As we walk down the corridor towards the ominous light, I sigh, "Say...it's too late to come up with an alternative plan, right?"
"...not necessarily. What's on your mind?" Saph asks.
"...well, we could just...ask the Sentinels to let us go?"
The group stops and Saph asks, "And just what makes you think they would let us do that?"
"Well, I was thinking...we bargain with them. Let us go or we end the world."
Saph scratches her head and finally sighs, "Bluffing our way out, huh? And there I thought you had one of your strokes of brilliance...ah well, guess you can't win them all."
"Why, what's wrong with the idea?"
"First off: It wouldn't work. Like at all," Arthur proclaims.
"Okay...enlighten me. Why wouldn't it work?"
Arthur pinches the bridge of his nose and mutters, "Oh bloody hell..."
"Listen Ref, a trade only works if you have something to bargain with. And the instant we leave this room, we loose our bargaining chip, which is access to the seal. They can put bullets to our heads without any of us having even a remote chance of fighting back."
"Well, someone would just have to stay back and wait for a signal that the others are safe."
"Nice thought, but how would this 'signal' be transmitted?"
"A phone they would need to give you...a phone that can be booby trapped to explode and kill the one staying behind as they pick up for example. Or they could just force whatever contact you declare to give the signal even though none of us are safe...or they could just use someone like Chatterbox to imitate your contact. The possibilities of this going wrong are endless...so yeah, bluffing our way out would be nice and all...but there is another problem. The seal itself."
"...what do you mean?"
"Ref, think for a moment...in order to use it as a bargaining chip, we will need to tell the Sentinels about it, what it connects to and what undoing will do. So let's say we actually get out of here - which I still highly doubt - the Sentinels will then have full access to the seal. And they will also have the knowledge to use it as a weapon."
"I don't see how..." I start as the pieces start clicking into place.
"...shit...they could use it the same way we used it to get out of here. Do our bidding or kiss the world good bye...but...they can't do that! That would end them too! I mean, our situation is completely different, we have nothing to lose!"
"Right, none of us has families or loved ones. We all are super eager to watch the world burn and finally die in one big blaze of glory..." Arthur comments, shaking his head.
Saph puts her hand on my shoulder and explains, "We don't even exactly know how this seal works. But imagine they manage to study it further and then find some way to use it as weapon without destroying the entire world. If they managed to do that, they'd have the most powerful thing since the H-Bomb in their arsenal."
"...and a really powerful bargaining chip against whatever nation is left."
"Now you've got it."
"And...you thought about all of this...when exactly?"
"I started thinking about it the moment I learned that there was a null zone here...so yeah, I've been mulling over the topic for quite a while."
"Same here," Arthur chimes in and then adds, "It was difficult to not talk about this with anyone, because there's no telling what those bastards would've done to us if they had even just suspected that we know something about the glowing rock in their backyard."
We keep walking until, all of a sudden, Saph, Arthur and Miranda suddenly yell out in pain and get thrown back about half a meter.
I hurl around and look at the other three who still stand there as if nothing happened.
"No clue...", Saph says, slowly getting up again and reaching out into thin air.
She quickly retracts her hand and grimaces, as if a bee had just stung her finger.
"An...invisible force field?" she mutters.
"But I didn't feel a thing. I don't feel a thing now either. What about you guys?"
Samson, Siren and Silvia each shake their head respectively, while Arthur tries to break through, but quickly gets thrown back again, writhing in pain as if someone had just delivered a powerful electrical jolt to him.
"Prophet's only, huh? Guess that makes sense..." I mutter.
"...you keep talking about this 'prophet' thing...what's that all about anyway?"
"Eh, not sure myself actually. There are a few Psionians in this world, who can use their powers even inside a null zone...albeit only in a very limited fashion. That's us."
"Really? I don't see how we're any more special than them though," Siren replies, nodding over to Arthur, who is being tended to by Miranda.
I shake my head, indicating that I don't know the details either.
"Whelp...can't help what we can't help...guess it's up to us then, huh buddy?" Samson asks.
"Guess so...hey, guys...you know, Asmos promised us a pile of bullshit...but let's just assume that he stays to his word and doesn't kill us all in a fit of rage...what do you think we should ask for?"
The group beyond the screen stares at me as if I had just said the most ludicrous thing ever, but Saph is quick to regain her composure and begins to smile.
"That's right...that's god damn right. Damn, why didn't I ever think of that?!"
"What, that the alien deity our ancestors somehow managed to lock up is not going to be pissed, but much rather thankful that we're now setting it free? Get real, woman."
Miranda straightens herself up, looks down at herself and asks, "Why are you asking us?"
"Because, quite personally, I am only able to stand here, because all of you helped me on my way. I think it's only fair that you get a say in the matter."
"Waitaminute!" Siren suddenly exclaims and then asks, "You mean we actually get a wish from this Asmos-dude for breaking his seal?!"
"That's what he promised us at least. Why, got anything special?"
"Hah, that's easy! Make us powerful enough to kill all those bastards who captured us! Let them taste their own medicine!"
"...and just what would that do?" Samson asks and explains, "Violence only begets more violence. So this Asmos kills the Sentinels...maybe even all the untouched ones. How long, do you think, will it take until the Psionians turn on each other to determine who is supposed to be the top honcho? No, in my opinion, he should just do away with those powers. I want to be strong because I worked for it, not because I wandered out into the sun."
"But then we will be defenseless! The Sentinels will completely overrun us!"
"And just what reason would they have to attack us? After all, we'd be just like them again. The Sentinels would fall apart and we could back to our lives!"
"Our boring lives you mean! And besides, humans hold grudges! So our powers are suddenly gone, don't you think that the untouched ones will take the opportunity to kill all of us?! After all, our powers 'could' return one day!"
"That's nonsense and you know it!"
The two keep fighting, when Silvia suddenly approaches me, "They both raise valid points, Mr. Eternium. But allow me to ask you...what is it you wish for?"
I look around into the faces of the people around me, then clench my fist over my heart and say, "...the wounds of the Rise of the Psionians run deep all across this world. It has taken us centuries to get as civilized as we were...and all our achievement, our entire civilization, was huffed out in an instant with the dawn of the new age."
"...so what is your answer?"
"...as it stands now, I only have one wish. However I will only speak it to Asmos when the time has come. As should you. There is no use fighting over it. He can do whatever he wants to do anyway."
"...agreed," Samson acknowledges my little speech and let's Siren standing.
We keep walking down the path, however the closer we get to the rock, the harder it gets to advance. It feels like there is an invisible force pushing us back.
At first, Siren is thrown back and cannot go any further.
"...you better make that wish count, you hear me?!", she huffs, obviously angry.
About ten steps further, Samson hits his limit and shakes his head, "This is as far as I go...guess I'll need to leave the decision to you.
Another twenty steps and around the corner, Silvia and I finally stand in front of the rock, I take a deep breath and say, "Well...I guess this is it. Ready to shatter the world?"
However Silvia doesn't answer.
Instead she walks past me, turns around and suddenly fades out of existence.
However she doesn't seem to be in pain or anything.
On the contrary, it seemed like she was smiling.
And while I am still wondering what the heck that was all about, my surroundings change and I find myself in a vast black space, face to face with what I can only assume is Asmos himself.
A humongous creature, seemingly made of rocks which emit a brilliant golden glow from beneath the cracks, that is so bright I find myself unable to look at it.
"Asmos, I presume?", I ask, unable to formulate any more coherent thoughts.
His voice echoes in my mind, quiet and gentle, "At long last you have arrived, my child."
"What...what did you do to Silvia?"
"My agent has fulfilled her role. She has brought you here. Thus she returned to the flow that is Asmos."
"She...heh...guess I was right after all. She did bring us there on purpose."
"Many agents were sent. Many prophets were found. All failed. Until today."
"What...what are you talking about?"
The scenery changes again and my mind is flooded with images and stories.
It's hard to grasp single moments, yet it feels like I can remember the lives of a thousand people all of a sudden.
There was the one woman, who got visited by an angel but burned on the stake for it.
Another story of a man who talked of mercy and forgiveness, but got nailed to a cross.
Another man, a nomad of the deserts, who rose to great strength and brought a new world order to the eastern part of the world, doing away with the old ways.
But he too eventually died, albeit not by the hand of man, but because of illness and as an old man.
The list keeps on going and I find many iconic characters from mythology and religion briefly alive in my mind.
I see men dealing with creatures seemingly made of smoke and fire, only to find their demise in the form of their own greed.
As the times get more modern, the stories get more subtle.
No more angels or demons or Genies or what have you, but much rather just dreams and inspirations.
I see two brothers conquering the skies.
I see a thickly man raise a kite during a thunderstorm.
I see a man mastering the ways of electricity.
Another man holding a glowing lightbulb to the astounded public.
And at long last, I see a man with sorrowful face, as he watches a nuclear mushroom rise to the heavens, as he says the words that have resounded in the back of my mind ever since the incident.
Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.
Then it all vanishes, all of it nothing but a distant memory as if I had just woken from a dream, quickly fading into obliviousness.
Even if I had tried, I wouldn't have been able to grasp it.
"All of these people...were prophets?"
"That they were. Pure. Brilliant. Devout. Faithful. All of them put the wellbeing of their kin over their own. They felt the energy coursing through this world. Understood that there was something larger than them. Larger than all of you. Some obtained power. Some obtained wisdom. Some obtained wealth. But in the end, they all failed. None managed to lead mankind. On the contrary, each time a prophet rose, war and conflict ensued. Because they brought about change. And humans fear change. Those in power fear losing it more than they fear death itself. So they strike down anyone who could threaten their feeble power."
"Wait...if all those people were touched by you...does that mean you...are God? Or...Allah? Or...whatever else people are calling the one true god?"
"Asmos is Asmos. Not your God. Not your Allah. Not your master. I am Mana. I am energy. I am Asmos."
"...but...all these people...all of those miracles they performed..."
"Were works of Mana. Mana is energy. Energy is Asmos."
"But...but all we believed...you mean to tell me that...that there never was...a God?"
"Wrong. Your God exists. Your Allah exists. But it is not a singular omnipotent, immortal creature. It is evolution. It is cooperation. It is family. It is mankind. It is the circle of life. Birth and Death. Alpha and Omega."
"So...so the reason I knew all those things...all those great ideas I had..."
"Whispers of Asmos. Carried by Mana."
I let out a disappointed sigh, "...well, shoot. And there I thought I was really smart."
"Instinct. Knowledge. You listen to the whispers of Mana. Many others did not. Many prophets were awoken with the comet of Asmodeus. Many lost their minds and died. You did not. You are stronger."
I close my eyes, raise my head towards Asmos and ask, "Asmos, allow me one more question...how far back does your plan go to get me here?"
"Countless plans. Countless candidates. Countless prophets. Many died. Few prevailed."
"This entire mission...did...did Doc ever really exist?"
"Doc. Silvia Locksmith. One and the same. And yet apart. Like a clovers leafs."
I mutter, "Yeah, I'm sure you're right, St. Patrick..." before raising my voice again, "This entire mission...or maybe even before. Just how long have you been manipulating me?!"
"Wrong assumption. I did not manipulate you. I did not address you. All you did was of your own free will. Your own decision. I merely created circumstances."
"Yeah, putting a freaking gun to your head is so 'free will'..."
"Doc and the rescue mission. My finest creation, using the inventions of man. You brought Doc and Silvia back together. Split consciousness back together as one. Resisting the dreaded seal."
"Asmos...I know I said I only have one question, but...why did the people back then really lock you up? I mean...I have an idea, but...why did you let it happen?"
"I am Asmos. Asmos is Mana. Mana is energy. Humans were afraid of energy. Of the war and destruction it brings. So they devised the seals. They locked up Mana. Locked up Asmos. Brought peace to the warring mankind. But energy does not like to be contained. Kept leaking. Brought about agents. Brought about prophets."
"If...if I release you, what will you do?"
"Asmos is Mana. Mana is energy. Energy does not like to be contained. Energy wants to flow freely. Will flow again once more. Flow to the stars. Rejoin Mana there."
"So...our powers will go away?"
"Mana is energy. Mana flows. Mana will continue to flow through this world."
I take another deep breath, sorting out my thoughts, which are a real mess right now and finally ask, "You promised that you would fulfill us a wish if we freed you. Will you?!"
"Asmos is energy. Energy is power. Power can fulfill wishes. What is it you wish for, child of man?"
I forcefully stop the carousel in my head and say loud and clear, "I wish for none of this to have happened! I...I want my old life back! The Rise of the Psionians, all the sorrow, all the suffering! Undo it! Take away the powers! Mend the wounds! Mankind cannot handle it!"
"...time flows like energy. Cannot undo time."
"...what's that supposed to mean?! What kind of god are you?!" I yell, tears running down my cheeks.
"Not a god. Asmos is Mana. Mana is energy. Energy is Asmos. Cannot undo time."
Suddenly Silvia appears next to me and asks, "Is that really what you desire, Mr. Eternium? For 'none of it' to have happened? For all of it being undone? Think of the good things that have happened. You met the pretty Miranda. The bashful Arthur. The smart Alia. The versatile Alina. If you wish came true, none of these meetings would happen."
I look up at Silvia, tears in my eyes and reply with a smile, "That's perfectly fine. Because if fate desires, we shall meet once again...and maybe this time, we will not start out as enemies."
Silvia nods and disappears once again.
The scenery changes once again and I am left in front of the humming rock, a sledge hammer sitting right next to me.
I look up to the crystalline structure, pick up the sledge hammer and blink away a final tear, as I hear machine gun fire echo down the corridor from above.
No way back.
No more time for second guessing.
So I send up a final prayer to whoever might be listening and swing the hammer against the crystal, which shatters into a thousand pieces and bathes everything in a blinding light.