To Chance with Hell (Planescape)
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If there is some representation of heaven in the planes, then Mount Celestia is it. Travellers should not mistake it as the most hospital of plains, or the most beautiful, or the most bountiful. It can be all of those things, but only to those who understand the teachings of the plane. Indeed, any traveller looking for a good time or a quick buck will find themselves stranded in the “silver sea” of Lunia, the first layer (although the sea elves won’t let you drown as long as you’re polite enough). What civilization exists in Lunia (and there is a fair number of settlements) are certainly nice enough, but you won’t find anything there that you can’t find in other cities on the planes. To get something from Celestia that you can’t find anywhere, you need to stop and listen.
There are many portals that lead upwards to the top of the seven layers that comprise Mount Celestia, but finding them is a very personal matter. To ascend, one must learn the lesson the layer wishes to teach you, and that lesson must be taken to heart and completed not out of a desire to ascend, but because the lesson taught is a worthy one. Creatures and petitioners who attempt short-cuts, deception, or complete their tasks in a half-hearted manner will find themselves unable to advance.
So, traveler, you wish to partake of my wisdom regarding the slopes of the holy mount? Certainly, I know much of the Seven Heavens, though there is much that is still dark from even my eyes. Those who come here have many reasons for making the journey, though there is only one true and worthy purpose. Some seek trade, others exploration and adventure, but true pilgrims make the sacred journey up the mountain in the pursuit of enlightenment. Mount Celestia is the bastion of virtue for the Great Ring, the guardian of its spiritual purity, and all those who desire to understand the holy light of ordered purity need only make the pilgrimage up its slopes. Most assume that only those who already believe and exemplify this ideal would undertake such a journey, but they are mistaken. Any and all who desire to shed the sins of their existence are given the chance. We do not only use the sword to vanquish evil, though the wise do not test the strength of the archons. Though my own past has been washed away with my rebirth, surely my mortal life was marked by virtue. Soon I shall have my final reward as I become one with the plane of ultimate justice and mercy.
Mount Celestia rises up from an endless ocean, underneath which many great beings of the sea dwell. There are seven layers to the plane, each one shielded by a shroud of clouds and mists from the eyes of those below and visible only to those walking the Paths. Still, the brilliance of the Illuminated Heaven bathes us all from the summit. Almost all the petitioners of the plane begin as lantern archons and ascend (both figuratively and literally) through the ranks of hound, warden, sword, and tome archons. The ranks of the holy host comprise most of Mount Celestia‘s inhabitants, and the archons are maintain with a careful vigilance even as we continue our own quests for perfection. Of course, some petitioners retain other forms designated by their powers, most notably those serving the halfling and dwarf pantheons. Other beings make their homes here as well, attracted by the radiance of disciplined peace, such as the lammasu, shedu, and noctrals. Aasimon and aasimar are also common, and make up much of the armies of our celestial strongholds.
There are few portals that lead above the first layer of Mount Celestia, and certainly none past the midpoint. No, the way to ascend the mountain is to climb, and to do that one must find a Path. The Paths are not simple roads, but take the supplicant on a spiritual journey as well. The Path teaches the pilgrim a truth of law and goodness, and once chosen, a Path must be followed until reaching the next layer. Mortals must make the journey on foot; only the archons fare well in the winds that blanket the mount, and even we must follow the Path‘s physical route. Once a new layer is attained, the pilgrim may choose to continue along the original Path or choose a new one. Some continue on the same Path, perfecting their understanding of a single aspect of holiness. Others hope to learn something of perfect unity by contemplating the different roads to virtue. The pilgrimage itself is of no fixed length of time; it hinges on the pilgrim‘s soul. Many give up before the end, despairing of ever reaching the summit after years of travel. But there are those who find their way through the layers with only months of travel. What awaits the supplicant at the peak? Surely we petitioners achieve our union with the very plane itself. But even mortals do not return after they attain enlightenment. Do they sit in quiet contemplation? Do they become some other entity of goodness and order? Do they too become one with the mount? One day I shall have an answer, but I shall not return to tell you the dark of it.
The first layer is Lunia, the Silver Heaven, land of summer‘s night. Stars and the ray of the moon shine upon the waters and shore of the sea. Almost all portals to Mount Celestia open up over the water. Only the evil need fear, however, for the waves are the holiest of waters. Regardless, the zoveri who live in the sea help all to shore. Along the shores are the citadels and palaces of minor powers and the homes and towns of planars. The towns act as trading centers, and the largest and most-frequented is Heart‘s Faith, close to the gate from the Outlands. It has docks for those who travel here along Oceanus from the neighboring planes. Pilgrims make great use of its goods, stocking up on food and sundries before taking up their quests.
Sometimes adventurers come to the lowest layers of Mount Celestia. They seek out sites such as the Tower of Fire. This mysterious edifice soars up from a marble outcropping, out amongst the waves, a great distance from shore. The tower is carved from the marble itself, and a blue flame blazes upon its top. Many attempt to reach the tower by flying or teleporting. They are thwarted, but the waves carry them to the tower‘s door, and the heat of the tower dries the sodden traveler. The interior is somehow made of the same blue fire that can be seen on the tower‘s roof, but it does not burn flesh. The tower‘s layout shifts every sevenday, which helps to guard its secrets. Some legends hold that artifacts are held within, while others state that the purpose of the tower is esoteric, burning away impurities from those who traverse its maze. Sadly, no one trustworthy has ever claimed to reach the rooftop.
You‘ll recall that I mentioned even evil outsiders are washed up on Lunia‘s shore. Remember, even this holiest of places does not absolutely bar the entrance of the corrupt. Indeed, there are many who seek to atone for their past and to learn the ways of righteousness. If they do evil while here, they will be vanquished, but they are given the opportunity for repentance. Of course, we remain on our guard, and the scarred flesh of evil undead and outsiders who have been plunged into the silvery waters mark them well. Most linger on Lunia, though some rare few become enlightened enough to ascend to the next layer.
Above Lunia is Mercuria, the Golden Heaven, named for the soft glow of the air that surrounds it. It is eternally young, like a prime world in its beginnings, with newly formed mountains and deep valleys. The golden air here is thin, but rich with possibilities and potential and the first flowering of spring. Here are the mustering grounds of the celestial armies, as well as their armories. The great citadel of Bahamut, the platinum dragon, can also sometimes be found there. On occasion his palace moves between the first three (some say four) layers, and those with the courage may entreat of the valiant wyrm to make use of this shortcut. But never forget that Bahamut, like all dragons, is a creature of appetite who does not brook those who do not show proper respect and homage.
Then is the layer known as Venya, the Pearly Heaven, suffused by a soft white light. This is chiefly the home of the halfling powers, who name it Green Fields. It is a land of abundance, with fertile terraced fields and meadows, interspersed with moors. The halfling petitioners are much like the halflings of the prime, including their nomadic nature. The communities here can be broken down at a moment‘s notice and moved to a new location. This is done both to spare the land from over-cultivation and is also part of their own pilgrimage. Rarely does a halfling make the journey alone; their family and clan take part as well, traveling secret Paths of Venya known only to their own kind, until as one, they are ready to become one with their beloved home.
The fourth layer I know quite well. It is Solania, the Electrum Heaven. Its sweeping skies are silver, suffused with a warm, golden glow. The icy mountains are titanic, looking down upon the deep canyons and the swift rivers. The mountain sides are populated by fog-shrouded monasteries, where the faithful contemplate the majesty of lawful goodness. One of the oldest is the First Monastery, and as it name implies, it may indeed be the oldest. It has been maintained for the last millennia by the valiant Order of the Planes-Militant, a noble sect dedicated to both protecting the Holy Mount and spreading its purity. They tirelessly work to convert the wayward, even successfully shifting portions of the neighboring planes to Mount Celestia, bolstering the holiest of planes. There are those who protest that the Order is made up of the tyrannical or misguided, but such screed only spills from the mouths of those who have cause to fear the spread of virtue and justice. Deep underground can be found Erackinor, where the Soul Forge of Moradin creates the spirits of the dwarves. The petitioner-dwarves build many settlements such as Istor‘s Forge, Stonefall, and the Rift, which are so grand as to make prime dwarven holds seem paltry.
I know of the upper layers only by rumor, for I have tarried on Solania for centuries. I have not found my way forward, to my shame, and remain in the form of hound archon. As one climbs higher, the storms grow fiercer, and pilgrims must beware the danger of rockslides. The next layer is known as Mertion, the Platinum Heaven, with brilliant white skies that no undead can look upon without bearing the brunt of their positive energies. ‘Tis the fabled resting place of the paladins. The landscape here takes the form of black domes, upon which mighty fortresses rise up. The first city encountered is Empyrea, the City of Tempered Souls, which rests beside a mountain lake. Its healers care for injured pilgrims and its traders sell mountaineering gear and hire out guides.
Higher up the layer is Rempha, the City of the Sands of Time. The city has some connection to the Temporal Energy Plane, which upends time‘s normal flow. I have heard that the solar who rules it is advised by a modron known as Secundus that has been exiled from Mechanus, which cannot bode well. There are rumors of a great machine being built, as large as a town or greater. Its ultimate purpose is unknown, but tales have spread of such uses as the ability to monitor the shrouded origins of the multiverse (or even to travel there!), a great weapon to be used to destroy Celestia if ever it were in danger of being overrun by fiends, or the ability to forcibly open portals across the Great Ring. All such ideas seem fanciful to me, but such a titanic machine must have some extraordinary purpose.
The penultimate layer is Jovar, the Glittering Heaven, with skies that glow with the lambent sparkle of gems, pulsing like the heartbeat of Celestia itself. Here the traveler comes to the peak of the mountain, topped by a colossal ziggurat. This is the dwelling place of the Final Mystery, which is both the ruler of the Heavens and the sum of its knowledge. Only by climbing the ziggurat and reaching Chronias, the Illuminated Heaven, will the seeker understand. Then shall all that was impure be taken away. Some day, traveler, some day, I shall attain that dizzying height.
Excelsior (Outland Gate-Town)
By Hajzeek Gnarl-Hoof
Excelsior is the ideal form o‘ any burg ye can think up. Gold-flecked streets, orderly an‘ secure, an‘ rife wit‘ paladins. Laid out at the top o‘ a low hill, the streets ‘emselves glow at night, an‘ warmth (literally) pervades the place, stoppin‘ the residents from even needin‘ to light a fire to keep the cold away. In all ways, this place is just itchin‘ to try to get into the first layer o‘ Mount Celestia like the nearby Heart‘s Faith managed.
The city itself is only roughly broken up into districts. The center holds the highest towers an‘ kips o‘ those high-ups that don‘t have their own flyin‘ domains. Outside the center can be found the homes, inns, markets, an‘ other buildings o‘ the town. The fields o‘ wheat that keep the place fed an‘ the clay banks o‘ the nearby river that produce bricks for buildin‘ are found just outside the edges o‘ the residential areas. Floatin‘ castles maintain a protective perimeter around the city from the sky, while on the ground a number o‘ similar citadels can be found, the homes o‘ paladins who have retired an‘ brought their homes to rest on the edge o‘ town.