e-mail: jv.choong [ at ] gmail dot com
A/N: Takes place in the same universe as this story
Weirdly for a desert made entirely from glass, there were no traces of anyone else ever having been here.
Every two steps Finnegan would get on his hands and knees and check for scratches, scuff marks, slime residues, any indication of life. The Lonely Universe guidebook had mentioned the planet received fifty visitors a day, but it was overly optimistic to think everyone practiced the "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints" credo all the time.
Finnegan turned back to the faint boot marks he had made. The glass wasn't impervious to signs of wear; the question was where on the planet everyone visited-
"Master Finnegan, there you are! I was looking all over for you!"
-Or whether it had been a good idea to bring Sedna.
Finnegan had stumbled upon the blue-haired Legendary Hero in a severely weakened state when he'd defeated a large black dragon a month ago, and Sedna had decided there and then that Finnegan was his Master and he would follow and serve him until either one of them kicked it. While Sedna had his uses, the Legendary Hero's lack of caution and common sense overshadowed his good intentions and strength - Finnegan was only a couple of years older, but at least he knew better than to stomp around a glass planet in heavy-duty adventuring boots.
"Did you find anything?" Finnegan asked.
Sedna shook his head. "It's really all glass and sky, Master Finnegan...Where did all this glass come from, anyway?"
Finnegan sighed. He had seen himself doing the whole exposition thing to Sedna, he had. He had seen it hours ago, but that didn't make it any less tiresome.
"Once upon a time," Finnegan started, "This planet used to belong to a god. One day that god left, and next day, BAM, the whole planet turned to glass. No more cities, no more people, just glass in every direction. Nobody knows how or why it happened, but The Vaticanny Place can't hand the planet over to anyone else since it can't sustain life. People come to break the glass, but they barely crack it and the planet repairs itself quickly." Finnegan turned around and pointed to a spot just behind Sedna. "Look where your big clumsy footprints were –they're not there anymore" Sedna turned to look, getting on his hands and knees. As Finnegan had said, the surface reflected him with no trace of his boot prints. He oohed in awe, briefly fogging up the ground with his breath.
Sedna got back up. "Can't this happen naturally?"
Finnegan dug the toe of his boot into the ground. "Deserts never happen naturally. Normal people think they do, but in every case it's really because a god put a mountain or a river in the wrong place. Then the ground dried up and voila, desert. It's an easy enough mistake to make, and then of course your planet's people can also burn everything down and make their own." He put his hands into his jacket pockets. "Shame about going home empty-handed; I was hoping for an artefact for my world."
"Maybe you could use this panther-thing?"
Finnegan blinked. "What panther-thing?"
"This panther-thing staring at us." Finnegan saw Sedna pointing to the ground. Finnegan sighed.
"Sedna, this is a desert, nothing's lived here for ages-"
Beneath the surface at his feet, a pair of large yellow eyes stared at him.
Seleucid Year 95932, Rollback 4
Finnegan was the last person Esterhazy expected.
Dressed in the black uniform all Common gods wore, black wavy hair slicked back, black-rimmed spectacles replaced with contact lenses for the occasion, Finnegan stood in front of Esterhazy's cell adjusting his white silk gloves. Locked up, even a seven-foot ex-god like Esterhazy looked like a pushover, but since their last fight had resulted in, among other things, the whole West Grounds of the Vaticanny Place (and its inhabitants) being encased entirely in glass, while hundreds of glass-beasts battled the survivors, Finnegan preferred to maintain a safe distance between him and his former teacher.
"Don't you have an installation to attend?" Esterhazy teased.
"I have half an hour," Finnegan shrugged. After an awkward moment, Finnegan spoke again, "Do you know where they'll send you?"
Esterhazy shook his head. Silence fell again as he waited for the next question.
Finnegan took a deep breath. "Why did you do it?"
"I told you, I care about this place. It's more than I can say for you."
Finnegan straightened his back and stood his ground. "I do care about The Vaticanny Place."
"No, you don't." Esterhazy leaned forward in his bench, "And you won't give a damn about anything either, because your heart's got no love in it; you’re nothing like Smiley, and he'd be disappointed if he saw you now."
"My master wouldn't care," Finnegan said.
"He let you live."
"He shot me in the face and threw me from the sixth floor!" Finnegan's hands slammed the bars so hard the sound rang down the corridor.
Esterhazy tensed. He took a deep breath and relaxed his shoulders. "Smiley had bigger things to care about: bigger than you, me. Or this place. Maybe you'll figure it out, but I'm not betting on it."
"I'm a god."
Esterhazy shrugged. "So's everyone else here."
Gritting his teeth, Finnegan pushed away from the bars and stormed off.
"Is it trapped, Master Finnegan?"
"I don't know, maybe? It's underneath the glass; it's not like we can break it free or anything."
Sedna pulled out his Legendary Sword and raised the handle above his head, tip aimed at the ground. "One way to find out!"
Finnegan started. "Wait, Sedna, don't-"
The blade smashed halfway through the glass. Cracks spread from the hole, and it was just Finnegan's bad luck that two of those cracks ran under his feet, sending him falling through the floor. He briefly lost his bearings, and only came to when he collided, hands-first, with a hard surface. Groaning, he rolled off his arms onto his back. The glass was much darker inside; his surroundings were heavily tinted save for the sunlight shining through the hole.
Despite being perched upside down on the undersurface of the planet, the panther-beast lost none of its menace. It padded towards the hole, barbed tail trailing behind; the glass rippled with every step it took, and as it moved across, the glass spread like cement until Finnegan's only exit was sealed off.
The beast turned to Finnegan.
Finnegan cursed to himself.
Seleucid Year 95930, Rollback 98
Esterhazy poured a cup of coffee, looking at his student eating a bowl of cereal over a pile of scattered books and notes at the kitchen counter. He cleared his throat, "Hey, what happened to that girl you were seeing? Astrida, was it? Haven't seen her in a while."
Finnegan did not look away from his notes. "We broke up."
Hardly unexpected, Esterhazy might as well ask. "Shame, she was nice. What happened?"
Finnegan shoveled another spoonful of cereal into his mouth. "I don't know, not paying attention to her or something."
"She was right," Esterhazy said, sipping his coffee. Finnegan stopped and looked up, eyebrows furrowed.
"You've been buried in your notes for the last six months. Taking a break would do you good."
Finnegan swallowed his food. "The entrance exam for new gods is next year. I don't know when my next chance is if I fail. If she can't understand that, then maybe she shouldn't date god candidates in the first place."
"Finnegan," Esterhazy asked, "If you can't take care of one girl, how will you take care of millions and billions of living things on your planet when you become a god?"
Finnegan blinked, shrugged, and then resumed reading with a helping of cereal. "Probably the same way my master did."
Esterhazy opened his mouth, paused midway, shut it without a word, and then left with his coffee.
Finnegan was eternally grateful for his choice in footwear; the beast constantly leaped and bounded around the inside of the hollow glass sphere to close the holes Sedna was making on the other side, and Finnegan's rubber-soled boots prevented him from accidentally sliding into its maw as he scrambled out of the way. Finnegan tried to open up a hole of his own by shooting the glass at his feet – this planet had the weirdest gravity - but the bullets wedged firmly into the thick layer of glass and the beast immediately came to smooth over the damage, bringing things back to square one.
Finnegan heard soft thumping, and glanced down to see Sedna's face pressed into the glass on the other side.
The glass muted external noises, but Finnegan managed to decipher "Got any plans?" from Sedna's lips. Hopping around the inside of a glass ball playing cat-and-mouse with a beast faster and seemingly smarter than him made Finnegan willing to try anything; he pointed to the opposite side of the glass ball and made stabbing gestures with his hands. Sedna gave a thumbs up signal, and then sprinted away, as far as he could get from Finnegan.
Because he was a Legendary Hero, Sedna reached the other side of the planet quickly. He shattered the glass there, and the beast rushed over to fix the damage. Finnegan grabbed the chance and followed cautiously behind it; when he was sure it wasn't paying attention to him, he sprinted across the sphere and reached out to grab it. By the time it noticed, the god had its head firmly in his grasp, light emanating from his hands. The beast saw Finnegan slowly enveloped by a bright light until everything turned white and a desire to become a glass figurine overcame it.
"Someone's bound to notice, Master Finnegan," Sedna said.
Finnegan and Sedna dangled their feet at the edge of a massive hole, stretching right to the edge of the horizon. Finnegan held up a glass sculpture of the beast – the sun shining through the dark blue tint produced a clear luminescent effect, despite the figurine being no bigger than his thumb.
"Let them." Finnegan was too busy admiring his battle trophy – he might have used too much of his power when half the glass desert melted from the heat the rebirthing emanated, but he had an artefact made from the glass-repairing beast so the universe could go screw itself.
"Can't you fix it?" Sedna pointed to the glass figure. Finnegan's fingers immediately wrapped around the figure and he clutched it to his chest. "Hell no, this one's for my world."
Sedna chuckled.” You really care about your world, don't you, Master Finnegan?"
Finnegan put the figure in his shirt's breast pocket and stood up. "There's not much else to care about, is there?" He walked to the exit portal. "Sedna, you coming?"
Sedna took one last look, and then jogged to catch up.
Seleucid Year 95927, Rollback 0
After six months in a coma, one week of moping was understandable for a young man shot in the face and thrown six floors down onto cobblestone, left to die while his god and master fled The Vaticanny Place and vanished. Betrayal and desertion and all that, totally fine.
Three months was a bit much.
Finnegan had sworn an oath that he would train to be a god as soon as he was discharged from the hospital; Esterhazy had patiently waited for the subsequent depression to pass before starting his training, but the sight of Finnegan hugging his knees and staring off into space like some angsty emo drama queen had gotten on his nerves. He'd tried showing Finnegan around his planet, pointing out hills, crests, and fortresses carved into snow-capped mountains, and even conjuring a new species or two to kick start Finnegan's excitement; now they were only at a sand dune in the middle of a desert because he had run out of things to show.
Drastic action was in order.
"Finnegan, catch!" Esterhazy's shout caught Finnegan's attention, and he turned to see a gleam in the sky headed at him. He cupped his hands to catch it; a dark blue figurine of a four-legged panther-like beast twinkled in his hands. When he closed his fingers around it, white beams of light glowed in between his fingers until it threatened to burst. He opened his hands to release a live panther-beast reaching up to his waist. As it walked in circles and sniffed the sand, it created a tiny glass circle under its feet.
Esterhazy looked at the beast and clapped. "Congratulations, you've made your first creature; now imagine a whole world of them."
He stepped closer and lowered his voice, a smooth baritone only for Finnegan's ears.
"That's something only a god can do."
Finnegan stared at his hands, opening and closing them as if he was seeing them for the first time.
He smiled; it would be his last for a long while.