Order of the Imperial Knights

If the Pyronate are considered the eyes and hands of the Dragon, then the Imperial Knights are most definitely his teeth and claws. At least with the fire mages, we know why we are scared. They are terrifying monsters with too much power at their fingertips. So why is it that I would rather be locked in their dungeons beneath their tower at Kebakaran than spend any amount of time in the company of an Imperial Knight?
-Emil Tark, Head Librarian at The Imperial Archive
  The Imperial Knights are, at first glance, a normal order of armoured fighters that are in the service of their lord. In this case, the Dragon Emperor of the Atralum Empire. As with everything else he touches, they are somehow a corrupted and twisted version of a Knightly Order.
 

Apperance

They appear as people would expect. Well built, heavily armoured and armed. Their armour is intricately detailed plate mail of the finest metals. Steel worked in the forges beneath the palace in the capital. Wearers of this armour have been known to walk into a blazing building and walk back out unscathed. It has gone through a process to make it impervious to heat. This is one of the Emperor’s most closely guarded secrets.   While this armour makes them a formidable opponent, what truly makes them stand out is their swords. Each knight has in their possession one of these Sacred Imperial Blades. Rumours and stories of these weapons are common across the Empire. Village boys all talking of them in whispered voices, all wanting to win one for themselves. Each knight has a sword unique to them, won or earned on the day they get elevated to the rank of knight.   What isn’t known outside of the order and a select few Imperials is that there are only a set number of these swords and they are made highly difficult to obtain. The primary way to get a sword is to defeat an existing knight in a duel to the death. A few exemplary students are raised to the title from the Imperial School of Combat. However, they still expect most of these to kill an existing member to receive their blade.   The swords are exceptionally old and are thought to have been forged at the beginning of the Empire, imbued with ancient magics and protections that are bestowed upon the wielder. They are actually much older than that, their true history lost to time. As has the true extent of their powers.   When a Knight receives his sword, he is usually expected to stay close to the capital city while he learned how to access the powers within. Since the previous knight is dead, there is no one alive to accurately tutor someone in its use. As time goes on and they become more attuned to the sword, it’s said that the blade itself reveals its higher mysteries to its wielder. Once they have learned enough, the Emperor sends them out on their true task. To walk the empire and to make sure people are aware that his power and influence stretches everywhere.
 

Duties

They travel across the land, searching out dissention in the populace. Any sort of trouble that might affect the running of the nation. You can find Knights at the borders single handedly putting down any raids or incursion by neighbouring states. A Knight adept in the use of his sword has been known to be able to defeat entire armies alone, although usually scorching the land in the process.   To see a Knight enter your village or town is to know fear. Fear of discovery for wrongs you have committed, wrongs you might have committed and for wrongs other people have said you have committed. Knights are not judges, many do not care if you are innocent of the crime. They merely want to be seen to be handing out the Emperor’s justice.
 

Rites

The order comes with some few sacred practices. These holy sacraments are part of the code a Knight swears to follow when they are elevated to the rank. Sworn to the Emperor himself.
The Rite of Shelter is something that the people of the Empire have to follow more than the Knights themselves. If a Knight comes to your door and invokes the Rite of Shelter, you must grant him shelter and treat them as you would your most beloved and closest family. They must be fed, sheltered, and given the best room in the house to sleep in. If this rite is refused then the Knight is within their rights, and expected, to kill the refuser on the spot. If a refusal causes the death of a Knight, then that person and their whole family are marked for death. Households who shelter the Knight often are sent tokens of gratitude by the Order once the Knight returns to the capital. These can include money, status, or other items of worth.
The Rite of Challenge is the primary way the swords of knighthood are transferred from person to person. Anyone may issue the challenge and the Knight must fight them in a duel to the death. The time of the duel is down to the Knight’s discretion and the challenger has the right to withdraw the issued challenge any time before swords are drawn. Often times the Knights themselves try to encourage withdrawal of the challenge. It is exceedingly rare that anyone beats a trained and experienced Knight.
The Rite of Dissimulation is one of the rites totally unknown to the general populace and one of the most important. The Knight is tasked with making sure that none who ever discover their true nature are allowed to live. They have wiped out whole families and villages because someone saw the secret of the order and escaped to tell others. It is rare, however, that anyone who discovers this secret doesn’t just die on the spot through terror or horror. Most who do survive are driven so mad that none would believe their words, anyway. The Order are not allowed to take the chance of letting them live.
 

The Secret of the Order

The secret they are tasked with never allowing to be revealed to the greater population is relatively simple. Every Knight, upon their elevation, is infected with a parasite known as a Heart Leech. Before they are given their sword, or on their first trip to the capital after winning a Rite of Challenge, they are taken into a room to be sworn in. It is here they are infested with this strange organism. They give them a drink that is taken from the vat they allow it to spawn in and it infests through the Knight’s body. After a few days, the Knight begins to feel changes. Their skin and internal organs feel wrong. They move oddly sometimes. It grants the Knights exceptional hardiness of the body at the expense of being host to some horrible thing from beyond the stars.   At times of great stress, the parasite tries to defend itself and its host. When this happens, mouths filled with sharp teeth open all over the Knight’s body and their skin stretches like a load of leeches trying to get free. These mouths attack and try to devour anyone attempting to destroy them. When the danger is over, the skin settles back down, leaving great seeping welts all over the Knight. These take weeks to heal properly.

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