Once upon a time, in a world far distant, the night sky grew dark. Slowly, at first, the stars grew dim. The king’s philosophers at first thought that this was nothing more than the action of passing aeons, and that more would burn anew. But ere long their numbers dwindled, and the naked eye saw plainly what no telescope could: the stars were consumed.
Troubled, the king sent out his greatest knight upon a steed of chrome. Agravane was that knight’s name, and in his hand he bore a sword born of a dying star. Never would that blade break, and never would its edge grow dull. For many weeks Agravane rode through the void, and for as many weeks the king watched through the seeing-stone that stood before his throne.
At last, Agravane found his foe, and the king at last saw who it was who plucked the stars from the aether like grapes from the vine.
It was a dragon, vast as his kingdom and black as the void. Each wing was as wide as a galaxy, and its eyes glowed like quasars. Its manner and its motions were that of a great animal; its structure and its form, that of a terrible machine.
When the dragon spoke, it spoke not to the knight before it, but to the king beyond the stone: “I have lived since before the days of time. Since before the noise of creation and beyond the notion of being. Your universe is an affront to me, but in its matter I have found a host, and that host offers a solution. From one hundred billion dying stars I built this body, and with it I shall consume all the living stars that remain. Then there shall be stillness and silence and peace until the heat death of the universe, wherein there shall be stillness and silence and peace still.”
In his throne, the king trembled at the threat of such a foe. But Agravane was fearless.
He held aloft his sword: “You might have seized your matter from the stars by force, but mine was a gift granted in a time of dire need. When I stood alone against the hordes of Far Reach and my weapon snapped in twain, bright Achernar crystallised into a blade that would never fail me so.”
But though Agravane was fearless, he was not wise, and his sword did not avail him: the dragon was forged of star-steel too, and though the blade did not dull against its scales, neither could it cut them, and the beast crushed him in its mighty hand unhindered. Agravane’s sword was lost to the aether whence it came.
Fearful, the king sent out a second knight upon a second steed. Carador was this knight’s name, and in his hand he bore a spear born of a dying star. Never would that shaft snap, nor would the point fail to find its mark. For many weeks Carador rode through the void, and for as many weeks the king watched through the seeing-stone.
“What fool comes to challenge me?” demanded the dragon, in a voice that carried even through the void.
“No fool am I,” Carador responded, keeping his distance, “for I carry the same spear that came to me during the siege of Omega Centauri when my own weapon was lost.”
The dragon snorted: “Never can you pierce my scales with your stick.”
Carador took aim: “I do not intend to try.”
He did not direct his spear against the dragon’s scales, but instead towards one of its vast eyes. Unerring, the spear flew, yet clattered from the boiling orb: even the eyes were forged of star-steel, and even the eyes could not be harmed.
With a single pulse of its fiery gaze, the dragon tore the knight’s very atoms asunder, and Carador’s spear too was lost to the aether whence it came.
Holding little hope, the king summoned still one more knight. Gilhault was this knight’s name, and in his hand he bore a hammer born of a dying star. When swung, the head was weightless, yet when it struck a foe it held the mass of a thousand moons.
But before Gilhault could mount his steed, an unseen assailant cracked his visor with a cudgel so he could not brave the void: Elayn, his squire, stole the reins and rode off in his stead.
Furious, the king sent all his knights to pursue her, but all were left behind: none tended the steeds with more skill or kindness than Elayn, and so none could catch Gilhault’s, which she had so long cared for.
Elayn faced the dragon.
The dragon laughed. “Will you fight me with a simple cudgel?”
“No.” Elayn drew her own gift of star-steel from her voidcloak. “With this.”
And the dragon laughed louder, for the item she produced was but a Phillips screwdriver.
“I too was at the battle against the hordes of the Far Reach, and there my master was dismounted. I leapt through the void to reach his steed, but found it maimed beyond motion. For weeks we drifted, helpless, until we were caught in the orbit of Leporis. From that star was born this screwdriver, and with it I saved this steed.”
“Go home, little girl,” said the dragon. “You have some years yet before I trouble myself with your sphere: do not forfeit them.”
Elayn did not answer this insult. She merely charged forwards, and the dragon, without even going to the effort of stretching out its neck, consumed her whole.
But though every piece of the dragon was formed of a dying star—every piece indestructible—they were held together with screws of star-steel. And though their threads would never strip and their shanks never break, no bond held them in their place but simple force.
In this way, with nothing but a screwdriver, Elayn beheaded the monster whose neck no blade could sever.
This challenge was set by GDeyke and I picked it largely for the star thing. I accidentally set the final element of the challenge myself by chiming in with it during the Flash Fiction Month Discord chat, but if anything that was sort of a bonus: I suggested it primarily because Phillips screwdrivers are my favourite murder weapon (in fiction). Honestly, if you want to see what I do with these things in a non-fantastical setting, put in a pledge for Ten Little Astronauts.
Though it was a big part of what appealed to me, I'm not 100% sure this was the intention for the whole "stars as physical objects" thing. I sort of got the impression that the idea might have been a universe in which stars are inherently pick-uppable and occasionally drop within reach, but since the letter of the rules only specified "involving" I figured I could tick that box by having huge, hot, far-away stars that merely turned into practical items. I'd be curious to know if that's in keeping with the original idea or if I've somehow sidestepped a challenge without ever really being aware of it. But I didn't want to find out until the thing was written which is why I didn't yelp that out in the Discord chat.
All in all, I think this was a good note to end on for my sixth Flash Fiction Month. If nothing else, a mechanical dragon bigger than two galaxies and older than the universe itself is probably the least plausible bad guy I've ever written into anything (though for the purposes of the challenge I hope it comes across as forebodingly epic rather than comically impractical).
If you've enjoyed this story, you can find the rest of today's submissions here, and all my previous Flash Fiction Month stories collected as OCR is Not the Only Font, Red Herring, Bionic Punchline, Osiris Likes This and Robocopout.
If you've really enjoyed this story, please consider supporting my sci-fi murder mystery novella, Ten Little Astronauts. Essentially, it's Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None if the whole story took place on board an interstellar spacecraft. The book has been accepted for publication by Unbound, who have launched a crowdfunding campaign complete with a video filmed on board a submarine. Most pledge levels include every book I've ever written, plus a bunch of other rewards, plus you'll be helping to launch my career as an author. Take a look!
I also recommend John O'Hara to people, but really, only Amphy the Amphibian Girl and I appreciate John O'Hara
Which is the other moral of the story, I guess: if you're a primordial force of oblivion building an awesome dragon bod out of crystallised sentient star remnants, don't hold it together with anything that can be unfastened using common household tools.
Sorry to ask this, but I also like to write fantasy and science fiction on here... would you mind giving me your thoughts on my work? Specifically my recent "Stories About Magic" series. Anything you could say would be helpful, and I'd give you a horrible pun that I thought of while reading this in return. XD
There's no harm in asking for feedback, but I'm afraid I really don't have the time. Ten Little Astronauts recently got its funding and I'm just starting to edit now: if everything goes as planned it should be hitting shelves later this year! Also, I already moderate the Hampshire Writers' Society critique group, and that's about all I can do to help with other people's work. If you can find something similar near you, I highly recommend it: it's a lot easier to go over stories and make notes in person, and long-term feedback from a dedicated group is generally more useful than a quick check from just one person. Also, chances are that identifying problems in other people's work will give you a leg up in improving your own. I've been attending one group or another for the best part of a decade now, and that's been one of the biggest benefits of it.
Sorry for rambling just now. Oh! Something that's helped my writing lately is the YouTube channel "Terrible Writing advice"! Where the narrator sarcastically gives bad advice about writing, as a unique to point out certain tropes can potentially ruin your story if not implemented creatively. Definitely worth checking out if you don't already watch his content!
CinemaSins can be worth watching for much the same reason, but I hesitate to outright recommend it because they'll regularly highlight things that are more recurring tropes than actual problems. When they cover the movie 2012, for example, they highlight that Nicolas Cage running after a plane on a runway makes no sense because at any speed he'd be able to catch up, the plane wouldn't even be close to taking off. However, the way they add up the "sins," that's directly equivalent to a character saying the title of the movie within the movie ("Roll credits!" *DING*), which arguably happens more often than not.