkers that their tree produces. These adherents form factions within the Championships today, groups who still compete against each other, but who, if defeated, will cheer on another person who sourced their conker from their tree. They each have narratives, spurious logic that explain why their chosen tree produces the strongest conkers; the Winery House Tree, for example, is said to have imbibed a great deal of vinegar (gone off wine poured out onto its roots by the Winery House staff over the years), a common ingredient used to harden conkers which is supposedly pre-infused into its harvest as a result.

Using vinegar and the various other ways of processing or treating conkers to improve their hardness are, mostly, allowed by the Championships; the rules are fairly loose, but they do disallow using varnish, shellac or other agents which form a barrier between the outer skin of the conker and whatever it is striking. There are other rules governing the material condition of conkers, too: ‘The body of the conker must be intact and not scooped out more than is necessary to pass the string through it, and no replacement of flesh should be countenanced.’ These rules were once absent, but had to be introduced when it was revealed that the winner of the 1882 competition had used a hard-setting resin peppered with ball bearings to improve their conker. There have been other such scandals; in 1729 there was uproar when the girl who had won the Championships for the last seven years admitted to using a stone which had merely been polished to look like a conker.

For those unfamiliar with this children’s game which pervades school yards for most of the autumn, the rules are generally quite simple: a conker is drilled or skewered through, a string or shoelace is placed through the resulting hole, and knotted at one end, and then, in turns, one player dangles their conker from the end of its string whilst the other swings theirs into it at great velocity, attempting to shatter it. If your conker breaks, you lose. There is obviously a certain amount of skill in the swinging, but the deciding factor is usually the strength of the conker, its ability to absorb, reflect and withstand the impact. The choice of conker is obviously a large deciding factor in the strength of each competitor’s arsenal, with shape, water content, size and thickness of skin all being considered by the adroit harvester.

The treatment of the chestnut is for some where most of the game’s skill resides, and there are family recipes which have been handed down through the generations, most of which involve some different combination of vinegar, oven-heating and ageing; there are no rules about the age of a conker and many of the children harvesting over the last few days will have had next year’s competition in mind (it seems that keeping a conker in a cool, dry place for a year does wonders for its durability). Some swear by covering the chestnut in glue for a year, forming an air-tight seal which is later peeled off. There is a very large conker in the Degglan family called ‘Baldy’ that has been used since 1911 and which remains undefeated, though it has not been entered every year as there have not always been children young enough to enter (The Children’s Union stipulates that entrants must be 14 and under). Legend has it that when the conker is finally broken, the family line will end.

The Championships will take place in Heyfall Square today, inside a specially constructed ring, and will be accompanied by several traditional songs performed by the children, such as ‘Hey Nonny Hit the Thing Straight, Sonny’ and ‘Ouch My Thumb!’. The winner receives a golden conker on a gold chain, and a basket of eating chestnuts to be eaten in the winter, roasted next to an open fire. This year there are lots of exciting rumours surrounding a child with the Vision, who claims one of the Secret People pointed out to her a Master Conker which can beat any who dare come against it.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Shoddy Painting
  • A Festival of Obtuse Misunderstanding
  • The Guild of Lichen Appreciators’ Autumn Excursion

September 28th – The Festival of the Bloodthirsty Sword

Almost all the organisations which were linked to the monarchy have now been extinguished, or have at least been transformed, and changed their name from ‘royal’ to ‘municipal’. The cultural capital that ‘royal’ once conveyed has now become somewhat taboo. There are a few exceptions, besides the neo-monarchist rabble and their onerous leader Regent June, one of which is the Fraternity of Royal Physicians, who have survived the Revolutionary age with their name intact mostly because nobody has told them to change it yet.

As with a lot of things in Buentoille, the name remains the same more out of a (perhaps misplaced) sense of tradition, rather than it being a source of pride, or even an accurate descriptor of the group in its current form. Indeed, the ‘physicians’ (inverted commas are here used because most members of the Fraternity have no medical qualifications) are presumably, like most people in Buentoille, fanatically anti-monarchist. And yet, the group persists in the primary duties it fulfilled prior to the Revolution; keeping the current monarch safe from a very specific threat.

The Well of Saint Quella is not actually a well. That is to say, there is no water at the bottom; it’s just a very deep pit made to look like a well. Nor is Saint Quella actually a real saint, but, like the Well, a fabrication designed by the Fraternity to keep something hidden. Before 1916, when the Fraternity went public, today would have been a private festival, where they drew ‘holy healing water’ from the Well, which would then be used to form tinctures with which they treated the monarch. It seems that nobody ever bothered to check up on this story, and even the Chastise Church became convinced that this entirely fabricated saint was one of their own (in fairness there are so many it is difficult to keep track). What the Fraternity actually do today, what they have always done, is remove the iron grate that keeps the Well locked, remove the water pail from the end of the rope, and then fasten a young ‘physician’ to said rope, who abseils down, returning with a large, long metal box.

At one point, whilst the name was mostly a cover for their real activities, the Fraternity would have actually have been made up of royal physicians, men and women whose job it was to tend to the health of the monarch of the time. They would have done these jobs well, or rather, as well as one could before the advent of modern science, but this was not their job within the Fraternity; what they were mainly there to do in this shadowy, secret society, was gain samples of the monarch’s blood for today’s festival.

The box from the Well is laid out on a ceremonial bench, alongside a heart, that of a cow or pig, which has had the blood drained from it, replaced with that of a human. These days, it is the Fraternity members themselves who provide this blood, though pre-Revolution it would have been that of the monarch. The box is carefully opened, the various padlocks removed by their keyholders, who wear masks to conceal their identities. Inside the box is lined in blood-red velvet, sitting in a groove of which is a sheathed sword. It is very old, the scabbard blackened ancient leather and wood. When drawn, the blade is shiny and bright still, despite the age. Apparently this is because it was forged from meteor iron, but this is disputed. The blade is then plunged into the heart thrice, each time with a slightly different angle, so that a six-pointed star shape is pieced into one side and out the other. The blade is then cleaned, put back into its box, and lowered back into the Well. The festival is over.

Whilst to the casual observer (of which there are few; the festival is still held in semi-secret), this sequence of events may seem a piece of macabre but arbitrary theatre, but for the Fraternity it serves an important function, indeed it is the very reason for their existence. According to the ‘physicians’, the stabbing of the heart in this manner tricks the sword into believing that it has killed a monarch that year, meaning that it does not contrive to attempt an actual murder. This allegedly sentient blade was apparently forged in Strigaxia, with the intention of wiping out the Buentoilliçan royal line, and indeed it managed to kill two monarchs (King Blaneweld and Queen Volupt, from whom we get the word ‘voluptuous’) in the hands of two different assassins. There are rumours, too, that these ‘physicians’ have not always had the monarch’s health in mind, and have been, at certain moments of history, swayed by political reasoning to let the blade loose for some time. Why else would they not simply destroy it?

So, with the monarchs gone, why do they still persist in performing this yearly ritual, held on the day of both Blaneweld and Volupt’s assassinations, and why has an organisation whose job it was to protect the monarchy been allowed to survive after the Revolution? The answer lies in a quirk of Buentoilliçan law; instead of a formal dissolution of the monarchy, the Revolutionaries instead decided that the Monarchy would be converted, its powers conferred onto every Buentoillitant; in essence, every person living in Buentoille today is the monarch. The Fraternity of Royal Physician’s job has never been more important.

Other festivals happening today:

  • An Annual Protest in Favour of Please Just Melting Down the Sword
  • The Festival of Unpassed Time
  • Gerome Semmap’s Day

September 29th – Tremor Day

At some time between 3-5pm today, there will be a small tremor that shakes Buentoille for a few moments. It’s barely noticeable, really, like the passing of a train in a house beside the tracks, but all over. It lasts for a few seconds only, and will be entirely missed by some. If you’re sitting in a pub, getting some late afternoon refreshment, the glasses at the bar might tinkle a little. The people’s mirror ripples momentarily, and later on in the day, well over an hour later, a larger-than-average wave will hit Buentoille’s shorelines.

Despite its regularity, it seems that the small impact of the tremor (the occasional instance of injury or property damage is recorded, but nothing ever serious) has led to it being rather overlooked; nobody seems to have noticed that it happened on a regular basis until 1428 (in fairness, it may not have happened at all prior to that point), when the folklorist Joseque Harimanis wrote about a tale pertaining to the phenomenon that he called The Apprentice’s Mistake which seems to be attempt an explantation for the regularity of the tremors. It seems that this tale and knowledge of the tremor’s regularity was lost again for several hundred years, resurfacing in 1759 when the journal Syentiffik Advantses published a twelve year study which recognised the yearly cycle of the temors.

Despite further scientific study, there seems to be no true consensus on the phenomenon, besides the fact that in recent years the location of the tremor’s epicentre has been estimated as far to the east, in the deep Outer Ocean. Given the poor record of Buentoilliçan expeditions and the difficulty with persuading anyone, let alone those with cushy jobs as scientists, to leave the City for any length of time, there have been no research missions sent to ascertain the source; there are plenty of proposed explanations, ranging from weapons testing, to an enormous deep sea drill to some rare, natural regularity in the shape of the tectonic plate beneath the Outer Ocean, which therefore makes the earthquakes produced at the fault line regular. Given that there is no evidence for any of these theories, many turn to that fifteenth century folk story for explanation, hoping that there is some grain of truth within.

The story begins with a ‘great wizard’ who made a pact with the Waylayer for magical powers, and her apprentice, also involved in this infernal deal. The wizard sets her apprentice the task of preparing a simple potion, but one which requires him to shake the potion within a glass bottle for three full days. Quickly tiring of his task, the apprentice decides to create some magical, mechanical being to perform this role for them, finding the appropriate spell in his master’s grimoire. Yet unfortunately, something goes wrong. The apprentice fails to accurately designate the target of the spell, and instead of having the bottle be shaken by a mechanical arm for three days, the City itself begins vigorously shaking, to such an extent that buildings begin to collapse. When the wizard realises what has happened, she manages to modify the spell, but not to nullify it entirely, ensuring that the shaking gets spread over the following years, and is lessened in effect.

Today various earth scientists and building surveyors will be out and about, measuring, collecting data and photographs with which they hope to get a better idea of how and why the strange phenomenon occurs. Perhaps one day a scientific delegation will be launched and we will fully understand what causes the shaking, but until then, folk will continue to either be perplexed buy it, or will remember the foolish apprentice who forgot to properly set the target of his spell.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Liberal Party
  • Three House Day

September 30th – The Festival of the Brightened Path

Sometimes galleries are the best space to appreciate artwork; they lend a certain prestige, and encourage viewers to reflect on and consider that which they might not normally see the beauty in. Sometimes, they are a compromise, far from perfect but a good tool for exposure. Yet sometimes, glass cabinets and bright white spaces aren’t the best way to present certain pieces of art, and sometimes even a roof seems to ruin things somewhat. One group of people that seem to truly understand this are The Artists of the Bright Path, who will tonight exhibit their artworks in Deep Hall forest, a wooded valley that rests on the southern edge of Ceaen Moor.

In the daytime the wood is a popular spot for walkers, with its ancient oak trees and steep-sided valley spotted with frequent rocky escarpments. A small stream trickles down the centre of the wood, and there are many well-worn paths that snake their way around it, passing through holloways and occasionally crossing via fallen trees and a small selection of stepping stones. There is a little stone hut somewhere in amongst the tall trees and the thick undergrowth and deep-carved paths, though it is long deserted, its old wooden roof given over to fertilise the ground. In the late winter and spring, wild garlic and bluebells carpet the areas not normally covered by undergrowth, but at this time of year they are long gone, replaced today with many other beautiful sights.

The precise path varies each year, but generally it follows the river on one side and then the other, making a circuitous route through the night time forest. It jumps between the many ways laid down by generations of humans and the small deer and other woodland creatures that live there, but unlike these criss-crossings it is easy to follow; on either side of the Brightened Path many hundreds of small candles are lit and laid, replaced throughout the night as they burn out by figures waiting in black clothes just out of sight. Every few metres or so there are lanterns too, in case the small candles are blown or rained out.

As you can probably imagine, the effect is quite magical; the usual fears of a woodland at night evaporate as the eye cannot see beyond the flames into the darkness; there are no branches swaying in the moonlight on the edge of vision, and few birds are startled as you approach, having already been scared away by the light. At most there will be the hoot of a curious owl or two, or the swift, soft flapping of bats catching the attracted moths. Quite alike to an art gallery, this Brightened Path implies there is something to be found along it, something worth your time and attention, but it has some more novelty to it as well.

What you can see, beyond the Path, are the artworks. Some are made of candles or fire themselves, rotating and slowly lighting their surroundings in languid passes. Others are odd configurations of neon lights, flickering, or statues that look different as lights turn on and off around them. Some stretch into the treeline, only revealing themselves in chunks as you walk onwards, a parallaxed illumination. Sometimes there are lights which merely highlight some coagulation of roots, or another piece of the landscape that deserves attention; an arch of trees, perhaps, or a place where the stream falls and froths. Some pieces draw your eyes into the treetops with staggered, snaking concatenations of fairy lights, where illuminated orange tents hang upside-down.

Who knows what fresh delights await you this year; the pieces described here are only a taste of the full range which has graced the wood, which still holds its foliage, refusing to relinquish it at least until the three day exhibition is over. If you are interested in visiting tonight or any of the following two days, buses leave from Treoali Point at 7:00 tonight, returning on the hour until 1am.Visitors are reminded to please stick to the Brightened Path.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Unhappy Lost Puppies
  • The Dragging Out Festival
  • Kiss of Life Day