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La Centinela

by Jennifer Guerra

Mother House, New Alvar

The old man stretched to put the folder of documents on the high shelf. Everything in its proper place, he thought, with a glance down the long wall of shelves, piled high with files and bound tomes.

The shuffling of his shoes on the stone floor as he stretched on tiptoe disguised the creature's approach. A sharp, sudden thud, the slump of the old man's body to the floor, a hiss of satisfaction followed close on one another. A hideous smile on its cracked, parted lips, the creature brandished one long, sharp claw and bent to its bloody task.

At last completed, it bent to the file, which had fallen open at the old man's feet, individual papers fluttering to the ground. A thin, forked tongue slithered out of its mouth and wet a bloody fingertip. The creature began to read. . .

La Centinela ("the watcher," or "the lookout") was secretly founded in 580 BC by Don Maximiliano Ugarte de Camillo, an elven noble of Clan Destreza (modern-day Torreón). Don Maximiliano was alarmed by the sudden, recent dark turn of the nearby Nithian colonists' magical research, and wanted to keep an eye on the wizards' activities. The first members of the order were elven wizards, who were picked by Don Maximiliano for their knowledge and their ability to determine whether the dark Nithian magics posed a threat to the elves. The six wizards reported directly to Don Maximiliano, and met monthly in that noble's study. The members vowed to be ever-vigilant, but to only observe the wizards' activities. Don Maximiliano realised that while his group might be able to gather enough information to help the elves guard against a Nithian attack (were that ever to happen), they were certainly not strong enough to intervene in the colonists' evildoings.

In 500 BC, the Nithian colonists mysteriously vanished, and all memory of them was wiped out by the Immortals. The mages of La Centinela suddenly found themselves without purpose. They recalled that they had banded together to protect the elves from evil, although none of them could say exactly what that evil was. They did, however remember that they only watched, and recorded, the activities of these evil beings - never intervened. One elf, Don Narciso de la Rosa, became convinced that this fact was the key to the mystery of why the members could remember nothing of their original mission. Over time, he convinced the others that a servant of Entropy had decided that La Centinela knew too much about his plans, and so erased their knowledge of him, along with their files and any evidence they had collected.

Convinced that Don Narciso was right, Don Maximiliano ordered that the members of La Centinela begin an in-depth dossier on the activities, known contacts, and personal goals of every servant of Entropy they could find. From necromancers and witches to liches and vampires, La Centinela focused on gathering every bit of information about the "Dark Side" it could get its hands on. Don Maximiliano's reasoning was that only by constantly striving to uncover the activities of the forces of Evil could La Centinela avenge the loss of their original mission (and their memories). It was during this period that the motto of La Centinela became, "Only through Enlightenment can we banish the Dark."

Over the next three centuries, the Centinela archive grew into a formidable (and still secret) archive of the servants of Evil. Don Maximiliano died (suspiciously) in 405 BC; eventually, leadership of La Centinela passed out of the hands of the original group. Members became more daring, pushing the envelope of the definition of "non-intervention"; they quietly acquired magical items and even a few artifacts which had belonged to the Enemy, and were known to discourage young magical apprentices who had been approached by necromancers.

In 220 BC, one member, Pedro Ribera, travelled to a small human community (in modern-day Eusdria) to investigate a man who was about to be executed for murder. The villagers testified that the murderer had always been a quiet hedge wizard, but about six months previous had begun to experiment with the black arts. As his studies progressed, strange things began to occur in the village: first, strange lights and sounds were observed at his cottage. Then, all the livestock died of a mysterious plague. Finally, people who had wronged the wizard in any way, great or small, began to disappear. The townspeople acted, and accused the man. His accusers died that very night, although he was still imprisoned. Pedro received permission to visit the man in prison. He sat silently staring at Pedro. As the investigator turned to leave, the man spoke: "I will remember you."

The townspeople were determined to go through with the burning. As the wizard died screaming, Pedro Ribera saw a dark form exit his body through the mouth. None of the other townsfolk seemed to notice. Pedro watched as the form flew up into the air above the pyre, hovered there, and then streaked back down and immediately into the body of a young woman at the edge of the crowd. He tried to rush over to the girl, but she slipped away. He hadn't even gotten a good look at her.

Pedro wrote his account of the incident as he sat in a local tavern that night, eavesdropping on the locals' conversation and flirting with the bar maid. The other customers later recalled seeing Pedro set down his tankard, already choking and turning red as he reached out to the serving wench. The poor girl must have been in shock, for she did nothing to help him, just stood and stared.

The Centinela member who retrieved Pedro's journal from the barkeep found an unsettling message scrawled at the bottom of Pedro's last entry: "Who watches the watchers?" Alarmed, and trying to ensure at least a minimal amount of safety for his charges, the precept ordered no further contact between members and the subjects of their investigations. From then on, no Centinela member would be permitted to interview suspects, or to actively try to deter people from turning to Entropy.

Reduced, essentially, to a society of scholars, La Centinela during this period became an archive of the arcane. Its strict policy of non-interference became ingrained in the organisation, a staunch neutrality that would soon split the organisation in two.

During the period of civil unrest in Clan Destreza lands, Centinela members uncovered a tie between Tydwal (head of the occupying religious faction) and the forces of Entropy. Tydwal's tyrannical rule was tearing the Clan apart; these Centinela members planned to expose the cleric's ties to the Dark Side and thus destroy his power base. But Centinela elders refused, upon pain of excommunication, to allow the members to intervene. Their stubbornness caused a great schism in La Centinela.

Nearly half the members - mostly in the lower ranks - called for the elders to take action. They derisively called the neutral/passive faction "La Atalaya" ("the watchtower," likening the elders to immovable stone). In flagrant violation of orders, they planned to not only expose Tydwal, but to bring him down.

But, before they could put their plan into action, nearly a third of Clan Destreza decided to leave their ancestral lands, to seek a place where they were free to worship as they pleased. Many of the breakaway Centinela faction also wished to go; the debate over the faction's course of action paralysed it. Meanwhile, Centinela elders took advantage of the faction's weakness to expunge the order of the "corrupted" element. All the dissenters were excommunicated; a few higher-ups, who possessed knowledge of sensitive Centinela secrets and/or access to the organisation's vaults and archives, disappeared altogether.

This action galvanised the remainder of the dissenters. Horrified by the brutality of the purge, they fled Destreza lands with the other refugees.

Once the new clan settled in the Vesubia river valley, the ex-Centinela faction pondered their next course of action. The highest-ranking member to survive the Purge, Xavier de la Iglesia, called a convocation of his "brothers and sisters." In the year-long congress, members passed a number of resolutions. First, they denounced the actions of the main group and declared that their excommunication was invalid. Thus, they remained Centinela members, albeit of a separate and independent branch. This branch would not shy away from contact with the subjects of its investigations; in fact, it would actively seek out and destroy servants of Entropy, as well as keep an eye on strange magics and incursions of alien beings. Finally, this branch would always place the interests of its people (the Destrezan faction which would become known as Clan Alhambra) above the interests of the organisation itself, no matter the danger to the members. Members would be known as Brothers or Sisters, to emphasise their kinship with the organisation and its ideals.

Since that time, the New Alvar house of La Centinela has continued its investigations of servants of Entropy. It has amassed an archive of files and artifacts to rival that of the original house. However, their biggest accomplishment is that they have, for centuries, kept the forces of Evil (especially vampires) from threatening Clan Alhambra. To this end, the Centinela leadership has packed the Brotherhood with not only investigators and mages (as did the original organisation), but also undead slayers, spies, diviners, paladins, fighters, clerics, and even assassins. Most of these are not full Brothers, but are hired by La Centinela; they are known as "Los Cazares" ("the hunters"). The current head of the organisation is a priest of Valerias (although this is unknown to Glantrian officials, Princess Carnelia is well aware).

Whenever PCs investigate the activities of evil beings within Glantri, it is likely that a Centinela Brother or Sister, or one of Los Cazares, will cross their path. If the PCs are hunting a powerful vampire or lich, for example, a Centinela hireling may offer to join the party. Should one of the PCs become known as a slayer of Entropy, (s)he may be approached by a Brother to become a member of La Centinela.

Membership in La Centinela is "by invitation only." Characters may not petition for membership unsolicited. If they are asked to join, they will start out as an Initiate, for 1d4 years. Initiates know next to nothing of the organisation, and do not know who the elders are. Their only contact with La Centinela is through a mentor, who is a full Brother or Sister.

Only after an Initiate proves himself will he be inducted as a full member, a Brother (or Sister) of La Centinela. Brothers learn of the structure and goals of the organisation. As they prove their loyalty through years of service and unswerving obedience, they gain access to the Brotherhood's files and archives, to better aid them in their research and hunting. They learn the identities of the elders, as they become trusted members.

There are six elders in the New Alvar motherhouse. The elders are charged with carrying out the will of the Precept, and with overseeing the Brothers and Initiate. They must approve all offers of membership before the person is approached by a Brother. They have sole access to the most sensitive files of the Brotherhood, and only they (and the Precept) know the location of the hidden, confiscated magic items and relics the organisation has obtained through the centuries. Finally, of all the members of La Centinela, only the elders know the identity of the Precept.

The Precept is supreme head of the Brotherhood. Only the elders and the current ruler of Belcadiz know his identity. It is known, however, that the current Precept is the hand-picked successor of Xavier de la Iglesias, and that he is a high priest of Valerias. The precept's identity is kept hidden because he is a much-sought target of the organisation's enemies. Should the Brotherhood ever be successfully infiltrated by a servant of Evil, that invader would have to reach Elder status in order to endanger the Precept. This is highly unlikely, as precautions. . .

. . .Yessss, highly unlikely, indeed. . .the being hissed, as it shrugged itself into the Elder's skin as if it were donning a robe. A few magical adjustments and it was as if it were born in this skin.

Letting the thin sheaf of parchment fall of the bloodstained floor, it stepped over the skinless mass of tissue and climbed the steps of the archive to the main floor above. . .