AD&D - New World
or, The Caliphate of the Seen and Unseen
Before the long Age of Heroes, when the people of the west were barbarians, a grand kingdom bloomed in the desert. The tribes of the great Hafayah Desert, both human and demi-human, had wandered scattered and lost until the warlord Amar bin Nadia united them. Amar bin Nadia was a man of infinite ambition. Born in the wastes of the desert, he knew that his people went hungry in the salt wastes and the shifting sands, and so he searched for ways to feed them. He built roads in the desert and filled those roads with caravans, but trade was not enough.
Bin Nadia’s people came from many races and cultures. Each tribe had its own ancestors and magics. Amar bin Nadia had already conquered the tribes, but in order to build his kingdom he needed to conquer their gods.
Bin Nadia had taken power through war, but it was magic that let him hold it. He gathered the holy men of each tribe and pried their secrets from them, sometimes with gifts and gold, and other times with hot irons. Those secrets let him reach out to old spirits and bind them. He used their magics to make the desert run with water. Huge oases sprung up in the desert, and bin Nadier’s people flourished, building cities and palaces, bazaars and temples.
But the desert was not enough for Amar bin Nadier. He had seen a glimpse of the outer planes and he knew that myths of the desert nomads were real. He had glimpsed Elysium and the pits of Pandemonium, and he lusted after the power of all things. Just as he had torn secrets from the holy men and women of the desert, he tore them from the bound spirits of the oldest ancestors, and in time those secrets grew so great that he was able to wage war on the planes themselves.
Amir bin Nadia built a door in the desert, and through that door he marched armies. And when his armies had finished, he brought architects and artisans. Bin Nadier built a mighty city near the center of the outer planes and named it Marat. It was a city of magic built on the bones of the ancestors of the desert itself and it stood like a blemish on what the spirits called the fields of concordant opposition. Bin Nadier named himself Caliph of the Seen and Unseen, and the old spirits were powerless to tear down his walls or even step across them, as he had poured their foundations over bound forms of their brothers and sisters.
But the Caliph was a tyrant now, and all tyrants must fall. Bin Nadier had turned his conquering gaze to the planes, and in doing so he ignored the tribes of the desert. They met in secret and plotted against him, and in his fortress he was blind to their plots. They named themselves Jannisaries after the mercenary soldiers of the old desert, and they sought to bring the caliphate down.
The Jannisaries spoke to their own ancestors and made terrible bargains. Each of the tribes would buy passage through the planes, to attack the Calpiph’s holy city of Marat not through the magic door in the desert, which was guarded against invasion, but over its walls in the Outlands. Those walls guarded the city from the old spirits, but they held no magic over men. To pay for their passage, they promised their very selves to the spirits who would lead them. When their war was done, the Jannisaries promised they would serve as vessels for the spirits, so that the spirits could walk the mortal world again.
The old spirits split the tribes into four armies, each to attack from a different direction—not east, west, north and south, as those held no meaning in the outer realms, but through the fabrics of the planar realities, through the inner planes of fire and air and water and stone. They traveled in secret, led by the strange spirits of those places, and arrived at the the city of Marat changed. Each of the armies had been transformed by their passage. Those who had passed through the plane of fire burned, and those who had passed through the plane of water seemed to flow. The armies that had passed through the plane of stone stood silent and still, and the armies who had traveled through the planes of air seemed to float and sway.
They poured over the walls and sacked Marat, but they were not able to destroy the Caliph of the Seen and the Unseen. Filled with magic and standing on the planes of the Outlands, so near the center of all things, he had become a god. And so instead they sealed him in his city. Some of the Jannisarries stayed to walk the halls of the Caliph’s palace and guard its doors; they became both jailers and servants, and some of them, too, became gods in time. Others held true to their bargain and returned to the mortal world as vessels for the spirits, that the ancestors might walk the desert again.
Those that returned were no longer human. They had been changed by their journey, made into elemental things, and their souls were the souls of the spirits, made strange by long eons on the outer planes. The people of the desert whispered stories of these Jannisaries, calling them just Janni, or sometimes genie. They spoke of the Efreet, the Janni of fire, and the Marid, the Janni of water, who lived in the oases. And of the Dao who dwelt in stony places and the Djinn who traveled on the wind. Free of the tyrant Caliph, the cities of the desert stopped their growth and their conquering, and turned their energies to trade and art and culture, so that each city became as strange as it was beautiful. And even as the desert’s people were free of the Caliph, they worshiped him in his celestial city. He was their god-king in exile, and they loved him.
Centuries passed. The story of the strange and terrible Caliph passed from history into legend, other old spirits passed from this plane to others, and new priests of new religions spread new tales. The bars of the Caliph’s prisons weakened and he began to dream, in his terrible dark sleep, of returning to Urth.
In Amara, there was born a dwarven Princess. Raised behind walls of stone and gold, she was also kept in a manner of prison, separate from her people. But by chance and by fate, she met and fell in love with a desert raider. To be with him, she disguised herself as a boy and a shepard. She had a dozen-and-one urthly adventures, battling corsairs on the Seas of the Scattered Islands, outwitting genies of the Haunted Lands, and seeing all the weird wonder Amara could offer.
Her dozen-and-first urthly adventure led her to the Outer Planes and the Court of the Seen and Unseen. She had another dozen-and-one divine adventures, outsmarting the court of the Caliph, courting and being courted by the gods themselves, and tumbling head over heels with demons, angels, and those in-between. Her dozen-and-first diving adventure led her to meet Bin Nadier himself — or, the god-king Bin Nadier had become. They engaged in a game of riddles and riddling, and somehow the Shepard who was once the Princess tricked the Caliph himself. He thought his final riddle would result in his freedom and his return to Urth, but through trickery — though not lies — the Shepard once again tricked the Caliph into imprisonment. But in return, she agreed to return to Amara and tell all Amarans the story of the Caliph, and to ensure that they would worship only the Caliph and his Court, for all time.
The Shepard who was once the Princess returned to Amara as the Lawbringer. She wandered the deserts and the oases and the cities of the dwarves. She carried with her the true tales of the compact she had made with the gods. She united Amara, not through combat and not with threat of death, but with a new covenant with the divine. No more would old spirits and fallen ancestors be worshipped in the mosques of Amara. Only the Caliph and the Court of the Seen and Unseen would receive prayers, and only they would bestow the gift of divine magic to the natural-born priests of Amara.
Another several centuries have passed since then, but the Lawbringer’s covenant is held true. She exists outside of the Court, but is honored first among mortals. The Caliph is loved and feared in his prison, and the genie still wander the sands, bringing magic to the true believers and always ready to reward — and trick — those who would dare deal with them.