O sun, to tell thee how I hate thy beams, That bring to my remembrance from what state I fell; how glorious once above thy sphere; Till pride and worse ambition threw me down, Warring in heaven against heaven’s matchless King.The Fallen, those demonic entities who defied the gods and through their own hubris fell far from grace have infiltrated the Holy Church of the Paragon through human agents colloquially known as ‘the Heretics’. Appearing first during the time of the Cataclysmic Wars, they were ordained by the DeathKnight himself, changed by the touch of nothing less than the Brand of the Fallen.
Cloaked in the ornate red and gold gilded robes of the Clerics of the Paragon, they are on the surface indistinguishable from the real priests and go to great lengths to conceal their true allegiance – gaining powers that mirror and emulate the abilities of an ordained priest, but obtaining their power from a very different source..
Because they are so embedded and hidden within the true Church, exposing them is no easy task. Ordained priests are unable to determine the source of their power and there is no magical way to reveal their true identity as heretics. And for the most part, they keep up a good facade, though Imperial Inquisitors – men and women employed by the Church to weed out heretics wherever they may be found – have several mundane techniques to discover the subtle sabotage they inject into their sermons and advice for the lay people and priests below their station. For listening carefully and reading between the lines, heretic preachers are always seeking new members and will always attempt to steer their flock towards the darkness in very sneaky and deceptive ways.
While the Inquisitors have a great deal of autonomy and support from both the Aelutian Empire and the Church of the Paragon, and are both feared and respected by the common people – they in turn have much to fear from the heretics. For if they are confronted, initiated Heretics that are in communion with one of the Fallen quickly drop the facade (and their standard clerical abilities) and can call upon the infernal to bestow them enhanced combat abilities – primarily by twisting their very skin into black spiked Eldrich Armor in a manner very similar to that experienced by the first DeathKnight..
At the point of transformation, initiated heretics twist the standard powers of a Cleric to the dark side – instead of healing wounds they can cause them. Instead of curing disease, they can spread pestilence and blight.. All their powers become inverted, and their eyes burn with a hot white light that allows them to see their opponents strengths and weaknesses, making them exceptionally wily and dangerous opponents.
The actual number of heretics active at any one time varies, but is estimated to be as high as 10% of the clergy within the Church of the Paragon – spread across all levels of the hierarchy. Because they are so difficult to find among the truly devout and are so good at faking human emotion and even compassion (both of which were discarded once they became heretics) Imperial Inquisitors have been known to make mistakes and burn innocents at the stake, falling prey to the insidious machinations of the heretics themselves as they steer an investigation down the wrong path..
Finally, heretics vary depending on the individual Fallen that they worship – each one emphasizing and embodying a particular sin or immorality. Some focus on debauchery and depravity, and are given powers of seduction and unearthly physicality. Others gravitate to gluttony and greed, indulging in cannibalism and capable of hypnotizing and influencing others. And then there are those who offer up their souls for hollow wealth and power.
But the most terrifying are those who worship the most violent and murderous of the demonic host: the DeathMonks.
Very different than the heretics who attempt to conceal their identity and operate clandestinely from the shadows whenever possible – the warrior-monks openly display their allegiance, discarding their original form in favor of something truly terrifying – dipping their essense into the pit itself and coming back Tainted. To the heretical DeathMonks, conflict, murder and mayhem are their reason for existence itself – and worse still, they have all the powers of their brethren but are even more deadly and capable fighters, utterly fearless of death and dedicated only to the wishes of their dark masters.
Thankfully, the sect of the DeathMonks is rare, most commonly found among the ranks of the corrupted Northmen, in the death pits of the Badlands and leading Orcish raiding parties in the Broken Kingdom of Thane. But for all their horror, the greatest threat to ordinary folk are the less obvious heretics..
While they had attempted to, it appears the heretics are unable to infiltrate the Druidic religion from which the Church of the Paragon was founded upon. Because of this, there has been a renewed interest in the old religion in the last 200 years, especially among the common folk, who have lost trust in the Church from all these controversies. How long this reversal will last and what it’s long term effects will be are unknown, however there are obscure prophesies that announce once a tipping point is reached, the Church of the Paragon will be undone and the Heretics throw off their facade and take over all of Eletreus – demonically enslaving the population as has been seen at least twice before in history with the Thanes and the Northmen..
Only time will tell if the Church of the Paragon is strong enough to survive the constant undermining of all they hold dear. And for now, the only thing stopping them is the fearsome Inquisitors.
However, recent rumors suggest that some among the Inquisitors themselves have been compromised by the Heretics and that these double agents are their status to accuse and in some cases even execute innocent and faithful members of the church who threaten to expose one of their festering cults.
In such an environment of distrust – unity is hard to maintain, but only unity can defeat the Heretics. And as such, it would seem that as long as the Church of the Paragon remains, so too will the Heretics seeking to tear it down..