Straylight is one of Shireroth's more many-faced and unique subdivisions, although its published cultural development is nowhere near as deep as that of, say, Hyperborea. Since its creation somewhere around 976 ASC by Ari Rahikkala, its legal status has gone from duchy to dissolution, to barony under Brookshire, to another dissolution, to county under Yardistan, to county under Naudia'Diva, and finally to duchy again. Its most constant attribute during this time has been the semi-presence of its founder (except for a brief time when Shyriath was its Baron), relative lack of published culture and great activity (except for that whole Shirlan affair that we're still a bit ashamed about), and the use for tech support. It's only since The Great Consolidation that Straylightian works have started coming out into the public while simultaneously tech support questions have become quite absent - however, Straylight is still not nearly as regularly active as Kildare currently is.
Original Duchy of Straylight
The original incarnation was largely inspired by David Brin's science fiction novel Startide Rising, and the many sentient dolphin characters in the book. Founding a duchy in the sea, between Brookshire and Kildare, was unproblematic and provided a free token of cultural uniqueness for the fledgling duchy. Its founder had plans for significantly expanding its culture and connecting it to Khaz Modan ((many of) the sentient dolphins would actually have been Khaz Modanians who had gone into hiding in the form of an (immortal) dolphin from whatever it was that destroyed their culture... but infighting and getting a bit too used to their new form would finally destroy them) - all that he ever actually got around to was postulating some pieces of Technomagi technology, mostly for allowing the dolphins to operate freely on land.
Straylight from the Barony age onwards
Later on, as Ari learned of Seasteading (originally from R. Buckminster Fuller's concept of a floating city), the culture got completely upturned. The dolphins were completely forgotten and a new backstory was drafted.
Straylight, in its current incarnation, is an extremely loose conglomeration of city-states, each of which is built on a floating platform. These cities are called sancts in Straylightian English. Most sancts are built on floating spar platforms, but the largest ones - specifically Discontinuity - are "simpler" constructions with platforms inside artificial or natural breakwaters. Some sancts, most notably Pohjankaupunki, also include a seafloor base as an important (or even dominating) part of the citystate.
Straylightian society is mostly governed by a form of "unenlightened anarchism" - most forms of leadership are ad-hoc, any contact with a bureaucracy might just as likely to be painless as a long race through dark places and traditions of bribery, and vigilante justice is common and generally accepted despite being known to not always be accurate. Obviously, there are exceptions - several sancts contain authoritarian or theocratic enclaves, and ones run by Pohjanvälke generally tend to have largish democratic governments.
The only common thread through the government of all of Straylight is the general adherence to the feudal system. While the feudal system currently basically "stops" at the level of the Duke of Straylight, the will of the Duke of Straylight, of the Landsraad, and of the Kaiser *is* considered the law in Straylight.
In the real Shireroth, the Duke of Straylight is Ari Rahikkala (by tradition). In the fantasy Shireroth, the current Duke of Straylight is Pero Zermelo, a mathematician from the sanct of Incremental Search. Straylightian feudal leaders in the "fantasy" Shireroth are chosen according to the rule that the threat posed by a leader is relative to zir ambition, their power, and their incompetence. People chosen to be Straylight's feudal leader are usually accomplished mathematicians, physicists, or medical doctors. However, businessmen, COSAC members, actors and the occasional athlete have also found their way to the top in Straylight's fictional history.
Since Straylightian culture has had only a couple of hundred years to develop, most of it is directly attributable to influences from the surrounding Duchies. Yardistani influence is strong everywhere in the Duchy, whereas Kildarian culture is very dominant in McCallavre and Deep Trouble.
The most significant work of Straylightian culture are the sancts themselves. The greatest architect of sancts is widely considered to be Dante McCallavre. While some of his creations have had to be scrapped, many of them have been floating on the sea for almost four hundred years by now. Each one is considered to be both a unique work of art and a show of technical and technological brilliance hardly reached even by current state of the arts centuries after.
While there are dozens of smaller experiments and pilot projects by Dante McCallavre moored in bays around every coast of Straylight (this group includes Incremental Search, of course), his most important work is out on the high seas. Sargassum, Much Rejoicing, Deep Trouble and Wave Manifold. While it takes an expert eye to see the original work under all of the rebuilding (and, in some parts, disrepair), each of these sancts is still considered a work of great value to all Straylightians.
There is, however, a component to Straylight's make-up that mostly lies outside the sancts and separate from most of their inhabitants, in the form of the ethnic group known collectively known to others as Sunderspray. Descendants of the Benacians, the Sundersprites generally prefer a more mobile way of life than their fellow Straylightians, and reside and travel mostly on ships and boats. Though numerically small, they make up a considerable proportion of the shipping traffic and seaborne commerce in Straylight.
Main article: Sancts
The word "sanct" was originally technically used only for free-floating cities on the high seas. This is because they actually were sanctuaries: Piracy is rampant in many parts of Shireroth, so much so that places like Norfolk and Port Nevermore are actually famous for their pirates. As piracy fosters in narrow straits and bays that are difficult to navigate, actually placing a city right on the high seas with no navigational hazards and plenty of oversight makes it practically impossible for pirates to operate.
Later on, however, the word has come to refer to every city in the Duchy of Straylight, whether it be a seafloor base, a large city on the high seas, or a small one in a bay or some other area that's safe from the winds.
Most of the Straylight sea is quite deep, averaging four kilometers outside of the continental shelves. The only significant exception is the extremely old unnamed volcanic hot spot that has created a series of undersea mountains known as the Porpoise Leaps. These mountains have, with continental drift over millions of years, produced an almost perfect line northward from Yardistan. While none of them actually reach the surface of the sea, they are quite important in that Downtown Pohjankaupunki is built on one of them.
The general shape of the map of sancts is a rather obvious "Y". The reason for this is rather obvious: A lot of the long-distance shipping in Straylight is actually handled by relatively small ships that quickly hop from one sanct to the next. The "Y" shape neatly connects Aracigrad (and Nigrad), Novi Nigrad and Musica. While the distance between these cities, especially Musica and Aracigrad, is quite a bit farther along the sancts than right over the sea, the cheap, small ships that can do the job by shipping between sancts are an affordable (if slow) and popular alternative. Discontinuity, of course, benefits from the perks of its central location.
The flag of Straylight
The flag of Straylight, also known as the RGB flag, was not designed. Like the best of them, it was discovered - Ari was playing around with zooming out from different fractals with different colouring options in XaoS, and from some set of choices that he's long since forgotten, this flag just happened to emerge. There's nothing fractalish about the flag, of course - in fact, the file you see was rendered by a little C program written for the task - but the point is that he was not trying to create a flag when he discovered this, and it was only by chance that XaoS happened to make one for him.
Being a discovered flag, the RGB flag does not have any intentional symbolism in it. For instance, the colours represent nothing but their own colour channels, and the shapes are, in a way, accidental. Despite this, it actually symbolises the culture of Straylight very well:
- It's perhaps not immediately recognisable as a flag, but it does follow many of the basic ideas of vexillology - Straylight's strange adhocracy hardly reminds one of an honest government, but the same basic ideas are there.
- The flag has a kind of a primitive symmetry and balance (but no actual axes of symmetry unless you render it in a way that makes it, well, something else than the flag of Straylight)... but despite being a "good idea" in theory, in practise the colours clash in horrible ways. Just like Straylightians often do.
- Still in another way it represents an ideal: If you understand basic colour theory and have in your life seen a plot of the function f(x) = -1/x, you can just look through the flag and see that the 18 different "pieces" of the flag are really made up of only three simple shapes... just as Straylightians believe that with the right knowledge there is a way to see through human nature and really improve and simplify society.
- Finally, the creation of the flag itself has its own symbolism. A flag that's designed would carry its creator's intent and by necessity stifle others' imagination. The RGB flag is free of that concern: What you see in it is your own business. A true Straylightian will seek to never prevent others from making their life what they want it to be. Not that there are all that many true Straylightians in Straylight, of course.