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Chapter 2

    Salvador panicked. His usual meticulousness teamed with his newly-seeded paranoia to drive him into a frenzy. He was seated at a table, the only feature aside from a small bureau and bed in his meager lodgings. With violently shaking hands, he drove a needle into the thin metal cap of the vile he was holding.
    Tharthis City was not the most populated locale on Id’Etat, with barely a few thousand residents—miners and their families for the most part. Salvador had been there for five months and deliberately got to know the faces of everyone—though just a handful of their names. The occasional caravan of travelers stopping in to rest on their way to or from Suryien was not uncommon, but the man he saw moments ago certainly was. He came alone and on foot—circumstances Salvador could not help but find concerning.
    Knowing that one might someday mean his death, Salvador paid close attention to sentinels of the Order over the years, hoping to better understand their habits should he ever have to escape one. Unfortunately, sentinels are just as puzzling to those who pay close attention to them as those who do not—if not more so. One of the few things Salvador ever learned for sure was that they traveled lightly, likely to remain inconspicuous, but that had the opposite effect in Tharthis City. No one travels lightly to the city nestled in the heart of the world’s largest desert. It was why the man who entered moments ago proved so troubling. Salvador did not even have to get close enough to see his badge. The only other thing he knew for sure about sentinels was that he was no match for one—not without help.
    He tilted the bottle and buried the tip of the needle into its corner before pulling the plunger to suck out every bit of liquid. He let it fall to the table and flicked the syringe before he gave it a slight push to expel any air. Shivering at the thought of what came next, he brought the needle before his eye and cursed his addiction and its horrid administration method. He stared at the wavering tip; there was no time to be squeamish. He steadied his hand the best he could and drove the needle into his pupil—then jammed the plunger downward, writhing in discomfort as the liquid seared the inside of his eyeball.
    Millions of dormant particles—microscopic in size—came to life as they reacted with human tissue. They were instantly lost amidst the colossal structure they had been released into. Awareness came quickly, and they began searching for something. In an instant, they found it—located at the back of the structure by way of the optic nerve: a direct bridge. They could feel their existences waning—the thing they yearned for was the one thing that could keep them alive for a little longer. Survival instincts drove them, and they were across the bridge in seconds, weaving their way through minuscule openings in cerebral tissue to arrive at an expansive vestibule of the midbrain. Hoards of the neurotransmitter dopamine beckoned to them, a throng of tiny temptresses, and the two embraced in organized mayhem—countless lovers reuniting. Though the romance was brief, for the dopamine committed a vicious betrayal, rapidly absorbing each particle to take everything that gave them their frenetic drive and using it to enhance itself. When all betrayals ceased, the neurotransmitters—messengers between brain and body—made their way to their receptors. They clung with anticipation as they awaited command from their unseen host.
    Outside of their world, Salvador felt his senses sharpen. He thrust his arm forward, and his hand appeared in front of him before his vision could comprehend the movement. It had taken hold, and he knew he had barely an hour before its effects wore off. He let out a frenetic laugh without intending to do so. He panicked and reached for the pistol holstered beneath his coat that he suddenly feared was not there, despite being sure it was. He stood up quickly. The table lurched forward on contact with his abdomen, and his chair shot out from behind him and collided with the wall. He made his way to the door and opened it a crack, peering out to ensure he had not drawn any attention—convinced that the world was now watching. Seeing no one, he walked into the hallway and down the stairs as casually as he could manage. He reached his hand into his pocket to caress his two remaining vials.

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