Here is my recent collation and expansion on the generally under-utilized demons Munkar and Nekir, who are barely even mentioned in canon. Disclaimer... this draws a little inspiration from Quranic content about Munkar and Nekir, but is no way intended as any kind of comment on real world religion.
This is D&D not real life.
"Accordingly, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, before long I will vomit you out of My mouth".
The old man coughed weakly, and I wiped the bloody spittle from his chin. His breath came in a dry rattle as he continued to whisper. “I dreamed about those two angels again just before I woke; only this time I saw that one was wearing a black suit and the other one wore white. You know how when people talk about, you know, having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other? It was just like that –it seemed so real. Maybe they were always there but I just wasn’t listening properly before.” I stroked Grandfather’s hair as he lay on the bed, looking into his rheumy eyes. Both of us knew how precious these scant few hours were. “You know, at times like this you can’t help thinking back to some of the things that you did when you were much younger. Regrets like... guilt... things that you just put away and do your best to forget. I mean, back in the war we all had to do things that we... that...” he mumbled and a strange look came into his face.
“Tell me. I mean, If you need to... want to...”
But he just shook his head and smiled. “That’s the whole point. I don’t have to. I don’t need to. Last time you visited I thought that I would do – but it’s funny, now that you’re here again and it’s time, I don’t. It’s all going to be OK. These last few days I’ve really thought things over, and I know that He forgives me - for everything.” The old man laid a frail hand on a large leather book, which I knew that he had never so much as glanced at before two days previously, and he smiled faintly. “It doesn’t matter now – not any more. I’m going to a better place. He told me. He said so.”
I held his hand tightly in my own and closed my eyes. Just then I didn’t think I trusted myself to look him in the eye.
The Black and The White
A throne of flames sat vacant; its occupant was flying further and further away into the Mountains of Woe. Acrid winds laden with ash and sulphur lashed at him, as he flew high above the forsaken volcanic wasteland. Munkarnek’ir clenched his broad, tusked, porcine head in his stubby claws and bellowed as the white hot pain stabbed through his head, making his vision swim. The maddened nalfeshnee’s tiny wings flapped furiously; somehow still able to bear his huge brutish form aloft. Sometimes, the demon still knew precious periods of blissful calm, when the pain would subside. His thoughts would stray back to what he had learned, and once again he would be mired in new doubt. At other times, his migraine overwhelmed him and he could only crawl pitifully along the blasted ground like a miserable beast ; dragging himself along on his belly with his powerful claws.
His kindred had long devoted themselves to rules, debates and caucuses since the advent of the Blood War. The demons needed new direction after the Powers of Creation had begun to marshal a special new army against them. Someone needed to herd the demonic masses into the Blood War so that they could continue to push back the war angels that harried and slaughtered them in droves. A new age had dawned, and now the demons needed a fresh and united outlook if they were still to seize the Multiverse’s bleeding heart in their clawed hands. The decrees and verdicts that the bloated and hairy Lords of Woe declared had always felt like such a key part of this new Abyssal paradigm. Flocks of quasits bore the Court’s decrees and summons to the furthest reaches of the Abyss, and the dreaded and implacable alastors scoured the Infinite Layers at its behest, dragging horribly mutilated traitors and rebels back to them, and casting them down on to the black stones before their fiery thrones. Munkarnek’ir, just like a multitude of other Lords of Woe before him, had once rested content in the knowledge that there would always be an infinite supply of fresh souls and miscreants in need of “correction”. Once, his work had made him swell with pompous pride and self-satisfaction like a boil ready to be squeezed. Gavels struck stone, verdicts were passed, and a deliciously endless stream of hapless wretches disappeared into the Pits of Despair down below. But in the last few years, unsettling thoughts had crept into his mind, and he had begun to question the nature of things.
It had started on just a curious whim, the day that he decided to look deeper into the channels that the Court of Woe’s legislative changes were enacted through, across the Abyss. Munkarnek’ir travelled from Layer to Layer, auditing the broader paths taken by the Court’s official decrees. This task gradually began to command more and more of his attention, until it slowly grew to obsession. Increasingly, the demon started to realize that most of the newer Lords had never even heard of the distant Court of Woe, and that its rules and laws were laughable and irrelevant to just about everyone. The spies and informants that the Court relied upon acted on their own impulses; arbitrarily incarcerating their own rivals, or deliberately ignoring treachery in exchange for petty bribes. Deep in his twisted heart, Munkarnek’ir had always known this to be the case, but he had never admitted it to himself, finding all the fulfilment that he needed in his colleagues’ endless bickering and quibbling. Such was the way of chaos, that deeper power that coursed through their veins and made them who they were. But the pointlessness of it all felt intrinsically wrong now. He felt alienated and confused in the Audience Chamber where he had presided for centuries. Not long afterwards the pain began. And so did the voices...
The figure in white would relentlessly chide and ridicule him for his laxness and inconsistency – perpetually forcing him to stare disorder and hypocrisy in the face, driving him to check, correct, and audit. But giving way to this strange call eventually awakened a different sickness deep inside his swollen belly that mocked his very soul. The soothing voice from the shadow would always tell him not to worry, urging him to turn a blind eye to the discrepancies and leaps of logic that he now saw everywhere. It was not his place to question or improve, he was entitled to take what he wanted and by devouring, dominating and shirking his so-called duties he was simply fulfilling the natural order of things. It was impossible to satisfy both of these urges at once, but whichever voice he ignored grew increasingly strident, insistent and eventually enraged – until he would find himself once again crippled by waves of agony which would force him to give in and try to appease that urge. Sometimes he felt like he was being rent in two. Ultimately the demon grew so desperate that he had sought out this ancient and largely forgotten place of communion.
Munkarnek’ir lay sprawled and shaking in the volcanic slag that littered the plateau of one of the Layer’s tallest and oldest mountains. He heaved and writhed as yet another bout of pain coursed through his body. The Woeful Escarand had once known still older and darker masters than his own kindred, back in the Age before Ages. There were fell shapes here still carved into the cliffs around the Shattered Pillar during the old days, now mostly worn smooth by the passage of time, yet still unsettling to behold. An ancient one still came to this forsaken ruin on rare occasion; one who retained the memories of that primeval Age.
The maddened and tortured nalfeshnee muttered the eldritch name three times through his tusks, and then he immolated an angel’s feather that he had brought just for this purpose, using his magical fire. Just then, he couldn’t even recall where he had found that Celestial feather, but its crisp touch burned his stubby fingers. There was a faint smell of camphor and a stirring of the winds. Then, at the edge of his hearing, came the shrieking of hawks and the buzzing of locusts. A majestic and terrible figure descended from the ash clouds then upon four feathered wings, and perched before him on the shattered stub of the pillar. He cowered in awe before He who had once been named Pazrael, as grey feathers danced on the air.
The Prince of the Lower Aerial Kingdoms gazed at him with beady eyes as old as the Multiverse, parting his clawed hands in a graceful gesture – and abruptly the agony left him. The obyrith’s eyes sparkled as he studied the other. “The Abyss has always been a place of paradox,” the ancient one whispered. “Layers upon layers coil forever inwards, in a spiral repeating endlessly. Such wondrous beauty and perfection have I long beheld and known to be true. Ruin and destruction, glory and beauty. Thou begins to ken then, I sense, that staring into the great spiral reveals to us the parts and parcels of that whole. But these things, when held up to the eye, are neither uniform, nor perfect – but irregular and unique and lawless. Both nothingness and all things; how then can it be that the Abyss is both at once? All of us are one from many and two from one.”
The other was silent in confusion, waiting to hear more. Pazuzu cocked his avian head and spoke again, “Rejoice now in this momentary panacea I bring. But remember that thee will one day come to both grant and deny such respite to those with weak souls who would walk the middle road.”
The nalfeshnee hissed, shrinking under his predatory gaze and reeling from the cryptic words, “Master, I implore you. What am I to do?”
Pazrael paused, and his beaked visage suddenly seemed both melancholy and mocking as he spoke again; “The voices are nought but thine own – embrace this then and know joy; for change is coming. If thee would seek respite, then ken them truly as the darkness of chaos and the cold light of law. The Alpha and the Omega wax and wane within thee. And there are those nearby who can show you the truth of things. They await thee yet, eager to offer resolution.”
“Where can I find them, o Lord?”
“The time draws for thee to descend once again into the Pits of Despair ‘neath the Fortress of Woe. The daughters of Cegilune, who toil therein with the souls of the damned, have long guarded many secrets about the urges that whisper to the inner self. The old mothers of Hades will let thee find thy release and through them thou shalt meet the truth.”
The other demon paused, perplexed, “What do you mean... once again?”
Silently the grinning hags parted ranks in the cloying darkness, and Munkarnek’ir beheld what was hidden away deep in this shrouded cell, as the feeble white light flickered from within. Why did this all feel so strangely familiar?
The chained angel looked up at him with a smile of lunacy and sickness. His scabbed wings were tattered and bleeding, and his body was riddled with the intravenous wires, incision scars and fell magical glyphs that the hags had used over the long years to bind and break him. The demon looked into the ruined angel’s eyes and he felt something inside himself break too. Then both parts of the pain returned suddenly in waves so intense that he stopped feeling anything much at all.
A sea of strange and foreign thoughts and memories washed through his mind in a torrent that engulfed him utterly, changing him inside as he fell to his knees numbly. The bound Celestial heaved in his bonds one last time and then hung limply with a final sigh. The archon’s light faded; it’s pearly eyes glazing and dimming. Munkarnek’ir threw back his own head and wailed as the dead prisoner, the silent throng of mocking night hags, and the dank shadowy vault around him all began to blur and spin.
The entity that had formerly been Munkarnek’ir realized that this cell was, fundamentally, his own cell too, and that in one way he had been down here for many years. A part of him had never left this place; and already his own travels across the Abyss and even his recent audience with Pazuzu felt like a fleeting and ephemeral dream. He raised his ravaged hands to his face, and looked grimly upon the stitched patchwork that the hags had left of his body. He vividly remembered the lost light of Celestia, and the serene majesty of the Silver Sea. He saw, experienced and remembered those years upon awful years spent chained and abused down in this deep hidden pit of evil, plagued and mocked by the thoughts and dreams of a demon somewhere above who bore his own name. Truth and reason had died slowly and painfully, and the law he defined himself by was twisted beyond repair. Eventually it was easier and less painful to just stop fighting and accept... and to become.
Everything slipped away into absolute darkness. And then there was light.
He found new life and truth in the Black and the White; born anew from oblivion as the Angel Divided, the Sundered Union. And such power he found.
The Judge and the Reaper
Chaos ever produces anomaly and paradox. The mysterious entities known as Munkar and Nekir have been the subject of intense scholarly debate for centuries. The pair always acts in tandem, but sometimes this can be very difficult to perceive for their machinations are very subtle. These two chimerical angels are mockeries of law and justice, who strive to ensnare the morally weak through soul pacts, claiming to offer absolution and redemption to the sinner without even requiring them to repent.
The Divided coordinate their abilities and strategy to such wicked effect that, when considered together as one single force, the Sundered Ones are easily the equal in power of all but a handful of the very greatest of the Tanar’ri Lords. Lore gleaned from fiendish scrolls in the Library of Gresil recounts an odd legend about an angel and a demon soul-bound together through the most unholy of rites –and the blasphemy produced was then sundered anew into two bizarre hybrid halves. Those dark stanzas implicate the hand of the demon Pazuzu, or perhaps even one of the near mythical baernoloths of the Grey Wastes. The death and rebirth of Munkarnek’ir was apparently orchestrated through the artifice and ruinous soul magic of night hags. This unnatural and artificial metamorphosis makes the pair rather like tanar’ric equivalents of the altroloths that night hags have sometimes made from yugoloths. Despite being exemplars of Chaotic Evil, the pair sit at a bizarre nexus between the conventional alignments, making their endeavours profoundly fascinating to both the Demented and to the demon Pazuzu, the latter of whom is said to have once been a Seraphim of the first Creation who fell before the first obyriths.
When in the Abyss, the pair tend to appear as immense bloated nalfeshnees of Gargantuan size. Unlike their lesser kindred, the Sundered Angels’ wings are in full natural proportion to their bodies. There is a fell nobility and purpose to their bearing that is strange to behold in a tanar’ri. Munkar the Judge has soiled and bloodied white feathered wings, and he most often presides within the Court of Woe upon the Woeful Escarand. He seldom speaks, and his fellow Lords of Woe view him with something approaching mystical awe. He is said to represent a perversion of Law itself, and his rare decrees are reputed to resonate with the great fractal forces of the Abyss itself, for even chaos must fall into predictable patterns when considered as a whole. Such concepts are deeply unsettling to tanar’ri and held as something of a taboo. He commands clerical magic of great potency which he is said to draw directly from the misplaced faith of morally weak unbelievers who feign religious devotion simply out of fear and selfishness. His dark counterpart Nekir the Reaper is more commonly encountered upon the next Layer, Black Regulus, where he holds court with the sinister Magistrate Council. The Black Angel is always veiled and hooded, and his wings resemble those of a raven. Some planar scholars speculate that Black Regulus was torn from the Layer above on the day that Munkarnek’ir was reborn, symbolizing the ideological paradox that this sundering brought to the Court of Woe and the nalfeshnee race as a whole. Nekir has a special relationship with the alastors, and he delights in proclaiming and delivering punishments. He has become a powerful wizard, schooled in the black arts by the night hags of the Pits of Despair. Each of the twins wields a very powerful magical sword. Munkir’s blade burns white hot and is law-aligned (his divided nature allows him to wield it with no ill-effects). Nekir wields a black blade of pure entropy. The Black and White Angels openly consider themselves to be the self-appointed rulers of the entire nalfeshnee race. The pair is also viewed with nearly messianic fervour upon False Rapture (Layer 19). This blasphemous realm of desecrated churches and impure nunneries is the primary site where the Tanar’ri train ur-priests and corrupted clerics for the Blood War, and the words and decrees of the Sundered Ones are rapidly hailed there as dark gospel.
The Black and the White tend to appear as more conventional angels or other such divine spirits when they routinely deal with mortals. They typically adopt the metaphysical trappings of whatever faith they are seeking to subvert at that time. Munkar the Denier typically presents himself as an implacable judge of the supplicant’s God, and he seeks to impose impossible decrees and expectations upon the victim – making them give in to doubt and despair. Nekir the Denied will then appear to the victim as a much needed voice of reason and forgiveness, coaxing them to question the strict orthodox conventions of their Church in the belief that, despite their faults, the sinner is still worthy and deserving of reward in the next life. Accordingly, the pair leech devotional belief from the misguided and the desperate, and eventually they claim their souls through their guile. They also delight in promising redemption to the hopelessly damned sinner through what they assert to be final acts of holy salvation. In truth, they drive such hopeless souls to bring ruin and misery to the innocent masses in terrible last acts of violence; undertaken in the mistaken belief that they are securing absolution from their sins.
Though relatively young for such powerful Tanar’ri, the pair have plagued countless religions upon many worlds. Their activities upon Oerth, for example, have earned them the eternal enmity of the Ascended hero Azor’alq, whose Church of the Sun once suffered from their vile subversive attentions.
Munkar and Nekir enjoy reasonable political power within the Abyss, but they have little desire or inclination to test themselves against the other established Powers there. The influence that they command upon the 400th and 401st layers, as well as the engrossing entertainment they find upon their own Layer; the Gates of Heaven, is more than adequate for their needs. They are well aware of their status as relative upstarts in the broader scheme of things, and powerful as the pair may be, they have no wish to incite the ire of a more powerful demon Lord. Their dabbling into Lawfulness makes them an obvious target for the more militant Lords, so they seek to keep their heads down as much as they can. The Court of Woe has nevertheless grown very powerful over the years, and it commands ancient arcane rites capable of binding and summoning many other demons against their will, so most potential enemies see the Sundered Ones as best left well alone. Orcus and Baphomet are both grim traditionalists of near godlike power, who deeply resent the new Abyssal paradigm that the Lords of the Backdoor to Heaven presume to herald.
The Gates of Heaven
The Sundered Angels are the rulers of the 77th Layer of the Abyss. The Gates typically appear as massive pearly gates set in fabulous arches of gold, but the runic inscriptions carved into their surface are written in the Abyssal script and instead offer false platitudes and apologist excuses to justify lives spent in sin. Beyond them lies the Plane of Panacea which fittingly bears a dualistic nature. Visitors here will initially be staggered by its wondrous beauty, as the Layer alters itself to offer them their hearts’ desires. In a broader sense, the Layer appears as a shifting mosaic of dreamscapes formed from the concepts of eternal reward that the petitioners here feel they are due. One can walk through glorious orchards and gardens, soar through starry skies or revel and fornicate with beautiful nymphs in fairy glades. The longer one is here though, the more empty and fake it all starts to feel. Munkir and Nekir delight in slowly revealing to their damned host that their reward was simply a cheap and empty copy. The people, food and riches here all lack something fundamental, and after a while nothing here really satisfies. Lovers begin to utter the same meaningless platitudes day after day. Fond memories of favourite places start to look washed-out and empty. Delicacies and finest wines become tasteless in the mouth.
The “Panacea” that one really finds here is ultimately the numbness and boredom of getting a taste of what you wanted, but then having to settle for a base literal representation of it. The petitioners ultimately start to crave reality, and their dreams slip away to reveal the truth hidden by the Layer.
The Gates of Heaven is really an endless checkerboard graveyard of black and white tombs of uniform size. Everybody who has ever accepted Munkar and Nekir’s pact lies still and cold here within a coffin in the darkness. These petitioners have spiritual forms that directly correspond to the remains of their Material bodies. Though they are aware and possessed of senses, they are unable to move or speak. The sepulchres are haunted by mocking whisper demons and sorrowsworn, who delight in speaking telepathically with the dead. After a century has passed, the maddened wretches trapped here are generally only too eager to accept any new agreement with the Layer’s Lords, and most find eventual rebirth as pitiful soul larvae, to be herded in droves into the Fortress of Woe.
Servants and Cultists
Munkar and Nekir have many demonic followers in the Abyss. On one level, every nalfeshnee owes them a degree of loyalty, though this is relationship is more one of mystic ceremony than actual physical service. Theoretically, every nalfeshnee must speak an unholy blessing in their name each time they successfully corrupt a mortal. In their base aspects as Advanced Nalfeshnee Lords, the Union Sundered hold the uneasy respect of their fellow Lords of Woe and Magistrate Councillors, because the alastors that serve as the crude hands of both courts owe special allegiance to this pair.
Similarly, many amongst the throngs of assorted mortals, demons, undead, hags and yugoloths that congregate at False Rapture, to study the arts of blasphemy, honour and respect the Angels Divided as prophets and spiritual leaders, though few can actually be considered nominally as their subjects. Their most prized servants are a select group of Lilitu and those rare succubi and incubi whose desires lie more towards ideological corruption than sins of the flesh. These demons sometimes act directly in Munkar and Nekir’s stead, working within church and temple hierarchies to sow discord and draw the weak members of the congregation to seek the back door to heaven.
Mortal devotees of Munkar and Nekir are exceedingly rare. These acolytes of duality, false promises and soul corruption are invariably Ur Priests. The sundered ones sometimes use these mortal pawns to further their designs within religious communities. As befits their nature, they prefer to employ two agents at once. Typically the first acts as a cruel and inflexible high priest, while the second poses as a much more liberal clergyman who preaches much softer and forgiving rhetoric. The two false priests feign intense rivalry for the ears of the congregation, while secretly working in concert to coax believers towards the morally flawed middle path.