Zol, 2 Rhaan 998
Az and Aelred awoke to find T’Nari and his wagon missing. They continued in the direction he had been pointing and discovered an area that had clearly contained a large camp until recently. There were clear signs of people coming in over the past few months, but no evidence of people leaving the area. There were rabbit tracks all over. The party followed some of the rabbit tracks, but they ended in a rabbit hole.
They decided to seek out the Wandering Inn to see if any travelers had seen people coming or going from the area. There weren’t any public libraries beyond the “take a book, leave a book” shelves at the various lodgings. One of them had the cover torn off of a book called "Cult Formation on the Talenta-Valenar Border, but there was no sign of the rest of the book. Because travelers coming in from Q’Barra and Valenar would pass near Cult Central, Az and Aelred sought out taverns that catered to the big folk.
In a working-class bar, they spoke to a lizardfolk who told them that there are always people trickling into that area, but he hardly ever sees people leaving. He wasn’t sure why people kept going there, because “there’s nothing there.” Aelred noticed the excessive emphasis and pressed him on the subject. The lizardfolk became agitated and told Aelred that lizardfolk children are told that wherever they wander, stay away from that area because “there’s nothing there worth finding.”
The two moved on to an upper-class tavern, with Az posing as Aelred’s bodyguard. Despite the respect gained from having a half-orc bodyguard, Aelred did not manage to gather any information before Az was confronted by a Thurashk half-orc. The half-orc took offense at Az’s apparent freelance bodyguarding. Az stated that, as far as she knew, she owed House Thurashk nothing, and she didn’t approve of an enforced monopoly. The half-orc insisted that Az was able to walk into cities without being shot on sight thanks to the work of House Thurashk, and when Az didn’t submit, he started swinging his axe. He and Az traded a few hits before Aelred drew his sword. The half-orc turned on Aelred and bloodied him, forcing him to turn invisible and flee, then turned back to Az. Az appeared to have the upper hand when the half-orc retreated to the street and called for backup. Az took the opportunity to flee out the back door. It opened into a blind alley, so she climbed the tavern walls, jumped off the roof, and fled. Aelred noted that the Thurashk bunch was satisfied at having made Az abandon her charge, and he ran to join Az before his invisibility wore off. Aelred was barely conscious due to his wounds, so Az scooped him up and carried him to the nearest temple. Upon realizing that it was a temple of the Keeper, Az ran right back out and they decided to let Aelred heal naturally on their way to Valenar.
Aelred and Az headed back to Valenar, where they researched rabbits and their relationship to Cult Central. There was very little hard evidence, but there were stories and legends scattered throughout a wide variety of faiths and cultures. The idea of somone being so engrossed in an idea that they transformed into a rabbit, or were carried away by rabbits, or hid away in the woods and only talked to rabbits, seemed to turn up all over. Sometimes the rabbits were a warning, other times a promise. Sometimes they symbolized enlightenment, sometimes dangerous fanaticism. The only common theme was the association of rabbits with singular devotion. Aelred also noticed a crackpot theory that when powerful magic and powerful belief are in close proximity to one another, they can interact to spontaneously form a living spirit of a particular ideology.
Az decided to look more closely into the lizardfolk children’s stories, and discovered something important that the lizardfolk to whom Aelred had spoke had neglected to mention. After a great deal of poetic description of various landmarks, which Az mapped out to confirm that the warning referred to Cult Central, the warning said, “Wherever you may wander, avoid this place, for there is nothing good there.” This seemed to imply that there was, in fact, something bad there. Further study of children’s stories revealed a tale of children who wandered into the forbidden area and were forced to serve a dead dragon for eternity. Az said that a dead dragon is the best kind of dragon, and Aelred pointed out that they had faced a few dead things that were decidedly scarier than their living counterparts. Suddenly, the prevalence of cults in the area made sense. A dracolitch living in the Talenta Plains for long enough to become a half-remembered legend without making its presence known must use humanoid followers to do most of its work outside its lair.
They reported their findings to the High King’s representative, who said that the prospect of a dracolitch on the border was truly unexpected. All of the great heroes who could have taken on a dracolitch had perished in the last war, so it would take an army and some careful preparation to deal with it. Az and Aelred were instructed to give the high king time to consider this news, spend some time pursuing their own private projects, and return in a week.
Az took the opportunity to spend some time meditating and drinking, while Aelred dove back into his research on the Mournland. He had previously found that most theories about the Day of Mourning focus on the creation forges. Now, he kept finding variations on the phrase “When one person is unnaturally brought to life, another unnaturally dies.” He also noticed that, whenever the creation forges had been active, there were lines of magical misfiring, particularly divination, running between Cyrie and every large population center in the world.
Meanwhile, Az realized that, the group that had survived the Day of Mourning included a kalashtar and a warforged with close ties to Valenar. She asked about Nomkaltash at the kalashtar enclave, but they assumed that she was simply trying to meet someone famous. She then turned her attention to Clarion,assuming that, because he had close ties with the Valenar, there would be information about him at the library. She was correct, finding that he had developed a small following for his philosophy of varied experience and minimal connections. She then turned to assist Aelred with his research, and they put together the final pieces of the puzzle.
Aelred looked deeper into things that had happened around the world in response to the creation forges, and he discovered that when they were active, stillbirths spiked around the world. In addition, quite a few of the children born on those days were undeniably evil. Az made the final leap, realizing that all warforged have souls, and the souls have to come from somewhere. The massive rush of souls into Cyrie had caused a sort of metaphysical maelstrom, which became self-sustaining. Every time someone dies in the Mournland, their soul fuels the maelstrom.
Az left a message with a semi-permanent kalashtar enclave for her kalashtar friends, asking them for information on Nomkaltash’s whereabouts.