The Iron Order
Those Auric Exemplars who sought a more... active stance of defending the Aitrean people.
Five hundred years ago, Krathum and his Defiled Empire fell to the efforts of Ralla Kindguard and her Auric Exemplars. In the aftermath of that Fragmented War, the few hundred surviving Exemplars sought to protect the disparate and desperate Aitrean people from the bandits, monsters, and other malefactors that prowled the liberated but lawless lands of Aitreas. Of these few hundred remaining followers of Ralla, a handful believed that desperate times called for desperate measures, and that they needed to do whatever it took, pay any price, to ensure the safety of the people they had fought so hard to free from Krathum. To do so, they believed that they should use any tool available to them to become the best warriors they could possibly be, and that they should train their bodies and minds to their absolute limit to become the perfect guardians that the Aitrean people needed. That the Aitrean people deserved. And so, when these radical Exemplars brought their ideas forward to the rest of their comrades, they had hoped that the rest of the Auric Exemplars would understand where they were coming from and agree. Instead, these men and women were looked on with fear, believing that they desired to claim the power they had fought so hard to destroy and to create their own Defiled Empires. They were cast out from the Exemplars and decided to form their own group. These two dozen people, these veterans of the Fragmented War who were willing to sacrifice everything to become the ultimate shields of civilization, formed the Iron Order. Under Delemmak Kevadirtinu, the originator of the Iron Order's ideals and the first Templar of Steel, the first Knights of Iron were created. And in the five centuries since, the Iron Order has ebbed and flowed like the tide. But now, with the Disaster, the Collapse, and the advent of the Scarred Dragons, they surge forth, and new recruits flock to their ancient halls in droves never before seen.
Initiation and Ranks
"In iron, we spill blood to staunch the bleeding. In steel, we dole death to protect life. In the sword, we pursue violence to achieve peace. We bleed so others mustn't. We die so other lives may be lived. We suffer so others need not. We become the monster to wipe them out." - The Iron Creed, official mantra of the Iron Order
Training and InitiationTo become a member of the Iron Order, one must travel to an Iron Temple and undergo the rigorous basic training required to become a Knight of Iron. Often taking months or years, basic training for potential recruits (called Prospects) means brutal physical conditioning, intense martial routines, and constant studying. For those who survive and don't leave, the latter half of basic training also begins to diverge towards the path the Prospect wishes to walk. If basic training is completed and the residing Templar of Steel believes the Prospect is ready, then they are passed on to the Initiation in Blood. The Initiation in Blood is a week-long series of rituals performed specifically for the Prospect that gets their mind, body, and soul ready for the path they have chosen. This can vary as wildly as intense fasting and prayer to necroficy surgeries and alchemical modifications. Almost nothing is off-limits. Whatever the Prospect and their Templar believe is necessary or desirable to achieve the sought-after effect can be made available. In fact, for incredibly niche surgeries or rites, part of basic training can actually be the Prospect gathering the necessary materials or knowledge for their Initiation. Either way, once the Prospect has undergone the week of modifications and/or conditioning (and survived), they swear the Iron Creed and are inducted as a Knight of Iron.
RanksThe Iron Order has only three ranks: Prospects, Knights of Iron, and Templars of Steel. Prospects are those recruits undergoing the training and initiation seen above. Knights of Iron are the "rank-and-file" of the Iron Order, but rarely number more than a few hundred across the entirety of Aitreas. Knights of Iron are a mixture of knights-errant, bounty hunters, and monster slayers, with each Knight favoring each aspect more or less than the others. Some Knights are indistinguishable from travelling paladins and clerics -- which they might be as well -- save for their amulets or rings bearing some variation of the swords symbol of the Order, while others may seem like ruthless mercenaries bound by a slightly religious creed of honor and protection. Then, there are the Templars of Steel. Forming the only real command structure of the Iron Order, each Iron Temple is run by one to three Templars. Templars are those Knights who, after a lifetime of defending the people of Aitreas, are too old or too wounded -- or both -- to continue field work, and instead become mentors, leaders, and even parental figures to the members of the Iron Chapter they oversee. And, should the need arise, the Templars are the first to lay down their lives to defend the knowledge, materials, and Prospects of their Temple. Between Chapters, there is little overlap. Technically, the Templar(s) of Castrum Duetonis, the first and oldest Iron Temple, are the de facto leaders of the Order, but rarely is such a command structure necessary. Each Chapter is kept in line by its Templar(s) and the Order's fanatical devotion to its cause tends to do a good job of keeping its members clean of corruption or negligence; however, should the need arise, the Templars can call for a Council of Steel to discuss the Order's affairs, the misdeeds or failings of one or more Templars, or for various other discussions.
Divine Infusion and Artificial EnhancementWhile almost every Knight is different from the Knights they serve with, the one thing that defines members of the Iron Order is their utter willingness to completely devote their mind, body, and soul to their cause. In their mind, they are a weapon to be forged and a shield to be strengthened, and anything less than complete commitment could mean the death of themselves or innocents. As such, it is rather common for Knights of Iron to be morphed or altered in some way. Ranging from something as simple as a divine infusion for superior sight (which may manifest as glowing, golden irises or pupiless eyes) to a completely synthetic arm fueled by artificy and filled with alchemical steroids and other compounds. The sky is the limit for the modifications that Knights and Templars will put themselves through, because any advantage they can gain means achieving their purpose better.
An Iron TideSince the Collapse, the Iron Order has gotten a flood of jobs, good reputation, and new Prospects. Due to the complete breakdown of Imperial society in the majority of Aitreas, the rise of bandits and monsters following, the general increase in suffering of most Imperials, and -- most recently -- the appearance of mutated dragons out of the Scar, the Knights of Iron have been more busy than any time since the Founding of the Imperium some three and a half centuries ago. Many villages and towns have begun treating them as saviors, as one-man-armies who come to aid the downtrodden and save the suffering. After all, never look a gift horse in the mouth, even if that gift horse has a blackmetal arm filled with green and yellow vials of liquids and swords inscribed with magical runes.
Keeps and OutpostsOver the course of the Order's history, the number of Iron Temples has fluctuated; however, Castrum Duetonis has always been a bastion for the Knights to come and rest and recuperate at. Even with the recent surge in Prospects and the founding of new Temples, Duetonis remains the largest of the Iron Chapters, thanks to its age and its central location. But, distance takes time to travel and the Knights of Iron at Duetonis can't be everywhere at once. In the last five hundred years, the Iron Order has established over a dozen Iron Temples across Aitreas, and though many have been abandoned and resettled over those five hundered years, they are all currently functional and at least on their way to being fully operational since the Collapse.
A Tumultuous History in the Public EyeThe Iron Order's very existence goes against many things that society deems right and good. The Knights of Iron are people who, often due to tremendous personal loss, have decided to abandon their lives and devote their existence to the hunting of monsters, the slaying of evil, and the defense of good. While their intent is lauded and universally appreciated, it is the Iron Order's methods that draws fear, hesitation, and sometimes downright hatred and violence. In order to hunt the monsters, Knights of Iron become the monsters. A man who lost his family to ghouls and became a Knight may undergo alchemical and arcane enhancements to embrace certain aspects of the undead, such as sense of smell or regeneration, all in the hopes of better killing said undead. A woman whose village fell to lycanthropy may willingly subject herself to muted strains of the lycan curse to better hunt the creatures who took everything from her. Many people wonder where the line between good and evil rests for the Iron Order, and the Order's detractors doubt said line exists at all.
Guild, Fighter / Mercenary