In immediate response to these words, the thousands who surrounded me in the audience nodded their heads vigorously and shouted words of agreement, tears streaming down some of their faces. At that moment, streams of mist (or was it gas?) began to flow into the room from what appeared to be vents between each of the guards. My heart beat faster. It was a thick, white mist, and it seemed to hug the floor as it spread across the tiles of the auditorium. Seconds later, the mist began to rise ever so slowly, and envelop everyone in the room.

“But we believe in the opposite, am I right?” He pointed towards the audience. Several people stood up and held their arms up high to encourage him. “We believe in The One True Way. We believe in letting go of misplaced faith, of the wandering mind, and the emptiness of the spirit, in letting go of all of the elements of unhappiness. We believe, because that is what we are. Believers in the truth.”

The mist was rising above my chest now, and my mind was racing. I had prepared for this moment, of course, but my trust in the efficacy of the device I pulled from the inner pocket of my robe was untested. I placed my hand over my mouth discreetly, slipped the breathing device between my lips, and crossed my fingers.

“Let go, my friends, and give yourselves to me, to the truth that I have revealed to you. You are mine, and together, we are happiness.”

 *****

The masked guards slowly made their way through the vast auditorium, putting out each of the candles. Mercifully, the harmonization service had come to an end. Master Zule, leader of The One True Way, had finished his oration, given his benediction, and had promptly left the stage. After what seemed like an eternity, the reverent audience, filled with jubilation and exhausted from the service, began to file out through the side doors near the front of the auditorium. I remained in my pew, pretending to bow my head, copying the body language of the handful of others who remained, scattered throughout the room. In the pew beside me were three others who were kneeling and leaning on the pew in front of them, shouting words of gratitude.

The one closest to me, nearest to the aisle, slowly turned his head towards me, revealing the steel grey eyes beneath the hood of his robe. “It is time,” he whispered to me in a low voice, “are you ready, my Son?”

“Yes, Father,” I nodded back, careful to hide our brief exchange from the guards that continued to move throughout the room. Father Sylvanus carefully got up from his pew, and led the other two robed individuals down the aisle towards the back of the room. A few moments later, I feigned my last act of reverence, slowly got up, and followed them down the aisle. The room became much darker and colder as I climbed the ramp that led towards the back. With the candles out and the moonlight obscured by clouds, the auditorium was growing more chilling by the minute. Rows of unused candelabras lined the area, leaving a space only where a dark red curtain covered the back exit. I approached the curtain, took one final look behind me to check on the guards near the stage, held my breath, and went through. 

As I entered the dark, barren hallway, a hand suddenly grabbed me from the side and pulled me into a shadowy recess. Even in the darkness, the cold grey eyes of Father Sylvanus shot through me like lightning. He nodded.

“Mr. Poole,” he whispered, “you are aware that you are risking your life in your journey with us tonight?” I nodded vehemently. “Good. Then make good use of the skills that God has given you, and be sure to record everything that happens from here on in. Report to the outside world the freedom that will result from the deed that we must commit in the bowels of this cruel building.”

Seconds later, the hoods lifted from the two figures standing behind Father Sylvanus. The figure on the left, a woman with dark brown eyes, skin as white as snow, and jet black hair tied back in a tight bun, introduced herself as Dr. Lombardi, a neuroscientist and engineer from the European Union. The other, an older, dark-skinned man with a long beard, introduced himself as Doshar, a guru and healer from the East. Both offered me a brief gesture of greeting, before once again donning their hoods.

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