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author & artist: d.m.jewelle ([livejournal.com profile] dmjewelle)
e-mail: jv.choong [ at ] gmail dot com

It began with a plain white envelope buried under a stack of brochures on the side table.

Sedna saw his master's name printed in bold on the front, which meant it was official business, and therefore all right to open. Inside was a single sheet of paper with the words, "The Vaticanny Place wishes you Happy Birthday, Syr Finnegan". The paper was up to its eyeballs in insincerity with stock cursive font surrounded by stock flowery borders peppered with stock confetti, with Finnegan's name hastily scrawled in black ballpoint ink.

Sedna was confused. "Master Finnegan, did you have a birthday?"

Finnegan looked up from his laptop, the urban lights of the northern continent illuminating his glasses.

"What?"

Sedna waved the envelope. "There's a letter wishing you happy birthday."

"Oh, those. Put it in the bin."

Sedna blinked. "...You have a birthday?"

Finnegan stared back; neither spoke.

"Yes, I do," Finnegan flat said.

This was Sedna's cue to dump everything into the wastebasket and scoot over to Finnegan's side on his hands and knees, leaning in like an excited puppy.

"You have a birthday? Why didn't you tell me?"

Finnegan blinked. "Because it doesn't matter?"

"Of course it matters! It's a birthday! It's important!"

"Why would my birthday be important when I can't remember how many times I've turned twenty-seven?"

"Because..." Sedna was thoughtful for five seconds before brightening up. "...What's a birthday, Master Finnegan?"

The northern continent heard the sigh of their god; Nobody did anything.

"Sedna, a birthday is the celebration of the day you were born, created, or just the day you began existing."

Sedna rested a finger on his chin and pondered, head slightly tilted for maximum cuteness. "Back home, we celebrate a person's birth, their first steps, first successful hunt, their coming of age, the first time they get drunk, an' so on. We call 'em firstages, is it like a firstage?"

"Sort of, except you only celebrate your birth every year."

"Why celebrate the same firstage all the time?"

Finnegan returned to his work. "Beats me, I don't celebrate it."

"But you've celebrated your birth before, right?"

Finnegan paused before answering. "...Yes."

Sedna inched closer. "When? Who was there?"

The northern continent's midwestern caldera suddenly required close attention. "I can't remember," he mumbled through his teeth, "I was really small. Probably before my planet exploded and...stuff."

Sedna's breath fogged up Finnegan's glasses. "What about other firstages? What about before you became a god?"

Finnegan squirmed. "There wasn't much time to-"

"Did you get drunk?"

"I was in a military academy, people got suspended for nicking alcohol swabs from first aid kits!"

"So you've not celebrated a firstage since childhood?"

"Once is enough!" Finnegan snapped.

Sedna leaned back and crossed his arms - tension stretched Finnegan's body so tightly his shoulderblades jutted out from his shirt. He sat ramrod-straight, his fingers flew across the keyboard, typing empty code.

"We're celebrating your birthday, Master Finnegan."

The typing stopped.

Before Finnegan could protest, the front door slammed shut, and Sedna was gone.

Dread swirled in Finnegan's stomach.



***



"Godfrey, get out of my apartment."

Godfrey picked up and hugged a nearby cushion. The sofa hissed beneath him.

"I was researching the medicinal properties of starnilla incense, but Sedna wouldn't take no for an answer," the optimist god replied while looking at Sedna bouncing excitedly in the living room.

"Y'see Master Finnegan, I haven't had my coming of age yet, but when Garrett - he was our party's rogue archer back home - had his, the tradition was that all the guys went to the tavern, got drunk, watched the dancing girls, then ended the night with an epic brawl." Sedna's sky-blue eyes twinkled with nostalgia. "So since you pro'bly don't remember how you celebrated your birthday, I thought we could do it my way!"

"And you could only get Godfrey?"

Sedna sheepishly scratched the back of his head. "Turns out you don't have many male friends...well, Syr Hyundai Sonata was interested, but he had a plane to catch. That's okay, the three of us can have fun too!"

Godfrey perked up. "Wait, it's Finnegan's birthday? Is there cake?"

Finnegan and Sedna paused. "Cake?"

"Yeah, you've got to have a birthday cake. It's the law!"

Finnegan frowned. "What, here in the Vaticanny Place?"

Godfrey laughed. "No, just where I'm from. There's presents and a party...and sometimes strippers and beer...but cake is a must."

"What are strippers?" Sedna asked.

"I think he means wire strippers, Sedna."

"Actually it's sort of like Sedna's dancing girls, but they take off their clothes," Godfrey explained.

Sedna knitted his eyebrows together. "Sounds hard."

Godfrey nodded solemnly. "Sometimes they take years to perfect the art."

"So you're saying we need a cake before we start celebrating?" Finnegan cut in.

"Not 'we', just you," Godfrey pointed at the rebirth god. "YOU need cake on your birthday."

"We could have chocolate cheesecake," Finnegan said quietly to no one in particular, but his companions heard him just fine.

"There's a bakery outside the Vaticanny place, Astrida says they've got great cakes," Sedna suggested.

Godfrey raised his hand. "We could take my car!"

Sedna whooped. "Car! We get to sit in a car!"

"Why would we need a car? There's trains and buses all over town."

Godfrey wagged a finger at Finnegan. "When someone celebrates a birthday, they're not going home till the sun rises."

Finnegan stopped. "Wait, how long are we going out, there's work tomorr-"

The optimist god got off the sofa and let himself out. "Meet me at the Vaticanny's north gate in thirty minutes, and sure you're dressed to party. It's going to be a wild night." He winked, and shut the door.

Sedna dragged Finnegan away from his work. "We gotta get dressed, load your gun, grab your armour! This is gonna be so fun you'll remember it for life!"

Finnegan's trepidation crashed against his stomach wall. "That's what I'm afraid of."



***



Finnegan did not know much about cars, but he was quite sure cars were not supposed to look like Godfrey's.

The dark red convertible had four doors, but there were thin metal beams standing upright from the doors as if it had previously supported something above it. A large beige roll of canvas lay crumpled behind the passenger seats' headrests, with metal hooks dangling over the edge.

Finnegan stared at the beams, "What are these?"

Godfrey reached out and pushed down the beams; they bent sideways along the doors. "The car wasn't a convertible, so when I brought it here the first thing I did was turn it into one."

"But when it rains, wouldn't the roof sag without the beams?"

"Yeah, good thing I usually don't have passengers." Godfrey opened the front passenger door. "Your ride awaits, birthday boy."

True to Godfrey's word, the back seats were rarely used, which explained the slightly damp and musty smell and the squelching sound from the back seat when Sedna sat. A book and a few leaflets lay strewn on the floor, all wrinkled after several rounds of soaking and air-drying. Finnegan thanked the car seat gods (there were at least nine) that the front seat was decent.

"Where to first?" Finnegan asked.

"The cake's always the most important so we'll get that first, then we head to Club Lightning and eat it there!"

Sedna eagerly poked his head between the two gods, "Do they have dancing girls?"

Godfrey grinned. "If you stay long enough after the dancing, they open the floor for fight club."

Finnegan turned sharply. "Fight club? You go to fight club? What, losing your face twice to dragon blood wasn't enough?"

"This one's different. They allow magic."

"You don't use magic."

"No, but everyone else does, and it heals the face really quick."

Godfrey turned the ignition; Finnegan was not sure what he was expecting, but he was very surprised Godfrey's tinkering had not caused the car to fall apart or explode. The engine purred like a kitten, and the air conditioning was cool. Apparently the car was all right as long as you ignored the makeshift roof.

Finnegan recoiled when Godfrey fiddled with a series of buttons and dials under the dashboard.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm going to let you listen to the song of my people!"

"The...song...of your people?"

"I know the last time wasn't a good experience, but you'll love this one!

"Godfrey, I'm not sure if-"

A male voice cut off Finnegan's sentence; Without musical accompaniment, the voice echoed in the emptiness, hoping the vastness of space would reply. The first line was poignant, questioning the natural order of the universe, and then a simple plea to be free from mortal suffering forever:

What is love,
Baby don't hurt me,
Don't hurt me,
No more.


The sincerity resonated deeply with Finnegan's psyche as he stared stupidly and slack-jawed at the dashboard. When the music began, Godfrey's head nodded with the beat, messing up his styled blonde hair.

"Back home if you're in a car and the song starts, everyone's got to headbang."

"What if someone doesn't want to do it?" Sedna asked.

"Are you nuts? Who wouldn't want to?!"

"I was just wondering if it was the law or something, you know how Master Finnegan can ge-"

Sedna never finished because Finnegan started bobbing his head, oblivious to his associates' disbelief that the most uptight and grumpiest god this side of the universe actually enjoyed a one-hit wonder pop song...

"These lyrics are amazing," Finnegan mumbled.

...and treated it like gospel.

Godfrey released the brakes. "Well, pretty sure this is going to be his best birthday ever!"



***



"Finnegan, you gotta get out of the car to choose the cake," Godfrey said.

"Chocolate cheesecake will do just fine."

"What if they're out of that?"

"Just pick whatever," Finnegan mumbled, pressing repeat on the panel. 'What Is Love' looped for the third time.

"Got it, Master Finnegan!" Sedna gently pulled Godfrey away to the bakery.

"Wow, I know Finnegan's tastes doesn't gel with the rest of the Vaticanny Place, but I didn't expect that song to be his earworm." Godfrey could not help glancing back into his car to watch Finnegan utterly entranced by Haddaway.

Sedna blinked. "Ear worm?"

"That's when a song is so addictive it latches into your head and it never lets go."

Sedna entered the bakery with a faraway look on his face. "Huh."

At nine in the evening, the bakery shelves had only a few stray buns. A row of small cakes sat in the refrigerated display, disturbingly too well-preserved for its own good.

The attendant's mottled brown skin looked dull under the incandescent lights. Her ovoid eyes drooped, her dilated irises filled her eyes with a soft green hue. Fatigue gave her voice a soft lilting echo that made, "We're sorry, but we're out of chocolate cheesecake" sound like a lucid dream.

Godfrey looked ar Sedna, "Now what, do we pick any flavour or...?"

"No, we gotta pick whatever." Sedna rose from his knees and asked, "D'you still have the Whatever cake?"

"Yes, we have two remaining."

"Cool, we'll take one, and put some birthday candles inside!"

Godfrey watched the cashier pull out a small round cake covered in white icing sugar, and put it into a box.

"A Whatever cake?"

"Yeah. Astrida says this is the only shop that has 'em," Sedna explained. "It's got whatever flavour you want, so they say it's great if you're buying for people who can't decide what they want to eat!"

"And if you never make up your mind, does the cake have different flavours per slice?"

Sedna's expression remained cheerful, "Nah, it just tastes like wet cardboard until you decide."




***




Club Lightning's multicoloured lights pulsated in time with the beat, turning Finnegan's birthday cake into a fickle technicolour mass. In a sense it matched the purpose of the Whatever cake, since Finnegan got his chocolate cheesecake, Sedna got a creamy strawberry mousse, and Godfrey tasted blazing optimism in every bite.

Without his favourite song, Finnegan looked like his birthday was a flop. He took tiny nibbles, staring into undefined space. Even Sedna grabbing him and pointing out the dancing girls' contortions did not rouse him from his stupor.

"They're not playing that song," Finnegan said.

"You need a break so you don't get sick of it, Finnegan," Godfrey explained while washing his optimism down with a starnilla cocktail.

"I'll never get sick of it."

"You won't, but I will, Master Finnegan," Sedna said matter-of-factly while licking cake off his fingers.

Under the strobe lights it was hard to see minute expressions, but it was hard to ignore Finnegan glaring at Sedna as if he'd destroyed the universe and danced over his dead parents' graves.

Finnegan's voice dropped dangerously low. "Say that again."

"It's a good song, but it's not great-"

Finnegan enunciated each syllable slowly, "It is the best song ever," while looking dead straight at Sedna.

Godfrey's hand froze over his cocktail. Sedna looked at his master while mulling over his dialogue options, while Finnegan simply awaited Sedna's reply.

Sedna blinked rapidly before answering, "You're a real different person when you hear that song, Master Finnegan."

No reply.

"That song is evil, Master Finnegan!"

Sedna removed his Legendary Sword from his pocket dimension and brandished it in front of them for added emphasis.

"Sedna, what-"

Finnegan stepped sideways to avoid Sedna's Legendary Sword bearing down on his head. The blade whistled past his right ear and cleaved the table. Leftover cake and drinking glasses flew up and floated for several nanoseconds before crashing to the floor.

"-the HELL!"

The thing about Legendary Swords was that it was never too heavy for its owner, which explained how Sedna immediately lifted a sword triple his size and prepared for a second attack.

"Evil worm, dislodge yourself from my Master's ear, in the name of Legendary Hero Sedna!"

Now it was Finnegan's turn to look confused. "Worm?"

"Sedna, an earworm is just a figure of speech!" Godfrey struggled to be heard above the music.

"What have you been teaching him?" Finnegan demanded.

Godfrey expected several shouts of 'he's got a sword!' and 'hey it's not fight club hour yet!' but certainly not the lightning bolt that struck the back of his shoulder and threw him face-first into the splinters of the broken table. Behind them, the crowd had stopped dancing and surrounded a taser-wielding bouncer in a semicircle.

"I'm sorry, sirs, but fight club starts-"

A bright blue velociraptor leaped out from the crowd and pounced on the bouncer's head, shouting, "RIGHT NOW!"

All hell broke loose.

Club patrons turned on each other, attacking with whatever they could grab. While some awkwardly swung broken furniture pieces, the regulars either came prepared with their own weapons or threw spells like second nature, such as the nine-foot rock titan that used a broken guillotine to clear a path.

Finnegan had no time to bask in the chaos: he had to face a Legendary Hero poised to attack nonexistent worms wriggling in his inner ear with a Very Large Legendary Sword. As much as he tolerated Sedna's presence, Finnegan was not inclined to hand his head on a platter to anyone. He went into battle stance, knees bent and palms open and looking very, very annoyed. When Sedna lunged, Finnegan twisted slightly right and slid his palms along the sword's cracked and tarnished surface. As he ran towards Sedna, he left a trail of frost along the steel blade.

"Sedna, you leave my head out of this!!"

The Legendary Hero was so focused on his master's battle cry that he did not see the backhand slap whip his face. A loud CRACK rang in his ears, and his sword crashed onto the dance floor. He wobbled before stumbling backwards into someone with a wide back; This turned out to be the aforementioned nine-foot rock titan.

Godfrey spat out splinters while wondering why the room had gotten darker, and saw a rock titan towering over them with a guillotine hoisted above its head. Its roar shook them back to reality, and Sedna immediately dragged him to the exit.

"Wait, I didn't finish my drink!" Godfrey exclaimed.

Finnegan raised an eyebrow, "Really Godfrey, now?"

"It cost me fifty credits!"

"That'll teach you to drink lemonade in a dance club!"

They were very grateful for Godfrey's lack of a permanent car roof for it allowed them to jump into the car; Godfrey sped off, but the titan's stomps echoed behind them.

Sedna knelt on the back seat while looking at their pursuer. "Syr Godfrey, you might wanna slow down and hit the brakes."

"Why would I even do that?!"

"Well it's raising its foot and lemme tell ya, anything that does that in a boss fight means-" Several tons of interplanetary rock formed a crater around the titan's foot. The resulting shockwaves raised the car above the ground; without traction the vehicle coasted on air and vibrations, sending it flying into a nearby storefront.

"Hit the brakes, Syr Godfrey! The brakes!" Sedna screamed, clinging to the car door for dear life.

"Brakes don't work on air!" Godfrey yelled back, frantically turning the steering wheel. He turned to his left and saw Finnegan rifling through a beaded bracelet.

"What the hell are you doing?!" he shouted.

Finnegan plucked a white bead, clasped it until bright blue beams leaked through his fist, then threw the bead at the storefront. The bead expanded, its rounded sheen fading and turning into the consistency of a marshmallow. Smaller protruberances branched out into limbs and a head, a cloudy marshmallow giant that received the car with its hands. Momentum drove it into its squishy palms like a steel pipe through a pillow, pushing it backwards against the storefront. It dug its heels into the pavement until the car stopped, cushioned by soft rubbery chewy goodness.

All was quiet until the marshmallow giant leaned on the storefront and smashed its display window, triggering the burglary alarm.

Sirens blared.



***



The rock titan's gracious apology truly made it larger than life.

"I am terribly sorry about the damage. I have been bumped into many times, but I do not know what triggered such a violent reaction."

Sedna waved his hand. "Nah, s'right, technically it was a bar fight. It's the heat of the moment, y'know."

"If I may offer any form of compensation-"

"You offered to pay for the store damage, that's already pretty swell of you." Sedna turned back to Godfrey's car - now carefully parked beside the curb. "Pretty sure Syr Godfrey and Master Finnegan are gonna thank you for it too," he continued.

Police tape kept curious onlookers at a distance. A portly reddish beast waved its stubby arms and occasionally pointed to small damaged sections of the store while a humanoid officer took dictation on his tablet; another policeman watched Sedna and the titan while inspecting the area; Godfrey and Finnegan were the center of attention, what with Astrida in full Vaticanny security uniform leaning on the car door.

"So it happens I'm on night shift, and this junior runs in and says a car crashed into a marshmallow that fell on a building in Outer Vaticanny, and I was like, 'What's that got to do with me?' and the boy says gods are involved so of course we have to investigate, and look who's here!" Her hand rested on her waist, failing to conceal her bemusement.

"The birthday party got a little wild, yeah," Godfrey said.

"Oh, happy birthday Syr Godfrey!"

"Not mine," the optimist god pointed to Finnegan, "His."

Astrida's eyes widened. She pointed at Finnegan. "His?"

"Yeah, I just found out today."

Astrida's eye twitched. "We've known each other for years, and you never wanted to celebrate your birthday!"

Finnegan buried his face in his palms.

"You never celebrated mine, or Sedna's, and suddenly when you do you don't even think of inviting me?"

Godfrey opened his mouth, then quickly shut it.

Astrida slammed down on the bonnet and left a palm-shaped dent. "That's just like you, remembering things when it's convenient! Don't you dare say Sedna set you up to this because you're too chicken to say no to anything he suggests! 'Let's go hunt the endangered bokochos' he says, and you tell ME to stop him because-"

Godfrey smiled helplessly at Astrida's tirade.

"Godfrey?" Finnegan mumbled through his fingers.

"Yeah?"

"...Play me the song of your people."




END


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