[[Out-of-character note: There are some clues in this document to what's going on. Some are obvious, some are not.]]
Lord Raymond receives a report on The Dragon Cult from Professor Yusef Ad-Din, as acquired by the Professor from several of his colleagues. Lord Raymond decides to post the report in its entirety.
The Lore of the Dragon Cult
Various Scholars of the Lycaeum
at the request of one of their own, Professor Yusef Ad-Din
You asked for a writeup on the alleged ancient dragon-worshiping cult un-creatively known as The Dragon Cult.
The short answer is that, as far as we can tell, this this entity never really existed at all, and the recent group calling itself that is the first actual appearance of such a group.
The longer answer begins with the undeniable fact that, in the chaotic days following The Shattering, many of our ancestors came to worship power above all things. While power offered the potential for oppression, it also offered the potential for protection. Worshiping it, therefore, seemed natural to our ancestors.
On the human and natural side of things, many common people came to quite-willingly follow tyrannical local lords. (There's a tendency to think that tyrants always come to power against the people's wishes, but unfortunately sometimes people will support tyrants because tyrants are perceived as strong.)
And, on the in-human and super-natural side of things, dragons were the most-powerful beings imaginable to our ancestors. (There is indeed some dispute as to whether or not all of the worshiped dragons actually were dragons at all, as opposed to demons or some other creatures simply called “dragons” because dragons had so-come to symbolize power and majesty to our ancestors that all powerful monsters were called “dragons.”) Therefore, to form cults or other small-scale religious sects that worshiped dragons seemed quite natural to our ancestors, and many such groups formed.
These groups had little in common save evil. Some were groups of warriors who took on dragonic symbols and conducted raids on innocents, some were priests and clerics and necromancers who sought in and from dragon-kind divine guidance, some were mere peasants who groveled before any dragon they could locate. But in any case the groups all did what evil they could in whatever manner they could, seeking to become more like dragon-kind and to achieve dragon-kind's respect.
It must be said that most of these cults did not last very long, and most of their members did not live very long. Intelligent dragons manipulated them at best, and toyed with them at worst. Many of these early cult members were slowly killed or ruined by dragons performing experiments on them. A popular experiment, judging by the few surviving records left by the dragon cults, consisted of repeatedly burning and healing a human's skin to see to what extent humans could successfully recover from severe burns.
And dumb, non-intelligent dragons, the ones that are just animals rather than full-fledged members of the ancient and intelligent race of dragon-kind, most of the time simply ate the humans who came to fall at their feet and worship.
It is indeed not clear how any of these cults could possibly survive, but somehow enough did that records were kept and their exploits were recorded – and mythologized.
As stated, there were many of these cults. Here are some examples.
“The Followers of the Black Daughter” worshiped a shimmering black dragon (we now speculate that it was actually a Shadow Wyrm of some kind) that lived in and around the mountains north of Minoc. When the Black Daughter was slain by an unnamed great hero, that great hero then had to defeat the entire cult in battle as they attempted to seek revenge.
“We, the Forgotten” was perhaps the largest of these groups. It existed in and around the vicinity of what's now the area of the City of Trinsic. They worshiped a dragon that none claimed to ever have actually seen, one they merely called “An-Hil-em, the Destroyer.” They committed many atrocities, and one account suggests that it was their activities that eventually led to the construction of walls around Trinsic – and the beginning of the Paladin tradition, as the people had to cultivate elite warriors to counter the cult's elite warriors.
“The Forsaken, the Wicked” was highly similar to “We, the Forgotten,” but operated in and around the area now known as Yew. They also appear to pre-date “We, the Forgotten.” Like “We, the Forgotten,” “The Forsaken, the Wicked” worshiped a dragon none of them ever claimed to have seen but which they various called “Aven-Alem” or “The Lost One.” (It should be noted that both groups' high points were some decades before Galahad came over from Tokuno to our lands, and that whatever he encountered back then likely was the last vestiges of one or both of these groups.)
“The Playthings of the Red Wyrm” are a particularly disturbing group. They existed in and around the settlements that eventually became the City of Britain and willingly submitted themselves to the bizarre experiments of a highly intelligent red dragon that terrorized the area. Some scholars had long-claimed that the group was offering themselves as a kind of sacrifice, to keep the dragon from hurting others in the community. This, however, is not likely – the dragon continued to do whatever damage it could do. So either the cult was rather stupid, or, more likely, they offered themselves for their own reasons. The dragon was eventually slain by a group of heroes whose names unfortunately were not recorded. The cult could not seek revenge, as by this point they long-ago had all died from the dragon's experiments.
Please note, however, that none of these groups were actually called The Dragon Cult. The Dragon Cult is a fiction that is the result of the mythologizing of these actual cults. The Dragon Cult, by that name, is an invention of story-tellers who conflated the exploits of many of these existing groups into a single group, for purposes of story-telling convenience.
Most people don't have a cause to ever know this, and thus think that a single group existed, credited with most of the exploits of the real groups, and then some. Most Professors who study folklore or antiquities, such as yourself, must on occasion make reference to the exploits of the dragon cults, and on occasion make the error of referring to them as a single group called The Dragon Cult. However, most of you in that field of study are careful to refer to reference “The Dragon Cults,” not “The Dragon Cult,” in their scholarly works. While you Folklorists are not always specifically aware that the existence of a single entity by this name is a complete fiction – nor do you really need to be in most instances, as it is at most of tangential relevance to your own work – , as scholars you've admirably mimiced the language of those who study the cults. So even if you think of the group as one entity, you to your credit phrase your written works accurately.
We note, Yusef, that you were always careful: Your works on The Cup of Virtue and the Paladin Galahad always reference “Cults,” not a single cult. We would expect nothing less from you.
We suppose that when this new group appeared, many people, yourself included, simply forgot to be careful, and fell back onto thinking of, and describing, the group as a singular.
And we must again note that, yes, this group does appear to be new: They may be based on or attempt to emulate earlier groups, or on the legend of a singular Dragon Cult, but as such a group hasn't existed until these people appeared not too long ago, the group must be called new.
You may cite this or reproduce it or show it to whom you feel necessary and proper, in whole or in part. We wish only to help.
Hopefully this can clear up soon. Now that we know the Cup of Virtue you have long been chasing actually exists, many of us are eager to see your quest succeed. And it seems that, whenever you take a few steps forward, something horrible happens that delays you.
Very Truly Yours
[Signed with the names of several scholars of the Lycaeum]