Valley of the Laughing Hearts

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    Just SurvivingValley of the Laughing Hearts[Realm - Mercuria]Copyright © 2000 by Heiner de Wendt

CharacterThe gift of an honest, happy laugh is one of the greatest wonders of the multiverse. It can bring emotional wealth to all who hear it, yet belongs to no one (for even the person who laughs grants this gift to the whole multiverse by releasing it). It is a symbol of how everything should be: happy, true, innocent, and belonging to all, yet no one's property. A laughing heart can defy all fear and evil, embracing the joy that is life.

PowerFilja is usually depicted as a young girl, somewhere between seven and ten years old. Her golden hair turns into silver dolphins swimming around her shoulders in a wonderful dance, and her eyes are nothing but stars. The demigoddess is always seen smiling or laughing (the latter far more often), trying to bring joy to everyone who accepts that gift. Filja, the child-goddess of innocence, happiness and light, is strongly allied to both Mitra and Surya, two sun-related powers sharing the realm of Goldfire in Mercuria. She is worshipped only on certain worlds where her more powerful allies have "introduced" her to the mortals, and the child-goddess seems to be pleased with the situation, not longing for more worshippers or power.

DescriptionMost people come upon the Valley of the Laughing Hearts in the same way. As they walk one of the mountain paths, they round a large curve, and suddenly are standing in front of a gargantuan valley, about five miles straight down the mountains, stretching for miles and miles, farther than even dragon eyes can see. The realm is only a relatively small part of this valley, but as it doesn't seem any bit different from the rest of the valley, it's hard to tell where it ends. The whole valley is filled with light woods and meadows, small rivers and wonderful rushing streams. Birds, dragonflies and other animals seem to be everywhere, and it's said they all have an instinctive knowledge of whom they can trust and who wants to harm them. There are no true settlements here; the archons and a few other inhabitants of this realm live in the naturally occurring sheltered places of the valley, and it seems there's a place to suit everyone’s taste. Caverns inside the mountain walls might somewhat resemble a natural fortress, trees seem to grow to provide protection and shelter, and so on. While the valley itself is a sight that fills a pilgrim's heart with happiness and beauty, there is more to the child-goddess' realm. Those of good alignment experience at least one good thing every day, something that makes the person happy and supports belief in true, unblemished innocence. Beings of lawful good alignment experience three such things every day. Of course, this is only the minimum - if things don't happen by themselves, Filja makes them happen. This definitely doesn't mean, however, that one cannot experience such situations the whole day long.

Principal TownsThere are no real towns in this realm, and most settlements aren't that exceptional. Three sites, though, should be mentioned in particular: The river-city called Dancing Dolphins is built upon a giant float, sailing down the slow, broad Lujah Stream. Every fifty years, the city reaches the great Aggencorr Lake, where a great festival takes place. Two weeks later, the archon-mage Phudah, who watches over the city, casts a powerful spell, and the whole city disappears, beginning its travel again on the Lujah Stream. The city's mostly inhabited by mortals, most of them being humans. They're fishers, artists, and craftsmen, living a life of simple beauty, filled with poetry (literally and metaphorically) and happiness.

The Floating Star is a tower built with sparkling jewels, and as it reflects the bright sunlight, it can be seen from miles in the distance, hovering in the sky. About five hundred lantern archons live within this tower, and they obviously have a reason for it, though they don't tell anyone. It has been speculated that they're all on a kind of shared path, and will all together achieve promotion to hound archon when they finish whatever they're doing in the Floating Star.

A halfling dwells in the third exceptional place of the realm. Lillirr Rabbithealer is a petitioner of Yondalla, but has been sent into this realm for some reason. He's built himself a home that all halflings would call "simply wonderful", being something like the ideal halfling home. The halfling is a kind of master gardener, and he does nothing but care for his plants all day long. Lillirr is a friendly chap, and happily chats with everyone who comes along, but doesn't stop working. If asked, he explains that he's searching for a secret that Yondalla herself has lost, but he doesn't give any further information.

Special ConditionsNotable conditions within the valley are, of course, the animals which don't seem to know fear, and the fact that those who seek a place for shelter always find something fitting to their nature. Within Filja's realm, there's also the "experiencing something good every day” effect. Furthermore, probably due to the alliance with the two sun gods, the sun within Filja's realm affects undead differently than usual. It doesn't harm or destroy undead or other beings normally harmed by it, as long as they keep to the ideals of Mount Celestia. Whenever they even think about carrying out an evil act, however, this protection fades immediately. During the night, all undead and/or evil creatures shine with a dark blue gleaming; after the first night, this gleam remains as long as the being is within this realm. During daylight, it's hard to notice, but still active. All affected beings feel that they may be granted a change in nature, if they accept it. Undead are turned into living beings again, and evil beings become good (though the law/chaos-part of their alignment doesn't change). Sages are sure this is connected to the Crucible of Light within Mitra's and Surya's realm of Goldfire, and that Filja somehow "channels" the Crucible's powers to achieve this. Considering that Filja is just a demipower (though, some say, at the edge of becoming a lesser power), and that such changing of a being's whole nature supposedly draws much divine energy, this is very probable indeed.

Principal Non-player CharactersThere are no outstanding servants of Filja, at least none generally known. The child-goddess seems to send her proxies to mortals in the Prime Material Plane very often, subtly aiding them in times of sorrow and grief. Sometimes, the human duke Forrice of Thun visits the realm. He might be the most exceptional servant of Filja, as the only paladin serving the child-goddess at all. It's said that in his thirty years of servitude, he's drawn his sword only five times, and killed only two opponents. Yet, he's succeeded in all of his quests, and there seems to be nothing that can make the Duke unhappy.

ServicesNow, the archons would say that the happiness granted in this realm is far more than visitors could ever hope for. But many planewalkers aren't that virtuous, of course, even if they're good-aligned. Those seeking even more are able to find exceptional animal familiars here; they even approach those who unconsciously long for one without a spell being cast. The familiar is always something the character loves, an animal that, by its very nature, brings happiness to its new friend. A secret that few people know is that within Filja's realm, there are many portals to Sigil. Interestingly, these are mainly of the temporary kind. Archons and proxies of the child-goddess seem to be very reluctant to tell others about portals they know of; it seems Filja herself isn't really happy about all those portals. Chant has it she's even sent a few proxies to Sigil to make sure this dark doesn't get well known. Only once did a proxy of Filja destroy such a portal, though, and that was when a small army of yugoloths tried to storm the Valley of the Laughing Hearts (fortunately, the deva destroyed the portal on the realm's side before the fiends could get through). Finally, one should not forget the most exceptional "service" available in this realm: Purification. Cutters who fall victim to a vampire and turn into an undead creature themselves get a chance at returning to their former state, maybe even to their former life, here. Those who are evil, yet know, deep in their hearts, that this is wrong, are granted the understanding of goodness here, having their souls filled with the light of innocence. And those who are hopeless or cynical often learn here how wrong they are - even without the child-goddess' divine help.

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