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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.


The third house from the left was her latest destination. It was a house of ice and snow, a small, Victorian-looking house that looked more innocent than Artemis.


Ding dong.


“Uh... who is it?” A nervous voice called out. It reminded her of Persephone as a child, always playful and hesitant, but underneath it all was a warrior, one with a heart of gold. A young girl, approximately fifteen years old, stood in the doorway, grasping a candle. The dark hallway behind her looked like it came out of a nightmare.


Rearranging her features under her hood, Hestia looked up at the girl and feigned a pleading expression. “May I please stay the night? I don’t know where I am...”


A patter of footsteps came from the dark hallway. “Lyra, it’s time for dinner-” The woman

froze as she noticed Hestia. She looked exactly as what Hestia assumed was her daughter, but older and more mature.


Hestia shrunk back and cast her gaze to the floor. "I'm sorry for bothering you, I shouldn't have asked. It was incredibly rude of me to ask for a favor with no money." She turned away with a sigh and took a few steps forward.


“Wait.”


 

A man stood in the dining hall, towering over the wooden table. He raised an eyebrow when he saw Hestia, but didn’t say a word.


“Gary, meet Hestia,” Mrs. White introduced. “She’s an orphan, and I’ve decided to offer her the guest room for a week.”


“Thank you, Mrs. White. I am eternally grateful for this bout of hospitality,” Hestia said,

sinking onto the hard wooden chair. She noticed the tension in the air, tightly strung, ready to snap at any moment.


“Oh, don’t worry about it, dear,” Mrs. White fussed. “And feel free to call me Imogen.”


The man, Gary, she presumed, sat at the head of the table, while Lyra and her mother sat on either side of him. Dinner was served.


Hestia eyed the dishes before her, silently wishing she could have helped prepare dinner

instead. They were having spaghetti bolognese that night, and what should have been sauce became sloppy porridge, the noodles mushy and unappetizing. Mr. and Mrs. White had no problem swallowing the food, chattering to each other lively.


Lyra looked up and her eyes met Hestia’s across the table. They shared a look of disgust,

glancing at the adults before setting their cutlery down.


What if...


Hestia’s eyes gleamed. She waited until no one was looking and then cast a hand over her plate. Her plate disappeared, reappearing with a fresh plate of spaghetti. The noodles were springy and noodle-like, the sauce returned to its thick red color. She placed a glamour upon the plate, lest the mortals discovered her change in food.


A shout broke out from across the table. Lyra clung onto a mobile phone, scrabbling to take it away from Gary. He stopped her with a glare. Frustrated and angry, she settled back into her seat as he probed through her phone.


“What did I say about texting people online?” Gary said. His voice was higher than Hestia had thought it would be for such a big man. He showed the phone to Mrs. White. “Lyra has been using this app called ‘Snapchat’ to share about her life.”


“Gary, those photos are harmless. They won’t-”


“And there’s more,” he thundered. “She has been posting videos of her playing the harp

online.” He turned to Lyra and shook her phone in his fist. “I told you, no musical instruments. How dare you defy me, defy your mother like this.” He turned to Mrs. White. “I’m going to take her phone away-”


“I’ve stopped!” Lyra cried. “Those videos of me playing the harp, those were years ago. Before you came, Mum let me play whenever I wanted.” For a moment, all the candles were blown out completely, before reigniting again.


Child of Sun. The child of Apollo. Hestia had found her. No other god had the power to

control light, and no other demigod could either. This was the source of conflict.


Gary turned the color of a turnip. He opened his mouth to say something scathing, before

realizing that Hestia was still there, watching them. “We will talk about this tomorrow, young lady,” he said through gritted teeth. “You’re not going to be let off that easily.”


Lyra glared at him. She seemed to be channeling the wrath of Ares when he got caught in

Hephaestus’ traps. She got up and left the room, flashing Hestia a thankful look before slamming the door behind her.


The only sound uttered after that was the sound of Gary’s munching.


After dinner, as Hestia lay on the hard mattress in the guest room, clinging to the blankets for warmth, she knew there was more to it than just a fight. She saw the ice surrounding their bodies, the chill threatening to encase their hearts in hate. The girl glowed bright red, while the man glowed a muted green - the colors of hate and envy. Though why Gary would be envious, she did not know. Even a goddess wasn’t all-knowing. The inhabitants had no idea the severity of what was going on, but they knew that there was an immense conflict between the man and his stepdaughter.


She stared at the ceiling, wishing for her fire to return and for it to be all over.


 

Lyra sat at her windowsill, watching the snowfall. The never-ending blizzard was so annoying, it prevented her from leaving the house without freezing to death.


The cold morning breeze blew across her face, helping a lock of her unruly hair escape from its ponytail. Oh, why couldn’t she be the breeze? It was wild and free to do as it liked, unlike her, trapped inside of this house, this family with no chance of escape.


Besides, the breeze didn’t have to do homeschooling. Lucky.


Last night... Ugh. She didn’t want to dwell on it. Stupid Gary, stupid Snapchat.


That strange, warm feeling had taken control of her body again, making her tense and blunt. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that the candles had blown out at the same time. It just couldn’t.


Something was wrong with her, and she was determined to find out what.


She lulled her head, following the music. Wait. Music...


Lyra ran up to the attic, her heart pounding against her chest as she pushed the door open. It was the orphan girl, the one who had stared at Lyra last night like she was some weird experiment or something. Her fingers moved swiftly on the harp, faster than Lyra’s, playing a beautiful song. It seemed familiar, but when Lyra tried to delve deeper into the memory, it slipped from her grasp, vanishing into the void.


The music surrounded her, filling her head until all she could think of was the melody. Before she knew it, she was halfway across the room, her arms reached out to clutch the harp and never let go.


“Hello Lyra,” a soft voice said.


Lyra blinked. She didn’t realize that the music had stopped. The girl stared expectantly at Lyra as if waiting to see what Lyra would do next. With her big, innocent-looking eyes, the girl had a lost look about her, like a puppy begging for its owner.


“Hey... Hestia, was it?”


The girl smiled, holding out a hand for Lyra to shake. “It is truly a pleasure to properly meet

your acquaintance.”


W-eird. Ever since Lyra had met her, Hestia spoke like those fusty old people from history

textbooks, formal and accented.


“Right, uhm...” Lyra fumbled for words. “What... what are you doing here? How did you even

get in? The attic has been locked for like a thousand years.”


She didn’t fail to notice the little twinkle in Hestia’s eye and the quirk of her mouth. “I

thought to explore the house, and I happened to chance upon the harp. Strange that you said this room was locked, to my knowledge, it never was,” Hestia said.


“O...kay.”


“Do you play the harp? Your parents don’t seem the type.”


“Yes, I do and they’re not my parents. Well, I mean that Gary isn’t my dad but Mum is... well

she’s my mum. I’m sorry am I confusing you?”


Hestia shook her head solemnly. “Oh!” she exclaimed, her eyes lighting up. “Would you mind playing the harp for me? It has been so long since I’ve met another who could, and desired to play.”


“Oh no. No, no, no.” Lyra back away, pointing at the harp. “I’m not playing that. It’s

forbidden.”


“By your mother, or by your stepfather?” Hestia asked. She looked surprised.


“Gary.” She rolled her eyes. “He thinks that I’ll somehow destroy everything if I play it. Mum

used to let me, but now she’s always busy at work and doesn’t care as much.”


Lyra began to tremble. She feared Gary’s anger, that he might destroy the harp, once and for all. She feared that she would never be able to glimpse her father again. Most of all, she feared that once she got another sample of playing, she wouldn’t be able to stop. She would return to the attic, day after day, ignoring the consequences of her playing. By now, she was shaking, gritting her teeth and clenching her fists, the warmth in her threatening to break free.


Not alone. Can’t... lose control.


She was going to burst, her insides were full of fire. Yet, when Hestia put a cold hand on Lyra’s shoulder, the heat began to cool down. It was as if her blood had stopped boiling, the heat dispersing. The tremors stopped. Lyra sagged against the harp, resting her forehead against the cool metal.


“I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened.”


“Inform me, please.”


Lyra found herself telling Hestia everything. How, when she was young, had held raw light in her hand, giggling like it was normal. How Gary had scolded her afterwards, saying that she could no longer play outside. How while playing the harp, she had felt alive, her fingers moving of their own accord, her senses heightened.


Then it all came crashing down. The lights began to flicker on and off, faster and faster until the light bulbs burst. The shattering had woken her mum and Gary, and they had looked at each other before locking her out of the room. They threatened to take away her phone and her books if she ever played again.


“And now, you’re gonna label me as a freak,” Lyra finished. She didn’t know what she saw in

Hestia’s eyes, a little bit of sympathy, a little bit of confusion, and a little bit of rage. Rage? This girl was the most gentle person Lyra had ever met! Granted, Lyra had only met a few people her age, but she couldn’t have been angry at Lyra.


“Do not fret, I will never address you as a freak,” Hestia said. “However, I will address you as a demigod.”


 

Lyra knocked on the guest room door, once, twice before it opened. She poked her

head/peered into the room and noticed the empty bed. Giving the room a once over, she saw that Hestia sat in the fireplace, surrounded by blankets.


“Would you join me, Lyra?” her warm voice called.


Hestia had promised to give Lyra all the answers, provided that she came into the guest room at midnight. Lyra burned with questions. She had no idea why Hestia would refer to her as a “demigod”. As far as she knew, those were the old dudes like Heracles who did boring quests.


Lyra edged over to the fireplace, noticing the warmth enveloping her. Her breath stilled, a sense of calm washing over her. She curled up in the blanket Hestia had lent her, closing her eyes and listening to her steady breathing.


“Lyra, do you want answers?” Hestia asked, stroking Lyra’s hair.


It was such a motherly gesture, so full of warmth and kindness, that Lyra found herself

opening up to the stranger once more.


“Firstly, why did you call me a demigod? I’m no hero.”


“Not all demigods are heroes, dear. Have you ever felt different from everyone else? Like there was always someone watching over you?” Hestia asked. “I’ve seen what you can do. Manipulating light itself, and your wild love for music... but I’m getting ahead of myself.”


“Let us start with me. I know that you have learned about the Greek gods. I can see it in your emotions, the knowledge rendering you proud. Well, didn’t you recognize my name when you first heard it? Hestia. Goddess of the Hearth. It is up to me to protect this earth from its evil ways, to restore peace. I know it seems crazy,” Hestia said, latching onto Lyra’s arm when she tried to pull away and met her gaze. “Especially coming from a fifteen-year-old stranger. But you must believe me.”


“You know what? I think that losing your parents might have made you go nuts. I’m outta

here,” Lyra said. She wrenched her hand from Hestia’s grasp. There was no way she was falling for this joke.


Hestia just sat there calmly. “Lyra, look at me.”


Despite her brain telling her to go, curiosity overtook her. She looked- and gasped.


Where Hestia once sat was a radiant adult, a crown of laurel leaves atop her head. She wore a chiton that bared her arms but hid her legs. She looked like an older, even more beautiful version of her earlier self.


“You’re old!” was all that Lyra could get out.


Hestia winced. “I have only taken the form of me at twenty-three. I am not old. Besides, I

usually prefer to look like an adolescent. Now, do you believe me?”


“Uh... yea. Tell me more, please.”


Hestia reverted back to her teenage self and together they huddled under the blankets in the fireplace.


 

“Where’s Gary?” Mrs. White asked one night.


Hestia exchanged a glance with Lyra. The latter shrugged and returned to her meal.


As the days flew by, Hestia had managed to find a friend - and solace - in Lyra. The both of

them were inseparable. Although their friendship was built on a shaky foundation, one of them being a goddess, the other prone to shrouding a room in darkness, they had made it work.


That night in the guest room, they had talked until breakfast, and then until Gary called Lyra downstairs for homeschool. Lyra had learned everything about her heritage, from her father’s parents to his nieces and nephews. She knew that Apollo was her father, but Hestia was afraid that she did not know the extent of the danger in the prophecy. Lyra believed, but she did not fully comprehend the situation.


But even as she helped Lyra with her homework, mopped the floor and cleaned the attic, the hearth still remained cold. Try as she did, stoking the fire would only allow it to be quenched again.


Gary and his stepdaughter were still at war. He wanted her to be an artist, but she wanted to be a musician. Just the night before, Lyra had been forced to try painting, her brush making messy slops on the canvas while Gary pushed her to be careful with his paint. He wouldn't allow Lyra to embrace herself as she wished, instead, forcing her to see things - and do things - his way.


So Hestia resorted to sending him away.


"I believe that he went for an art convention," she said.


Mrs. White looked surprised. "That can't be. He would've told me beforehand." She picked at her food.


"I am confident that Mr. White indeed went to an art convention, I heard him saying so the

other day."


Hestia spoke the truth, but it was only half of a truth. Gary had indeed received a letter this

morning, prompting him to depart the house hastily. After that, it was simple to whisk him to Paris, where he would surely build a life for himself there and stop interfering with Lyra's.


He wouldn't know how he got there, of course, only that it wasn’t strange. As far as he knew, he had lived in Paris all his life, and that attending conventions was something that he did on a weekly basis.


Mrs. White narrowed her eyes, but said nothing and returned to her food. She glowed bright blue, the force of her worry making her a beacon of light to immortals.


After dinner, Lyra nudged Hestia. “Where did Gary really go?”


“Paris,” was her simple answer.


Lyra’s eyes widened. “What? What did you do? Bring him back!”


“I do not understand, why are you vexed? Is this not what you wanted?” Hestia asked, cocking her head to the side. “He is gone. The conflict is resolved.”


“No, Hestia. The conflict isn’t resolved. You can’t win a game just by taking the other team

away,” Lyra said. “He’s still my stepdad. I love him.”


Hestia frowned. First Lyra wanted him gone, and now she wanted him back? She was the

goddess of familial bonding. Why didn’t she understand? It was within her domain to resolve the fight, so why was it so hard?


“I do not know what you mean. Love is love. Hate is hate. They do not, cannot mix. And it was only yesterday when you told me you hated him.”


Lyra rolled her eyes. “You may be a goddess, but you are one dumb goddess. When I say hate, I hate him for taking my dream away. I hate him for restricting me,” she said, holding up a hand when Hestia started to talk. “Whereas, I love him for him. He has shown my mother nothing but kindness, and - like it or not - he has shown me kindness. He’s just overprotective, that’s all.”


“I do not understand your ways. Are you mortals always so confusing?” Hestia was genuinely concerned, but she didn’t let it show.


Lyra’s eyes flashed. “Us mortals? I thought I was more than that. Or are all demigods

considered mortals because we aren’t on the same level as the gods?” She waved a hand, cutting off Hestia’s reply. “I don’t want to hear it. Why don’t you go back to Olympus and leave us alone? Why did you have to stick your nose into everything?” She nearly shouted, she was so tense.


“I cannot!” Hestia burst out. “I cannot return without resolving this matter. I did not even

know that you were a demigod, much less a child of my nephew. I only came because the hearth was fading, and I am sworn to protect it, no matter the cost.” She took Lyra’s trembling hands in her own.


“If you do not learn to control your powers, this cold will spread across the nation, and eventually, the world. Every living being will be thrown into utter chaos, and darkness would reign supreme. That is why I am doing this. Not just for you, not just for me, but for the sake of everyone else.”


Hestia had never wanted someone to believe her as much as she did right now. Their friendship was confusing, that much was sure, but it was so much more than she had ever had.


“Bring Gary back.” The finality in Lyra’s tone was clear. “Please.”


"You know that I cannot. The prophecy is dangerous, Lyra, more dangerous than you

anticipated. I will not instigate it."


Lyra looked at Hestia for a long moment, disappointment darting across her features. "Then we're done here."


She turned away from Hestia and strode back to her room.


 

“Hestia, wake up,” a voice said. Hands were shaking her, lulling her back from the land of

dreams.


She stretched. “What is it?” She asked, cracking open one eye. The god of dreams stood there, his wings barely brushing the floor. Unfazed, she sat up and smiled at him. “Morpheus, it has been an age since I last saw you. You grew into such a handsome man. What brings you here?”


“Oh Hestia, always the sweet one.” He sat next to her on the bed, careful not to hit her with his wings. “I come to offer you my assistance. Word is, you’re having trouble with this family. Child of Apollo, I’m assuming?”


She nodded. “Lyra, the girl in question, wants to pursue her dream of music. Her stepfather, Gary, is... envious, I believe because he was not the one to sire her. When she tries to suppress her emotions, light bulbs tend to break,” she said. “I cannot comprehend why she hates him for restricting her, yet snapped at me and told me she loved him after I sent him to Paris. Mind you, he is very happy there with all the art galleries.”


Morpheus blew the hair out of his eyes. “It seems to me that the girl, I mean, Lyra, can't decide whether to love him or hate him. She may despise him for taking away her music, was it? But she loves him because he has taken care of her as like any father should do.”