There is little difference between how the Manual of the Planes distinguishes the Outer Planes, what we refer to often as the Eternal Homes of the Gods, and how most scholars agree that our near cosmos is arranged and organized. The philosophical alignment of these spiritual planes between Good and Evil is the same, as is their axial arrangement between Chaos and Order. What the manual of Planes fails to note in its infinite wisdom, however, is that the spatial arrangement of these planes is not a two-dimensional wheel, as it suggests, but instead a fully three-dimensional globe. For the paltry purposes of organizing a general layout or map of the planes in the minds of mortals not resident to these Outer Planes, there is little difference in the two models of these places, but the practical effect of this three-dimensional model is of great importance in understanding the struggles of our deities and the origin of the energies that flow into our droplet. The great wars in the heavens are fought most vigorously at the poles where the slivers of their domain and influence are narrower and polar opposites are nearer or touching. It is through these “upper” and “lower” poles that the Variable String enters and exits our droplet, where the power it brings is the strongest but least manageable, and where the distinct and unique ever-changing yet strangely ordered effects and energies of the string are at their strongest. Here, the gods themselves wrestle with the incomprehensible powers of the eternities and bring them to bear, forging them into the divine, arcane, eldritch, psionic, and the like. It is at these nexus points where the gods are at their greatest potential and yet at their most vulnerable. Or so the theory goes.
The Vast Cloud
Arranged by the gods much as the Manual of the Planes explains, the Outer Planes border on their interior edge with and are in fact also completely surrounded by the Astral Plane, which is referred to by the many and various people of Arat’ as The Vast Cloud. It consists of a great mass of stuff that is partially energy and partially matter, while not being fully one or the other. The gods have culled it from the Variable String to form the bulk of our droplet. It is possible that this Astral stuff may be the closest we know to the true nature of the string, itself, though now in a more quiet or subdued state (which will be a surprise to anyone familiar with the Astral and not with the Variable String). This appears to mortal eyes to be a vast collection of rolling gray clouds of mist and light. Though largely wild and unable to be tamed, there are those who have carved the stuff into usable space and maintain residence there, such as the two tribes of Gith and certain arcanists who prize their privacy and are willing to expend much time and energy to maintain it. For most, though, the place is simply a way past the Inner Planes to the homes of the Gods.
Ether: Spirits & Shades
Between the elemental planes and their correspondent para-elemental planes, and surrounding the prime material plane where life is found, is the ether. The ethereal plane extends also to the edges of the astral and coexists in the same space with the prime material. In this place, the spirits and shattered souls dwell and travel between the material and mortal sphere to the distant homes of the gods. The ether is seen by most mortals who have been able to perceive it as a black void populated by mists and shadows and pale imitations of life, or a place full of mist populated by ghosts and reflections of the living world, or simply as a variant of our own landscape populated by spirits and spirit creatures that cannot be seen by most mortal beings. It is, in fact, not quite any of those while being partially each of them. In any way that can be quantified or verified, it is the closest approximation that the material-dependent humanoid mind can perceive it to be. What it is actually comprised of is a vacant space filled with spirits and a flow of the elements and various energies in a whirling, unstructured vortex. This vague and misty space is referred to by most mystics as our spirit world, which is a fitting, if limited, description.