This article was first broadcast in Episode One Hundred Sixty on 7 April 2021.
Lennon: Hey Ostron, I’m confused about something.
Ostron: And in other news, the sun came up this morning.
Ostron: Never mind, what’s confusing you?
Ryu: Well you’re doing okay then, usually they just kill you or trap you in a deal to steal your soul.
Lennon: No I haven’t talked to any of them, I’m doing research.
Ostron: We put that research project on hold, I thought?
Lennon: Yeah, this was for…personal reasons.
Ryu: Oh come on, you’ve had a patron for like five minutes and you’re already shopping around? For an Archdevil patron?
Lennon: You are making a lot of unwarranted and unfavorable assumptions about me and I don’t feel that’s fair.
Ryu: Am I wrong?
Lennon: That’s…look I didn’t want to discuss that anyway. Phlegethos.
Ostron: Fourth layer of the Hells, lots of fire, some of it semi-sentient, devil resort town, also the hells’ version of a legal system. What’s confusing there?
Lennon: Is Belial in charge, or is Fierna?
Lennon: That…was not a yes or no question.
Ostron: Yeah, well the situation with them is…complicated.
Belial and Fierna are officially co-rulers of Phlegethos, a level of the hells that itself has a bit of a split personality. Visually and environmentally it’s probably the level that most closely adheres to the stereotypical version of the Christian Hell; it’s really hot, there’s fire and lava everywhere, devils are flying and walking around, and there’s judgement going on. However in this case the judgement is literal; Phlegethos functions as the center of the Nine Hells’ internal legal system, where all disputes, complaints, promotions, and demotions are handled. It also has the equivalent of an infernal resort where pleasures and hedonism abound for any devil that wants to sit back and take a load off.
The reason for the dichotomy is the people in charge. We’ll start with the more established archdevil, Belial. One of Belial’s monikers is the Lord of Pain. However, while he does enjoy killing, maiming, and torturing things as much as the next devil, with him there’s a little more to it. You know how certain ladies who favor a lot of latex and leather advertise themselves as “Mistress of Pain”? Yeah, that’s where this is going. Belial is apparently what you get if you take Lord Byron, the Marquis de Sade, and Christian Grey (that’s the fifty shades one, not the guy with the painting, though…yeah he would work too, probably). Anyway, mix them all together and turn them into a devil and you get Belial. He’s often described as the most handsome devil, and was apparently the one that most conformed to stereotypical devil appearance until Mephistopheles started body sculpting. This look was enhanced by his personal weapon, a ranseur, which is a three-pronged polearm for those of you not up on your medieval weaponry. His body was always visible because he typically went around in clothes that either flowed away from his body in a light breeze or looked painted on, and nobody saw that as a bad thing. Belial used his looks and charisma fully to his advantage, constantly planning out and achieving liasons with a large number of beings. When he wasn’t planning the next group of people to seduce, he was plotting against other archdevils, hoping to gain control of more and more prestigious territories in the Nine Hells.
The other ruler of Phlegethos is Fierna, Belial’s daughter, and she’s your crazy ex-girlfriend. Probably not literally because she has a habit of imprisoning all of her lovers in the dungeons under her throne room, but her personality seems modeled on every stereotype of unstable party girl you’ve ever heard. Physically she takes after her father; she’s only six feet tall, but where Belial is a prime specimen of a humanoid man, Fierna could apparently make Jeff Bezos levels of money on onlyfans and she would have no qualms about doing so because her day-to-day outfits are generally described variably as “sparse”, “pointless”, or “nonexistant”. However, where her father is a little more calculating and patient, Fierna is impulsive and has a firey temper. Literally; when she’s angry she lights things on fire, including and most especially herself, and it doesn’t take a lot to set her off. For the most part, she spent her time flitting about from lover to lover, generally partying and occasionally hanging around with her father for joint education sessions in a place called “the Hall of One Thousand Sighs and Screams.” So…yeah…
Moving on as quickly as possible, Belial was solidly and solely in charge of Phlegethos for a while, paying lip service to the legal end of things while establishing his palace, Abriymoch as a den of hedonism and excess for devils. He was also scheming to gain control of Stygia from Geryon and so joined Beelzebul’s alliance for the conflict that eventually became the Reckoning.
The fallout from the Reckoning changed everything. Because he was on the losing side of the coup against Asmodeus (because everyone except Asmodeus was on the losing side there) he agreed to step back from directly running Phlegethos and let Fierna take over. Fierna, again, is essentially a stereotypical spoiled rich girl; she’d much rather have fun than do anything resembling work, so she was constantly going to her father to figure out how to run things. Many people expected it was an act and would only be a matter of time before Fierna completely cut Belial out or killed him and took over for real, but she actually had no ambition to do that so Belial got to shadow-govern Phlegethos and plot taking over Stygia, where Geryon had been thrown out, and possibly even make a play for Malbolge, the next level down that was now under the control of a Hag Queen, not even a real archdevil.
Enter Glasya, who shook up the whole paradigm as she always does. Belial’s plans to take over Malbolge were immediately scrapped when the hag queen spontaneously died and Glasya took over, because everyone agrees that attacking Asmodeus’s daughter is not good for one’s long term or even short term survival prospects. Glasya then immediately started befriending Fierna.
This confused a lot of people because Fierna’s mother, a devil named Naome, had been killed right before the Reckoning started. Several people thought Naome had learned of the betrayal that ended up ruining the whole plan and before she could tell Belial, Glasya killed her. Nobody has proof of that, but most people think of that in the same way people say nobody has proof Al Capone killed anyone.
Anyway, despite the oddity of it, Fierna started listening to Glasya, who told her that running things for herself might actually be fun. Soon enough, rather than Fierna going to Belial to ask what she should do when running Phlegethos, Fierna was coming to him with suggestions for policies and actions. This has reignited discussion of Fierna eventually taking over Belial’s seat permanently.
While that may be what some people want, and many people think Glasya is angling for that very thing to get proxy control of another level of Hell, the reality is that they’re family and it’s complicated. Much more so than normal. Practically speaking, they’ve now divided duties within the Hells; Belial handles all the actual legal and administrative work, while Fierna handles personnel and focuses on meeting their soul quota, which Asmodeus allows to be a joint venture rather than giving each of them individual requirements.
Their interpersonal relationship is…disturbing. They argue and fight and scheme back and forth against each other but that’s pretty much just devils being devils. Many people appreciate Belial still being in the picture because he is apparently able to, if not halt, then productively channel Fierna’s outbursts of rage so she doesn’t cause too much damage. The exact details of their relationship people don’t like to think about too much. At times they’re fighting and sniping with each other, sometimes they behave more like daughter and father, but they also sometimes present themselves more like partners…or lovers. That only seems to have increased since Naome died.
As far as personal interactions that are violently hostile, both members of the family have similar MOs; they tend to summon a number of minions to fight for them as a front line. If the initial skirmish seems to be going in their favor, they’ll wade in and take literal sadistic pleasure in personally killing their enemies, Belial with his ranseur, Fierna with dual scimitars made of fire. However, if their front line isn’t doing well, they’ll retreat via teleport.
As far as cults, all outside business is handled by Fierna, to the point where people actually trying to summon Belial will end up dealing with Fierna instead. From a practical point of view it didn’t matter much because both of them support and encourage the same type of thing: personal perversion and manipulation for power. However, the cult’s focus is more personal; you don’t pledge yourself to Fierna if you want to plot a political coup, you pledge yourself if you want the ability to give speeches that will whip mobs into a frenzy. And, of course, if you’re invited to a ball and just can’t find a date, Fierna can help you with that too…particularly if you have to get over little hurdles like the date already being married, or you need to convince them that being a live in slave is actually what they want out of life.
So to sum up, the reason the fourth level of hell tends to confuse people with its dual purpose is that the leaders are actually more confusing.
Lennon: All right so maybe not them for a new patron?
Ryu: What do you mean “Maybe” not?! No, never. Why are you looking in the nine hells for a patron anyway?
Lennon: The archfey lady made me babysit.
Ostron: Don’t they usually steal children, not foster them out?
Lennon: I’ve been told that’s a harmful stereotype and I’m not to ask about it.
Ryu: Ugh, what is it with men and children? Okay where is it? I can help.
Lennon: See that hill out the window?
Ryu: You left it outside!?
Lennon: No. It’s the hill. I’m watching the archfey’s pet shambling mound. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to water it or feed it or what?
Ryu: Okay, I apologize for what I said earlier. That’s…yeah that’s a new one on me.
Ostron: Why don’t we have the research beholders look up the care and feeding of animated flora while we go to the scrying pool? Maybe someone has some advice in there. Or failing that at least there’s a lot of water.