A malebolge (pronounced mah-lay-BULL-djeh, plural malebolgia), colloquially known as a fiendpit or hellhole, is a rift in the earth that belches forth flame, smoke, and malice in equal measure. Exactly why or how a malebolge appears is unknown, but it is widely accepted that they are opened by hell-born fiends in order to spread evil across the world.
The Church of Io believes that malebolgia are vertical tunnels that lead to the fiery depths of the earth, and that deeper malebolgia breed crueler and more powerful fiends. This can be regarded purely as conjecture, as the choking ash and searing flames that spew forth from the malebolgia make it impossible to explore their depths. Whether or not the pits lead straight to hell itself is irrelevant to common folk. Peasants and merchants care more for the soil and fields destroyed by the toxic pits and the stampede of evil spirits that pour forth than for theoretical theology. Similarly, the knights and mercenary fiendslayers who are sent to protect cities from the malebolge’s hellspawn are more concerned with dispatching their targets, or perhaps in learning how to close the malebolge.
The nature of the fiends that spill forth from malebolgia are shrouded in mystery, but they have been divided into two distinct classifications: demons and devils. Demons, or tanar’ri, as they are referred to by demonologists, are purely destructive forces. Though their origins are unknown, they live for chaos and slaughter, taking any chance to cause sow disorder and reap suffering. Devils, or baatezu, are more methodical than their chaotic cousins. The baatezu revel in sorrow and pain as much as the tanar’ri, but they crave domination and cruel totalitarian power over all living things. Some paladin orders swear that the devils’ ability to collaborate with their kin and create a stable power structure makes them a more credible threat than the disorganized demons. Yet many demon hunters warn that though tanar’ri are disorganized, their chaotic nature makes their tactics unpredictable. Sometimes the mental stress of hunting a demonic foe is more dangerous than the fiends themselves.
Eruptions of malebolgia have been reported across Norn since pre-imperial times, but the modern kingdom of Grandévere is widely considered the best equipped to handle (and document) the threat. Brei‘s Knights of the Golden Lion are known across the continent as the greatest fiendslayers in the world. Each Grandéveran duchy now has their own order of holy knights under the leadership and instruction of one of Brei’s finest. Commoners in Praetoria believe that fiend-blooded witches and warlocks are the cause of woes both pedestrian and supernatural, and are blamed for everything from a bad harvest to the appearance of a malebolge. The stratocracy of Scythia is well-equipped to handle fiendish invasions thanks to their order of wyvern knights. Many fiendslayers are stymied by the rare fiends that are capable of flight, and Scythian knights-errant are often hired as mercenaries to dispatch these foes.