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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.

Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 31, Challenge #14: Write a story in the style of a fairy tale, including phrase repetition and involving stars as physical objects. It must be serious in tone but also include a Phillips screwdriver.

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!
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Daily Deviation

Given 2018-02-14
:iconzjoriz:
zJoriz Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2018
I didn't know Philips makes screwdrivers. Quite a scary concept, now that I think about it. Not that I have figured out why.
... Aaaanyway, as always -- great writing. Also good to see there are still people around to reward good work with DDs.
Reply
:iconflannan3:
flannan3 Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2018
"Phillips" is slang for the kind of screwdriver that has a  plus-shaped end. Named after their major manufacturer or something.
Reply
:iconzjoriz:
zJoriz Featured By Owner Jul 26, 2018
Wow, quite a list there 0.o
Ah, a different Phillips, I see.
Thanks!
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:iconjssabotta:
jssabotta Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2018
I liked this quite a bit; for some reason it - although entirely original and in no way derivative -reminded me of Gene Wolfe's work.
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2018  Professional Writer
I've actually never read anything by Gene Wolfe myself, though I do have a copy of The Fifth Head of Cerberus sitting in a big pile of books by my desk. I might have to give it a go! :-)
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:iconjssabotta:
jssabotta Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2018
The Fifth Head of Cerberus  is brilliant, a great work of literature, beautiful and disturbing and you should really check it out. It's written in a slightly oblique way, and the reader is invited to figure out certain things for themselves, but, really, everything you need to know is conveyed to you, one way of another. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say in a book of such dark imagination, the creepy "Veil Hypothesis" presented early on in the narrative will have you looking in the mirror and wondering who you really are. Seriously, not to be missed.

I also recommend  John O'Hara to people, but really, only Amphy the Amphibian Girl and I appreciate John O'Hara
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:iconmkconan:
MKConan Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2018
This was really fun to read. From now on, I'll never underestimate the power of a Philips screwdriver Phew!
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2018  Professional Writer
I actually find flatheads more useful in general since they'll fit into a Phillips screw but it doesn't work the other way around.

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.
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:iconmkconan:
MKConan Featured By Owner Edited Feb 24, 2018
That's something I'll definitely keep in mind the next time I decide to build my awesome dragon bod out of crystallised sentient star remnants Wink/Razz 
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:iconfaolsidhe:
FaolSidhe Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2018
I often wonder what sort of strange and wonderful tales can be borne from the alliance of SF and fantasy. This is one answer.
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2018  Professional Writer
Personally I feel as though a lot of what's marketed as sci-fi is really more like space-based fantasy anyway. Star Wars is the obvious example, with its wizards and sword fights, but there's a good deal of overlap in plenty of other things if you go looking for it.
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:iconfaolsidhe:
FaolSidhe Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2018
True enough.
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:iconjessamar:
JessaMar Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2018  Hobbyist Writer
You've done lovely things with this challenge, and I like the way you reveal the nature of this strange world slowly throughout the tale.
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2018  Professional Writer
Thanks! This one was very close to the 1,000 word maximum for Flash Fiction Month pieces, so working the setting in one detail at a time was pretty much essential.
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:iconhannibus42:
hannibus42 Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2018  Student Writer
That was a fantastic story! Hard to imagine that you could lose with such a cool entry!


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
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2018  Professional Writer
Thanks! :-) I'm guessing you'll have found your way to the journal where I'm listed as a runner up, but Flash Fiction Month isn't really the sort of thing that can be lost (although the organisers do pick a winner for each of the four weeks). It's more of a personal challenge: if you can produce a story every day, then you've beaten the event. Even if not, though, provided you've written at least one story than you would have done otherwise, I figure that's a success in its own right.

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.
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:iconhannibus42:
hannibus42 Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2018  Student Writer
Sounds like an interesting challenge, and I'll consider your advice. Thanks for taking the time to reply. Peace out!

Oh, and I'm glad you got your funding!
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2018  Professional Writer
Thank you! :-) And do stick with it: more than anything, improving your writing is a matter of perseverance. If you can find a group or an event that encourages you to keep producing new work and doing what you can to polish it, that's a big help, but even if you're just plugging away on your own you'll still be making progress. I did have a really quick glance at your gallery and you seem to be producing a fair bit of writing already, so you're on the right track!
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:iconhannibus42:
hannibus42 Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2018  Student Writer
Yeah started in 20...15? I think. I've enjoyed it, and I believe I'm getting better. My Stories About Magic series is has the most effort put into it. Research "Magic" and related things from all over the world, looking at scans of old grimoires, understanding cultural philosophies about magic and alchemy, reading old faery tales, and doing my best to create a fully thought out Hard Magic System.

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!
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2018  Professional Writer
Ah, I know that one! Not a regular follower, but I did enjoy the episode that covered just how little sense it makes in adventure/horror stories when they've got an apex predator that does nothing but chase the same group of armed people around for days instead of simply going back to whatever easily-catchable prey it was living on before they turned up.

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.
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:iconhannibus42:
hannibus42 Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2018  Student Writer
I used to watch Cinema sins, but it just started to feel too repetitive. I've been watching "Hello Futue Me" lately. His recent videos on Magic Systems were great!

Also... Nicholas Cage in 2012? I don't remember him in that movie.
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2018  Professional Writer
I've just had a quick look at Hello Future Me - definitely seems like one to check out further!

:slow: And yeah, you're right: apparently Nicolas Cage wasn't in 2012 after all. I guess I just mentally edited him in because it was such a terrible movie.
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(1 Reply)
:iconshadowkey392:
Shadowkey392 Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2018
Ha!  I love it!
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:iconfanandartist:
FanAndArtist Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2018
Didn’t understand some parts of it, but still pretty cool
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:iconlostgryphin:
LostGryphin Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2018  Hobbyist Photographer
Very intriguing! Congrats on the DD.
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2018  Professional Writer
Thank you! :-)
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:iconcatgirldstr11:
Catgirldstr11 Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2018
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:iconhotarulolli:
hotarulolli Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2018
Wow! It was like I was transported to this world myself. This was so intriguing! I loved the twists and turns this story took, and during the whole thing I hoped each warrior would emerge victorious. Then when the squire with rhe screwdriver entered the picture I, like the dragon, laughed. But then she used it in the most unexpected of ways.... Yes. This was a wonderful tale and I hope to see more like it.
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2018  Professional Writer
Thanks! :-) I'm trying to think if I came up with anything like it in the past. The closest thing is probably The Worm of Whitewall, from earlier in the same event: it's written in a similar style and also involves an unusual method of dragon-slaying.
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:iconakrasiel:
akrasiel Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2018  Professional Writer
:lmao: Wonderful work.
Reply
:iconsaturdaystorytellers:
saturdaystorytellers Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2018  Professional Filmographer
You're on top form as usual, here! You have a way of coming up with unexpected twists, and you did so brilliantly here! Perhaps it's because dragons made of dying stars don't really exist, but it didn't occur to me that he might have that one particular vulnerability, so as such I couldn't have foreseen that twist. But it's a good'un!

Your skill of writing fairytale-esque, stark yet lush stories is in full-force here, and I absolutely gobbled up the imagery you conjured in this story. Fabulous work!
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2018  Professional Writer
Thank you! :-) I find there are a huge number of variations on this sort of story, mostly revolving around the "no man of woman born" Macbeth-style loophole: a machine that can't be destroyed can still be dismantled. There's a similar (but smaller) twist involved in the knights' weapons, in that you'd expect a perfect weapon to defeat any foe, but a sword that never breaks won't necessarily break what it strikes, and a spear that never misses isn't guaranteed to be effective when it hits.
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:iconsaturdaystorytellers:
saturdaystorytellers Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2018  Professional Filmographer
Aha, I gotcha!
Reply
:iconlemonclarinet63:
Lemonclarinet63 Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2018  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is truly amazing. For some reason thought, it also seemed familiar to me, like I heard it before when I was little, but this is a completely original story. I love the moral, and I love the unique character names. 👏👏👏
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2018  Professional Writer
Thanks! The names are actually slightly misspelled versions of certain Knights of the Round Table. :-)
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:iconsrsmith:
SRSmith Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2017   Writer
So I pretty much love everything about this. 

I do wish the universe would standardize on Robertson screws though. 
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:iconhannibus42:
hannibus42 Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2018  Student Writer
I wish the universe would standardize on not making universe killing space dragons!
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2017  Professional Writer
Wow, thank you! :-)

I don't think I've ever actually come across a Robertson screw. Personally I think there's something to be said for the simple slot screw, just because they're the easiest to work with when you don't actually have a screwdriver to hand. I don't know how much of a factor "Never mind, I'll just use this penny" would be in gaining it popularity on an intergalactic scale, though.
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:iconsrsmith:
SRSmith Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2017   Writer
Robertson is a square head, easy to seat a screw-gun bit into blind, hard to strip, good torque properties. I agree the slot suits itself to all kinds of makeshift tools, but I can't count the number of screw heads I've had to shear off or drill out over the years, and Robertson does away with almost all of that. Torx and Pentalobe on the other hand, those are just an excuse to sell fancy tools, or keep people out of things - of those I'm not a fan!
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2017  Professional Writer
Ugh, yeah. I ended up getting one of those super cheap screwdriver sets years ago - initially just because it included a tri wing bit I needed to get into a Gameboy Advance cartridge - and it's amazing how often I've had to use it for other stuff. Most recently I got a second-hand netbook online that was partially held together with Torx screws. I'm not sure why anybody bothers using them to prevent tampering when you can get the tools at Poundland.
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:iconsrsmith:
SRSmith Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2017   Writer
I think they're in league with the tool sellers!
::shakes fists at tool sellers::
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:iconrieal-dragonsbane:
Rieal-Dragonsbane Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2017  Hobbyist Writer
Awwh this is amazing. I love the tone you used and I'm real fan of cosmic level sci fi villains. The blend of sci fi and fantasy was beautiful to read.
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:iconwizardandgalaxy:
WizardandGalaxy Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
This concept is fantastic, and you carried it out so well!  (I might just be really biased towards space, dragons, and space dragons... but still!)
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:iconsquanpie:
squanpie Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2017  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Score one for the engineers!

Seriously though, I love this so much. You write this fairytale/legend style with such plausibility, and despite the slightly formulaic repetitive structure, you keep it interesting right up to the end. The mix of sci-fi and fantasy is almost perfect too. The crystal ball felt slightly out of place, but I really loved the image of Elayn maintaining the steeds

I found the line 'an unseen assailant' a little confusing, as - while I guessed it had to have been Elayn - I think I first took the 'unseen' to mean somebody we hadn't encountered either. I'm not sure I'm making sense. Basically, I think it could be clearer without loosing anything much if you say straight up that it's the squire who cudgels him. I think. :confused:

Still, I loved the ending. The way she nonchalantly swans right up to the beast, and straight down its throat - go Elayn!
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2018  Professional Writer
Thank you! :-) I actually imagined the seeing-stone as being something much bigger than a crystal ball - possibly more like a giant screen - but the word count didn't allow anything much more specific and in any case it seemed worthwhile borrowing a familiar phrase rather than risk confusing matters.

I think you're probably right about the unseen assailant: having Elayn referred to two different ways in the same sentence is a little confusing. I decided to leave it as-is for the anthology since I've always presented those as what I wrote during the month and it feels dishonest to change things beyond outright typos/mistakes, but I'll definitely take another look if I end up submitting this to any competitions or magazines or anything.
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2017   Writer
You're missing a comma after Carador responded, keeping his distance

You're right: I was initially thinking of pick-uppable stars (ie, ones that can simply be plucked from the heavens). That said, I seriously love what you've done with this. It turns sci-fi into fantasy beautifully, and definitely comes across as forebodingly epic. The language and story structure and all that are great, but the world itself is the best part.
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2018  Professional Writer
I don't know how I missed this comment. :p I stumbled across that missing comma myself just the other day and ended up reuploading the We All Saw It Coming paperback interior file (and ebook) just to fix it. This book has been tougher than most to put together in general, though, so that small change hasn't delayed it significantly in comparison to everything else. Anyway, thanks for all the help editing these: it's reassuring to know that something I thought had gone unnoticed actually hadn't. ^^;

Glad you like the story, by the way! I can't be certain of reusing this setting, but if the right challenge comes along next year then there's a good chance I'll come back to it.
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2018   Writer
Thanks for mentioning that: I've now updated my copy of the e-book!
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2018  Professional Writer
Ah - depending on when you last downloaded it, there may be other differences too. I spotted just a couple more mistakes while initially adapting the anthology for print and took the opportunity to patch up the ebook at the same time. It's all very minor at this point, though.
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