The Midnight Watch of the Radiant and Living Damnation
The Midnight Watch (also known as the Dark Watchers) are a fanatic order of religious knights devoted to carrying out The Order of Light’s (the Church of the Eternal Lantern) most dangerous or unpleasant missions – basically like the navy seals of the Order.
The Dark Watchers are much more common in the southern lands where The Lantern is a more popular and often official state diety. As the world has emerged from the Fog of Ages, the Watch has taken the lead in areas of the south, destroying evil cults and uncovering ancient knowledge. (The Shining One’s followers are closely allied with the followers of The Founder, The Mathmaster, and The Eye Opener. While followers of The Eternal Lantern view themselves as bringing literal and spiritual light to the world, they recognize that these three churches (despite not having a good alignment) bring intellectual and legal light to the world.)
No one “volunteers” to join. Instead, in the southern lands, on the night before any condemned prisoner is scheduled to be executed, it is customary for a priest of The Lantern to visit the prisoner at midnight (symbolic of the prisoner’s darkest hour). The priest will offer the condemned man an opportunity to repent and pray for absolution, in order to spare the punishments of the afterlife. On extremely rare occasions, when a prisoner asks for forgiveness (and is truly repentant within his soul), a blinding image of a rising sun appears above the condemned. When this happens, the condemned is offered a choice – join the Midnight Watch, or decline and face the planned execution. According to legend, no one has ever turned down the offer; in addition to the obvious benefit of escaping an execution – an often brutal execution in the southern lands, where drawing and quartering is considered somewhat passe – all those selected by The Lantern report experiencing a profound spiritual awakening and a deep repentance for their crimes (similar to what pentecostal Christians might describe as being touched by the spirit and being born again).
Members view themselves as having been saved from death and damnation to serve The Shining One. They serve her fanatically until death, living an extremely ascetic lifestyle and often engaging in practices such as extreme denial, exposure to the elements, or self flagellation. The Watchers believe they have been spared damnation in the afterlife in return for their service to The Lantern. Their self-punishment is their way of showing their acknowledgement of this fact, and showing The Lantern that they understand that they are not actually worthy of salvation, but have only been granted salvation by the merciful hand of Her Radiance.
Watch parties typically include many with the gift of divine magic, so even most serious wounds are healed to allow Watchers to continue service. As a result it is uncommon that a Watcher is forced to retire from combat because of a debilitating wound, so they often die in combat of an extreme wound or become too naturally old to carry on. This is a very rare occurrence; as they get older Watchers typically push themselves harder and take on ever increasingly dangerous and fanatical challenges. If one does reach the age of infirmity, the ritual is for them to journey to the east with only a wineskin and a cane, refusing all food or shelter, until they die of exposure.
Watchers do not view their service as an honor or reward – all worshippers of the Lantern believe that those who beg for forgiveness and repent shall go the Elysium to bathe in the Lantern’s radiant light. For the Watchers, this ultimate reward is delayed so they can serve. This, they believe, is why Her Radiance only selects condemned criminals; serving on the Watch in many ways Is a form of further punishment.
The Shining One only chooses worthy servants – all the members prove to be skilled at whatever their task is called to be, and training is a brutal five year ordeal. Most are fighters, but mixed in are a decent number of clerics and “scouts” (i.e. thieves and rangers) and the rare paladin.