I ran up the stairs, smoke already filling the air. Michael coughed behind me as we reached the second floor. He stepped between me and the fire door, moving the back of his hand across it. His palm hovered over the handle but he didn’t grab it.
“Damn, the fire has already reached the door,” Michael spat. He leaned back to kick in the frail wood.
“Wait,” I said as I reached out to the door. I was told to show ourselves to the mortals, so here it goes. I grabbed the handle, slamming the door open. The cooler air was sucked into the room, causing the flames to billow at me. My hand snapped up, deflecting the backdraft away from us.
Michael yanked me out of the way. “What are you doing?” he demanded.
“What? It’s not going to hurt me,” I said.
“It’s fire, and it’s going to burn you. It’s what it does, often to death,” Michael said.
“There are children trapped in there,” I snapped.
“That’s why you are going to stay here, and I’m going to save them,” he said as he started to push me to the side.
“I can stop the fire,” I said with a slight eye roll.
“Look, Hestia, I get you want to help but come on, the longer you and I debate this, the more likely someone’s going to die!” Michael yelled at me.
I shook my head and twisted my hand, a toothy grin crossing my face. My eyes were half-closed as I felt the fire. Not many knew this, but fire had a will of its own. To take control, you needed to force it to bend to you. At least this wasn’t a magical fire. Those could be a pain to control. My hand moved slightly as I found the core before making a fist and yanking down. The fire was under my command. I snapped my fingers and pointed at the ground next to me. “Sit,” I said sternly.
“Who are you…” Michael’s voice trailed off as the fire condensed into a three-headed cat in the middle of the room. The walls were charred from the fire, along with glowing embers, but nothing burned. The flaming feline stretched out its claws, its tail twitching.
“I said sit.” I pushed my power into my voice.
“Meowwwww,” whined the left head.
“I don’t give a flying rodent that the bad man tossed you out of the car. It doesn’t mean you can go all rage face on innocent buildings. How many mortals did you hurt with your temper tantrum?”
“Meow,” the middle head quickly said.
“You don’t know?” I half-laughed as I started to wag my finger at the fire cat.
“Meow?” asked the right head.
“No one has died? Like that makes it all better,” I said with an eye-roll.
“Hestia? Why is the cat on fire, and why are you talking to it?” Michael asked in a worried voice.
I turned to face him, placing my hand on his shoulder. “I wasn’t named for Hestia. I am Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth and Home, and I don’t like it when someone tries to burn down someone else’s home.”
Michael closed his eyes, shaking his head. “What did Ian lace that blunt with?” he whispered.
“He didn’t lace it with anything, aside from awesome growing,” I said before looking at the flaming cat. “Oh no, you don’t. Just because I looked away doesn’t mean you get to find some firenip to play in.”
The fire cat had moved to the right by a meter. They let their heads drop, the middle head’s ears drooping. “Meow?” he asked.
“Well, come here then, hop up on my shoulder. We shouldn’t dilly dally on helping anyone,” I said. The fire cat lept and landed on my shoulder before I pointed Michael at one of the nursery doors. “Make sure everyone is alright on this side. I’ll check the other side. Remember, the fire might be out, but that doesn’t mean damage wasn’t done.” The far window’s frame fell, hitting the street with a thud moments later. I grabbed the doorknob, noting that it was a bit on the warm side. “Michael,” I started, but was cut off as he kicked the door handle, “wait, it’s…” I sighed and stepped over to him before he could kick again, pulling open the door.
“Uncal!” yelled a young girl, flinging her arms around Michael. He scooped up his niece, entering the room.
“Antwan? Are you okay?” Michael asked. “Where’s Antwan?”
The little girl pointed to the back of the room. “Fire there, he stop it.”
Michael rushed over, scooping up the moaning pre-teen and slinging him over his shoulder. While he was saving the kid, I moved to the other room. I found a grey-haired woman slumped over a computer.
“Follow us,” I told my fire kitty, snapping my fingers to point for him to hop off my shoulder. Once the kitty jumped off, I put the woman over my shoulders before meeting Michael at the stairs.
“Is that everyone?” I asked.
“Just the two rooms up here, let’s go,” Michael said as he dashed down the steps. I followed right behind him. As we rounded the corner mid-floor, a dozen men with bandanas and fire extinguishers in their hands were at the bottom, about to rush up.
“We’ve taken care of the fire, but we need to make sure everyone is out of the building. The fire might have been quick, but it burned hot and fast,” Michael said.
“Michael, why is there a three-headed cat that’s on fire behind the two of you?” asked one of the men.
Michael turned and looked at the cat. “Later. We need to help the kids. Antwan has burns all over his hands, and he’s unconscious. Where are the paramedics?”
“We have Greg watching the streets for them, this way,” the talker said. One of the men took the young girl from Michael, and we rushed out to a side street. As we carefully laid our charges on the ground, I could hear the sound of an ambulance and fire trucks.
I turned to my feline friend. “Find yourself a barbeque to hide in or turn yourself into a proper cat.”
“Meeow,” growled the cat.
“Don’t sass me. I could have returned you to the void. Cat or fireproof box to hide in,” I said, narrowing my eyes at the kitty.
“Rarww,” the kitty said before shaking its heads. The flames slowly shrank, turning into the appearance of fur. If you looked closely, you could still see the fire, but the feline looked like a calico at a glance. The flaming heads layered themselves over each other, appearing to become one head.
“Good, kitty, now stay with me. You only appear to be a cat, and I don’t want the firefighters to get a good look. Mortals, panic so easily,” I said, looking for the fire marshal as a pair of paramedics started working on Antwan.
“Oh god, don’t take him in the ambulance,” cried a woman in her thirties. “I can’t afford the bill,” she sobbed, falling to her knees at her son’s head. “I’ve called an Uber to take us.”
“Ma’am, he’s suffering from smoke inhalation. He also has second and third-degree burns on his hands,” said a paramedic that was slipping an oxygen tube to Antwan’s nose.
“I’ll pay for all the medical bills,” I said. A stupid thing like for-profit healthcare should never shape a family, nor should it be a choice a mother has to make. I pulled a credit card out of my pocket and handed it to the woman. I told her my phone number and said, “Have them call me, and I’ll authorize it.”
“This is a Palladium card,” the mother said, her eyes wide.
“I told you, I will take care of it. Now take care of your son,” I said, smiling at her before I heard a fireman yelling. I sighed and marched over to them.
“Calling a false report is a crime,” the fireman was saying.
“We didn’t place a false report. Someone came by, threw a molotov cocktail at the building. Look at the damage man,” said a black man, his voice slightly raised.
I stepped between them. “What’s the problem?”
“There was a call that there was a fire here, but there is no fire. Hell, there are not even coals where they claim,” the fireman said.
I shook my head and glanced down at my kitty. With my left hand, I put my thumb slightly away from my forefinger. The kitty nodded and bounded away. “As the first responder to the fire, I can assure you that there was a fire here. Do you think that the kid over there magically got burned?”
“He probably was making meth in the kitchen,” the fireman spat. “Dregs that live in this area usually do.”
I put my hand up to stop the black man next to me, tilting my head at him. “Let the white girl work,” I whispered before I grabbed the fireman by his open coat. I slammed him into the side of a work van and held him about half a meter off the ground.
“Listen, you racist prick! For your information, he was hurt because he was trying to save his sister from burning to death. The fire is out—” I was cut off by the radio going off.
“Captain, we were raking the coals in the nursery, and it reflashed. Send the hoses,” said a voice on the radio.
“See therapy for your hate. Such narrow-mindedness is not becoming of anyone. And if you don’t, I know where you live,” I said as I leaned in and whispered his home address. He went pale and nodded.
“Ye….Yes, ma’am, I meant nothing by it. Just a lot of meth addicts around here,” the fireman said quickly.
“Perhaps instead of being a prick, you could find out the why and how rich men ruin others to make their money, how they cause the suffering you are seeing. Begone,” I snapped as I dropped him. He scurried out and back to the fire trucks. I turned and smiled at the other man.
“You don’t look like you’re packing the big guns,” the man said with a smile.
“Nope, come on, let’s make sure everyone’s being taken care of,” I said as I walked back to the center.