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April 2021 Contest Winner: Dying Embers

What is the difference between Hearth and Heart? It wasn’t something that Hestia needed to know. The hearth was her heart, and the heart was her home. It was part of her, another extension of her soul, her biggest tether to the mortal world.

For millennia, she had spent her time in various locations, sometimes visible and sometimes not, but always watching, always presiding over the harmony of the world.

That night, she sat amidst the glowing embers, the heat rekindling the tired flames in her eyes, rejuvenating her. Business in Olympus was always draining. Between arguments to fistfights, she was always kept on her feet.

Only days before, the Olympians had punished Libertas for releasing Calypso and her lover, Ajax. They had decided that Calypso, the gentle soul, wouldn’t harm a fly, so they ceased finding her. But Libertas was in trouble for defying the Olympians. She was sentenced to half a century in Tartarus, a bargain Hestia had struck with Zeus to halve her punishment.

After all that negotiation, it was a relief to finally return to her chambers and rest once more in the warm flames.

Hestia let out a sigh. Her work was never finished. Somewhere, whether on Earth or in the

heavens, there would always be a cry for help, a fight or a quarrel. Making sure that peace was present, that good balanced out evil, it wasn’t easy. But someone had to do it, and no one cared more for the mortals than her.

She laid her head on the soft ashes below her and fell into a dreamless sleep.

Hestia sat up with a jolt. Something wasn’t right. Her room was dark, empty... cold. She

reached behind her, her breath speeding up as the lifeless ashes sifted through her fingers.

The fire had gone out.

It is not possible.

The flame was tied to her. As long as her life force burned, so would her flame. Unless... unless the prophecy was true. A prophecy of darkness, of life without light, without warmth. Hestia recalled what the Oracle once told her:

Child of Sun, the light of life,

Unimaginable power brings with it strife.

Flames burn bright till the conflict is known,

The one that restricts is the one most alone.

After hearing it, she had tried her best to find the child of Apollo. He refused to tell her

anything, and the trail ended when his last child had died. Could it be that he had one in secret? One that he did not record?

She knew that this time, the conflict wasn’t from the Olympians. They could not be blamed for the loss of the fire. Many of them still slumbered, unaware of the impending danger.

No, the quarrel was that of a mortal family.

She shivered, lost and freezing without her usual blanket of warmth around her. She had rarely left the hearth for an extended period, and each time she did, it was like a stab to the heart. Without her Hearth, she had no Heart.

Whoever instigated this, she would find them, and she would restore the peace, for who else would? It was only her against the world, her and the cold embers of her fire. Hestia didn’t know how a demigod quarrel would be so extreme that it could cause a civil war, but she knew that she had to do everything in her power to stop it from ruining all of civilization.

A tug in her stomach had pulled her to the wintry neighborhood. She had flashed into the

street, invisible to all, and stared with her mouth open at the chill in the air. Although winter wasn’t due for at least four months, the rooftops were already covered with snow, a blizzard blowing through the lane.

Each night, under the guise of an orphan, she stayed in one of the houses, starting with the one closest to her. If there was no sign of heated up emotions in the residents, she moved on to the next house in the morning, wiping away their memories of a fifteen-year-old ever staying there. The last thing she wanted hindering her quest was suspicion.

The sad part was, she didn’t have to worry about quenching the fire in her eyes. When the

hearth had died it had taken her inner flame with it, lost to the cold and cruelty of the world. Without her flame, she was only half of a whole, part of what she truly was.