Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Caliphate of Holes

The Caliphate of Holes

The shattered karst and black cyclopean frags that make up the Sifir, or 'The Plain of Sifir' or 'The Plain of Nothing', or more simply 'The Nothing', are uninterrupted and empty of life.

Only in the shadowed micro-climates of the black broken kaiju temple shards, bigger than buildings, will life appear, and then only the clenched octopoid charcoal-vermilion corn that grows in tangled bezoars. Despite its vile appearance the red-black safir corn still feeds safely and well. Enough to support the few mad banished vagabonds that haunt the safir and the wolfslugs that prey on them in turn.

Monsters haunt the safir, monsters and monstrous men and wild vortexes of time that pinwheel through the sky like storms. But, hidden till you see it is the Caliphate of Holes.

Each village, town or house in the Caliphate of Holes exists in a stepped-pyramid sinkhole. A natural occurrence, deliberately crafted by the hand of man.

The sides of these limestone pyramid-reflections have been cut into shelves and filled with soil. Crops grow in the steps and paths lead mazelike routes between the paths. At the bottom of each asifir (a-sifir meaning simply not-sifir, or 'not nothing') lies a home or several, a village, and in many cases the shell-palace of a noble line.

It is like walking the surface of a blasted alien world, then looking down into a green, green valley that opens up before you like a trap. The hole-sides protect the asifir from the cruel desiccating winds of the outer plain and as each stepped field sinks slowly through the water table, they grow green with life. many sifir have rivers running through their base, emerging from caves and apertures in the rock, all have wells and oases.

All the asifir, linked together in rulership, form the Caliphate of Holes, a hidden nation.

It is so difficult and dangerous to cross the sifir that most residents of the Caliphate do it only once. The asifir are connected in trade by a migratory culture of caravan guards, some of the toughest, most dangerous people on earth, who ply their beetle caravans across and through the labyrinth of the broken karst to connect the valuable markets of the asifir.

You can become rich quickly in the caravans of the Caliphate, and die quickly too.

The asifir are connected by this strange mercenary culture, but they are also connected beneath the stone as well. The whole Plain of Nothing is a gigantic water table feeding into the three mighty rivers of the south. rain does fall there but is absorbed so quickly by the rock that the place can seen parched seconds after a storm.

But underneath the surface the water trickles and runs, forming a lacework of hidden rivers and streams. All asifir have access to this underground world and, dangerous as it is, connecting to the Veins of the Earth and the terrible things that reside there, it is also a medium of communication.

A few asifir are lucky enough to be connected by navigable underground rivers, but even for the rest communication is still possible.

The watery underground world beneath the Sifir is home to a race of intelligent, albino octopus-men. The Calipahte exists in a state of alliance with this race, in a sense, the form two sides of the same coin. The Caliphate provides crops, food, space to devise and create and protection from, along with access to, the upper world. The Octopi-men first, when young, carry sealed messages between the asifir, worming through the perforated rocks, forming a postal system beneath the earth. Second, when adult, they emerge from the wells and oases and form the guards of the asifir, protecting them from the monsters and horrors of the plain. When Caravans appear from out of the plain, they are greeted fist by Octopi-men riding gigantic snails. These then lead them through the maze of the asifirs terraced fields.

Every aspect of the asifirs construction is devised towards protection. The layout of the terraces is like a puzzle hard to understand. Residents know it, but visitors can quickly be disconcerted by the narrow paths between paddies and fields. Even the crops themselves and the way they are laid out can be a form of trap.

The topmost, dryest terraces are usually planted with hypnotic poppies that require blind guides. Then come orchards protected with beehives in the branches of their trees. Anti-cavalry potato mazes can be found on lower levels. Thick grain crops are always grown in mazes. narrow paths lead between paddies of calligraphic rice, as the thin wind moves across the leaves of rice the shifting of te leaves en-masse forms single words and letters when seen from above, different each time On lower fields sheep-sized snails are herded and watched over by young shepherds and war-pigs are bred and kept secure.

(The asifir of the Caliphate of Holes are famous for their culturing of snails, but despite their success in this field, they cannot grow snails as large, intelligent or warlike as the 'Chivalric Snails' rumoured to exist in the lands of the Curlicue Throne, somewhere beyond the Snaegleborg. Though they are large enough to provide a kind of cavalry for the octopi men to guard against wolfslugs in the night, and worse things.)

A noble family rules each asifir from a home or small palace near its centre. Often these are gigantic shells of mega-snails long since extinct. What role these gigantic snails played in the formation and development of the sinkholes, and how they came to e extinct, is lost to history.

The noble youth are educated by clerics of the Caliph. The Caliph himself is a living vortex of time, though civilised, and his, or her, clerics are finely trained legal minds who act as impartial judges and lawyers for the asifir, as well as being combat-trained.

Since the culture of the Caliphate insists that the young marry only for love and for no other reason, and since it is very difficult to travel between asifirs, and because it is illegal to marry someone of your own family, and somewhat devient to marry below your family, a sizeable proportion of the messages carried through the underground maze of the water table are love letters.

Poetry is the accepted means of discovering and declaring love and it is entirely common for young couples to find each other through the written word, court, fall in love, all through the exchange of poetry, and then to meet only at the moment before being married (after at least one of them, usually the man, has survived a gruelling passage across the sifir.

Since poetry is the primary means of finding a mate and gaining and retaining status, the Caliphate produces very good poets. A good poet essentially has their choice of spouse. This has lead to the noble families of the Caliphate becoming somewhat obsessive in pursuit of this talent and poetical inbreeding, of character if not of bloodlines, has lead to a melancholic, depressive, sometimes bipolar, yet brilliant temperament amongst that class.

Since poetry is status, access to poetry is restricted to the upper class. It is illegal for anyone else to create any and the peasants of the Caliphate even sing their field songs without words, or in a deliberate nonsense fashion to ensure that no-one suspects them of illegal poetical talent.

Unpoetical, unromantic but likeable and practical-minded youngsters will often pay for 'bandit verse' so they can create the simulation of the perfect relationship and be allowed to marry. if they are known by their families to be 'un-versical' then this will be quietly allowed without comment.

And of course the folk stories and legends of the Caliphate are full of poems being delivered to the wrong people, Snail herders with an incredible unexpected talent, princesses wandering in the safir and bumping into bandit kings who happen to be incredible poets and are also exiled princes, princes being sucked into time vortexes and sending poetry through the calligraphic rice that ensures their own conception. All the creaky old classics.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. *Surreptitiously begins scrawling sink holes across the pseudo-Arabian parts of the campaign map*

  4. Fabulous. Channelling some Vance here? Like you, he creates believable society-environments with few sentences. I am currently reading the Dirdir series and this reminded me of it.