By Addy Burfield
"Cut the thread." A multi-colored chord of light twitched and twirled in front of the youngest Moirae's secluded face, emitting vitality as fire did heat. If Aisa looked closely enough, her colorless eyes would catch snatches of the life of the mortal the thread represented. His family, friends, lovers, fears – the knowledge would pour through her mind, water spilling into a goblet already too full. "End his life. It is your duty."
"It is not his time, Klotho." Cowering back into her hooded cloak, the youngest denied the order, her eyes closing against the desire to fulfill her sister's orders. "The Moirae were not created to meddle in the lives of men!"
The middle crone, Lakhesis, the Measurer, entered the uneasy circle, the sound of her cloak whispering on the ground like that of worms slithering through the dirt. "Cut the thread," – came her words, a reiteration of the Weaver's earlier command. "We are not meddling. I have Measured and found it his time." Had Aisa wanted to, she would have heard the empathy in her sister's voice. Instead, she worried, certain that the other woman was plotting against her.
"No!" Desperation clawed at her insides, twisting and turning until she felt hollow with fear. "Do not do this, sisters. You know as well as I do that it is wrong! He's still but a boy!"
"Twenty is hardly a boy in today's world. Tempt us not, Aisa of the Knife – you have already lost our trust. Do your duty… follow your destiny. Cut the thread." The careless quality of Lakhesis' voice made Aisa's skin crawl. Not so long ago, Lakhesis had been the one to support her youngest sister's every decision. How had things changed so quickly?
It was almost physically painful to defy any request that fell from the middle crone's lips – her powers and unique position in life made sure of it. Two, faltering steps forward… "No." The word was explosive, echoing in the quiet chambers like the clash of steel on steel. "He will not die by my hand." Aisa forced herself back, away from the other women.
Scissors made of the finest gold dug into her skin, under the royal purple robe that hung so heavy on her shoulders. As an extension of Aisa's hand, the seat of her power, they itched to cut the cord dangling so tantalizingly in front of her nose.
"Because you love him?" Scorn dripped from the question Klotho posed, sending a shudder through Aisa's body. "You are still young, naïve. What will happen when your beauty fades, sister? No mortal will accept you then, when you are as wizened as Lakhesis and I. We are the only ones who will still care for you."
The price of immortality was a steep one, Aisa acknowledged inwardly, eyes skimming over the mostly-hidden forms of her sisters. To live forever meant to give up beauty for just as long.
Klotho, the oldest, was the worst-off. Her once lustrous, black hair fell in front of a nearly skeletal face in a grey, frazzled cloud. From under a permanently furrowed brow, eyes the color of dried blood stared out of her hood. Beneath the cloak, her previously lithe body had become stick-like and frail, bones wrapped in wrinkled, sallow skin.
Lakhesis looked much the same, though hid herself better beneath her robes. Vanity still ran strong in her veins, as she had just pledged her soul to answering Destiny's call. Klotho had been ugly to look at for millennia, and self-consciousness no longer plagued her.
When they had made the choice to shed mortality, they'd also made the choice to surrender their beauty to those whose lives were fleeting. Mortals needed beauty to attract a mate- Gods did not. Those with power were only attracted to those with more, whether that person's looks resembled a reanimated corpse or a ravishing beauty.
"It doesn't matter," Aisa heard herself whisper, one pale, unwrinkled hand clutched to her heart. "He is mine. And I will not end his life." It hurt, more than it should have, to disagree with her sisters. For so long, the youngest had been the most docile, going along with her sisters' every whim. But surely, if they truly loved her, they would come around eventually. They would want her to be happy.
Swallowing, Aisa said, "I contest your decision – I call a trial." The other Moirae gasped, backing away from their sister as if her presence had become poison. The rejection stung, but Aisa shoved it to the back of her mind. There would be time enough later to concern herself with earning back her sisters' trust.
"Zeus!" Invoking her powers, she raised her voice to the only God who could contest the Fates' decision. "I seek audience with thee!" The words rippled through the air, becoming magic that crackled and sputtered in the stagnant darkness around the three women. Tiny pinpricks of light sparked in and out of existence, charging the atmosphere in the cave.
A dark, musky odor came with the fairy lights, followed quickly by three, shocking bursts of electricity. Aisa's breath caught in her throat as they struck the ground, sending showers of rock and dirt up into the air and onto the Fates' clothing.
As the scent of singed earth chased the muskiness away, energy pulsed from the cave walls, taking on a life of its own. A giant, pulsating orb appeared several feet away from Aisa, expanding and slowly taking the shape of a man.
A master of illusion, Zeus appeared before them a handsome young man, with hair the color of corn silk and eyes the color of the sky before a storm. As if she were unimpressed by his appearance, Aisa smiled blandly at the newcomer, wishing she was somewhere far, far away.
"Aisa of the Knife." Like a thunderclap, her name seemed to shake the ground on which the women stood. "Why have you summoned me?" Bright eyebrows lifted in attempt at curiosity.
Aisa stepped forward, chin held high, running her plea through her head over and over so she wouldn't forget in the face of the man's power."I would challenge a decision Lakhesis has made for the Destiny of a mortal, if 'tis permissible, m'lord." Blood pounded in her ears, making it hard to think. Holding out shaking hands as an entreaty she continued, "They would end his life now, though it is not his time."
Exasperated eyes glanced around at the three sisters. "You've called me here to settle a family dispute?" he seethed, his voice loud enough to echo from the cave walls. "You dare –"
"It is hardly a family matter, sire," Aisa jumped in. "You see –"
"No, it is but a family matter." Lakhesis stepped forward, holding her hands out pleadingly to the King of the Gods. "Please, forgive my sister for invoking your name. We will –"
"SILENCE!" The command sent all three Moirae into the air. "Klotho, as you seem to be the most impartial party, I will ask you. What goes on here?"
"She refuses to do her duty and cut his thread, as I have ordered. I cannot consider it a family matter, since it is a direct dereliction of duty." The crone cast a sad glance at Aisa, as if she were wishing events had played out differently.
"She refuses to spite you, does she not?"
"She does not do this to spite us, but to spare him. Aisa is not a spiteful creature, but a caring one." Lakhesis was defending her, Aisa realized, though she was still angry. They were still siblings, no matter what had come between them.
"Is this true, Aisa?" Zeus demanded, one mighty hand reaching out towards her, empathy in his stormy eyes. In her own pain, she had forgotten that Zeus knew something about forbidden love.
With a clumsy tongue, Aisa answered, "Yes, sir. It is. I have fallen in love with Risto Katsupolis, and would go to trial to save him if need be."
Aisa had always been fascinated by the Mortal Realm. It was so beautiful there, full of greenery and water and stormy skies that the Gods rarely saw. She'd begun visiting there at an early age, and continued for as long as possible.
Klotho could contact her if she were needed, but otherwise, Aisa was left alone – something she never took for granted. Nights in the mortal planes were particularly beautiful, and she had loved to sit under the stars and watch the sky. While not technically immortal, she had been born of two Gods. Sleep – along with other mortal necessities such as food and drink – was not a concern for her, so she would often sit and watch all night long.
There had been a meteor shower the night she met him. The only Greek she had ever met that had recognized her on sight. "I beg your pardon, madam," he had joined her near the river; her favorite place to sit at night. "But you … you are Aisa of the Knife, the Moira, are you not?"
Scissors clutched tight in her left hand, she had nodded. Why she felt so frightened by his knowledge was still something she wondered about. Before, her identity had been a protective quilt, something she wrapped herself in whenever forced to converse directly with a stranger.
"I am." Voice shaking, she had looked at him, waiting for a reaction. He was thin – almost too thin, for a mortal, with dark, shoulder-length hair and eyes the color of the grass he spent so much time in. Bright and intelligent, meeting those eyes had been the beginning of Aisa's downfall.
"May I sit with you? Madam?"
The question was so innocent, so unexpected, that Aisa found herself nodding. While she wasn't sure that she wanted the company, perhaps it would be nice – just for the evening. After he'd sat beside her, a polite foot or so away, Aisa found her voice and asked, "What is your name, kind sir?" The question was more of an airy whisper, but he understood.
"Risto, ma'am. Risto Katsupolis." He'd looked earnestly into her eyes, and for some, still unknown reason, a smile had crept over her face.
"Risto. Lovely." The name was one she'd not heard before, and uncommon names in Greek culture were rare. "Why is it that you are not frightened of me, Risto?" She couldn't help but wonder, since most everyone else knew to leave her be.
"Well, ma'am – "
"Aisa. My name is Aisa. Not ma'am." It seemed … wrong, somehow, to let him grant her an honorific.
Risto's brows pulled together, but he agreed and went on with his explanation. "Well, Aisa, everyone has to die someday, do they not? You will not kill me before it is my time, and if I brave your power, I will be blessed with your presence." A large, ridiculous grin covered his youthful face, reminding Aisa of the sun breaking free of the clouds.
She let out a slow, tinkling laugh, letting all the tension in her body drain away. "I suppose that is as good a reason as any…" Aisa realized, as she laughed, that this man was easy to just … be with. He had no hidden agenda, his guileless eyes said so. He wanted nothing from her – a refreshing feeling, to be certain.
They had stayed on the riverbank for hours, as meteors painted the sky with trails of yellow light, talking and ignoring their surroundings as if they were the only two in the world. At some point, the polite distance between them had grown smaller and smaller still, until their thighs nearly touched as Risto pointed out a particularly large falling star in the sky.
To her surprise, Aisa just laughed and enjoyed the touch.
She learned of Risto's family: Mama, whose preferred weapon was a large wooden spoon and a soft hug; Papa, the carpenter, who never left home without his wife or one of his sons and loved to sing off key when he was inebriated, and Keres, Risto's younger brother of the annoying voice and big imagination.
Their family was obviously a very cohesive one, much like Aisa and her sisters were. In fact, his description of his mother reminded her a great deal of Lakhesis as she had been before losing her mortality. The notion was intriguing – and she couldn't help but speak of it to her companion.
That night was the first night Aisa began to question whether or not she forever wanted to be known as 'Aisa of the Knife', and not the last night she met Risto near the river.
Holding tightly to Zeus's forearm, Aisa prepared herself for travel to Mount Olympus. She had ridden the lightning bolt before and survived – surely there was nothing for her to fear this time. The God of the Sky would let nothing untoward befall her …
Energy pulsed through her whole body, forcing her hair on end. Aisa blinked, and when her eyes opened again, she, her sisters, and Zeus stood in front of the Pantheon at the top of Mount Olympus. It was as beautiful as she remembered, golden pillars carved from lightning bolts and fires burning atop each one.
"Eros! Summon the Gods to trial!" Zeus boomed, making Aisa jump and Lakhesis laugh a little. She stopped as soon as Aisa looked at her and glanced away, but it was good for the youngest to know she could still make her sister smile.
They were then ushered inside the castle, to the common meeting area. Padded chairs lined the outside walls of the gargantuan room, leaving the middle empty aside from a large cage that seemed to be made of Hades' trademark blue fire.
As Aisa got closer, the shape of a man became clearer and clearer inside of it until – "No!" Her voice cracked as she screamed, but she did not care. "Zeus!" she all but shrieked, staring at the man in abject horror. "He cannot be – he's unconscious! What have you done to him?"
Suddenly, Risto's presence on Mount Olympus was not as pressing of a concern. Ignoring the scornful gazes on her back, Aisa surged forward and dropped to her knees outside the cage. "Risto? Risto, wake up. Please. You have to wake up!"
"He is in a magically induced sleep, idiot Fate," Hades' whispery drawl explained from somewhere behind her, a sneer in his voice. "So we don't have a screaming mortal on our hands while we debate."
Aisa turned to glare at the assembled Gods. Her eyes and their strange lack of color had always made most of them uneasy; with the exceptions of Zeus and Hera, not one of them could meet her gaze without flinching. Now, as the orbs narrowed in anger, not even the King of the Gods could stare her down.
"If this trial is to decide his punishment as well as my own – which I would assume, since you went to the trouble of bringing him here – it is his right to be conscious of the proceedings." Shaking, Aisa delivered her argument to the assemblage, hoping desperately that Risto would sit up and smile at her.
"Mortals have no rights in our courts." Persephone was suddenly standing beside her husband, raven hair around her face. Hades nodded in a agreement, but Aisa could see Zeus begin to waver at the mention of an unfair trial, just as she knew he would. Zeus had always taken his responsibility to uphold justice seriously, and he would not appreciate being deemed 'unfair'.
"Peace, Aisa of the Knife." Hera's melodic voice drifted on the air. "Zeus, awaken him. She is right, and we all know it." The Goddess of the Hearth leveled her gaze at Hades and Persephone, seemingly daring them to argue.
Hera, too, hid her true self behind illusions. Beauty oozed from her façade, making her a blonde haired, blue eyed woman that any man would die to be with. Some had done it – much to Hera's chagrin. She was the kindest Goddess, one Aisa enjoyed associating with and trusted. If she believed that this trial would end well, then Aisa would be optimistic.
Zeus raised a hand and suddenly, Risto was staring up at her from the floor of his prison, eyes blinking rapidly as he tried to process his surroundings. "Aisa? What's going on?" The frantic quality of his voice made her own eyes fill with tears. It was her fault he was here, her fault he was terrified. It could probably be considered her fault he was condemned to die in the first place- her sisters had only called for his thread after they had found her in bed with him.
Shoving her hand through the bars, she gripped his fingers, letting tears flow freely down her cheeks. "I am so, so sorry," she blubbered, rubbing his wrist with her thumb. "My sisters did not like that we – what we did. They wanted to cut your thread … but I could not. So I called a trial to contest the decision, not realizing that Zeus would drag you here."
Risto's typically tan face went chalk white. "I am meant to die, then?"
Aisa shook her head frantically. "You cannot, until I cut the thread. And I will not." Anger, fierce and red-hot, flowed through her veins. How dare her sisters put him through this? Put her through this? They were supposed to be her family – love her unconditionally. Why couldn't they do that?
Though fear had blossomed on his face, Risto still tried to smile for her. "Please, do not cry. This is not your fault, Aisa." One of his hands swept over her cheek, comforting as much as he could.
"It is! If I had not been so selfish and kept you close to me –"
"Hush." The word was hard, angry. Did he finally understand? Was he finally blaming her, as he should? Even though she thought that was what she wanted, the thought sent a bolt of pain straight through Aisa's heart.
"Being with you was my decision, Aisa. Sleeping together was our decision. You have done nothing wrong – do not allow your sisters to make you think you have." Casting a glare in the other Fates' direction, he turned back to Aisa, indignation still coming from him in waves. "I love you. You love me. What's wrong about that?"
"Nothing," she sobbed. "Nothing."
"Let the trial begin!" Zeus's voice stopped all conversation. With her heart pounding in her throat, Aisa turned towards him to follow the proceedings.
The first time Risto had kissed her, they had been directly outside his parents' house. He'd somehow convinced her to meet them, promising that he would not reveal anything about her identity that she was not comfortable with. To them, she was Aleksis, a woman from a neighboring town that their son was sweet on.
It felt strangely nice to be thought of as normal for once.
"They love you," Risto had told her with an easy smile, glancing over his shoulder, back at the cottage where his family was probably still cleaning up from supper. "And thank you for eating – I know that you it isn't necessary for you. . ."
"It was no hardship." Aisa ruffled his bangs with her fingers, feeling oddly affectionate after the display of family unity she'd just witnessed. "Your family is quite – engaging." In truth, she was nearly as attached to them as she was Risto himself. His mother had hugged her, calling her beautiful and saying how happy she was that Risto had found her. Keres had insisted she play a game involving marbles with him, and his father had just sat back and watched, a broad smile on his weathered face.
Risto had just laughed. "I am glad you enjoyed yourself." He'd laced their fingers together, but it had been nothing out of the ordinary. Slowly, the boundaries between them had dissipated to almost nothing, so Aisa had not suspected a thing – which was why, when he pressed his lips to hers in the shadow of a large tree, she had been so surprised.
"What are you doing?" Her heart was pounding so loudly when she pulled away that it had been hard to hear her own words. "Risto, we should not –"
He kissed her again, stopping her arguments. Twining his fingers through her hair, he had held her close, kissing her so thoroughly that Aisa simply stopped thinking. In that moment, there were no bad ramifications of their actions – there was only heat.
"I love you," he'd whispered, ever so sweetly, into her ear during one of their breaks to breathe.
A soft gasp fell from her swollen lips. She wanted to pull away, she wanted to run – but Risto would have none of it. Strong arms wrapped around her shoulders, forcing her to stay. "And you love me too. You need not admit it now, but you do."
The kissing began again with a renewed passion. Aisa gave him all she had, trying to tell him without words that she felt the same, but dared not voice it aloud. It was hard to tell who began removing the other's clothes first. It could have been Aisa snatching the tunic from Risto's back, or it could have been him, tearing the cloak away from her body. It mattered little – nothing mattered, not in that moment, unless it had to do with lust... or love.
The trial was a nightmare that Aisa couldn't wake up from. Just when she was sure the matter had been resolved, someone would speak out against the solution. Mainly, the friction came from Hades – he wanted to make sure that both Aisa and Risto would suffer for their breach in protocol, whereas the other Gods just wanted this trial to end.
Eventually, Aisa just stopped listening. The arguments were too hard to follow; wrapped in lies and bribery that she didn't care to hear. She had no say in the outcome, in any case, so what did it matter if she paid attention? It was much more enjoyable to stay lost in memories and the feel of Risto's hand in hers.
"Enough!" Zeus thundered finally, after several hours of arguing, bringing even Aisa's attention to him. "I see no reason why the mortal and Aisa should not be permitted to live, so long as Aisa agrees to surrender her powers and return to Earth with him ." There was a smattering of cheering, and several of the ambivalent Gods stood, as if to leave.
Hades stood from his seat, nearly knocking the marble monstrosity over in his anger. "The myriad I gave you were not enough, brother?" he demanded, sickening features twisting into a snarl. "Allow me to reiterate – if you let them go free, it sets a precedent. We shall have Gods everywhere breaking our rules, flaunting this in our faces."
"Is that really what you're upset about, Hades? Or is it just that you wanted the prettiest Moirae to yourself?" Aphrodite's acerbic comment sent the Pantheon into another uproar, and this time, a fight looked imminent.
Risto's hand clenched tighter around Aisa's, bringing her back to him. "All will be well," she promised quietly, wishing that she could believe that herself. Hades almost always got his way, being the well-versed manipulator that he was.
"I beg you- do not lie to me," Risto said forcefully, dropping her hand. "I am not a fool, no matter how lovesick, and it will only benefit us in the end if we are both informed. Tell me the truth – what do you really think the outcome of this trial will be?" Green eyes burned into Aisa's colorless ones, seeing straight through her as they always seemed to.
Risto's words anchored her to reality. He was right, of course, it was only right for him to really understand. He was a part of this too, now, because of her. That alone gave him the right to understand.
"I know not," Aisa said abruptly, gazing out over the sea of arguing Gods. "Hades is a well-practiced manipulator, and he can almost always get his way, even with Zeus. With him against us, it's impossible to know."
"Let them both live, I say, so long as Aisa loses her powers and is confined to the Mortal Realm. It matters not – they will both be dead in less than a century, anyway." Persephone was staring irritably at her husband, expression bored.
Many of the Gods nodded and raised their voice in agreement, but Aisa barely heard over the roaring in her ears. Leave the Underworld? Give up any chance of immortality, leave all that she knew behind? Leave her sisters behind?
Lakhesis caught her eyes from her position outside the circle of jurors. Neither she nor Klotho had been permitted to raise their voice during the proceedings, so they sat away from everyone else. Deliberately, both of the crones pushed back their hoods, revealing their horrid faces to open air before nodding once, in tandem.
They believed that she should do this. Was it so she would be gone, out of their way for good? Or was it because they worried for her still and wanted her to live and be happy?
It wasn't until Klotho's cracked and wrinkled lips lifted into a smile that Aisa knew. They wanted her to be happy, as they always had. Finding her in bed with Risto had been a nasty shock for them – of course they had been angry at first. But they were her family, just as they had always been, and they wanted her to live.
"I accept the terms." The statement was quiet, but stopped every other conversation in the room cold.
Hades glared in her direction, fiery eyes becoming angry infernos, but he nodded stiffly. "Very well. I am satisfied."
Zeus lifted his gaze to the room. "What say ye, Gods?"
There was a chorus of agreements, and as Aisa blinked, the cage holding Risto vanished, leaving her mortal in a tangle of arms and legs at her feet. With a small laugh, she helped him up, smiling reassuringly. He glanced around the room before melding his gaze with hers.
"Are you certain, Aisa? Are you truly willing to give up –"
"For you, I would give up anything. And my sisters have given their blessings – it would be rude to throw it back in their faces." The light attempt at humor sent a pang of loneliness through her chest, but she pushed it away. An eternity without Risto would be unbearable. Without her sisters would be hard, but he would be there to help her … and that was enough.
She clutched at Risto's hand, wordlessly begging him to stay quiet. "Please. Just let us go." The gold of her scissors dug at her skin, as if understanding that it would be separated from her forever in just a few moments. In a moment of weakness, she let her power swell over her one last time. Magic swirled around the room, dancing along her skin and around Risto.
With one last embrace, the power left her, and the scissors against her side became cold and dull. She felt it leave and mourned it's passing, but had only to look up to see her sisters cackling happily to themselves in the corner – or into a set of familiar green eyes - to feel better about it. She had made the right decision.
The youngest of the Moriae had taken hold of her own Destiny.