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The Order of the Heartflame
The Order of the Heartflame is a tight-knit organization composed of members of all races on Carona. It is focused on hunting down and destroying undead, necromancers, daemons, and those who have fallen under their influence, all of which are grouped under the term “maleficarum”. While each rank is given a different title, the generic term used for members of the Heartflame is “Paladin”.
All paladins receive martial training on the same level used by Ascetics, using the various Disciplines. Most are trained as Crusaders, like many dwarven Ascetics. They are trained to purge maleficarum no matter the odds and no matter the cost. They are what most Caronans think of when they picture paladins, as they are intended as leaders and exemplars. These paladins are referred to as Knight-Protectors. The more subtle-minded recruits are trained as Swordsages, and act as the eyes and ears of the Order. They are referred to as Knight-Seekers. The less subtle Knight-Protectors draw enough attention by the nature of how they operate that it is absurdly simple for Knight-Seekers to remain undetected as they ferret out their targets.
However, this is not what makes paladins so lethal to daemons and undead. A paladin’s martial training is only the first step. When a recruit has been judged ready for elevation to the rank of Knight-Errant, they are put through even more rigorous training of a more arcane nature, including the dreaded Rite of Illumination, which involves forcing the Aspirant to be possessed by a minor daemon and then exorcise it through sheer force of will, making them immune to later possession.
This results in the paladin gaining a number of minor magical powers. Knight-Protectors gain the ability to conjure silver flames, heal the wounded, banish daemons, and imbue their weapons with sheer righteous power, all of which make them more effective heroes for front-line combat against the maleficarum. Knight-Seekers gain the ability to conjure shadows to conceal themselves, magically disguise themselves, make lethal strikes to disrupt the magical energies animating the undead, scry, and temporarily lock a target onto the Material Plane to disrupt its escape.
The Order of the Heartflame has a variety of ranks for its Knight-Brothers. It also maintains a standing army drawn from recruits who were deemed unfit for elevation. Various non-combat personnel are also drawn from failed recruits.
The newest Paladins bear the rank of Knight-Errant. They are sent along with a more experienced Knight-Brother of their branch and both a Brother and an Errant of the other branch on what is referred to as an Errantry Quest. The purpose of this is to train the Errants in the tactics the Order uses to hunt down and destroy the maleficarum. Seekers are taught through experience what to look for and how to stay unnoticed by their prey, and Protectors learn precisely how to best act as the public face of the Order as well as how to properly bring down maleficarum cults. Traditionally, an Errantry Quest lasts for two years, though outstanding acts of heroism have been grounds for immediate promotion in the past.
Those Paladins who have completed their Quest are given the rank of Knight-Brother (or Knight-Sister). These are the full members, who make up the bulk of the Paladin members of the Order and are given full knowledge of the most carefully kept secrets of the Order. Each one is a potent warrior or a skilled infiltrator, utterly dedicated to their role. They make up the strike forces deployed when an Errant Party and what local forces they can gather are insufficient to root out whatever cult they’re hunting.
Beyond these ranks are several specialist ranks. Knight-Wardens are the most common of these. Wardens are sent to oversee various Order Wayhouses, small forts located on the major roads in more rural areas. These Wayhouses provide free shelter to travelers, act as recruiting stations for the Order, and keep an eye on the area around them. The Warden’s task is to make sure that the Order forces there are kept ready for action, to contact the regional Commander once a week (usually through magic based communications systems), and to secure donations from the local villages. Often in Jenneric fiefs or Orcish Principalities, a Wayhouse is the best-trained military force in the area, and the best place to seek true justice.
Knight-Commander is the highest rank in the Order. There is one for every proper castle owned by the Order, and they oversee the use of their resources and how their forces are utilized. They are all equals in theory, united by their conviction in the Order’s purpose, though every decade the Commanders elect a Lord-Commander to act as a chairperson. In practice, those Commanders who lead castles on the First Line have the most political sway due to the prestige of their deployment.
Failed recruits make up the bulk of the Order, however. Usually referred to as laymen, they serve as traditional soldiers and noncombat personnel. Some are still inducted onto a ranking equal to that of a Knight-Brother, and serve as sages or smiths capable of forging magical equipment, as both services are rare and in high demand for such an esoteric military organization. Basic soldiers also can rise through the ranks to the point where they have the Knight-Commanders’ ears, serving as command staff and field generals. However, most serve as line infantry if they join the Order’s private armies, or act as craftsmen, provisioners, and other essential but low-prestige roles.