“Artemis, this was delivered by Hermes.” A maiden handed me a white envelope sealed and stamped with wax. How interesting that Noor picked up the word hearth moments before I received an invitation with a hearth insignia.
Artemis and Adrestia,
I’ve had a break-in, with several keys for safe houses stolen. I would like help solving this. Can you both join me at my Boston, Massachusetts, USA Penthouse?
If this did not involve family, I would be very suspicious of the timing. I’ve learned, over the centuries, that events tend to cluster when it comes to my kind.
I grabbed the box that held the key when it occurred to me that I could use something else that could contain magic if I ran into this spell again. I would not risk being befuddled again. A glance around the office did not provide anything useful. I would have to stop by the storeroom on the way to Boston.
“Hestia, we need to talk,” I demanded as I walked into her penthouse.
“Hestia! Where are you?” I walked around, looking for her.
“Hestia!” I called again impatiently.
I saw an orange head pop out from behind a corner a moment later. “Artie, is that you? Ah, yes. How nice to see you! So good of you to knock,” she said as she hopped down the stairs.
“Yes, Auntie, it is wonderful to see you again. It has been too long. We need to talk.” I rushed through the standard greeting.
She stopped and looked at me for a moment. “I see you are in work mode. Allow me to take you out of work mode with a hug.” Her arms spread wide, and she waited with a smug grin.
I let out a long breath as I remembered the politics of family. Why could we never just get to the point? As I pushed all the air out of my lungs, I looked at her face for the first time and saw Hestia. Her sweet face was full of hope and love. Memories of playing in her kitchen flooded my mind. That soft voice yelling at us to stop getting underfoot as she cooked was never angry. This was the one person in the family that always made me feel loved and wanted.
I opened my arms and wrapped them around my old friend. Her warmth made me wonder when I had last had a real hug. We both held on tightly until she released me.
Hestia held up her hand, her eyes twinkling slightly. “Have you eaten, my dear niece? I would be quite remiss if I didn’t feed my visiting family. Even if only three are dropping in tonight.”
“Yes, dear Auntie. I would love some of your food. Just us and Adrestia?” I asked.
“Well, there is someone else,” Hestia said as her arm moved in a wide flourish, leading my eyes to the lift doors that opened to reveal Adrestia. “Well, beyond the Goddess of Revolt.”
My old battle buddy walked in. It had been a very long time since we had seen each other, and memories washed over me. I did love fighting with this goddess.
“Auntie Artemis!” she said, surprised to see me.
Still filled with the warmth of Hestia’s hug, I walked up and wrapped myself around Adrestia. “Hello, Tia, my dear. I have missed you.”
We heard plates sliding on a tray and turned to see Hestia loaded down with platters. I rushed to help her get everything on the table. The three of us arranged the mouth-watering dishes and sat down for a meal. I was surprised that I felt so happy to see them. Thoughts of the family tended to exhaust me because of all the drama, but it had not been like that with these two.
We dug into the food. “Two days in a row? You’re spoiling me, Hestia,” Adrestia said around a big piece of lamb. Was that actual drool on her chin?
“Well, I have to butter you both up for my revenge on this kólos billionaire,” Hestia said. “Eat. Eat. It’s been a while since Artie had a proper meal.”
I laughed at my aunt’s caretaker nature. “I do have people taking care of me, Hestia,” I said as I stuffed my own mouth. “What kólos billionaire? What do they have to do with your missing keys?”
“Let me show you,” Hestia said and left the room.
The bite I took in her absence reminded me just how good immortal food is compared to human food. I could never say this to Miss Imani, not even a hint. She might stop feeding me for a week and would never forget the insult. After another bite, I became determined to introduce her to Hestia. They would love each other, so it would not be entirely self-serving.
I couldn’t help laughing when Hestia returned with a large amazon box. She would do a lot to avoid her enemies. Hestia pulled out several ornate boxes, not unlike the box I had in my pocket. She told me about a man who had gotten into this penthouse to steal her keys, defiled her safe houses, and then tried to buy one of the community centers under her protection. She did stop him from tearing it down, but he broke into her place while she was gone. It explained why her key had someone else’s magic attached to it.
Adrestia, still chewing on the large piece of lamb, asked, “Davids… Warren Davids?”
“Yes, that Davids,” Hestia said. “The keys belong to homes of love, safe places for runaways to find a new home. A place of safety when so-called parents of trans children try to beat the unnaturalness out of them. They can know peace and love. A place where I swore they would have a proper hearth and home. A place where I failed to protect them.”
Adrestia sighed. “I thought I got rid of that guy after he was having an affair with the Rep.” she moaned and dropped her face in her hands.
I picked up one of Hestia’s boxes. There was no noticeable feeling of a spell, so I opened it. I could only feel Hestia on it. I recognized her feel as an undertone to the mangled magic on the key in my position. It made sense that Davids had taken something pure and tainted it. Power can be gained in that kind of distortion. It might be why the minotaur was taking over children in the woods.
I was excited to finally have a real lead, and I thought about what I needed to know next. “We have a mortal who came out of nowhere, is interfering with two gods, and had the ability to break into your penthouse. Do either of you have reason to think he is not mortal? Or have you suspected magic, spells, or anything other around him?”
“They broke the seals on my keys and then resealed them so I wouldn’t know. There isn’t a mortal dead or alive that could do that. It would have to be one of the demigods, like Zeus’s spawn, to even find this place, much less break in,” Hestia said before she speared a slice of lamb. The fork cracked the plate in half before biting into the table.
Zeus’s spawn is a slur I had heard all my life and always hated. If Hestia had not been so upset that she was damaging her beloved tableware, it might have been more challenging to remember that I’d decided not to care about old insults.
“He never pinged on my divine radar, but that’s other people’s specialty,” Adrestia said as she slumped in her chair and stopped eating. “I should’ve done more investigating. I should have done…better. More.” Her eyelids slid down, and her voice changed.
She had gone to a bad place. “Tia, what did he do you?” I asked.
Adrestia said, “Nothing. He didn’t do anything to me. I just..fucking failed to do the bare minimum.”
I looked from Tia to Hestia. “What is she talking about?”
“Cockroaches tend to pop up again and again, even if you think you beheaded them. Don’t worry about that,” Hestia seethed. “This mortal has a lot of money, more than a quarter of the people that live on this land. He’s been interfering with my property, and apparently, he messed with Tia. He has to have a sponsor to be that bold. It’s a question of who’s using him,” Hestia said as she cleaned up her broken plate.
I took a moment to decide how to present my experience. “I don’t think you will need to worry about your charges being harmed as long as you get new locks. There is more to this than trying to hurt the innocents you protect. I believe your keys are being mutilated, but I don’t know why they chose your keys.” I pulled out a small box from my pocket and set it on the table. “I had to defeat a minotaur that was terrorizing children to get what is inside this box.”
Adrestia looked at the box curiously.
“What’s in the box?” Hestia wondered as she used her knife to pop open the lid. She closed her eyes moments after seeing the key. “This was to one of my houses,” she whispered.
I jumped up to stop Hestia, but not before an invisible fog penetrated the air and washed over all the women at the table. I sighed at my aunt’s impulsive action and shook my head. “Since the genie is out of the box, try to use one of your abilities now.”
Adrestia and Hestia looked at me suspiciously. “Umm, okay.” Adrestia closed her eyes.
Hestia lifted her hand and stared at it. She frowned before snapping her fingers. “Well, a fire goddess who can’t light herself on fire.”
I took the key from Hestia’s hand and placed it back in the box. A sense of something being sucked into the box as it closed left everyone relieved. I gave them a moment to catch their breath. “Now, try again,” I said.
The moment the key went away, Hestia’s whole hand lit up in flames. I involuntarily jumped back.
“Well…now,” she said as she rotated her hand back and forth, watching the flames dance on her fingertips.
Adrestia opened her eyes and lifted her head, looking surprised. “It dampens powers?” She sounded amazed.
“Yes. We were barely able to track a monster while it carried that key. I can’t tell you how angry I was to be so confused while hunting.” I gripped my fork so tightly it popped out of my hand, flew into the air, and landed in a glass of water.
“I have a dishwasher for that. You don’t need to wash your dishes in your glass, dear,” Hestia said as she placed her hand on my forearm, and I wiped the water off my face.
“So what do we do? About Davids?” Adrestia demanded.
I tried to pull together the conversation pieces. “We need to find the connection between the three of us and these events. I can think of many reasons someone would want to dampen our abilities, but who could do this to a key, and why did they need these keys? Is it something about Hestia that made the spell work or something about the innocents the keys protected?”
“Well, we need to know more. Mortals are the little fish, no matter how big they think they are.” Hestia frowned. She then looked up toward the elevator. “Our fourth joins us. Tia, would you please escort them from the lift? They are very worried, and I don’t want anyone getting shot again.”
A knock at the door interrupted our conversation. Adrestia wandered off in her depressed state to answer the door. Naturally, Hestia called out an invitation from the other room without knowing who it was. Would she ever learn to be wary?
The Goddess of Snow or ice or something like that stood there looking stiff and miserable. Her tension immediately had me on guard, but I got more of a sense of nervousness from her than anything else. The ice crystals that were forming over her body were fascinating. When she sat down opposite Hestia, I had to focus on a box to keep myself from staring at the beautiful pattern of the frost encasing her.
“Oh! Well, what seems to be the situation?” Hestia’s smile brightened, and Tia looked on in curiosity.
Khione stammered at first but then forced out a request for help in finding her uncle. He had been abducted by a deranged harpy months ago. Her request was directed at Hestia, but it was my help she sought. I knew better than to push someone like this and was happy that Hestia was here to calm the first down. She was intriguing, and I didn’t want to scare her away.
The harpy’s name, Alcholoë, tickled the back of my memory.
“Could this all be connected? Why else would she come here for help on the same day you summoned us to help you?” Adrestia asked Hestia.
Hestia looked thoughtful. “It could be.”
“Do you have an object that belonged to anyone involved I could use to get a sense of what you might be looking for?” I asked.
Khione handed me a scale from her adopted daughter, who had a rare skin condition. It was bigger than I would have expected but otherwise looked like skin in a serpent scale shape. She then handed me a feather from one of her uncle’s wings. As soon as I touched it, a faint whiff of the putrid perfume I knew all too well snaked its way up my nostril. I stood up in shock. “Hestia, this is it.” I turned to the frost girl, forgetting to be gentle, and blurted out. “We have to find your uncle. Now.”