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Imperial University of Alvastadt, Alvastadt, Imperial State of Alva
June 29th, 1980

f he looked back far enough, the heads blended into the haze.

But he could make out faces in front. Blond hair, blue eyes, and pasty white skin were an unexpected sight in the crowd, yet he spotted that combination at an alarming frequency. Otherwise, it was a blend of browns and tans; clothing spattered the crowd with colour as if a painter had whisked a wet paintbrush across a drab canvas in every direction. He saw checkered red keffiyeh in the mosh of students, t-shirts repurposed as masks, and the glint of lead pipes under the hazy afternoon sun. They were all angry.

Someone, presumably an officer, spoke into a megaphone. “This is an unlawful assembly.

DEATH TO TYRANTS,” spoke the crowd.

Their signs showed the same four faces, all university students, all dead by his comrades-in-arms hands. Savvas Baratos, Lili Schenck, Qutb al-Lodi, and Himma al-Youssef, they shouted. Their goal was to remember what they’d done to them, the lives they’d so easily taken. A tear gas grenade lodged in the Thalassian’s eye socket was what had circulated amongst the public. The Goetic woman was photographed being beaten to death with rifle butts, and the photos made it to international news. The two Aravan students were found dead in an alleyway not far from the campus, bayonet wounds littering both their corpses. The news was limited, but it had gotten out regardless.

The officer’s voice was calm and regulated. “Disperse or you will be fired upon.

DEATH TO OPPRESSORS,” chanted the masses.

If one of their goals was to make him feel sick, they did a damn good job at it. He stared at the rifle clutched at his chest, the same one he’d been trained to maintain as if it were his only possession. He’d been coerced into enlisting by his parents after university; when he first laid his hands on the length of metal and polymer, he quietly enjoyed the power that seemed to emanate from the weapon. A single well-timed trigger pull could vanquish his enemy. But as he stared at the crowd, he could not find any reason to shoot. He stood against a whirlwind, and they’d only taught him absurdities that wouldn’t stand up to the lightest breeze.

His voice was blasé as if the words were rehearsed. “This is your last warning.

DEATH TO DOHNA,” the people demanded.

Evidently, the army had made a mistake sending university students-turned-conscripts against university students-turned-protestors. He wasn’t stupid; they weren’t the enemy. Some were his age, and a healthy amount were younger. Looking left and right down friendly lines, the same indecision was plastered across his comrades. They dreaded the order that inevitably came next. Blood would flow on the streets of Alvastadt for one more day, and the river of red would keep running. His trigger finger was pinned to the receiver, unwilling to move down. He couldn’t shoot at them. He wouldn’t.

Fire at will.” The order seemed to travel through a vacuum, detached from all reality. In essence, it was.

He watched his breath. The line was silent.

Fire at will.” The order sounded absurd now, given the circumstances. He could hear a hint of panic.

He could hear boots shuffling against asphalt. The line was silent.

Fire at will, damnit!” The words spilled out, frantic and unrestrained.

Smoke stung his throat. The line was silent.

Fuck-” Dread and horror punctuated the air for a brief second, before-

DEATH TO TYRANTS,” spoke the people, a little louder this time.

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