Late May 2017, Artesia, California

Sixteen year old Deepti Narula was standing in front of her bedroom mirror, trying to figure out how to drape the saari with which her "Aunt Abhilasha" had gifted her, in such a way that didn't make Dee look like a cow (sacred or otherwise) or jaundiced. The colors clashed with each other, and it looked like the fabric was woven with different dye-lots of the same colors. There was a green that was supposed to be the same green throughout, but was distinctly three different shades. There were several shades of "orange" that ranged from putrid yellow to brown, but almost no red. There was a strip of florescent yellow in there, that Dee wondered if it was supposed to be white. There had been some question about Auntie's vision deteriorating, and the saari was a testament to the woman's inability to differentiate colors.

"Ugh. It looks like somebody dropped an iPad and cracked the screen," she muttered in Hindi, adjusting the pleats. Even against her white choli, it looked horrible.

A woman's voice called from the hallway, "Deepti! Are you dressed yet? It's almost time to call Auntie Abhi!"

"Mummy, it's horrible!" Dee called back, a whining tone in her voice. "She's completely colorblind, now! It's awful!"

It was the end of May, and the exceedingly long fabric was a mix of fibers, with different textures as well as clashing colors, with various artificial fibers mixed with cottons and wools, on a silk base. Between the Los Angeles heat and the horrible fabric, Dee was sweating a good deal, as well as being pre-menstrual. She was easily irritated that day, and the inability to tame the wretched fabric monstrosity into a semblance of tasteful draping had worn her temper to shreds.

"Come out," her mother demanded, from the other side of her bedroom door. "Let's see what we can do about it."

Dee stomped to the door and yanked it open, glaring at her mother. Hemanti Narula blinked at the figure that emerged, searching for the right words."Well," she started, and opened her mouth to continue. "Well," she repeated, with a note of finality. "Come, your father is setting up the camera," she said, after a moment.

The Narula family had moved to Los Angeles from Austin, Texas, almost a decade earlier, when Dee was only five years old. "Auntie" Abhilasha had been one of the welcoming ladies at the Hindu temple they started attending when they arrived. She had adopted the family, as her own children had moved away, and she enjoyed making things. She was a very pleasant, if scattered-brained, lady, but over the past decade, her vision had deteriorated to the point that she was no longer permitted to drive a car. There was a committee within the temple that rotated having people to go her house daily for an hour or two, to help her as necessary.

When the family first arrived in Los Angeles, they stayed with some friends of their parents, who were connected to the local temple, and Abhilasha decided that Deepti was just the sweetest little girl and showered her with all manner of grandmotherly attention. Even as she felt that young ladies shouldn't engage in sports, she made sure Deepti had good athletic shoes for her middle school gym classes, and secured a place for her surrogate granddaughter in a dance class hosted by another member of the temple.

By the time Deepti's sixteenth birthday rolled around, Abhilasha was in an assisted living facility, as dementia had finally been diagnosed. She still had her floor loom, however, as she enjoyed the rhythmic motions of casting the shuttle and making things she believed were useful. And so, she finished the saari she wove for "Little Deepti." Because of a compromised immune system, her caretakers had set up a large panel monitor and camera so she could still talk to all of her friends and socialize safely. Auntie Abhi loved the technology, because it also let her talk to her family still in India, when they could all arrange a time for the video conference. It also made her feel like a TV star, seeing her own self in the smaller window on the screen. She didn't understand how it all worked, but that people around her could get it to work, made her happy.

And that's what Jagad Narula was doing: setting up the laptop so that they could call Auntie Abhi, so she could see how the saari looked on "her Little Deepti." Or rather, Jagad had told his son, Kamal, to set up the laptop and the webcam.

Generally, saaris ranged in length from five to nine yards, but the thing Abhi wove was at least twelve yards long. Dee's family was uncertain how the woman managed to make it so huge, but trying to get an explanation from the elderly woman was useless. They merely accepted the largess with apparent gratitude. Deepti genuinely was flattered by Abhilasha's attention; the woman was the epitome of kindly and welcoming, she rarely had a harsh word for anyone of her acquaintance. But the saari itself was horrendous.

It was coming on five o'clock in the evening, and they were planning to go to dinner after the video chat with Auntie. Dee's mother gave permission for Deepti to change into something else after the call, whispering it to her as the came into the dining room, where the camera was set up. The smile of gratitude the young woman flashed her mother lit up her face. That was the expression Abhilasha saw as Deepti and Hemanti entered the frame.

"Deepti! You're wearing it! I'm so happy!" exclaimed Abhilasha, clapping her hands. She was seated by the window of her suite. There were plants hanging from the curtain rod and standing in a pot beside the chair. "Ah, my little butterfly! You're so lovely! Vishnu has surely smiled upon you and your family!"

"Thank you, Auntie Abhilasha," Dee replied. For the moment, Deepti didn't care how itchy the fabric was or that it made her look jaundiced, because Auntie was so happy and having a coherent day. "It's unlike any saari I've ever worn, before," she added, trying to say something truthful that could be taken as complimentary.

Kamal was off-camera, and sticking his finger in his mouth, as if to vomit. Marisa tried to stifle a giggle, while their mother shot him a look. Kamal was five years older than Dee, and had his own apartment. But, every Saturday, he was home for dinner. He had some differences of opinion with their parents, and they mutually agreed that it was better for Kamal to move out than to stay under their roof. The limited contact of a couple of times a week kept tempers cooler.

Marisa was four years younger than Dee, and as pestiferous as any youngest sibling could be. She was well-behaved for the chat with Auntie Abhilasha, answering her questions with polite enthusiasm, and appearing to listen as Auntie rambled over some memories when she was married to her first husband, back in India.

The call lasted about ten minutes, before Abhilasha started showing signs of tiring. Jagad thanked her for taking their call, and hoped she had a good evening. Abhi's caretaker came onscreen, with a kindly smile, and a slight nod.

"Good night, Jagad! Thank you for calling," Abhilasha said, smiling and waving. "I do so enjoy these calls, and seeing all of you! Kamal is such a handsome boy, I'm surprised he hasn't found a wife, yet! And I'm certain all the boys are lining up for your daughters! You be careful, though, you know how young men are, Jagad, after all, you were one, once, yourself!" She gave his image on her screen a wink.

And then the call ended.

"Well," started Hemanti, Dee's mother. "I'm glad this was a good day for her," she remarked, as Deepti took herself back to her room to take off the horrible saari.

In the hall, near her room, a fold of the fabric caught under Deepti's bare foot, causing her to trip and fall into the bathroom door. The door swung open, allowing her to fall onto the bathroom floor, then the door slammed shut when her other foot swung back. Some of the fabric got caught in the lower corner of the door as it swung shut, pulling at Dee's shoulder, making her hit the back of her head against the cabinet under the sink. And she felt an unmistakable warmth between her legs, as her period started. It all seemed to happen between two heart-beats.

"Ow!" she exclaimed, finding herself on the tile floor and tangled up in the hideous garment. In a fit of pique, she yelled, "Dammit!"

**FWOOSH**

Deepti found herself engulfed in flames, laying on the bathroom floor. "What the–" she gasped, shocked.

And then she wasn't on fire, but the smell of burnt fabric was strong, and she was surrounded by the ashes of what she had been wearing. She jumped to her feet, and looked around. There was no damage to the room, but her clothes were gone and the floor was covered with ashes. There was a scrap of fabric wedged in the door, the edge scorched. Deepti quickly released that scrap, and brushed all the ash into the waste basket.

"No, no, no," she murmured, feeling cold with shock at what she just experienced. There was a warmth in her chest, behind her sternum, and she focused on that for a moment. It grew warmer. She finished her cursory cleaning of the floor, and went to wash her hands at the sink. She looked at herself in the mirror, then looked to her sternum. She could feel the warmth still there, but couldn't see anything unusual.

Dee looked at her face, worried, and concentrated on that warmth. It seemed to grow, flowing through her body like a strong, alcoholic drink. Tiny flames started dancing on her skin. She raised her hands, looking at them, and at her arms, at the thin corona covering her. She carefully touched the back of her left hand with her right forefinger, but couldn't feel anything different, other than a silky warmth.

"Oh, wow," she murmured, looking at herself in the mirror once more, meeting her own eyes. Deepti realized she was Enhanced. Super-types weren't common, but they weren't unusual, either. There were a few dozen people in Los Angeles alone that publicly worked with (or despite) the police, chasing down super bad-guys, or stopping otherwise normal crimes and even disasters, or helping to alleviate them. There was a special wing in the county lock-up downtown, to hold "enhanced individuals," with power suppression technology.

But Deepti never suspected she might be a super-powered being. She was just sixteen! Ugh, and her period just started!

"Deepti! Are you ready, yet?" called her mother. "It's time to go!"

"Oh, uh, just a moment, Mummy," she yelled back. "I have to, ah, it's– I have to take care of something, in here! It's that time!"

"Ah. I see. Well, don't dawdle!" Hemanti replied, and headed back downstairs.


Over the following week, Deepti took little moments to figure out how to turn on and off that full body fire, in the bathroom. With the shower running, in case she lost control. She was able to cover the use of so much water because of her period, and she found that her cramping was reduced if she spent some time "fired up."

In the shower, itself, as she fired up, and tried to burn brighter, or hotter, or something, and found she had lifted a little from the bottom of the tub! That surprised her so much, the flames extinguished and she fell, sliding off her feet and landing on her backside. While it hurt, she realised how funny it was.

Dee sat there, with the water spraying on her, and lifted her hand. She tried to just make her hand flame up, but all that happened was a little fizzle on her thumb. She laughed softly, and made a gesture like operating a butane lighter, with her thumb as the wick, and a little flame appeared, only to be extinguished by the shower.

She contemplated telling her parents about it, but dismissed those thoughts almost immediately. She wasn't sure how they'd react, but she knew she'd be treated, well, differently. She might get pulled out of school, and have to attend someplace else. She might have to register with some organization or bureau. Be monitored, tested, and possibly not be her own person, any longer. She'd heard rumors, only rumors, about what happened to people who suddenly developed super-powers. They were Taken Away. They got brainwashed, or lobotomized, or any number of horrible things. There were whispers amongst her friends, amongst other students, about what happened, if somebody developed something Strange Or Unusual. "They" would come for you. You'd be taken "away," and if anyone saw you again, you'd be "changed," somehow.

She liked her life the way it was. Her mother nagging her about sports and grades, pushing her to consider marrying that nice Sanjay Mahajan, Kamal's friend, because he was in college to be a lawyer. She enjoyed working weekends at the restaurant her family owned, Village Masala, or helping out if she had to at the dry cleaners, next door, which they also owned. She was going to be going to lacrosse camp in the coming summer, so she could try out for the team in high school. Her mother wanted her to join the cheerleading squad, but Dee wanted to run and compete, finding that physical exertion helped alleviate the need to fire-up at night, in the shower. She could tell how stressed or calm she was, by the warmth in her chest. She was taking more heed to her own body, but could lighter-flick her thumbs, occasionally, just to amuse herself while doing her homework. Dee hadn't lost control since that first flare-up, that took out Auntie Abhi's saari.

But Deepti knew she had to find some method to train herself, and she only had the coming summer to do so, before she got buried under schoolwork, sports, and the family businesses, come September. And, she had to keep it secret from her family.

But, one of the biggest problems with her power was that while Dee was fireproof, none of her clothing was. How could she figure out how it worked if she had to do it naked? Where could she go, safely, that wouldn't burn down around her, where she couldn't be spied upon, where she wouldn't start a brush fire? It was Los Angeles, after all, where it was Fire Season some ten months out of the year.

Deepti couldn't use the back yard, because neighboring houses could see into other neighbors' yards. She didn't want to risk igniting the back fence, either, which was made of old cedar planks. She couldn't go to a local park, because people were always there, and all the brown vegetation could ignite. She couldn't go to the beach, because of people, or the mountains, because of the brush fire danger. Dee was hesitant to use any of the abandoned buildings throughout the city, due to squatters, homeless people, addicts, gangs, and any given building's own decrepitude. She considered trying to use any of the public skate parks, after hours, but, again, people.

Deepti looked at the Google maps of her neighborhood, and realized she could probably find a stretch of the San Gabriel River, since most of it was cemented over. Surely, she could find a stretch where she could stash her clothes and fire up, learn how to fly, by keeping low to the ground. She spent a productive morning on her bike, looking for areas that looked likely for her to train herself. Off the beaten path, without too much casual over-looking by housing. There were some stretches through industrial areas that looked promising. She hoped she could use some of those areas, that they didn't have security cameras. Her primary goal was to learn how to use her power, to control it, to have it flare up only when she wanted it to. But she wasn't ready for other people to know about it. She figured that she'd tell her family when she had it entirely under her control.

Having found an area to fire up, Dee started making a list of what she'd need to have on-hand. Clothing, of course, but not her regular clothes. She was going to need to go hit the local thrift shops for cheap outfits that she could burn off when she fired-up. She would need a backpack to carry whatever she was going to wear home, afterwards. She'd find some nicer clothes for that, but still wouldn't use "her" clothes, the clothing that her mother helped her shop for, generally. She'd have to use her bike to get to and from, and lock it. She already had a good lock and chain for it, so that wasn't a necessity. Deepti would keep her keys with her spare clothes in the backpack, which would be wherever she stashed it for when she fired up. She wouldn't bother with spare shoes, as Deepti's feet were quite sturdy. She was generally barefoot around the house and in the yard. With the amount of running around she did, the soles of her feet were quite tough.

Deepti decided that the only key she'd have on her when she went for her "training sessions" was for her bike lock. She'd leave her house keys stashed under a pot in the front yard at her house, just in case the unthinkable happened and somebody stole her gear-bag. She also wouldn't have ID on her, either. Or her phone. That was the hardest decision to make, as it held so much important info for her. But if she didn't want to be found out, she couldn't have something that would betray her so easily upon her person or in her bag.

Dee had some money saved up, so on the way home from school, she stopped at a thrift shop, and found a half-dozen t-shirts that would fit her, a couple of pairs of shorts, and a few pairs of jeans. When she got home with her haul, her mother regarded the bag of clothing with an upraised eyebrow.

"What is this for, Deepti?" she asked.

"It's, ah, for working out. Stuff that can get dirty or torn up. I got it at the thrift shop, by the school. I was just going to go wash it, before wearing any of it," Dee replied. Nothing she said was a lie.

Hemanti regarded her older daughter with a level of suspicion, but couldn't find fault with any of it. Her daughter was physically active, and it wasn't uncommon for her clothing to take the brunt of damage through the course of a day.

"I'm just going to wash it all in cold. I don't care about the colors, because I don't expect them to last that long," explained Deepti. "I was going to ask Kamal if he needed any help at the garage," she added. Her brother was an assistant manager at a local auto-body shop. And, while they wore cover-alls when working on the cars, grease could still seep through and stain clothing underneath, and in the summer months, one could sweat quite profusely.

That seemed to satisfy Hemanti, as she nodded absently, and helped put the clothes in the washing machine. She held up one of the t-shirts, disdainfully. It had a confederate flag across the front. "You chose this?" she asked her daughter.

"It was my size, and when I was getting them off the rack, I didn't look too closely at the designs. I don't expect it to last more than a week. I can also wear it inside out, so it's not so obvious," offered Deepti. She also regarded it, disappointed with herself that she hadn't noticed that earlier. All she saw was that it was a red shirt with some manner of design on the front, in her size. And it was a dollar.

In all, she got a week's worth of fire-up clothes for ten dollars. She would need to find where and how she could acquire some sort of super-suit. She wasn't sure how she would go about looking for that, to start with. Ah well, she'd worry about that after she mastered her power.

That evening, she looked up super powers on YouTube, and found several videos on how to develop one's powers, if one didn't have a mentor or trainer. There was some weird advice given, but also some useful information offered.


It was Saturday, and Deepti was able to slip out of the house early. She had her fire-up bag ready, and shoved some extra naan and a package of cheese from the fridge into it, on her way through the kitchen. She was wearing the inside-out confederate shirt and a pair of shorts that she'd picked up from the thrift shop. Her hair was tied back in a thick braid down her back, and she was grateful that her fire didn't seem to burn it. All of her seemed to be proof against the fire she produced.

She locked her bike near one of the access gates into the river wash area, and hopped the fence. She trotted down the access road to the river bed itself, her pack thumping against her back, as she looked for one of the city storm drain pipes that didn't have the anti-backwash cover set on it. She found one, about five minutes later, and about a half-mile from where she left her bike. The pipe was huge, some six feet across, and darker than an armpit at midnight. She headed into it.

"Hello?" she called out, and listened to her voice echo down the concrete pipe. "Is anyone in here?" Dee listened carefully, but there was some scuttling, some rustling, of multi-legged vermin, or wind. There was a trickle of water running down the middle of the pipe's floor.

Looking behind, towards the riverbed, she saw she was about fifteen feet into the pipe. Deepti put her pack down, and put her dollar-store sneakers next to it. She walked a little farther into the pipe, and started thinking about that warm spot in her chest, encouraging it to heat up her right arm. As she felt the warmth within her shift and spread to her right side, she made a throwing motion, as one of the videos had said. And, to her amazement, slung a ball of fire down deeper into the pipe. It dissipated about ten feet away from her, but that was still something!

"Yes!" she exclaimed, pumping her left arm in triumph.

Deepti started moving deeper into that pipe, lighting her way by throwing her small fireballs ahead of her. After about ten minutes of moving further into the pipe, she stopped, and looked behind her. The entrance was a tiny pinprick, far away. It was going to be a long walk back.

Assuming she walked. Dee hovered in the shower, why not find out if she could fly? She reached for that warmth in her chest, and found that it wasn't a cozy little candle-lantern, but a hearth-fire, and it was more than ready to spread through her body. The pipe was lit up for about fifteen feet in either direction, as Deepti stood there, her entire body on fire.

"Time to give it a try!" Dee told herself. She took three running steps forward, slid on a patch of algae, and landed face-first in the trickle of water, slid forward a couple of feet, and her fires extinguished.

"Ow, fuck!" Dee exclaimed, rolling out of the water, and scraping the slimy residue off of her. She was glad she was so far in the pipe, where nobody could see her. Firing up had burnt the clothes off of her, as she expected. "If at first," she grumbled, shaking all the gunk off, then firing up once more.

Deepti was careful not to run through the water itself, and was able to go airborne for about ten feet, before hitting the side of the pipe. But the sunlight was much closer, and she could see the little lump on the floor that was her backpack and shoes.

"Third time's a charm!" Dee exclaimed, as she took another running-jump, and finally shot out of the pipe, into the wash, like a cannonball.

And that's when Dee found out there was no corresponding pipe on the other side of the wash from the one she just exited. She hit the concrete wall, denting it about an inch, with spider-web cracks spreading from her point of impact. Dee fell to the floor of the wash, her flames reducing but not going out entirely. She looked quickly around, and ran back into "her" pipe. Her body ached, and she found she was ravenous. She hoped she didn't set fire to her backpack when she flew past it, because that cheese and bread was what was going to power her getting back home. She kept her flames strong enough to light the area around her in the pipe as she stumbled deeper in, looking for her shoes and bag.

Thankfully, the bag was fairly sturdy. There was a little bit of singe, but not enough to compromise it or the contents. She pulled on the fresh clothes, and headed back to her bike, half a mile away. The naan and cheese were devoured by the time she started up the ramp to the fence, and she was absently contemplating trying to grab something at the convenience store on the way home. Then, she remembered that she had no cash on her, and grumbled to herself as she unlocked her bike.

Deepti got back home shortly before noon. She tucked her bike at the side of the house, and went to the pot where she'd hid her keys. They were gone. Frowning, she looked around the area, wondering if she mis-remembered where she'd tucked them.

"Looking for these?" Marisa called from the back door, holding up Dee's keychain, making it jingle softly.

"What're you doing with those?" Dee asked, irritated. "Give'em back." She stepped towards the patio door, where Mari was standing.

"Where'd you go, so early? And, weren't you wearing something else?" Mari asked, tilting her head as she regarded her older sister. "Oh my god! You're not even wearing your bra!" gasped Marisa, in a hissing whisper.

"I went out. Now, give those back." Dee reached for the keys, but Mari stepped back, into the house.

"You didn't see Kamal, I know that," teased Marisa. "He came by about an hour after you left. On his way to work. Where'd you go? And what happened to your face?" Marisa leaned forward, to get a better look at the side of Dee's face. "You look like you hit a wall!" Her eyes grew wide, "Ooh, did you get in an accident? Mummy'll kill you, if you did! You weren't wearing your helmet! You know you're supposed to!"

Deepti grabbed her keys back. "I wasn't on my bike when it happened. And yeah, I did hit a wall. It leaped out and bit me." She took herself to her room, to change into her regular clothes, things her family normally saw her in. "I'm just trying to deal with some stuff, right now. Figure things out." It was nothing but the truth. Just not the whole truth.

"Did you get in a fight? Did they beat you up? Did you hit back? Where'd it happen?" nagged Mari, following along. She leaned against Dee's closed bedroom door. "Mum's gonna be mad when she finds out," she called through the door.

"I'll deal with it, later. I need to take a shower, wash the sweat off. And leave my keys alone!" Dee called back, having grabbed her fresh clothes. She figured she'd wear that day's ride-home clothes on the way back to the river the next day. And make a note to pack a bra, too. She threw the ride-home clothes onto her closet floor and pulled on her bathrobe. She pulled her braid forward, looking at her hair in the mirror on her bedroom door. There was no sign of the filth that she'd fallen into when she was trying to fly. She leaned closer to the mirror, and looked at the bruised side of her face. But there was no dirt.

That's when Deepti realized that when she fired up, she burned off any dirt and grease on her body. It didn't heal her wounds, but it cleaned them out, it seemed. "Whoa," she murmured, as she unbraided her hair, already functionally clean.

"Whoa?" asked Marisa from the other side of the door. "What's 'whoa'? C'mon, Dee, tell me!"

Deepti yanked open her door, making Mari fall into her bedroom. "Hey!" the younger sister exclaimed. "That was rude!"

"So's listening at other people's doors. Get lost, slug," demanded the older sister, as she stepped over the prone girl, and headed to the bathroom.


"Deepti! Your face! What happened?" demanded Hemanti, her mother, when Dee later came downstairs to the kitchen.

"I wasn't paying attention to where I was going, and there was a wall where I didn't expect one," Dee replied, honestly. "I already put some of your cream on it, though. I still have half a pot in the bathroom cabinet." Hemanti opened her mouth to say something, but Dee continued, "And I'll make sure I use more of it before going to bed, tonight."

Her mother closed her mouth, and regarded her older daughter with a motherly look of concern for several moments, before pulling her into a tight hug. "I have another pot of it, if you need more," she said, stepping back and holding Dee's shoulders in her hands. Hemanti was an inch taller than her daughter, and the family resemblance was very clear, when they stood so close together. Dee had her mother's facial structure, and her father's eyes. "Now, get the table set for dinner."


Because it was Saturday, it was Narula Family Dinner Night. About half an hour before dinner would be served, Kamal arrived. He brought a bag from a local ice cream store, and presented it to his mother, who was in the kitchen, doing last minute checks on the food before it would get plated and served.

"I brought dessert, Mum," he exclaimed. "Rocky Road for you, pineapple sherbert for Dad, mint chocolate chip for Marisa, and rainbow sherbert for Deepti. The chocolate chunk is mine," he remarked, as Hemanti peeked into the bag, before tucking it into the freezer.

"Thank you, Kamal," she remarked, then smacked his hand away from the naan that was stacked on a plate by the stove. "Not until dinner. Go say hello to your father."

Deepti was waiting for him at the base of the stairs. "Hey, Kay," she called out, nodding a greeting to him.

"What's up, Deep?" he replied, settling into a lean against the base newel post. He did a double-take, when he noticed her bruising. "What happened to your face?!" he exclaimed.

"I fought a wall, and the wall won," Dee replied, flatly.

"Obviously," he smirked. "Klutz."

"So, I, uh, wanted to ask you," she started, switching to Hindi, looking anywhere but at her brother. "Do you need, like, help or anything, at the body shop?" The question came in a rush.

"Why, you suddenly got a need to do an oil change?" Kamal grinned.

"I need to get out of the house, kind of regularly," she admitted, quietly. "I need to take care of, you know. Stuff. But I don't want everyone else getting in my way."

Kamal's head tilted a little, as he regarded the elder of his younger siblings. "What's going on, Deep?" he asked, quietly. "That wall got something to do with it?" The words were teasing, but his expression was serious.

"Just, stuff. I have to deal with it myself, though, and it's going to take a while to figure out. But I need privacy," she replied. She looked up at him and smirked wryly, "And you know how much there's to be had, around here."

Kamal actually chortled at that, nodding. "Yeah, we can work something out. I'll even teach you how to drive, too. See about getting your license before school starts." He reached over and gave her shoulder a light shove.

She grinned and swiped her arm up to push his hand away. It turned into a sibling shoving match, with good-natured insults getting thrown in both English and Hindi, until Jagad, their father, called down from the top of the stairs, "You two! Cut that out, get ready for dinner!"

After dinner, Deepti walked with Kamal to his car. "When can you let me know about helping at the body shop?" she asked.

"I'll text you, tomorrow afternoon. I need to talk to the boss, and make sure he's okay with it. I don't see a problem," Kamal remarked, as he absently scratched the back of his head with one hand, "But, you know. Keep the bases covered."

Dee nodded, "Sounds like a plan. Thanks." She gave him a shove with her shoulder, and he responded by shoving back with his.

"I don't know what's going on, Deep, but you be careful, okay?" Kamal put his hand on his sister's shoulder, and looked her in the eyes, "You know if you need to talk, I won't tell Dad or Mum anything. I'll always have your back."

Dee nodded, offering a slight smile in return. "Thanks. I'll keep it in mind. Just don't forget to get back to me, okay?"

"Talk to you tomorrow," he replied, as he got into his car.


Deepti did the same thing, the next morning, wearing a thrift store outfit to the riverbed. She also had some sandwiches packed, as well as a couple of dollars in cash, so she could hit the stop'n'rob on the way home, if necessary. Also packed were a change of clothes, and a sport-bra. She cycled to the riverbed, and trotted at a comfortable pace to a different storm drain. She had decided it wouldn't be good to use the same storm drain to train in, for the soot build up, if nothing else.

The videos she watched the evening before had some more pointers on self-training, exercises a pyrotic could try. She had a good start with the way she threw the fireballs down deeper into the pipe, and she worked mostly on that, that morning. But she also worked on engaging her full body fire, and trying to vary how strong it was. It took a lot of concentration, but she was able to go from a skin-slick glow to complete immolation, and pause at various strengths in between.

The videos emphasized that a pyrotic needed control over their power more than being able to blast it off, willy-nilly. It was easy to let loose, but it took control of the fires within to keep control of the fires enabled. It was the differences between drawing a stick figure, to drawing a simple figure, to illustrating a portrait. Deepti was determined to be well on the way to mastery over her fires before school started.

But throwing the fireballs were a lot of fun, and she wasn't going to deny herself of that pleasure.

Deepti paid close attention to how the warmth in her chest felt, finding that it was coming to reflect her own moods, or her moods reflected how it was. She was coming to learn the tones of that inner fire, how to build it up or cool it down, but she found comfort in knowing it was there. It was part of her self, and she was coming to use that as a gauge for her own mental health, as the week progressed.

Kamal texted her, as promised, and let her know that she could come in during the mornings, starting Tuesday, to stock and cashier for up to three hours a day, and she'd make the minimum wage of eleven dollars an hour. Deepti would need to wear closed-toed shoes or boots, jeans, and either a polo-shirt or a plain tee shirt. She wouldn't be working on cars at all. Just step-and-fetching, and handling customer payments. Not too different from when she would help at her family shops, really. Just trading one set of OSHA violations for others.

Monday rolled around, and because school was over, Dee packed up her snack and spare clothes, slipping out before her family got up. She left a note in the kitchen, saying that she wanted to gauge how long it would take her to get to the body shop on her bike, and that she would be back in time for lunch.

In truth, she wanted to see if there was a better route to get to the wash, a different place she could slip over the fence to find a good storm drain pipe. Maybe something en route to the body shop, for convenience's sake. Dee casually rode her bike on the path that ran alongside the fence. She passed early morning joggers, homeless people who found relatively quiet spots to hole up, people walking their dogs, other bicyclists; she took note of them, absently, but had her eye out for access into the riverbed itself.

Near one of the smaller over-passes, the gate that gave access to the wash had been bent, but hadn't yet been repaired. It looked like a good spot for her to slip down to the concrete riverbed. There was a bus stop not too far from the overpass, and a Buckystars coffee shop. She felt okay about locking her bike by the coffee shop. Deepti figured she would get her after-workout-snack there.

As Dee walked away from the bike, her pack slung over her shoulder, she regretted not having her phone on her, as she had some money on her Buckystars app. Ah well, she would just use cash, which was dwindling faster than she expected. She realised she was eating more, over the last few days. Her appetite had increased, and she smirked, slipping through the gate. "Well, it's one way to burn calories," Dee muttered to herself.

Her bargain sneakers slapped on the concrete as she trotted down the access road to the riverbed, and she started looking for a good drain pipe to be that day's workout area. Her braid slapped against her back, birds sang in the trees and brush, and the sun was starting to peek over the buildings that lined the wash. In the distance, she could hear the freeway traffic. She was heading north in the wash, and looked farther up, towards Downey, in the distance. She saw a figure crossing the sky, maybe three miles away. She wondered if it was one of the Los Angeles heroes, like El Fuego, who also had fire powers. She wondered how hard it would be to ask him privately how to train, how to get some fireproof fabric, how to be a hero.

There was a likely-looking drain pipe coming up on her left, and she started crossing the wash, towards it. As she jumped over the trickle of water running down the middle of the concrete riverbed, Dee started giving some serious thought about maybe enrolling in one of those super-schools. There were supposed to be some programs in place in public school districts for burgeoning supers, but the downside would be that everyone in the school would find out one was, well, different. Super-different.

"Hello!" Deepti called into the pipe. "Hello! Anyone in there?" she yelled, and listened to the echo. All she heard was some trickle of water, far beyond where the shadows started, and a little bit of rustling, either rats or lizards, or trash blown in from streets that emptied into that pipe. Dee then threw a smaller fireball down the pipe, to show anything that might be dangerous to her. She used this method to move deeper into the drain. All she heard was the scurrying of small animal feet. She was about fifty to sixty feet inside the pipe, and chucked her shoulder bag to the side, making sure it didn't land in the trickle of water that flowed down the center.

Dee threw another fireball deeper into the pipe, stronger than her "flashlight" fireballs, and realised that, in her tee-shirt, the flames built up along her forearms, growing stronger as they reached her hands. Her clothing was safe from her throwing her fires. "Huh," she muttered, and looked at her hands. Frowning absently, Dee got her hands to ignite and burn steadily for several long moments. She wriggled her fingers, as if tickling the flames.

"Hey," Dee grinned, as a thought occurred to her. She made a softball-sized fireball, and gently tossed it upward. It had no significant mass, but it arced up and back down. Deepti caught it in her other hand, and sent it back up and over, basically juggling the small fireball. She made a second fireball, and started juggling the pair. She had learned how to juggled tennis balls and other small objects in junior high, mostly to frustrate Kamal as she'd chuck them at his head. It was easy for her to juggle the otherwise weightless fireballs. She didn't realise that as she fooled around with the small amusements, it was teaching her fine control of her ability.

Deepti spent the next hour with the juggling, and throwing fireballs deeper into the storm drain. As she got better with manipulating the small fires, she started thinking about the flying. She could only get airborne with her body on fire, so there was something about how her fire activated, or reacted to air, or something, that allowed her to take flight. She could hover, and had been continuing with that in the shower, and she knew if she put a lot of fire "behind" her, she could propel herself forward, and fast. Dee wasn't certain how fast she could go, and didn't know how she could measure that, herself. She considered telling Kamal about it, so he could help her figure it out, but second-guessed herself out of that. She figured it would scare him off, he might panic, he might hate her for it. She conjured a variety of worst-case scenarios, and when she realised one of his options would be turning her in to the authorities, she felt cold, all over. Deepti's flames completely extinguished from fear of that possibility.

Deepti stopped what she was doing, and looked, unseeing, towards the storm drain's entrance, as she imagined what could happen if he did turn her in. How disappointed her parents would be. Marisa would likely be scared of her, too. No, Dee promised herself never to tell her family, if she could help it.


Author's Note: This is a world similar to the one in Vox Veritatus. Both were built using the Mighty Protectors RPG system published by Monkey House Games. The figure was created in HeroForge dot com, and altered with PhotoShop.