There are some men who believe they are born superior. They believe that due to some ancestral trait or by being born under certain starts or favored by certain gods they are made superior to others. By that right, they can do no wrong, because they themselves define what is wrong. They might indulge in every sin under the sun, but any action they take is subject to no judgment of lesser folk. These are the sorts with mighty ambition to match their views of themselves, people who seek power not for its own sake, but to correct a natural wrong that they are not in power. Cullen Demarche is one such person.
The Demarche family is an old knightly house, filled with more pride than power. Its lands are larger than the average knightly family, but lack wealth and influence with anyone, even their superiors in the Talingarde hierarchy. Such was not always the case. The Demarche family is an old one, and Talingarde has more often celebrated the Demarche named than condemned it. It was the Demarche heroes who stood shield by sword even as pirates raided Talingarde shores. It was Demarche knights who volunteered to the last man when the Savage North’s savagery came south. It was Demarche that have marched to the defense of Talingarde against demon summoning wizards, undead breeding necromancers, rebels, brigands, and the occasional gnome whose prank had gone too far.
For all this service, however, the messy politics of religion got in the way. While there was no strict requirement, in general most members of the House Demarche were followers of Asmodeus, mostly out of shared beliefs on power and ambition. After all, in addition to battling Talingarde’s enemies, the House was known for the occasional bit of intrigue. As a result, when the Darians came to power and made Asmodeus worship illegal, House Demarche came on hard times, mostly due to their rivals taking the time to exact revenge. Oddly enough, the Darians, who were the source of the Demarche troubles, came to be their savior of a sort. They were given the choice between conversion to the faith of Mitra, or having their lands seized their titles revoked. Millerius, the Lord Demarche at the time, relented, and centuries old temples of Asmodeus came crashing down as Mitran temples came up.
Cullen was born with this legacy. But legacies are not always revered, and the Demarche family rarely was active in the worship of Mitra, and almost never fielded priests. One leader, Cullen’s father Hadrin, decided to ignore the warnings of House Darius, and with secrecy and tact, sought to renew ties long since broken with the Church of Asmodeus. They were not found easily, and their caution, though understandable, almost made the deal falter. In the end, the secret church agreed with Hadrin Demarche to have the blessings of the old Church, in return for their second child to join the clergy. Cullen was this child. He was thus raised to be one of the renewed powers of the ancient church. And quite, honestly, Cullen enjoyed every minute of it.
Becoming a priest of Asmodeus is no easy task, but Cullen found himself a big fish in a small pond. His fellow seminarians were mostly poor orphans and lesser nobles who, like him, were sneaking their faith. Cullen, with his family backing and his natural bullishness, as well as his general intellect and ability to convince, coerce, and good wits, was able to outdo his fellow students, and quickly was given the full trappings and duties of a priest.
Unfortunately, given the position of the Asmodeus church in Tallingarde, there was little Cullen could do. Their duties were mostly blessing their fellow secret members, and such things left the imagination of Cullen in poor practice. Fortunately for the young priest, one of his superiors, Amarste Gavarin, came up with an interesting scheme to both earn the favor of their deity and fill the church’s coffers. With magic and a bit of snooping they began searching for the secrets of the local nobility and merchants, and when they learned of something particularly interesting, they came on in with blackmail and a demand for gold. Cullen was both an investigator and an enforcer. He came upon victims with a devilish smile and a cruelly polite word, and walked out with a bit of gold and satisfaction of a job well done. No one knew of his association with the forbidden church.
Even when a victim of the extortion ring had relations in the local guard. They allowed themselves some embarrassment when the merchant exposed his numerous liaisons with various people who weren’t his wife to his understanding brother, who followed the gang’s trail. They were uncovered, Cullen and all, but the group was clever enough not to leave too much of a trail, even as their leader Amaerste took his own life to spare himself embarrassment and secrets. Cullen was not so quick, nor was he really willing to kill himself. Rather, he was sent to the dour chambers of Branderscar Prison, with nothing but death facing him.