Priests of Bael Dark Fathers of Perruush
The Clergy of Bael’s warped cathedrals dot the galena-crusted surface of Perruush, a testament to their dominion over thrall and devils alike. This infernal priesthood is composed of once good-hearted mortals, drawn from the infinite corners of the known universe. Like all the tendrils of the mighty Hellion Empire, the Priesthood’s hierarchy is absolute, and its law set in stone. Mortal priests are fed like grist to the mill of the clergy, ground down by propaganda and pain – and then set on a path without fork. From the lead-grey towers of their archdevil lord’s palace on the Plain of Galen, the Priests wield far-reaching power.
The Priests of Bael have entered the domain of the Unliving, at least in a way; they are infused with Positive energy, and are made far harder to slay thereby. They are the anchors of the archdevil’s armies, powerful spellcasters that cripple their foes with magic that employs Perruush’s potent poisons and palls of dark despair. The Priesthood is an order fanatically devoted to Bael the Corruptor, and its members are as violently mad as they are enthusiastically evangelical – delivering sermons to Bael’s minions in the midst of battle, punctuating their polemics with lashes from their razor-sharp extremities. Priests are the most commonly seen servants of Bael away from Perruush itself, leading his soldiers and pursuing his diplomatic interests as requirements dictate.
Bael’s Clergy advance through three distinct phases: the Acolyte, the Priest, and finally the Bishop. Once an Acolyte becomes a full-fledged Priest, Bael’s altered servant is given greater responsibility within the diabolical clergy, permitted to lead units into battle and help in the sinister process of corrupting the next cohort of Acolytes. Despite the investment, only a fated few Acolytes ever make it this far. During the transition to full-fledged Priests the Acolytes’ bodies expire permanently, never to be resurrected again. Instead of being discarded to the flesh vats, the bodies of the soon-to-be Priests become wholly different, infused with Unliving matter – not unlike some of the more advanced golems of infernal construction. Though the body can no longer be resurrected, it retains much of its original shape, and gains a great deal of resilience to common forms of damage- full Priests can regenerate even from dismemberment and evisceration. They also, curiously, cease to bleed like Acolytes do, instead oozing a viscous, faintly cloying blue ichor.
The Priests of Bael are heavily altered, twisted creatures. Each stands as tall as an Acolyte, but lacks a head. Their former respiratory gear is converted into a macabre crystalline jar, filled with fluid to sustain the still-living head that floats within. This unholy vessel is known as the Amphor. By the time the lesser Acolytes undergo the ritual that advances them into Priests, the creatures are unrecognizable; their skin resembles fungus-covered bark studded with pulsating, tumorous growths. Their feet and legs cease to exist and instead merge into collections of stiff tendrils that extend out over the ground like crawling roots. Their hands and arms deform into twisted branch-like tentacles, one still clutching their Skull Staff, the Bacullus and the others wrapped tightly around the Amphor. Most gruesome, though, is the giant maw that cuts through the center of their abdomens. From it, the Priests may emit a second set of blasphemous commands in addition to the spells mediated by its Bacullus. For these spells, most prefer magically-infused words of domination, just like their terrifying Lord.
The armor that each Priest wore as an Acolyte is sunken into its flesh, with rock-hard scar tissue built around the edges of each plate like a leather gambeson. Priests are far, far slower than Acolytes; they sometimes creep about the field of battle with a pained lurching gait, but are more often borne on a litter by Acolytes or a procession of the least of devil-kin. They compensate for this lack of mobility with utility, being far more potent spellcasters than even the most advanced Acolyte could hope to be. As the Priests progress up the chain of power within the clergy, each receives infernal grafts in the form of long wiry tentacles with saw-toothed barbs. Harder than stone and sharper than steel, these prehensile whips ensure immediate response to orders. A favorite teaching technique is to force one razor-edged graft into a devil’s flesh and trace the lines of major nerves until the creature loses consciousness. One can denote a Priest of Bael’s status by the number of such tentacles. None bear weapons, preferring to lead from behind their companies.
It is unclear whether the head each Priest carries is its own original head, but the head appears to be only nominally in charge of the body. Divested of its galena-encrusted Amphor, the body continues to fight erratically and even cast spells, but uses techniques and magics that have larger areas of effect to counteract its diminished sensory capacity. The head itself floats in a viscous, translucent plasma-like ichor, and appears always to be laughing, crying, or screaming. The Priest’s corporeal form can neither speak, hear, nor smell. Instead, each Priest relies solely upon its Bacullum to speak and its Amphor to interact with the world; their abdominal maws can only spew hateful blasphemies and a few magical utterances.
There are two formal “orders” of Bael’s priesthood- the “Oppressors” and the “Executioners”. One individual may not fulfill both roles – Hell is explicit about the roles of its servants. Acolytes begin on one path or another by the dictates of their superiors according to talent and need, but have no say in their assignation. The Oppressors are combat specialists, leading Bael’s military units into battle and casting spells to demoralize and hinder their enemies. Oppressor-led cadres fight in eerie silence, and excel at striking from concealment in ambuscade. Most of Bael’s armies fight quietly by preference, but an Oppressor’s personal guards may even sew their own mouths shut: the Priests are fanatic about the will of their Lord, and have been known to flense alive the weakest among their troops for daring to cry out in pain. Oppressors generally cast spells that affect the morale or movement of the enemy, sending waves of despair into their ranks or calling acid-sweating hands from the earth to catch their feet.
Executioners are more feared even than their commanding compatriots, for their wickedness is inwardly focused on Bael’s corner of the Empire. They are the teachers of those unfortunates destined to join the Priesthood’s ranks, and the inquisitors that seek out blasphemy within. In halls carved into the native rock deep below the blasted Plain of Galen, the Executioners maintain the Acolyte classrooms in magically-enforced silence. They indoctrinate the minds and scourge the flesh of the fresh “converts” relentlessly. Sleepless and merciless, the Executioners are known to sometimes slay even promising prisoners to be consumed piece by piece or recycled into the flesh vats. They specialize in more personalized magics than the Oppressors, using spells that inflict pain and manipulate the mind directly. They also serve as bearers of Bael’s unholy word, prying secrets from his enemies and appearing amongst mortal cults to guide their corruption to its inevitable end. Executioners rarely engage in combat directly, preferring to use their slaves to fight for them. They have been known to vanish instantly, leaving their pawns to die if they encounter significant resistance, especially paladins.
Like many advanced spawn of the Hellion Empire, Priests are as haughty as lords. Each believes itself to be the vessel of the one true orthodoxy. They are too clever to be easily caught off-guard or found in a position of weakness. For this reason, they are almost never confronted alone – they are usually accompanied by a dozen Acolytes, half a dozen Imperial Devils, or even an Oubliette Devil or two. A Priest of Bael will have defensive measures in place no matter its location, and will always have a contingency plan ready to activate at a moment’s notice. Their defensive spells are most often unholy barriers of fire, acid, and poisonous gases.
Too proud to be creatures of deception, Priests work always to further the tyranny of Hell. Their mindset is one of dichotomy: the weak submit or they suffer. Their interactions with mortal races are thus of mixed success – but the successes are great gains for the Priesthood, and the failures utterly ruinous. Those mortals that gain the ear of a Priest will need significant enticements to ensure continued interest without immediate repercussions; most prefer holy relics and books to crush or consume. In these cases, items made with silver that can be reclaimed are most valued. Unlike many Outisders, the Priests of Bael are conscious of the greater goals of their Lord, and may also be convinced to conspire with those who make a good case for acting in the common interests of Hell and of themselves – Priests are nothing if not ruthlessly logical. Priests have many powerful assets at their beckoning, so even complex and difficult operations are not outside their ability. In such cases a Priest may work for weeks or months, placing spies and assassins, to maximize its chances for success.
The Priests are the most common members of Bael’s Priesthood to be called and controlled by conjurers. A communication barrier must first be overcome as it is forbidden to teach mortals any of the tongues of Hell, and a Priest summoned to a mortal realm is far too haughty to speak in the lesser language of its summoner. Even if demands are understood, the Priests’ fanaticism makes them difficult to deal with for any mage that does not share their ideology. Those who wish to interact with Bael’s chosen must be prepared to exhibit exceptional diffidence to their “esteemed” guest, and should know more than a little of Bael’s dogma to keep up the pretense of alignment with the creature’s philosophies. Even the successful and charismatic summoner will find a Priest to be completely intractable unless they entreat the creature for a palatable service, such as assassinating a powerful member of a mortal church. The price asked in return may seem trivial, but the name of the summoner is brought back to Hell and shared with the administration of Dispater as dictated by Asmodeus. This is a list on which no mortal would want to be included, even the most depraved spell caster – for Hell always comes for its own.