Hans Sullivan stepped into the burning apartment building, completely unafraid. In fact, his greatest concern was that the regulation fireman’s coat he wore was making his arm itch. The heavy fabric was rubbing up against the bandage that protected the site of that skin sample he’d given the other day.
He could feel the flame all around him, not the heat itself of course but something else, something unique to his power. It was a funny thing. Hot coffee or boiling water on the stove, that hurt something fierce if he wasn’t careful. But fire? That just gave him a sensation of… connection wasn’t quite the right word but it was the best he had.
Sullivan let that connection spread while he stood in the midst of an inferno, taking deep, slow breaths from his tank. When he thought it’d gone as far as he could manage, he drew on that connection and the flames snuffed out like a candle. He gave a quick look around and went in a little further to be sure, then radioed that the first floor was clear.
Immediately, more firemen poured into the building. Their coats and masks were probably even less necessary than his but regulations were regulations. The other guys went room to room, looking for survivors. They also checked load bearing walls and stairways to make sure everything was safe to go on. Soon enough, Sullivan got the nod and proceeded up the stairs to repeat his performance.
It wasn’t line of sight that limited his Empowerment, not distance either. Well, not exactly. Sullivan had a relatively short range or else he’d probably have wound up on wildfire duty instead of getting to stay with a regular firehouse. It was that sense of connection that determined how far he could reach at any given time and, for whatever reason, Sullivan almost never felt like fires above or below the floor he was on were part of the ones around him. Still, for any flame he could connect to, his control was absolute.
Sullivan could fan a candle into a bonfire with a thought or, far more often, extinguish the hottest blaze and leave the affected area no warmer than room temperature. Well, not the room he was in at the moment, a regular one. He smirked and put out the second floor. Just two more to go.
There was something wrong on the third floor. He felt it before he’d finished coming up the stairs, slowed by his heavy protective gear, but he didn’t know what it was. Sullivan had been working with fire for thirteen years, eleven as an Empowered, and he’d never seen or felt anything like this. The fire was dancing.
All around him it clung to the walls and the ceiling, climbing in great twisted ropes and coiling like a snake. The floor was left untouched and there was barely any smoke. The walls were discolored, the paint ruined but not- not actually burnt. And the fire, he couldn’t feel it. Sullivan could see it, obviously, but it just… wasn’t there as far as his power was concerned. What the hell?
It was a quiet voice, one he probably wouldn’t have heard if this was a normal burn but that weird, smokeless fire wasn’t making the roaring crackle that he’d gotten so used to. Everything else got pushed to back of his mind as he rushed towards the voice. Sullivan came to a door and kicked it open without a thought. Other firefighters had to worry about drafts and oxygen flow but that had stopped being an issue for him a long time ago.
He was in a bedroom. This was the first sign that the building was actually inhabited. The lower floors were empty of everything but refuse. Here, he saw a few piles of clothes, an old dresser and an oversized bed. All of it was burning with a far more normal appearance than the rest of the floor.
“Please help.” He heard the voice again, coming from under the bed.
Not stopping to wonder why he still couldn’t feel any of the flames around him, Hans bent over, then went down to hands and knees. There was a girl under there. She was tiny, probably late teens but so skinny… Her skin was dead white with panic and most of her hair, black, was burnt but he couldn’t see any sign that she was hurt. Sullivan started to say something, to reassure her, keep her calm even as he reached in to pull her out. He stopped when he saw what was behind her.
There was a corpse under the bed with the girl. Vomit covered and contorted into a position that no one living would ever lie in, the look on its face was… Whatever killed that girl, however she’d died, it hadn’t been easy. What was worse, the very worst part of it all, was that it was obviously the same girl who was clutching his wrists now.
“Wha-?” he started to say as her grip got tighter.
Not painful, the scrawny thing probably didn’t have enough strength in her to hurt a house cat, but it was enough that he couldn’t get her off when all the fire, the fire he still couldn’t connect to, came rushing rushing towards them. As the fire burned hotter and hotter, as his mask melted and his coat burned, Hans Sullivan found his gaze locked on the girl’s face.
Her flesh was blistered burning before him but she didn’t seem to care. She didn’t look scared anymore. Even when her skin was gone and he could see the layers of fat melting, when muscle scorched and Hans had started screaming because he could very definitely feel this fire now, the girl’s mouth was locked in an eager grin.
The next morning, Phoenix mourned its fallen heroes. Not just Hans Sullivan, who had died in the grip of a panicked Empowered girl named Stephanie Tillman, but the dozen others caught in the renewed blaze when Hans lost control of his power. The resulting fire, luckily contained to a single building, had burned so hot that nothing but blackened bone was left.