The statue was trembling like a tuning fork freshly struck, its edges blurring with the speed of its vibration. I thought for a moment that The Lady of the Waters might have been about to shatter, had even raised my arms to protect against the stone fragments spitting out all over the terrace... but it didn't shatter. Instead, I watched with disbelief as a glowing, wraith-like arm rose smoothly from Lady's agitated stone one. From beneath the rusted folds of the statue's gown, a leg unearthed itself, bare and pale, the foot landing gracefully on the edge of the fountain's basin. The other foot sprang free, followed by thigh, by hip, and torso. Something was peeling itself from the statue like a snake shedding its old skin. I watched open mouthed until the ghostly figure had completely separated from the statue, standing on the edge of the basin and looking down on us.

The thing that stood before us was a woman. She was naked, and her hair, thickly braided and swinging down to the small of her back, was a pale as the moon on a clear night. Her features were impossible to make out… even as she grew more substantial they were constantly changing. At first glance her nose was long and regal, and in the next it was round and unassuming. Her lips seemed to swell and thin as we watched, and her eyes were a rainbow of colors. It was like I was looking at her through a kaleidoscope… it was almost maddening, but I was incapable of looking away. Her breasts were high, and her stomach protruded. Her legs were long and graceful, and there was a thin patch of silvery hair at the place where her thighs met.

"I don't make covenants in blood." The Sibyl told Talyn from her perch on the fountain in the voice I had heard so clearly in my dreams all these weeks. "Violence and anger and hatred… these are the ways of the Four, and not at all how we should begin our journey together."

She lowered herself down from the basin. She seemed to leave a trail when she moved, the way a thumb leaves a print in a computer screen if pressed too hard. When she stepped down into the main pool of the fountain, her feet did not penetrate the surface of the water, but settled atop of it as if it were glass.

"Holy shit..." Eve breathed from behind me. My entire body went rigid as I watched this woman basically rip a page right out of the New Testament, and walk across the water like Jesus of Nazareth himself. She stepped down onto the stone floor of the terrace and stood still for a moment, surveying us as intently as we surveyed her. She was taller than all of us, but her height did not make her imposing. Everything about her read power and strength, the immalleable line of her shoulders, the thickness of her calves, the high arch of her brow... but she wasn't frightening. There was a sadness in her face that kept her from being truly terrifying, that made her look more human than... whatever she was.

"There was a time," The Sibyl said to us, "when I was strong enough to appear in all places with no risk to myself. Now… that is no longer possible. I am incredibly grateful to you for traveling to meet me here, in this sacred place." She motioned around us, "No one can disturb us here."

"It was you?" Roman asked. "The thing that saved us in the forest?"

Her nose wrinkled in distaste at being referred to as 'thing', but she answered. "Yes. It was me."

As we watched, she grew more solid, more substantial. Her constantly changing face seemed to settle into something identifiable. Now only one set of eyes were perched atop of her cheek bones, and those eyes were hard and hazel. Her nose was unremarkable, a small square thing stamped low on her face, but her mouth was full and warm when she smiled. I blinked and suddenly she was no longer naked, draped in a pale white gown that seemed to be the same as the one the stone Angel she'd freed herself from wore.

"What are... I mean, well... what should we call you?" Eve had wanted to say 'What are you?' I'd heard it, heard her swallow it back just before it left her lips.

"A name?" She asked and shook her head. "Many lifetimes have passed since I have last heard anyone speak my name. I've forgotten it. But you. You do have names" she said this warmly, as if she had given them to us herself. "Roman Johns. Evelyn Thomas. Regan Winters. Talyn of the Medlands, and our little Hope."

"That's not her name." Roman said suddenly, his face slightly coloring when the Sybil turned to him. "Not really, I mean. I gave it to her-"

"And she loves it." The woman said almost sternly, as if she were scolding Roman for suggesting otherwise. "She's glad you gave it to her, and she wants to keep it. And this world could do with a little more hope, I think… yes…"

I looked down at the little girl holding Roman's hand. She gave no audible response to this, but her eyes were locked on the figure before her with more emotion than I had ever seen her display.

"Are you who they say you are?" This was Talyn. His blade was still out, pointing in the Sibyl's direction, but it looked tiny and insignificant under the weight of the power she emanated. He might as well be threatening her with a tooth pick. "Are you the Sibyl?"

"I am."

Talyn reacted almost feverishly to this answer. He blew a great gust of breath from his nose, and when he spoke again his voice was somewhere in between a hungry growl and a moan of yearning. "I led them here, " he said to her, "because they told me that you named me chosen. Is this true?" The hand holding the knife was quivering.

The Sibyl's expression altered a little as she studied Talyn. Her gaze was searching. "You feel as though I owe it to you? To choose you?"

Talyn's answer was immediate, and it burned with anger. "It's the least you can do."

The Sibyl did not respond to this, her calm hazel eyes locked on Talyn's seething grey ones. After a moment she directed her attention to the rest of us, her small smile returning.

"You must be very hungry. It's been a long time since the four of you have had something to eat."

"One hundred years, apparently." Roman remarked, eyeing Talyn warily as he glowered at the Sibyl. But the Sibyl was looking at Roman now, and at his answer, her eyes softened. Was that guilt I saw in them? Sadness? I couldn't read her… but she answered easily.

"More or less. Now that you are here I've prepared you a small meal, something to hold you over as we discuss what's to come."

"We have a lot of questions." Eve said, her nerves almost entirely hidden by the low timbre of her voice. "You wouldn't answer them before but..."

"We are safe here. What I could not tell you before I can share freely now. But wait a moment longer... She's coming…"

And just like that I could hear the sound of muffled hoofs on pavement behind us. My spine went brittle, remembering so clearly the click and clack of the wolf creature from the clearing. I could almost smell the rotting stench of its peeling flesh, could see the thick foam of drool collecting along it's drooping mouth. You said we were safe I thought fiercely at the Sibyl, panicking. Her eyes fell on mine as if she'd heard my thought and shook her head so minutely I could have easily missed it.

Look behind you Regan, I heard her voice in my head again.

I stared up at her for a moment longer, hating that she was in my head, and hating the comfort I felt from it… and then I turned.

The hooves did not belong to the creature from the night before. They belonged to a doe.

I'd seen deer before, at our house where the back yard met the forest. They stayed in the shadow of the trees, watching us nervously, ready to take off at our slightest movement... but this doe was not afraid of us in the least. She stepped from the shadows of the trees, long limbed and graceful. She moved slowly, but her steps were not nervous. They were sure. Purposeful. She was beautiful. Her eyes were golden orbs, large and heavily lashed. Her fur was the color of a freshly shined penny, her back, dusted in white speckles. She walked with her head held high, and none of us moved as she came closer. I don't think I even breathed when she crossed between us all, to where the Sibyl awaited her with a smile.

"Hello, pretty thing." The Sibyl said, her voice full of tenderness. She held her hand out, and the doe placed her nose softly in her palm, her eyes closed in reverence.

"This is insane." Roman whispered.

The Sibyl lowered herself so that her face was level with the Doe's. "I thank you for your sacrifice. It will not be forgotten. You are most honored."

Sacrifice? The Sibyl raised her eyes to Talyn.

"You know what to do."

Talyn looked at her with hard eyes, and for a moment, I thought he wouldn't do whatever the Sibyl seemed to be asking from him. But he nodded once and then stepped forward. The Sibyl moved away, allowing him to stand before the deer. His knife was still brandished.

"You're... going to kill her." Eve whispered horrified, and then said again louder. "You said you don't make covenants in blood, and now this?"

The Sibyl smiled softly at Eve, but her eyes were stone. "This world is a hard place, much harder than the one I've brought you from. This is not a covenant, this is a sacrifice, made in love. She wants this. Her bravery and selflessness on your behalf is beautiful."

"I won't eat her."

"Then you insult her." The Sibyl said and Eve paled. She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again, looking away. The Sibyl continued to stare at her, her expression unyielding, and then she turned to Talyn.

"Begin," she commanded.

Talyn lowered himself onto one knee. The doe watched him, orbs following his movement with no sense of fear.

"I, Talyn of the Medlands, son of the High Hunter, warrior of my kmen." he began, his voice strong, "thank you for your sacrifice. You are most honored."

The deer seemed to sigh, dropping her head so that her snout was resting on Talyn's knee. He raised a hand to cradle the side of her face, and her eyes closed at the touch. His knife was ready.

"No!" I took a shaky step forward, horrified at what was about to happen. "Please, don't."

Shhhhh, Regan. Her voice again, Be still. Listen.

I thought she meant for me to listen to her, and I was preparing to shout in my loudest mind-voice that the Sibyl could go fuck herself… but a second voice stopped me. It was tiny, so much tinier than the Sibyl's, and it was filled with a static kind joy.

No more fear, that voice said. No more pain. No more sadness. For the chosen. For the millions you will save. For the conduit, my life in exchange…

It was the doe. I was hearing the thoughts of the doe. I looked around at Roman's face, at Eve's and even Hope's, but none of them seem to hear. Only me. Because I was the conduit.

My life in exchange…

Talyn placed his knife against the doe's throat, the blade buried deep in her fur. He rested his forehead in the space between her closed eyes and breathed in deeply. "Thank you." He said and before I could even prepare myself he swept his blade against the animal's throat.

She did not buck or struggle, even as the blood ran in streams down her neck. Life... exchange..., her last fading thoughts as her legs gave out and she fell sideways onto the pavement. Eve let out a horrified cry, but other than that the clearing remained silent. The doe twitched twice, her legs kicking softly in the air for a moment… and then she was still. Talyn stood over her, his forearms covered in warm blood. I felt the horrified shock on my face but could do nothing to hide it. The doe had come to this place willingly… she had come to death willingly. Now I wondered had we all done the same when we agreed to meet the Sibyl in this clearing.

"Build a fire, Talyn." The Sibyl directed, "Once we are all sitting around its ring, I will begin to tell you why you were brought here, why your world was destroyed, and what you can do to save it."


The fire burned tall against the afternoon sky, its flames licking at the air. Talyn had gathered stones from the ruined entryway of the terrace, arranged them in a circle around dried wood and leaves. He did this without help. Roman, Eve, and I were staring at the Sibyl where she leaned gracefully along the fountain's edge. It was such an odd feeling, being both anxious for her to speak and also wishing she wouldn't. The meat snapped over the fire, and after going so long without any food, the scent should have made my mouth water. But I felt no hunger. Only unease. Something was starting here. We were about to get the answers we'd demanded, and on some level, we were all afraid of that. With answers, we would stop being three bumbling kids looking for someone to point us in the right direction. With answers would come responsibility, and none of us were sure we would be up to it.

No, you're the one that's not sure. I thought to myself, and I pulled my knees in to my chest. You're the one who's not up to it.

Tayln poked at the meat with a long stick he'd found, and then set it down decidedly. "There's nothing more to do but wait. And listen." He raised a brow at the Sibyl.

The Sibyl nodded, standing to join us by the fire. I avoided her eyes as she lowered herself across from me next to Eve, sliding her dress under her legs as she did. She looked so out of place, this ethereal being sitting on the dirty terrace... She looked up pointedly at Talyn, who was still standing.

"Sit with us Talyn. Complete the circle."

Talyn did as she said quickly, lowering himself between Eve and I, looking to the Sibyl expectantly. There we were, kids at a campfire, waiting anxiously to be told scary stories. Eve looked as though she were barely breathing. Roman was fighting to keep his face indifferent, but I could see the nerves there.

"I must start by saying that I know this must have all been very hard for you, Regan, Roman, Evelyn and Hope..." The Sibyl began. "Not just the storm and the death, but waking up to what your world is today and finding it so changed. I know that in your time magic and gods and prophecies are the things of fables. But it is important that you understand that everything I am about to tell you is no children's tale. This is all very real, and the sooner you stop trying to tell yourself it isn't, the closer we will be to setting things right.

"Do you each understand? Are you ready to hear?"

"We're ready," Roman answered for each of us. "Tell us."

The Sibyl looked at each of us to affirm that we were, indeed, ready. I wasn't sure what my face looked like, but whatever expression she read must have been good enough for her. "Very well," she said with a sigh. "Let's begin then."

"I led the four of you through a great storm that brought your city to destruction. But many great cities fell that day. Whole countries fell to the sea. Fire rained down on unsuspecting towns. The earth broke apart and swallowed great monuments and palaces... It only took one day to reduce everything your people built, all they held sacred, to this." She gestured around her, where the ruins of Manhattan framed the sky over the thick trees. "Since that day, over a hundred years have past, and over a hundred more troubles have raked this land. War. Disease. Destruction. Death. One hundred years, and I kept you safe and sleeping in that garage through all of it. I healed your wounds. I kept your bodies strong. And all the while the world as you knew it was fading."

"Why? Why keep us safe?" Roman asked, but she held her hand up.

"I will answer that. But there are things you need to understand first."

Roman quieted, but I could see he was impatient. The Sibyl lowered her hand to the stone pavement, drawing a line in the dirt.

"Many of your people have come to think of time as a linear thing, a path that curves and bends, but ultimately has a clear beginning and a clear end. But this is wrong." She drew in the dirt again, this time making a perfect circle. "This is what time is. It circles and circles, with no beginning, no ending. Your world is caught in its loop. Do you understand what I'm telling you?" She asked. "Your storm was a great cataclysmic event, but it was not the first. There have been other endings. There have been floods, where your entire earth is swallowed by the ocean. There have been wars so violent that they leave the entire earth scorched and empty. There has been disease, the very air so poisonous it would singe your lungs. This is not new. And it is not an accident…

"The figures you saw in the forest, the ones who set that creature on you. They have been dwellers in your world through each of these loops. For the most part they are silent observers. They watch, and when they can, they feed. They feed on every evil act man has ever committed. Hatred, death, decay... it makes them strong. And when they have fed enough, they send their power over the Earth, destroying everything they touch. The great storm that took your city was their creation. The wars that burned the world was their creation. The ocean that swallowed everyone whole was their creation. All these lifetimes... all these endings... their doing. "

She waved a hand before the fire. As she did, four shapes began to form in the smoke, cloaked figures that looked exactly as the ones in the shadows in the forest had the night before. I shivered, even knowing they were not real. "They are known as the Four. There is The Beast of White Dawn, who brings disease and petulance in his wake. The Beast of Black Day, who rules in famine and despair. The Beast of Red Dusk brings war and chaos. And these three are led by The Pale Beast of Night, who deals only in death, in all ways it comes."

We all stared at the four figures hovering in the flames, and I felt fear brewing low in my stomach. I looked away from them, and my gaze fell on Talyn. His eyes were hard as he looked at the Four, hatred pooling from every pore of his tense body.

"Their only goal is complete destruction. It is the nature of evil to consume… They will not be satisfied until every corner of your world belongs to them. There is no reasoning with them. No pleading with them. They seek only to break the circle your world orbits in, and send it hurtling to into chaos. Into its end." She waved her hand again and the figures disappeared, leaving the Roman, Eve and I looking very haggard in their absence.

"What's stopping them from consuming everything now?" Eve asked, and the Sibyl's answering smile was only a little boastful.

"I am. With my power, I have been able to cast protection over certain places. I keep the Four at bay so that survivors are able to build some sort of life. These places are small, and there are few.. but even a few are too many for the Four. They want complete control, and if they succeed, then the circle will not repeat. Things will never return to what they were, and your loved ones will not be saved.

"I saved the four of you from the storm that day because you can keep this from happening. You can bring about a new beginning, as others before you have done, and set your world back on its path, back on the circle once more."

"How?" Eve said weakly.

The Sibyl turned to look at her, her eyes gone steely. "You will kill them."

"Kill?" Eve shook her head, incredulously, "You said kill them? Us?"

"I did."

"You just said these things are basically evil incarnate." Roman said, "What the fuck are we supposed to do with that?"

"It has been written by my kind, beings who deal in prophecy, that every cycle, humans are chosen to oppose the Four. One human for each beast. The beasts, while in human form carry talismans that are the source of their power. The Beast of Red Dawn carries a hunter's bow, and a crown on his head. The Beast of Black Day carries scales. The Beast of Red Dusk wields a great sword, and the Pale Beast, a Scythe. The four chosen humans must meet their beast on the killing floor, defeat them, and take from them their talismans. That is your task."

"This is impossible." Roman repeated, glowering into the fire. "You may as well have let us die in the storm."

"Coward." Talyn growled lowly under his breath, and I knew Hope sitting in his lap was the only thing stopping Roman from tossing Tayln into the fire.

"It is not impossible." The Sibyl said matter of factly. "You are here today because many others before you were chosen, and completed the task, resetting your world to what it once was. Difficult. Dangerous. But not impossible. "

"Then how?" Eve asked desperately. "You can give us power or... or something?"

The Sibyl was shaking her head. "Everything you will need in order to fight, to win, is already inside you. That is why you were chosen."

"And how are we supposed to decide which beast we're supposed to kill?" I asked the Sibyl, my voice as dry as the leaves in the fire. "Do we draw straws? Rock, paper, scissors?"

The Sibyl did not react to my sullen tone. "It has already been decided who will face who. Roman, brave and selfless to a fault. You will face the Red Beast of War." Roman said nothing to this, staring into the fire.


"Eve, please." She objected. "No one calls me Evelyn."

"Eve, then. Full of life and compassion, you will face the Pale Beast of Death."

Eve looked very pale herself, but she shrugged, "No sweat."

"Talyn... you know who it is you will face."

There was a flash in Talyn's eyes at the Sibyl's words, the grey swimming in a haze of bloodlust. "The Beast of White." he growled, and the smile on his face was terrifying in the firelight.

"Yes," she answered, "But be careful. If you let revenge cloud your judgment than you will have already lost."

Talyn looked sharply at her. "If revenge was the only thing that ruled me then blame would not only fall on the beast, would it, seer?"

The Sibyl did not respond to the accusation in Talyn's voice, but we did. Why was he so angry with her? What did he know that we didn't?

So that leaves me with the Black Beast, I thought swallowing a lump in my throat, but I was wrong...

"And Hope-"

"What? Roman said at once, "No! She's a kid! She's not fighting anything!"

"She was chosen for this, just as you were. Age means nothing here." The Sibyl asserted. "She will face the Beast of Black Day."

"She's just a little girl!"

"And she is more prepared than any of you are for what she has to do when her time comes."

We grew silent around the fire. I looked at Hope, who stared aimlessly ahead of her, looking so fragile. But she was most prepared?

"And me?" I asked, knowing I would not like the answer. "What am I supposed to face? What is a conduit?"

The Sibyl turned to me, her eyes warm on mine.

"I have told you that my power is fading. There was a time when I had enough to hold the Four at bay, to keep the people safe from them. But now that power is waning, leaving me and funneling into you."

My eyes widened at that, and the Sibyl smiled. "You and I are linked, Regan. Since you were a little I have been with you, watching you, guiding you. I have shared your dreams and seen your fears. We are one, and with every breath you draw, more of my power slips from me and finds its home in you. Soon, you will have it all. You will be able to look into the future and let what you see guide your steps. You will be able to hold darkness at bay with a wave of your hands. You will be able to heal the sick and protect the weak, and all will look to you for peace and guidance. It was the evil of your people that gave the Four power to control your world. You will represent the good in your people, and it will give you the power to restore it."

I couldn't speak. I couldn't process what she was telling me. The shaking in my hands intensified.

"When all my power has transferred to you, then you will need to perform the rite."

"The rite?"

"You know what it is. You've dreamt it."

The field of flowers. The burning sky. The four cloaked figures surrounding me. The swallowing darkness.

"If all four of the chosen defeat their beast, and the rite is completed successfully, then the cycle will be renewed, and your world restored. If one of you are defeated, you can still attempt to perform the rite, but the chances you will be successful without all the talismans will drastically decrease. If two of you fall, your chances are even smaller. If the rite is not completed at all, the Four will have won, the cycle will break, and this world will be theirs forever."

The Sibyl lifted her hand again, and the smoke formed a new image. This time it was a globe, only unlike any globe I had studied in school. The continents were all wrong, misshapen, some even missing completely. The globe spun slowly, and then stopped, zeroing in on a rocky looking land mass.

"We are here, in what used to be the city of Manhattan. And here," She moved her hand a little to the west, "This city called Baal. It is controlled by the Beast of White. He will be the first battle."

"Then we will go there." Talyn said eagerly, "Tonight."

But the Sibyl shook her head. "You know that there are things you have to do first Talyn. You will need to see Old Mother."

Talyn growled. "I won't go back there. I vowed it."

"Then you have failed before you have even begun."

"What are you talking about?" Roman demanded, "Go back where?"

Talyn would not answer. Eventually, it was the Sibyl who spoke.

"Talyn comes from a village not very far from here, one that I have protected from the Four."

"Have you?" Talyn asked her harshly, and for the first time I saw a flash of anger in the Sibyl's face.

"I will only allow so much room for your anger, Talyn. You have what you want. You were chosen. I suggest you focus on the task at hand instead of holding on to past pain and imagined slights."

"Imagined slights?" Talyn protested angrily, but the Sibyl silenced him with a look so cold it could have frozen over the fire he'd built. He quieted… but the rage on his face still burned brightly.

"The people of Talyn's kmen," the Sibyl continued after a moment, "practice the way of the prophecy. There is a powerful seer who resides there, who has been preparing for the arrival of the chosen for many years. She will have gifts for you, and she will help prepare you for what is to come."

"What if we say no?"

Everyone turned to me as I said this, and I could feel the heat in my face rising, but I didn't look away.


"Yeah. What if we just decide not to do any of this?"

Now the Sibyl's cold eyes were on me. "Do you want to save your mother? Your father?"

"Of course I do." I said hotly, "But I didn't ask for this. None of us did. You sit here and lay all this responsibility at our feet, literally placing the entire world on our shoulders, and we're expected to just go along with it? It's not fair."

"Fair is an empty word, Regan." The Sibyl answered. "It is a lie we tell ourselves in an attempt to control outcomes we have no power over. There is only purpose. You were born into this one."

The Sibyl looked at each of us, sitting around the fire somberly. "You can all choose not to do this. We can leave this clearing tonight and you can try to make your way in this world as it is until all of my power is gone and everything is destroyed by the Four. If you choose this, you will die. Or," she said, "you can choose to take up your mantel as chosen and conduit, and fight to bring back the people and the world you love. If you choose this, you may die. But, you may not. You may win. And I will do everything in my power to help you succeed. It is ultimately up to you… but I think we all know what you will do."

"I will fight." Talyn said at once and with no fear. He looked at Roman, Evelyn and I fiercely, urging us to make the same pledge. Roman looked pale, but his face was set. He turned to the Sibyl.

"What the hell... I'm in."

"Me too." Eve said, looking deeply into the fire. "There was never any other choice for me."

"Regan?" The Sibyl looked to me.

I was quiet for a moment, but not because I had any doubts about what I was going to do. This was the last moment I was going to be Regan, the college student with the iffy grades and the poor disposition. This was the last moment I could hold on to normal, and I was going to relish it. I sighed, closing my eyes, remembering what is felt like to be just Regan before I had to let it go. Before I had to become the conduit.

I opened my eyes and gave my answer.

"I'll fight."