The Twelve Orders
Brothers and sisters, attend me carefully! We must put our own houses in order before someone else does it for us. And as we know, there are those whose idea of such things is burning the house down after locking us inside it. Separate, we were easy to handle in this way - but we are united, and it is past time to ensure our service to the Gods cannot be cut down easily. By those outside, by those within, by enemies, or by friends. With the will of the Gods, our spirits are protected. It is our own responsibility to see to protection of our flesh.When one talks about the Rhyliss Pantheon and their agents on the mortal world, it is the Twelve Orders being referenced. The clerics, priests, and knights of the Orders are the most visible aspects in the world. However, the Orders encompass far more people than these. There are a truly staggering variety of people who do various tasks in support of the more active members, refusing to do anything more than to help along with skills of their chosen professions. In more recent years, all of these individuals are not necessarily reported to be working for the Orders - their involvement hidden carefully away as the bureaucratic labyrinth at the heart of the Imperium has begun becoming dangerous to deal with. Members of the Order are nominally Imperial citizens (whether they live inside the Empire's boundaries or not) yet are exempt from a great many duties other citizens are asked to perform. Most notably, there are no taxes collected from shrines or churches. There is a tithe paid to the throne, usually determined by agreements between each High Priest and the current Emperor.
Service in the Twelve Orders is, often, considered a truly higher calling by most human residents of the Empire. It contrasts to choosing to serve in the Imperial Legion or Guard, as the rules are not necessarily congruent to Imperial law itself. Furthermore, the Orders do not directly have any accountability to the Emperor or his High Lords. Rather, they support the Imperium through their duties and in turn are given enough autonomy to do so in their own fashion.
The Twelve Orders are loosely organized together, and depending on which Order is being discussed they have many different organizational methods. Some Orders have strict divisions and hierarchies, while others are less formal about chains of responsibility. What follows is a brief description of each Order, as well as a brief look at what they do for the Empire as part of their service to the Gods.
- Order of Graves: Following the dictates of Uhrol Solas, the Order tends to the resting places of the fallen. All are given the same amount of attention, be they simple graveyards, cairns, or tombs of affluent nobles. Some others of the Order are responsible for performing burial rites to properly allow the dead to rest in hallowed ground. A smaller sect of the Order is more proactive, hunting down powerful undead, and necromancers known to be responsible for these actions who flee the Empire's authority.
- Order of the Moon: Velei Delune values love and life, and so Her Order tends to operate a number of shelters for those who seek to escape persecution for 'forbidden love'. A second sect is also known to own orphanages for unwanted children, raising them to serve the Twelve. Rumors persist of a third sect who are given silver weapons to hunt lycanthropes who are too great a danger to villages in the frontier.
- Order of the Sun: The Light of Eternity attracts followers who believe in the inherent nobility of humanity, and so the Order of the Sun is devoted to many different paths of enlightenment. The largest sect of the Order wield radiant light as a weapon against the darkness of the world, knights-errant who are feared for their single-minded devotion. Lesser-known is the sect who function as confidants for noble children, offering them moral guidance in exchange for donations. Similarly unknown are those who give aid to the poor, hoping to keep them from straying down darker paths.
- Order of Walls: Opalis is the Warden of Walls, and so His Order takes the same name and serve as guardians of order and civilization. Most citizens are aware of their position in preparing Carroways and acting as independent observers for the Imperial Guard. A third sect is responsible for the literal walls of a city, which entails inspecting the defenses and making arrangements for maintenance.
- Order of Storms: The Sea Witch is not the most caring Goddess, and as such Her Order is prone to being moderately anti-social. Most of them devote their lives to sects responsible for cleaning up damage from severe storms, either along the coastline or across the land. However, there are also the 'Sea Watchers' who tend to towers set up along the coasts near dangerous areas so ships can be sure to avoid them.
- Order of Letters: Ionis Escriba inspires many to seek service within the Order of Letters, whose primary functions are to train scribes and to maintain libraries where important documents and manuscripts. The Bardic Colleges are supported by priests of Ionis, who supply books for study and help instruct in the matters of history and arcane lore. A third sect is said to exist solely to hunt down practitioners of forbidden magic, destroying their notes so none can replicate it. Given Ionis' desire to keep knowledge safe instead of seeing it lost, one might question whether this third sect exists as is described.
- Order of Spears: Dedicated to the Maiden of War, the Order of Spears serves primarily as official spiritual support for the Imperial Legion. Their calling is in acting as combat medics, counselors, and sometimes tacticians. A second sect is devoted to aid in training new members of both the Imperial Guard and Legion, showing them the use of their weapons and how to employ them in combat. There are those who also speak of the 'Lancers', a sect devoted to the pursuit of those who flee justice and visiting death upon them.
- Order of Hands: Maseli Sember, Master of the Unseen, has an Order devoted to protecting the arcanists and sorcerers across Rhyliss. Thus they are responsible for keeping an eye on such magic to ensure it isn't abused against the citizens of the Empire. However, a second sect is established to keep watch over traders doing business across the borders and to inspect their cargo for contraband. These are derisively called 'the Grasping Hands' by many associated with such businesses.
- Order of Stones: Bartholomew is the patron God of artisans and builders, but the Order of Stones is responsible for other aspects of their deity's focus. They work with the builders to ensure major roads, bridges, and other infrastructure are kept in working order. While their focus is aligned with pacifism more than the other Orders, they are inevitably important to the well-being of the Empire.
- Order of Trees: The Order devoted to Rosali Arbora focuses their efforts on many parts of agriculture. The 'Arbora's Children' sect focuses most of their time on ensuring lumber projects do not over-harvest forests, as well as supervising efforts to keep new trees being planted to keep the delicate balance of the land. Another sect is devoted to blessing farmlands and assisting with projects to help the soil recover in the spring. Tensions and distrust between Imperial citizens and elves have caused a third sect to be devoted purely to diplomatic relations with elf communities.
- Order of Roads: From border to border, the Order of Roads puts their efforts into hospitality for travelers. Most of their attention is in making sure inns and traveler's houses along the roads are not cheating the guests. Those who are found to be poor hosts become widely known for such antics, causing them to either change for the better or give up their business. A lesser-known aspect of the Order of Roads is their affiliation with the Bardic College, in conjunction with the Order of Letters. In this case, it is to teach such wandering souls to offer comfort and entertainment for those they run across.
- Order of Masks: Revelry, good cheer, and freedom from worldy concerns are the cornerstones of Cedri Jubeli. The Order of Masks is devoted to keeping these things in moderation, and preventing those partaking in wine or other intoxicants from being a danger to others. One way this is done is with the 'Bottle Keepers', who are responsible for keeping an eye on those who make wine, ale, or other spirits for consumption. Those who knowingly sell tainted goods are turned over to the local Guard and Carroway. Some say Cedri's Carnival is another sect, but none who might actually know are claiming one way or the other.
As the Rhyliss Empire began to solidify their power base, part of the question became whether to sponsor any of the religions or cults already existing in their borders. According to common knowledge, the Emperor was visited by the Gods themselves and handed a weighty tome which was the Book of the Twelve. The true record of the world and the Gods, given to a conqueror who had shown a desperate need for divine guidance, and thus the Twelve converted him to the one true path of righteousness.
Naturally, the accounts found from historical records differs quite a bit. During this time of uncertainty, high priests of various religious sects attempted to meet with the Emperor in order to sway them over to their own singular view. One by one, they failed to impress him and were turned away with noncommittal phrases. Adam Farrow, a high priest of the Warden of Walls, made a risky proposition to meet together and discuss the possibility of uniting twelve sects with a single vision. It took a great deal of negotiating, as well as several compromises, but after a month the Emperor was met by twelve representatives of orders which - until now - had been perfectly willing to point fingers at each other or attempt to curry favor. Instead, they presented a simple book to the Emperor and insisted he consider their proposal. So it came to be the Rhyliss Pantheon was gathered, codified, and the religions began the painful process of reinventing themselves.
As the administrative process was being undertaken, the more charismatic members of the religious orders chose to arm themselves with the nascent polytheist religion, to spread the word of the Twelve Gods. These priests found many more people willing to fight and die for the Gods, and began to train them in how to call upon divine magic. The High Priests agreed to allow each God to be represented by their own order of followers, though they must agree to avoid fighting each other. This was an easy suggestion to make, as this era still had a great many conquests yet to be made. The Twelve Orders were thus born, and have evolved since then into 'enforcers' who keep the faithful to the messages ordained by their High Priests.
We serve the Twelve, in life and in death.
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