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 Alef, The City Of Roads

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PostSubject: Alef, The City Of Roads   Sat Apr 17, 2010 4:51 am

ALEF: THE CITY OF ROADS




A glowing jewel in the middle of a vast, interminable ocean, Alef is a city with a rich history that encompasses various time periods and dimensions. To the experienced interdimensional traveler, the name is synonymous with a friendly port, a steady refuge in the ever-changing face of the multiverse. Alef was there before many universes came into being and it will still be there to see the inevitable implosion of all the multiverses at the Great End. Its paths lead everywhere and no point of the universe is out of reach to those who know how its roads work.



Brief History

It is said that Alef was born moments after the first second had passed in the universe. This is an exaggeration. Although it is true that the small pocket universe in which Alef now resides was born at that moment, the great city itself would not come to exist for millennia.

The first denizens of the pocket dimension was a tribe of humanoids from one of the newly-born universes. The tribe had evolved half a million years after the birth of the multiverse, and it was purely chance that a large hunting party fell into an unexpected portal- a portal that led directly to the founding site of the future city.

These humanoids, known as the Fenisians in their own language, had tanned skin and soulful, colorful eyes. They had lived lives of nomadic hunters and gatherers, and the geography of the land posed many challenges to them until they realized the seas were incredibly fertile. They settled down and learned the fisherman's trade, and the first settlement was founded. As the population grew, more territory was built upon and the settlement grew into a city. For many ages expansion remained in check and birthrates stayed low due to reduced land for agriculture. Every now and again, though, one or several new individuals would appear in the middle of the city-- the hostile ones were taken care of, whilst the friendly and peaceful were assimilated eventually into the culture. All around were questions they couldn't answer: How did they come here, and why?

Eventually the Fenisians began to develop as a culture, and the twin studies of science and magic flourished through time and with the collaboration of many different individuals who came through the rifts. Great researchers and mystics eventually studied the unique nature of the city and their universe, and came to discover little by little its status as a universal nexus. Eventually its population was able to master the many pathways in the city and predict where they would open- and how to open them at will! Little by little other interdimensonal travelers began to know the city as the only constant in the multiverse, and trade and travel flourished. The city grew and finally was built and occupied the whole archipelago. Agriculture was no longer an issue, as the Fenisians -now re-named the Alefians- could obtain anything from anywhere, at any point in the multiverse.

Alef is now the primary port for any interdimensional traveler- whether seeking roads to adventure, great wealth or knowledge, Alef can offer it to the seeker... for a price.




Layout





Alef is a city the size of a small continent and it would take the traveler many years to know all of it well. The archipelago itself consists of fifty island, all but three have been built upon. The central island, known as The Jewel, houses the majority of commerce and government of the city, including the Palace of the Philosopher, as well as the majority of the famous entertainment and scenic locales. The other islands are either residential or industrial in nature, with the island of Faros in the easternmost shore as the island where all scientific and magical research and investigation is done.

Each island is separated from the others by a Grand Canal, while each island is crisscrossed by many smaller canals that serve as transportation. There are no carriages in Alef, all in-island transportation is carried out by boats or gondolas, and transportation between nearby islands is carried out by steam ships or vaporetti. For traversing distances spanning multiple islands, dirigibles and airships are used.

Visitors from the planet Earth, from universe number 234082395, might notice a striking similarity between earth's Venice (though, obviously, smaller in scope) and Alef. The reason for this is that one of Venice's early dukes, duke Agnello Particiaco (811-827), happened to stumble into Alef by accident. Many of his experiences in Alef shaped his future plans for his city, reflected in its architecture and, in a strange blow of synchronicity, a century later in the garbs worn during the Venetian Carnivale.

The metaphysical nature of Alef's location is that of a pocket universe: Should anyone try to break through the atmosphere and lift-off from the planet, they will find that the starry abode is indeed an abode and none may go beyond it. The archipelago itself is the geography in its dimension. It is surrounded by interminable oceans that, should a traveler seek to traverse them, eventually lead back to the city again. The city lives off the fruits of the ocean and off the infinite richness of resources available to its citizens through interdimensional trade. Alef is also called the city of secrets, a sizable part of trade is the sale of information concerning the key and location of portals, but interminable throngs come to purchase goods from faraway universes at the Main Market.

Some notable locations include:

  • The Main Market: On the northern side of the Main Piazza on the Jewel Island, the Main Market is the interdimensional marketplace par excellence. It takes place in a designated area in the open air, and here vendors install their booths and sell their wares. Booth rotation is extremely important, as the number of salesmen is greater than the physical location. City officials spend days each month preparing the rotation sheets and posting them around the city. All merchants must schedule with at least three months in advance. While the process may be bothersome, the profits derived from it make it an almost unavoidable investment.


  • The Old Palace: The Palace is where all government takes place, preceded by The Philosopher. Only individuals on official business are allowed into the Palace. To seek an audience with The Philosopher one must first make several petitions and undergo a rigorous interview.


  • The Garden of Whispers: The Garden of Whispers is a unique part of the city. Visitors are always cautioned when entering the garden: walking through its gates may bring your worst nightmare, or your highest ecstasy. The garden itself is ever-changing and it is a nexus of extremely unstable reality-- it is not uncommon for whole areas from alternate realities to manifest within the confines of the garden due to a dimensional rift. When such rifts occur, visitors may come and go freely between realms, but it is ill-advised to do so, as the rifts may close just as unexpectedly! At the center of the garden there is a maze known as the Labyrinth of the Heart. Those who brave the labyrinth come out at the other end either completely mad or with some deep and powerful insight or epiphany. Very seldom have individuals walked out unchanged and untouched, and these are the ones that awaken the greatest curiosity. Nevertheless, none who have passed through the labyrinth has been able to recall anything of their journey.

  • The Amber Library: The Library is an inmense structure, at least ten blocks large by six blocks wide. The central portion (which is also the entrance) resembles a Greek temple, but the rest of the facade and the structure itself is a mishmesh of Egyptian, Japanese, Roman, Italian, and a bunch of other architectures, with towers, battlements, monolitths, pyramids and statues sticking up. At the center of the huge building is a tower built in a ziggurat-like pattern that reaches at least 100 feet high. All the towers and protruding structures on the library seem to point towards that tower, in that the towers and battlements fatherst away from the central tower are smaller, and those close to the tower are nearly twice their height. The library is inmense inside, and it contains a map of its installations at every corner. Every part of the library is accessible to the Avatars, except the part that leads to the central tower, which nobody can access without The Librarian's express permission. The Avatars will find among the variegated corridors of bookshelves of many different styles books concerning any single topic found under the sun, past- present- or future. The more dangerous books are kept within the Tower, which is inaccessible to anyone who has not been granted express permission by the librarian. The Librarian is a rotund black woman who appears ageless. Previous Denizens of the Dream will recognize her.

  • The Isle Of Faros: Dedicated solely to research and magic, the Island of Faros draws almost as many visitors as the main island of Jewel does. Laboratories line the streets and magical discharges are not uncommon. While it may prove to be a fascinating place to visit, all visitors are reminded of the volatile and dangerous nature of the research being conducted, and that anyone who visits the island must understand that their safety is not guaranteed.

  • The University: An ancient structure where the masters of all trades and disciplines in the city impart their knowledge, the University is one of the most prestigious in the multiverse- as it can boast having had some of the most famous people in multiple histories as visiting professors. Most recently, the esteemed Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Baron von Münchhausen has been in residency at the University as a visiting professor of Narrative Development. The university also houses the College of Doctors of Law, which is a branch of study that specializes on the correct and exact application of the law of the city.





Culture and Customs

Alef is rich in art and customs, it is a city full of festivities and rituals, but one particular item is the most remarkable: The Alefian Mask.

The Alefians wear elaborate, gorgeous and fantastical garb, and as a rule they never show their faces- rather, their visages are covered by incredibly elaborate and detailed masks. These masks are unique for every wearer and are worn always as "public" faces. They are never taken off outside of the home, except for the most intimate of friends, family and mates. The Unveiling, when an Alefian reveals his or her face, is an incredibly touching and vulnerable moment, and it is considered a great honor done to the recipient. It is customary to return the honor by Unveiling oneself-- but that is not always the case, and many an Alefian has been embarrassed by overestimating his or her relationship to another and ended up Unveiled without a reciprocal gesture.

Alefian philosophy holds that the individual must construct a persona (mask) that must symbolize everything he stands for and believes. Since the naked face is something you cannot choose but receive by accident of birth, it is considered inconsequential. The Alefian persona, therefore, is a complete creation of each individual that resembles -as much as it can- the entire concent of its bearer: gay and joyful colors with whimsical masks will indicate a cheerful disposition and youth, whilst more sedate colors indicate maturity, with gold and silver indicating nobility of spirit.

A Persona is not created by an Alefian until their 21st birthday, an age by which most character traits have emerged in the individual. They spend a year after their 21st birthday designing their masks with the aid of master Maskmakers, who seek to guide the design towards the most faithful representation of their charges' characteristics. During this time they also spend a great many hours each day meditating and reading over the great texts of philosophy, seeking to find themselves and grasp the essence of their identity- a necessary process for the creation of the mask.

Once created, the mask never changes (unless it is destroyed), and the ensemble will be complemented by colors appropriate to the persona. Many Alefians add symbols and accessories to their clothes that will reflect their status, interest or profession-- hence a Magician may carry a staff with a golden face, an example of the mystical half of her soul, while a thespian may choose an extravagant design that indicates an extravagant stage artist.

Here is an overall guide for wardrobe colors and their meaning, each color represents a virtue or principle to which the Alefian swears allegiance:

  • Blue: Honesty
  • Yellow: Compassion
  • Red: Courage
  • Green: Justice
  • Orange: Integrity
  • Purple: Honor
  • White: Intellectualism/Artistry
  • Black: Dedication/Devotion
  • Silver: Nobility of Heart
  • Gold: Nobility of Mind



The Alefian masks are magical in nature and will not work for anyone but their rightful owners-- anyone who seeks to put them on will find that they cannot be worn- they fly from their captors' faces and no force can hold them. When an Alefian has betrayed the very essence of his persona by violating his principles -and the violation is severe enough, his mask shatters into a million pieces. Until the Alefian performs an action worthy of redemption, no mask will work for him (provided he could even get a Maskmaker to make one for him-- the sign left upon an unredeemed Alefian by the shattering of his mask is visible to anyone who works magic). If he never redeems himself, his reputation is besmirched in accordance to the principle he betrayed (if he was dishonest, he will be known as a liar, if he broke a vow of dedication, he will be known as inconstant).

Although longtime residents of Alef are known to adopt an Alefian 'persona' or mask themselves, after many years of living in the city, just as many do not--- Alefian dress code is not enforced upon non-natives. Those who do choose to create an Alefian Mask will find that it works just as it would for any Alefian... and that includes the consequences of violating one's principles.


Underneath their masks, Alefians are a varied bunch. Although originally a dark-skinned, clear-eyed people, their unique genetic makeup allows them to be able to mate with and produce offspring with the majority of races in the multiverse that are more or less humanoid. Thus, the appearance of an Alefian will vary wildly depending on who his or her ancestors were.

It is an item of cultural curiosity that, although they find adult Alefians without masks untrustworthy, they find maskless foreigners intriguing and fascinating, at times even alluring.


Here is an example of some Alefian garb:



Government

Alefian government consists of a system that is surprisingly uncomplicated for such an ancient city-- It chiefly relies on the common interest in the function of the city, as its activity supplies the livelihoods of all inhabitants. The head of the city-state is The Philosopher. Under her is a system of courts starting with the High Court (comprised of a selected number of senior adjudicators), criminal and civil courts, a system of law enforcement (The Watch) and a standing army (known as The Honor Guard).

The Alefian laws are very clear and straightfoward-- the initial set of laws, The Carta Alefiana, consists of a decalogue of ten laws and principles set forth by the first Philosopher of Alef. In the time the city has existed, there has never been a need to enact new laws, and no laws would be allowed to be passed unless it were done through an act of government requiring the agreement of the Philosopher, the High Court and the Masters of the college of The Doctors of Law.


LAWS

The laws of the city are as follows:




  1. Property Rights: All citizens have complete autonomy and rights over the land they own. No law can repeal their right to ownership without a serious criminal offense being present. All may do as they please within their property as long as it does not violate the law, nor infringe upon the rights of others.

  2. Personal Safety:All citizens have a right to their person and life. None may inflict unprovoked violence upon another, with the exception of self-defense, voluntary non-lethal duels and non-lethal sporting events.

  3. Free Trade:Goods and services may be provided and traded for within the City, as long as said goods and services do not pose a danger to the city or its inhabitants.

  4. Protection:Unlawful compulsion or coercion by any means shall not be tolerated by the city. Neither shall fraud remain unpunished. Those found engaging in these activities will be expelled from the city and banned from entering for five years. A second offense carries eternal banishment from Alef.

  5. Rules of Arms:Weapons and guns may be carried freely, but they may not be used to initiate violence, only to defend against it.

  6. On Minors: All are considered consenting adults at age 20. Coercion of a minor to participate in unlawful activities will incur a heavy penalty for the coercer. Mind-altering and hazardous goods are not to be sold to minors until the age of adulthood, where they may decide to partake voluntarily of their own free will.

  7. On Parental Obligation: Parents are responsible for the upraising of the children they bring to life until the age of adulthood. Afterwards, they have no further obligation safe for those they choose to undertake afterwards.

  8. On Citizenship: Citizenship in Alef is voluntary and free. Citizenship is maintained for as long as the individual remains in good standing with the law. Should they break Alefian laws, citizenship is suspended either temporarily or permanently in accordance with the severity of the transgression. Temporally-suspended citizens have the option of spending their sentence at a dimension of their choice or at the Palace of Sentences, a pocket dimension that Alef uses as its prison. Permanently-exiled citizens are often guilty of heinous crimes and are executed or permanently banished.

  9. On Extradition: Alef recognizes only its own laws and will not extradite anyone, unless the transgressions are also considered crimes under Alefian law.

  10. On Jurisdiction: Officers of the law from without Alef may not operate without sanction from the City, under danger of banishment.

  11. On Executive Corruption: Corruption anywhere in government is punishable by permanent banishment to the Palace of Sentences, without appeal.



The Philosopher
The Philosopher has existed since Alef was Alef. Only the wisest and most fair are chosen to take this position.
The person chosen, always female, is the only case in Alefian culture in which an individual must abandon their chosen Persona and adopt a different mask and garb- the Philosopher Mask and Robes.

The Mask is unique in that it is a receptacle of the knowledge of past Philosophers, the Golden Mask is a library of knowledge valuable to any leader of state. It also does not shatter when its principles are betrayed, but rather it glows brightly, alerting to all who can see that The Philosopher has betrayed the principles of the city.

The mask may only be given up in case of betrayal or death. A Philosopher who has seriously betrayed the city is exiled for life to the Palace of Sentences and forced to do menial and humiliating tasks for the rest of her life.

Although the Philosopher rules the law of the city, in truth all Philosophers know that they are the servants of the will of the city-- Alef has a will of its own, it seeks to exist-- and that desire is what created the rift through which the first Fenesians came through and colonized the land that would eventually create the city. Alef is the manifestation of the totality of the will of its pocket dimension.

This pocket dimension is unique in the multiverse because it is actually the Seed Universe: It was the firstborn, and from this universe were all others born. All universes are connected to it and spring from it directly or indirectly. The nature of this Will is unknown, all that is known is that it exists and that all rifts and portals that open spontaneously do so for a reason.

Alef, however, does not interfere with the lives of its dwellers- outside of the aforementioned phenomena.

The Philosopher spends her days arbitrating on matters of law or studying the writings of the first Philosophers, meditating upon the nature of the law and the nature of the city. It is extremely difficult to gain an audience with the Philosopher, unless it is an urgent matter of great importance. Most people only see her at the time of important festivals, where she attends and officiates the important ceremonies. All Philosophers are addressed by the title, followed by her first name. Hence the current Philosopher is known as Philosopher Esmeralda.
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