1 ▪ Small Favors

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Legs dangling over the six-story drop, I push my earbuds deeper. Sometimes music is white-noise, drowning out all coherent thoughts, leaving me in a blissful void of melody. Other times it’s an outlet for emotions— good or bad— a voice of empathy to let me know I’m not alone. And then there are times like now, when a certain song comes on and takes me back to a moment I’d rather forget. Perfect recall is a bitch.

I pause the song and look at my phone, seeing the notification that made me turn on the music in the first place. Another exile has broken our deal. Heaving a sigh, I know my app alerted Phoenix and his team. They’ll get everyone away safely. Then he’ll inform Lanx that I’m coming for him. The terror that’ll induce should buy me enough time to figure out if there’s an option besides my last resort.

Knowing a trip down memory lane isn’t a good idea, I still push play. I don’t want to think about what I might have to do to Lanx. As a soft, yet raw voice croons in my ears, I take a sip of coffee and look out at the grounds. Sixty feet below, moonlight reflects off the fog-covered lake, the forest beyond swathed in shadows. As the song progresses, singing of love, lies, and madness, the fog rises to meet the shadows. As they twist and blend, a new scene takes shape.

Trees and water blur and disappear, replaced by a jagged mountain, my younger self standing next to the crater. Tattered hem billowing in the extreme heat, I wait for mother nature to awe me. And then he appears out of nowhere, watching me curiously. With a long black jacket over his bare chest, tight black pants, and an air of danger, he belongs on the volcano. My braided white-blonde hair, pale skin, and thin dress make young me look sweet and naive— two things I can no longer claim— like I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We stare at one another, perfect strangers, yet we don’t move or speak, though I watch in fascination as his gray eyes seem to swirl like a brewing storm. The ground quakes and I turn my attention back to the crater. He moves to my side just as the volcano erupts. Magma turns the night a bloody red, searing as it drops onto our shoulders and arms. That feeling of being small, next to something so enormous, powerful, and dangerous, it’s extraordinary. I smile at it all and when I turn to him, he smiles, manic and wild. In that instant, I feel like, for the first time, someone might understand me.

As the song comes to an end and the memory fades, I realize I’m not alone. The underside of my wrist tingles, the name Phoenix already fading. He must be more upset than he let on last time. Guess he’s finally got the courage to have this conversation. That’s all I need right now.

“Do I need something stronger?” I ask, holding up my ‘A wise woman once said, “Fuck this shit” and she lived happily ever after’ mug. “An ale perhaps?” When he doesn’t answer, I crane my neck, shifting on the ledge to look at him. “Please don’t tell me I need liquor.”

Reining Chaos ☆ Book OneWhere stories live. Discover now