November 22, 2012...
It seemed that at least one of the old Olympians and their order had paid attention to this modern world they now lived in. The search for Clotho had brought Gabriel and Ares not to some well-defended cave high in the mountains or some such, but to a well-appointed apartment block on New York City's East Side. The archangel had brought the God of War right to the door of the apartment in question, but could go no further. "Warded up to the skies here," he pointed out, leaning against the wall of the hallway with his hands in his pockets. "You're on your own, ninja kitty."
Ares wasn't entirely happy with this situation, but then, why should he be? It galled him a little that he'd had to depend on an angel, of all things, to track Clotho down, and now that he was here, that same angel was going to abandon him to the task. Had he known the last of the Fates was hiding in plain sight, he might not have come dressed in full armor and regalia. If any mortals were to see him, he'd most certainly cause a ruckus. "You could have told me where we were going," Ares scolded the angel, as the air around him shimmered, and he was clad in jeans and t-shirt, like his companion, the Hinds Blood Dagger still in his hand. He was unsure just what a ninja kitty was exactly, but he got the feeling the angel was poking fun at him somehow, which only irked him further. He had a feeling whether the place was warded or not, Gabriel had no intention of getting his hands dirty when it came right down to it. "Be off with you, then. I can handle her on my own."
"You didn't ask, bucko," Gabriel pointed out, pushing to stand upright once again. He eyed the door warily enough that it was at least evident that he wasn't lying about the warding. There was a powerful something in there. "Look ..." He paused, frowning at Ares. "Don't get dead. There's a little girl needs you now, though I don't see it myself. You get dead, she won't last, and neither will the kid. Just sayin'."
"I appreciate your concern, but I will be fine. I know what I'm doing," he assured Gabriel, a little defensively, pausing a moment as he softened at the thought of leaving Ayden all alone. "You will watch over her in my absence, will you not?" he asked, though he only intended to be gone for a few hours at most. He didn't want to ask the angel out right if he'd continue as her guardian until he could return, but that was the gist of his request.
The surprise showed in Gabriel's eyes as he looked at the Olympian, having never thought the god would ask anything so personal of him. It was bad enough they had to work together for even a little while, yet Ares evidently trusted him enough to put Ayden's life in his hands once more. "Not a minute'll pass when she's not watched," he found himself promising, remembering a similar promise to a mortal years before over the same girl. "But don't take your time."
"No, this is long overdue," Ares replied, perhaps misunderstanding Gabriel's remark or perhaps just commenting on the long-overdue end to the Fates. Whichever way he meant it, he wasn't about to explain. "Go now," he instructed the angel. "She is a danger, even to you."
The archangel nodded, casting one more wary glance to the door, and fluttered off, leaving Ares alone in the hallway. For all its warding, all the warning signs placed on that doorway against supernatural entry, the door itself was not locked, offering easy access. Was it a trap, or simple arrogance?
Ares got the feeling Clotho was expecting him, and though he was not foolish enough to think she would go down without a fight, he was not here to kill her, not if he could help it. He was hoping to offer her another way out, if she was willing to take it. He wasn't sure what had mellowed him so. Centuries ago, if he'd had this chance, he'd have finished all three Fates off without so much as a second thought, but things had changed - he had changed. As soon as Gabriel was gone, Ares turned his complete attention to the matter of Clotho, wondering whether he should knock to announce his presence or simply walk in.
Whether he knocked or not, it would have made no difference. Despite the opulence of the building, the beauty of the interior design, the apartment stank of sweat and cigarettes, stale beer and vomit. The living room was cluttered with rubbish, with empty beer bottles, empty cartons of cigarettes, half-eaten food containers. And at the epicenter sat a figure, shaking, rocking back and forth as she murmured to herself. In one hand was a lit cigarette, in the other lay a golden Spindle that shone with a queasy light. Her fingers caressed it, repulsed and attracted to its power, as tears dripped from her eyes. One Fate, to influence many billions of lives. It was too much for even an immortal mind to bear. Clotho was cracking under the strain.
Let it not be said that, for all his flaws, Ares was a god who lacked compassion. He grimaced as he pushed the door open and stepped very carefully into the apartment. Even he was a little shocked by what he saw there and though he knew they had done the right thing in killing her sisters, he could not help but feel pity for the remaining sister's plight. He was not foolish enough to think she might not wish him harm, but he thought she had far more to fear from him than he had from her. "Adelf?," he said, addressing her like the sister she was - or at least, half sister. She was a child of Zeus, just as he was, and though he had done what was needed of him for the sake of humanity, he had taken no pleasure in it. He had not, in fact, thirsted for blood or reveled in battle in many long years. "I am sorry for what befell your sisters. You should know that I took no pleasure in it."
She didn't seem to hear him, her eyes fixed on the golden Shears that sat on the table before her, the tool of the Cutter, the first Fate to fall. Atropos, her youngest sister, the weakest of them yet the most courageous, who had played her hand too soon and gotten herself killed. Not only that, but her foolishness had robbed the life from Lachesis, the Measurer, as well, leaving the Spinner, Clotho, to stand alone against the weight of humanity.
"Do you know how many babies are born each day in this world?" she asked, her voice hoarse with pain. "Three hundred and sixty one thousand, four hundred and eighty one. Three hundred and sixty one thousand, four hundred and eighty one destinies to be spun, measured, and cut in the time it takes for this miserable world to spin on its axis. With my sisters alive, it was nothing to me. I Spun, and I did not trouble myself with what happened next. But now ..." She raised red-rimmed eyes to look at Ares, showing him the depth of her growing insanity. "Kill me. This is no life."
He looked on her with pity and compassion in his gray-green eyes, the hand that held the dagger anxious to drive the blade into her heart, and yet he found he did not have the stomach for it. He was a warrior, a soldier, a leader of men in battle, not a murderer or killer of women and children. "No," he replied. "I do not wish to kill you. There has been enough death and enough blood shed. There is another way."
The sound that broke from her lips at his denial of her request was a heartbroken wail, reverberating around the walls of the apartment in despair. "I cannot live like this! I hear them, every moment of every day, the lives born that are my responsibility, the deaths that are made by my hand, the decisions that lay the path of Fate before their feet. I get no rest, there is no respite from their constant demands. I cannot grieve, I cannot think, I cannot do anything but what I was created to do, and it is driving me insane!"