Order of the Light Undying
Colloquially: Demonhunters, Hounds of Aethon.
Symbol: A golden sword and sunburst in a ring of green fire.
The Order of the Light Undying is an Aethonite knightly order of Damryan extraction established roughly five hundred years ago under the leadership of Gwydion of Dale, later known as Gwydion Lightbearer. They are tasked with the hunting down of creatures and people tainted by hell.
As far back as Damryan history goes, the threat of demonblooded monstrosities in the deep woods and wilds has been present. Because of this the tradition of Damryan knights and other such warriors being tasked (or taking on the burden of their own free will) with rooting out these hell-warped monstrosities goes back equally far. The tales of the early days of Damryn are full of heroic knights swearing quests against particularly large or vicious demonblooded, or warriors battling against heroic odds to free an unfortunate village or town from the grips of an infestation.
Despite this there was never any formalisation of these deeds until the reign of High King Donan, after the campaign to conquer Andermark. During this campaign those veterans of the tainted wilds were employed in King Donan’s vanguard during the invasion, as a way of countering the attacks of the Fringe-warped that had earlier deterred Lancesian invaders. Well used to hunting dangerous and vicious quarry in twisted woodlands, the veterans made short work of any Fringe-touched they encountered. However, more important in the long run were two experiences these veterans underwent; fighting together as coordinated groups, and their encounters with the Andermen paladins. Both were surprising and in the end educational novelties to the veterans, who started making their own plans. Foremost among the organisers was a respected knight commander known then as Sir Gwydion of the Dale (a settlement in the hill country east of Caer Brennan) who had also taken part in the war against Lancereaux over a decade before.
After the war was over and peace restored, Sir Gwydion went to King Donan and the Aethonite clergy, and requested permission to set up his own holy order. This order, he believed, would be able to tackle the demonblooded problem on a much larger and more organised scale than had previously been attempted. They would be paladins similar to the ones of Tyaus in Andermark, but sworn to Aethon, and organised after the chivalric orders of Lancereux. King Donan, impressed with the idea and Sir Gwydion’s fervour, granted the request and issued lands for a chapter house near Sir Gwydion’s home town of Dale.
The Order was quickly established, then under the name of The Order of Dale, and recruits flooded in from the surrounding country. Soon a second chapter house was built further south, and towards the end of Sir Gwydion’s life a third established closer to Caer Brennan. This third chapter house would not be of the Order of Dale however, but a Tyausian one established by an Anderman paladin named Sir Volund Tyle. Both Sir Gwydion and Sir Volund had encountered each other during the Andermark campaign, and developed a mutual respect for each other sufficient for Tyle to journey to Damryn in his later years to found a clerical order there. This order, known as The Order of the Silver Shield after a gift from Sir Gwydion to his unlikely ally, would become in time a sister order to the Order of Dale, dealing in the more subtle aspects of demon-worship and possession that the Aethonite paladins found themselves ill-suited to deal with other than with swords.
But all of this was in the future of the order, which would soon receive a change of name thanks to its founder, Sir Gwydion called Lightbearer.
The Death of Sir Gwydion
In 490 PF Sir Gwydion was of advanced years, ancient by the standards of warriors, yet despite a hair and beard turned from gold to white with age still able to hold his own among the youngest knights. Thus when word reached the Order that a particularly large and ferocious infestation of demonblooded horrors had attacked a tributary settlement of Dale called Deredin Hold in a nearby forest, it was Sir Gwydion at the head of six of the Order’s best knights, riding out to deal with the menace as he had so many times before.
Upon arrival however it quickly became apparent that this was no ordinary infestation. The woods around, cleansed decades ago, were now crawling with hell-warped creatures of every sort, and of especial size and viciousness. Waves upon waves attacked the knights, wearing them down one by one until at last they reached Deredin Hold – or rather, what remained of it. Every building had been levelled, and the streets were strewn with gnawed bones, and mutilated corpses. A monstrous hellgate now pulsed where once the local chapel has stood, and in front of it loomed a winged demon larger than any of the men had seen before – a true manifestation, not a mere corrupted creature like the demonblooded that capered at its feet.
By then four of Sir Gwydion’s companions had fallen; Raven Nath, Aeddon the Red, Aeddon the Tall and Bryn Brightsteel. Two remained; Cadoc Fellhand and Isell the Riverlord. Both of these would fall in the final push towards the corrupted chapel, as the demonblooded swarmed them until only Sir Gwydion remained, alone in front of the hellgate and its master.
What happened next is a matter of both history and story. History records than when a detachment of knights was despatched to discover what had become of the group it found Deredin in ruins, deserted except for one survivor. Cadoc Fellhand would live long enough despite his fatal injuries to tell them that Sir Gwydion had fought the demon, armoured in the light of Aethon, all the while suffering many wounds until finally he sacrificed his own life by driving the demon back through the gate and closing it, trapping himself in the process. The Order of Dale would honour their founder and his six companions by building a memorial in the rebuilt Deredin Hold, of seven men with swords upheld and the seventh bearing also a golden sun in his left hand like a lamp.
What the stories say after, as Deredin prospered and the woods around it remained free of demonblooded despite infestations in neighbouring forests, that Sir Gwydion had never died. He still lived on, they said, locked in eternal battle in Hell with the demon that had dared to attack one of his settlements of his people and preventing it from returning. As the years grew long and the woods remained pure the stories grew, until at last the Order of Dale acknowledged them and in honour of their founder and his sacrifice renamed themselves the Order of the Light Undying, signifying the undying sprit and courage of Sir Gwydion, now called the Lightbearer.
After the death of Sir Gwydion the Order only prospered, though differently to some other Aethonite orders of the time. Like most it would supported the establishment of the United Church fifty or so years later, and participated in the liberation of Ibarran from Sahradian rule in 434-427 PF as well as the later Crusades. They would also be a presence during the War of the Narrow Sea, although not in great numbers.
The reason for this was very simple, and tied to the founding codes of the Order; they were established to fight demons and demonblooded. Whilst of course obeying the United Church and High King in all things, it was always known that their duties lay primarily in Damryn, and those paladins who joined the King in war were only those who could be spared from the fight with an equally important internal threat to the realm. Thus it is that while knights of the Order would fight abroad and valiantly, the Light Undying would never be as lauded and praised in other kingdoms as their fellow Aethonite orders. A consequence of this was that whilst the knights themselves were instantly recognisable anywhere as paladins of Aethon, the Light Undying itself would not be (and still isn't) very well-known outside of Damryn. They were simply not needed elsewhere, and so remained a more domestic force than most orders of questing knights.
This would change, as most things would, with the Fall.
It would not be an exaggeration to call the Fall the single greatest devastation of the Light Undying in its history, although managed to avoid extinction completely as some orders did. Some attribute this to the will of the gods, which may have been a factor, but another and their saving grace might have again come in the form of their duty. Much as in the invasion of Andermark over five hundred years before, their talents in fighting unnatural and unholy creatures, as well as their intimate knowledge of the wilds of Damryn, meant that they were much better equipped to fight the Legion once the borders of Damryn fell than they might have been.
Like most military orders, however, let alone holy ones, it suffered devastating losses. At its peak the Order of the Light Undying boasted roughly five thousand active knights, as well as those retired, semi-retired, novices and lay servants. The number of those who managed to reach Starkholm however was a mere fraction, and since most participated in the Last Stand the remainder are a pitiful remnant. There are currently less than a hundred surviving members, of which nearly half are novices or formerly retired knights. The insistence of Lord Commander Arthen Crowseye that those novices at the time of Damryn’s fall be placed on light duties guarding refugee caravans is likely the reason that those fully-sworn paladins that the he still commands have an unusually high number of young knights.
In the time before the Fall, it was the chapter houses that were the centre of knightly life for a paladin of the Light Undying. These forts and the surrounding holdings would be responsible for a given territory around it, although this did not preclude a knight declaring a quest against a demonblooded infestation in another territory – this was simply more unusual. The responsibilities would include; the training of novices that applied in that territory, the patrolling of “problem areas” in the wilds, the immediate response to any report of demonblooded activity within its territory and the keeping track of any questing knights that trained and dwelt there. It would also be tasked with unkeep of the “safe houses”, fortified holdings designed to shelter knights more than a day’s ride away from their Chapter House.
Each chapter house was autonomous, its Chapter Master answering only to the Lord Commander residing in the Order’s central chapter house in Dale. A Chapter House at full strength would as well as a Chapter Master boast a Master Librarian, tasked with recording the deeds of the knights affiliated with that chapter; a Master of Arms, tasked with training new recruits in swordplay and organising patrols; a Master of Novices, tasked with caring for applicants until the day of their graduation; a Quartermaster, tasked with keeping the House well armed, armoured and fed; and a Chaplain, who was tasked with looking after the spiritual well-being of his fellow knights. Underneath these would be senior knights, then the various questing knights and knights errant attached to the House, then the various patrols and paladins living in the Chapter House or in the surrounding hold and finally the novices.
Unlike most other orders there would be no master of stables, as knights of the Light Undying rarely if ever rode into battle – Damryn not being known for its cavalry anyway, and horses being notoriously skittish around demonblooded. There would also, unattached to the Order’s command structure but still present and of some importance, usually be a clerical member of the Silver Shield present in most Chapter Houses as well. These would serve the twofold purpose of acting as go-betweens for that Chapter House and the nearest outpost of the Silver Shield (as the jurisdictions of the two orders unsurprisingly coincided sometimes) and as instructors for novices in the ways of demons and demon worshippers.
Different Chapter Houses kept to the same symbol as the Order entire, but it was customary for a resident to sport some trinket or piece of jewellery unique to the town that House was based in. The practise has only been recently discontinued, due to the lack of other chapter houses – the Order now hold only one, set up in an abandoned chapel in Starkholm.
The elite of the Light Undying – and extremely rare in recent times – were known as Warhounds, a reference to the unflattering name “Hounds of Aethon” sometimes attached to knights of the Light Undying. It is uncertain where this name originated, this being lost to time, but most tales pin the blame on a Norlish chieftain in the far past of the Order’s history who came south to trade and met with the then Lord Commander at a settlement in Geitrim. Upon having the Order and its purpose explained to him, the chieftain burst into disdainful laughter and boasted of his own following of the “Wolf God”, mocking the Lord Commander and his followers and scornfully hanging the title “Hounds” on them, a possible reference to Aethon’s own derogatory nickname of Dog of War. The Lord Commander, being of unusual temperament, promptly burst into apparently genuine laughter of his own, accepted the nickname, then punched the chieftain head over heels into a nearby stall, retorting as he did “Don’t you know what dogs do to wolves?”
The name, whatever its origin, appears to have stuck, and eventually an elite started to form which in turn called itself the Warhounds. These were those whose names were known, who performed acts of especial bravery, cunning or heroism. In time the name became formalised as did the organisation, and the Warhounds became almost an order within an order, the recognised best of the Light Undying. It is therefore unsurprising that most Lord Commanders and highly-placed knights within the order are Warhounds.
To be accepted a knight must have shown exceptional dedication to their duty, a feat of outstanding heroism and consistent courage despite seemingly hopeless odds – in other words, they must embody the same traits as Sir Gwydion the Lightbearer himself. If judged worthy no ceremony takes place or oath is sworn. The candidate will simply find in their quarters one day a golden torc, the wearing of which will signify their new status. The honour is a rare one, and the ranks of the Warhounds have almost never exceeded two hundred knights. Of those that were chosen before the Fall, less than a handful now currently remain, the most prominent of which is Lord Commander Arthen Crowseye.
There are certain dangers inherent in hunting demonspawn. Walking in hell-tainted wilds requires a strength of will and body in order to remain uncorrupted, and even so sometimes it seeps through. This can usually be combated with prayers and rites of purification, so that the subtle warping influences that might have latched on to an unwary or unlucky knight might be purged safely, with no lasting harm done.
Sometimes, however, this isn’t enough.
The Tainted, or Warped Ones, are the embodiment of the fear every knight of the Light Undying carries whether they acknowledge it or not, and a taboo subject even to each other.
Every once in a while, rare enough to make even the Warhounds seem commonplace, a knight will find that the purifications and prayers they are undergoing are having less and less effect. The twisting has become so deep, or so strong, that their own flesh betrays them and they slowly start to change. The process is often long, delayed as much as it can be by their comrades and chapter priests, but once it has started it rarely stops completely and by slow changing they begin to take on the aspect of a demonblooded.
There are few recorded accounts of the sworn knights succumbing to the taint of hell and becoming a Warped One, with much of the stories being rumours and guesswork. Precisely what happens next can only be guessed at, but no outside tales of Damryn speak of them. Their very existence is only known to knights of the Light Undying, and their eventual fate is shrouded in secrecy. It is generally assumed among paladins of the Order that either the comrades of the stricken knight would offer them Aethon’s mercy at the end of a sword or – in rumours and hints rarely spoken of – that the newly demonblooded knight would be taken to a particularly infested area of hell-warped wilds under strict guard and allowed to seek an honourable death in battle. No confirmation has been received either way.
There are no records of any Tainted immediately before, during or after the Fall.