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by Ethagon

Dragonslaying was once a divine duty.

The Catholic Church would send its best warriors to lay any of the hell beasts to rest. They cleansed the lands of dragons so thoroughly, they soon became the stuff of legends and nobody knew of their noble deed. Still, the dragons did not remain idle and the Royal Office for Christian Artifacts carried on.

But there came a time when the Church, and with it, the Office, lost some of its influence over the western world. Soon some of the dragon-slayings became known and with it came outcries for wasting resources for hunting fictional monsters. At first, the Office resisted, but in the end, they withdrew their efforts.

The dragons however did not. Free of their holy counterpart, they wreaked havoc on unsuspecting villages until anyone who cared knew that these monsters were very much real. Some might even suspect that the Office intentionally withdrew itself completely so that all its critics might see how dependent they are on the Church.

But this is not what happened.

Instead, boisterous adventures tried to fill the void the Royal Office for Christian Artefacts left behind. Soon they came together to build a new Order of Dragonslayers that relied on the virtues of science instead of help from the divine.

And yet, there were still too many dragons. Even this new Order could not prevent all dragon attacks and the number of unprevented ones steadily grew ever larger than it had been in the time of the Office.

Their attacks escalated until a whole city was destroyed by multiple dragons. They were barely any survivors and only one of noble blood. This lord was all too eager to hoard the remaining residents. The Dragonslayers were still arguing with him when he transformed into a dragon right in front of their eyes.

It remained unknown to them what caused this mutation until the Office decided to share its knowledge. The Fafnir-word, they called it, for it took the greed in the hearts of its victims and pulled it outward. The greater the greed, the greater the dragon.

'Well,' the Dragonslayers discussed among themselves. 'It stands to reason that if this is caused by a word then it can also be stopped by one. We just need to invent it.' But helping in this the Office refused. 'This word is a divine gift to reveal the sins that are kept close to the heart. The only action to be taken is to periodically cleanse this opened greed, but leave the word itself unharmed.' Outraged were the Dragonslayers at this response. How could they support an evil that could have been destroyed ages ago? The Dragonslayers swore to never go down this path and heed the Office's advice no longer.

Without the help of the Office, the Dragonslayers started the labour of constructing a word that could pierce Fafnir. They searched many corners of the occult to find something that would help. From exorcisms over prayers and "spells" to words of wisdom. Even one of the Schriftsteller decided to give his help to the construction.

Finally through skill, research and pure luck, the word was invented. They called it Notung and it was the first true countermeme of its kind, though it wouldn't be called as such until much later. For the first time Fafnir and not its off-spring was slain. 'This', the Dragonslayers said. ' is a Foundation that can be built upon.'

And it had to be built upon, as soon they discovered, that Fafnir may have been slain, but not defeated. Still, there were aspects of it, most minor and less severe, that coursed through the languages of civilization. With the main threat gone, however, the rest of the battle could be fought in secret and dragons entered the realm of myth once more. They took Notung and on its pattern, many more swords were forged, that could be ridden into battle to slay the hidden dragons.

Evermore did the Dragonslayers understand the science within these magical words. In the hope to forge better weapons, that they may defeat Fafnir once and for all, the Dragonslayers set forth to dive into this strange new science and make interesting discoveries.

The world, however, had other plans. Instead of new ore to forge weapons from, the Dragonslayers just found more dragons.

A pattern that makes all who see it a slave to its propagation infected large parts of the Order. The pattern is destroyed, too dangerous to research, but it was rediscovered again and again until finally the last instance was destroyed. Hopefully for good.

A hymn that consumes traditions of winter was discovered by chance. If the Dragonslayer's opinion of the Office hadn't been low already, the fact that they helped to propagate their own dragon would have sealed the deal.

A sect that spread lies about its five-headed dragon was swiftly dealt with and just as swiftly forgotten.

Many small threads found their way into the Dragonslayer's hands and were either archived for research or destroyed for their danger. But the production of new weapons was slow. They no longer had the herculean effort and resources that were offered to them for the creation of Notung. And aside from some strengthening poems of dragon-slaying, stolen from the Office, none of the new weapons were useful for long. They were too brittle, too weak. What the Order lacked was a method to test their weapons. Somebody to sharpen them on. But no solution that didn't risk too much or endangered human life was found.

Still for all the new research dragons still needed to be slain. And so they did.

Without better weapons it had to be the Order itself that needed to be grander. They perfected their art as much as anyone can perfect dragon-slaying. Soon all of Europe was covered by the dragonslayer's valiant effort against the insurmountable, but still hidden as the Order had decreed. In the public dragons must remain in myth, their death dealt in secret by the Order, lurking below the ground of society.

It wasn't long until they were joined by others. Or maybe what joined them had existed before, the Order had ever only focused on dragon-slaying after all. And in dragon-slaying, they noticed these others. Organizations that handled things that shouldn't be, things unexplainable by science and more recently also dragons.

There was much discussion in the Order, about what should be done with these others. 'Let them', most said. 'More dragonslayers means fewer dragons. New hands never hurt, maybe they'll even find new weapons.' 'They could never succeed at something we didn't achieve ages ago', others countered. 'They are not skilled in the art, what if they falter?'

It was decided that the Order would support most of these Organizations. To send a few knights, that give advice and stay as eyes for the Order. But one organization, they feared, came to close to failing in the art of dragon-slaying. With a heavy heart, the Order decided the best course of action would be to devour it whole.

Afterwards, they returned below ground, even deeper hidden from society than the other organizations, doing what they did best, dragon-slaying. So absorbed were they in their task, that they barely took notice of how the others build networks above and around them, finding themselves amidst a system that would one day be so much greater than the sum of its parts.

These other organizations, precursors they'd be later called, separated themselves more and more from the countries and religions they represented, growing their network ever tighter. An effort the Order was largely uninterested in. Still, they slithered into the cracks and build their cave in the ties these organizations made.

In their cave, they slumbered, brooding about new findings by the others above, ore that the Order would have been denied if they had no ears in this newfound cooperation. Research could finally begin anew, however limited it was.

Spain found an interesting Aztec prayer that the Order gladly gave their attention to in return for the knowledge of this new-forged weapon, unbeknownst to the precursors.

Sometime later all that cooperation reached its tipping point and the Foundation emerged. The Order of Dragonslayers, in its cave amid this vast network, helped to build this new organization, so that their weapons may become an intrinsic part of it. And while they never had a seat in the Council, they would always have its ears.

In this new global effort, resources seemed limitless and the former Order finally got the solution it had yearned for. D-Class. The effects of both weapons and dragons alike could now be tested and reproduced without consequence. Research exploded and the former Order prospered.

Dragons both old and new were slain en masse. The prey brought back to the cave and their corpses vivisected.

Only seldom did they leave their cave to help the Foundation at large. One such occasion was the Panopticon Crisis, although their part in the solution, The Frontispiece, was ultimately negligible. Far greater however was the price received from the crisis. New sections sprung up around the globe, as the world ushered from the age of proto-memetics to memetics, and the former Order folded itself in amongst the burgeoning new science of memetics within the Foundation, helping to usher in a new division that would later be known as the Central Memetics Department.

The Department grew and with it the Foundation. It grew so large that it discovered the forgotten fruit. To eat from this fruit, one head wouldn't do. A new department, a second head would be needed to savour the taste of the fruit. The second Memetics Department was a head made of counterconcepts. Or was it antimemes? It didn't matter, because the second head vanished as soon as it took its first bite. Only very little could be saved by the First Head, devoured again.

Dragons, as had once been their purpose, were not a problem anymore. The slaying had long since been standardized and even the once-mighty Fafnir had been reduced to entry NOO-666073 in the concept and cognitohazard repository that was the horde they were sleeping on. They had grown fat in their cave, barely moving only roaring to command the life of others.

The third head grew all on its own, of people both dissatisfied and curious. Central Memetics ejected them from their cave and they scattered around the world across all Foundation facilities as their very own Memetics Specialists or joining the Memetics Divisions of other sites. In the uninformed's eyes, they represented the whole of the Memetics Department. Unaware of the greater depths that tethered every specialist still, the central head they all dreaded to report to.

As the years went by, more and more insects surrounded the cave, pestering it to change its procedures. But noisy as they may be, the insects were far too harmless to require special attention. So they slept over it.

Only the insects did not cease, instead becoming larger and louder, their claims more outrageous. D-Class were supposed to be a moral failure? Memes should be explained? How dare they. There was a right way to do things and these fools had no respect for the power they build upon.

The Central Memetics Department soon found out, that this problem would resolve itself soon. The Impasse would, in the end, take most of the Foundation with it, they concluded. And they gave their house-made memes and cognitohazards a good chance to persist the longest, to tight were they bound to containment to simply vanish like all inferior sciences. Even if the central head would lose its ability to breathe fire, were they not big enough to persist no matter what? Yes, they could not fade.

Around its cave, the Foundation got to work and found its way out of the Impasse by the closest of margins. Their efforts culminated in a vote that the Central Memetics Department only heard about after the fact. Sure, the Council could only be bent so much before it broke apart, but this time it would not bend at all. Thankfully the dissolution of the Foundation was opposed by seven of thirteen overseers and everything stayed as it should be.

Unfortunately with the end of the Impasse came the return of the insects. They were not pleased with the outcome of the Impasse and added it to the noise of their prior complaints. Getting ever more persistent and bolder in pestering the central head in its cave. This could be tolerated no longer. No, maybe the point had come where the First must crawl out of its cave and roar in all its majesty to remind the world of its keeper.

And they still thought themselves Dragonslayers.

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