The Loyal are a creation of the Church of Luxor. Certainly the Church did not willingly create it, but without a doubt the actions of the Church of Luxor spawned the Loyal. As the Church started to solidify its power by taking away that of the nobility, the nobles were rapidly becoming obsolete. The nobles who had formerly held absolute power within their respective domains slowly, but surely, became something else: powerless. It was in reaction to this that the Loyal were created. It was, arguably, a way for the nobles to maintain their power and it served, for some time, as a counterweight to the power of the Church. The Loyal started to rise to power as one of two things that became obvious, nobles who joined the Loyal stood to gain, those who did not quite simply did not. In the beginning it was little more than a discussion club, a place for the powerful among the nobles, landholders and merchants to meet and find ways to pit their own resources against the Church in concert. While, of course, they did not outwardly oppose the Church or the Church's existence, they had a certain dislike for it taking from them the many privileges they had once enjoyed. And enjoyed finding ways to work around the system the Church was setting up by creating its own network of people and allowing them the chance to help each other. As the Church expanded its power and increasingly needed to take its administrators from within the ranks of nobility, the pressure to join the Loyal abated somewhat and the position of the Loyal became rather more complicated. Its members were no longer solely people trying to conserve their power and wealth against the Church, they were also members of that same Church and had a vested interest in its safety. The purpose of the Loyal became more about protecting its members and less about opposing the Church. Rather than work as a counterweight to the Church, the Loyal infested it, spreading its members across the many disciplines and administrators of the Church. It is worth noting that while the Loyal have occasionally been involved in criminal activities, it is, in and of itself not a criminal organisation. With the change in membership the Loyal has slowly become an organisation that simply feeds its own needs. It's a badge of pride for those who have joined its ranks, it's a way to apply pressure for those who have advanced in its ranks or who have the ear of someone suitably powerful. One should not discount the Loyal as merely a lobbyist organisation though, it remains as powerful as it ever was. Perhaps more so. The organisation itself evolved over time, in the beginning it was little more than a loose group of nobles and other powerful figures who met and discussed things, but as the need for a coherent structure grew, it adapted a system similar to the feudal system that had been in place prior to the Church taking over.
It is not a crime to be a member of the Loyal. The Loyal are not criminals. The Loyal run criminals. As one of its many facets it runs just about every smuggling crew, pirate ship, slave trader, protection racket, illegal lottery, and other illegal organisations in Aram and far beyond the borders of the ruined city. The Loyal does this by controlling its leaders, not by taking direct control. A good few of the Loyal are leaders of various criminal organisations, for the very simple reason that if anyone not from the Loyal tries to crop up, they can gang up on them to keep them from taking over their turf. Of course, small fry such as smaller gangs and other such societal detritus are generally left alone and fall outside the purview of the Loyal. As long as they understand where their place in the hierarchy is. Of course, far from all of the Loyal belongs to the criminals. The majority of the important members of the Loyal are politicians and have important places in the Church, or vast noble holdings or merchant fortunes. These too use the Loyal as a way to enhance their business or political fortunes. Anyone within the Loyal do not prey on their comrades, and when they can, they help other members out. Which is not to say that the chief of the guards will come running every time a sewer rat belonging to one of the Loyal gets tossed in the stocks, favours need to earned and, more importantly, they need to be reciprocated. It is these favours that form the backbone of the Loyal. Favours are given to people that someone wants to introduce to the Loyal and in return they are expected to give their loyalty to the Loyal and ultimately repay the favour. Of course, as the favours become more and more serious and the debt incurred racks up the pressure racks up, it quickly becomes evident to those who've joined that there is no way out of the Loyal. Despite its criminal elements and early resistance to the Church of Luxor, the Loyal remain loyal to Arameia. This, however, is more a matter of pride and pragmatism than it is a case of love for one's fiefdom. Within the current political situation in Arameia, the Loyal retain a fair degree of power, without it, they may easily be deposed by nobles from other fiefdoms and they may lose what positions of power they have.
At its heart, the Loyal takes after the feudal system which was in place before the Church moved in. The most important person of the Loyal is always the Father. Father has a certain amount of underlings, generally known as the Sons. Among the Sons, one will always become the next Father. Generally this is done in terms of who has been a Son the longest. The Sons again serve as patrons to several lesser individuals among the Loyal. When one advances in the Loyal, the people under you do too. There are several ways to rise in the bureaucracy, the most common is by the person whose patronage you enjoy rises another step and pulls you along. For someone to rise without the aid of their patron would be considered something of a strange occurrence. The rise of a person through the ranks is generally as a result of the person above them either dying, or rising up into the ranks. A death may lead to a great deal of problems wherein a line of succession is not clear. Succession is not based on lineage, though such factors are certainly important, the Loyal are an elitist organisation, they have little interest in gutter rats. Succession is a matter of the person who were under the deceased having a chance to rise up and take the deceased's place. Generally the one who has been with the patron the longest will be the candidate, in cases where such a succession is not clearly outlined there may be some fighting between the candidates as they vie for the position. It should be noted that the Loyal's upper levels are primarily occupied by members of the old nobility in Arameia. Which means that anyone who does not have the proper lineage may end up passed over for succession repeatedly. Such a succession generally means that one person is capable of moving up in the ranks above and beyond their patron. However when it is the patron who moves up a rank, the entirety of their retinue does too, meaning that hitching yourself to a rising star is seldom a bad idea among the Loyal. However, one should not be led to believe that the power of the Loyal is based entirely on its members doing favours for each other. The lowest members of the Loyal are generally referred to as the Hands. They basically do the dirty work, often working directly for Father or the Sons, it's their job to ensure that the secrets of the Loyal are kept, and that the various members of the Loyal toe the line. Ranks in the Loyal generally follow a rough likening to the feudal system with the step below the Sons generally referred to as the Dukes, working its way all down to the Knights.
The Loyal are everywhere. At least, everywhere in Arameia. Outside of Arameia, and also in the outlying regions their reach is very limited. In its centre of power, Aram, the Loyal have a member on every major Guild, they control many of the city officials and pretty much run the city's major criminal enterprises. Outside the city its power on the ground rapidly becomes more sparse. But even so quite a few of the nobles and Church's officials that can be found throughout the countryside are also members of the Loyal. The Loyal are rarely alone. The saying goes that you cannot hide from the Loyal. However, it is, strictly speaking, untrue. It is possible to hide from the Loyal, it is very hard to do so though. Their reach outside their core territories is relatively limited. They do employ a number of assassins though and are quite capable of heavily restricting a person's movements by putting out bounties on their heads or advancing sometimes spurious claim about their criminal activities.
Recruitment primarily happens through circles of familiarity. Someone who knows someone is becomes a member of the Loyal and they pull their friends and acquaintances into the Loyal by providing them with favours through the social network that the Loyal creates. Occasionally, higher ranking members among the Loyal can also find people they have a lot of faith in and these can be introduced to the Loyal at other levels than the bottom one. Such occurrences are relatively rare, however.
The Hands are a series of soldiers that work for the Loyal, they are not themselves members of the Loyal. Specifically they take their orders from Father and the Sons, though others may temporarily commandeer them for smaller jobs. Typically they do not have soldier training, they are not an elite fighting unit in any sense of the word. Their primary job is to serve as an intimidation factor in one of two functions, acting as a bodyguard, or acting to remove any problems that have developed among the Loyal. As such the typical Hand tends to have a penchant for violence, but not necessarily a great deal of skill in it. They are often very skilled at interrogation and torture and while being in a fight with them might not always be the worst thing in the world, the last thing in the world you could possibly want is to be caught by the Hands. There are also a number of assassins listed among the Hands, not that any of them aren't capable of murder, it is just that some specialise in this kind of role more than others. The Hands are often large men, to aid them in their role as intimidators. They have no specific uniform, but will often wear black leather gloves to signify their role and attachment to the nobles in the Loyal.