Thomas, her childhood friend, and could have been lover, lies crumpled on the stone floor. The crown operator has just ordered the Grevan soldiers to shoot him. He refused to be conscripted. Citizens with the ability to operate are too dangerous not to be processed.
The Atrium of Forms, a complex filled with statues of mythical creatures from a time long past, brings out skills in those who enter it.
Other to-be conscripts stand in line, hoping the crown operator will overlook them, deeming them only useful as soldiers or for the conventional workforce.
Filled with rage, Iscara realizes she can feel the atrium, as if the walls, creatures, extend the feeling of her skin. The mural on the southern wall glows as she subconsciously pries it open, permitting a black fog to enter.
Beyond it lies the impassible region of Aphantasia, a cold, desolate place. Yet through the mural, now morphed into an opened gate, is a mysterious garden full of lush life.
It takes my left arm, claiming it can give me the strength of ten thousand guns in exchange. I let it, I don’t know why. When the soldiers fill me with lead, the bullet holes don’t heal, but I get up. Nerves wrecked, feeling stuck, I don’t think I can feel my hands.
The crown operator emits a haze to keep the black fog at bay.
Suddenly, I visualize my friends, armed with rifles like the soldiers, stacked up on the marble columns. The scene shifts.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
There’s a firefight ongoing. Somehow my friends got weapons.
The crown operator takes a defensive stance, analyzing Iscara carefully. There’s a voice in her head now, not quite the most helpful.
You like Thomas? What should I take? His pretty face? I’ll bring him back for you.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Iscara remarks to Iskadiel, the crown operator, pointing at the body on the floor.
“It’s not too late,” she frowns, nearly paralyzed by what she knows, but Iscara does not. “I can kill you before it takes hold,” her voice is genuine.
The stump where Iscara’s arm was, it bleeds.
The soldiers, they fight with a renewed strength, almost madly. The way one would if the safety of their families had been put to the test.
Jackson, Thomas’ best friend becomes brainless, a round piercing his skull.
“No thanks,” Iscara says calmly, face contorted in dissonance with her pretty dress.