When Lydia Lionette was thirteen years old and her parents insisted on throwing her a birthday party, which she felt she was far too old and too cool for, she threw her arms dramatically into the air and declared that she would be running away to the circus.
After her so-called cousin, Killian, smashed her face directly into the enormous strawberry cake that her Uncle Pita had spent hours slaving over, completely by accident of course, she actually packed a bag. The boy was a klutz, but while it was embarrassing to be covered in cake, it was the way he giggled and licked the frosting from her cheek afterward that really threw the young, newly teenaged Lydia. While Dia knew the action was innocent enough, Killian being a naive sort, for a girl on the brink of s****l maturity it sent signals through her body that were confusing enough without them being tied to a gangly, gingery, freckle-faced dweeb.
But, it wasn’t until years later, after another Killian-related disaster, that she actually followed through on her youthful threat.
Unfortunately, it took only minutes for her to regret it.
“What the void am I doing?” Lydia whispered under her breath, ignoring the calls of the circus performers who also served as the ship’s crew.
They were a friendly sort, and had offered Lydia a ride without question when she turned up on their gangplank in nothing but a white gown. Something about the wild look in her eye, and her smeared make-up, must have garnered sympathy in the carnies - who immediately took her in as one of their own. While Lydia was sure that the pouch of gold she handed over helped convince them, once their captain - and erstwhile ringmaster - found out she had a knack for artificing, they’d even offered her a job. She turned that offer down. though, as she had a different plan in mind. It might not have been a well thought out plan, but it was better than the one she was leaving behind.
The airship was flying away from Veritasia City and its surrounding countryside, where the fort city of Pounce was located. The city of Pounce, home of the Dire Beavers, the heroes of the Second Desolation and the Zircyn Invasion. Lydia’s family and friends. Her chest tightened as she caught sight of the picturesque little cottage that she’d grown up in, nestled into a dell between rolling hills. The cottage disappeared from view as the airship she was on bobbed up and over the Agrona mountain range.
At barely twenty years old, Dia was no longer so sure she was the adult she’d been pretending to be since she was thirteen. On the deck of the enormous, brightly painted ship, with the world stretching out as endlessly beneath her as the sky above, she felt like a child. Where was an adultier adult when you really needed one? Oh, right. She’d left them behind.
Now Lydia was the sole ringmaster of this s**t show she called her life.
Her mother’s stricken face when she ran out of the temple was not a sight she would be forgetting any time soon, but Lydia was sure her parents would understand. That was somehow both the best and worst thing about them; they always understood. Her parents were the best of people; true heroes in every sense of the word, to the point where even their flaws seemed heroic. It was infuriating how good they were, and Lydia had always been afraid that she would never live up to them.
How could she? She’d been born under a bad star, after all. Being brought back to life twice before she’d even left her mother’s womb did funny things to a girl. Things that she fought tooth and nail against, despite the reassurance of everyone who loved her that her necromantic powers were not actually going to turn her evil. How could they know that for sure when even Lydia herself had doubts?
But, no matter what, Lydia’s parents loved and accepted her for exactly who she was. They always strove to give their only child the time and space to make her own choice - to make mistakes and learn from them. Oh, they gave solid guidance when needed - if not always when requested - but they did their best not to smother Dia. It didn’t matter; even when they gave her no reason to fight them, she still found a reason to. She’d driven her mother to the point of tears more than once, and was pretty sure her father’s hair had gone gray because of the stress she heaped on them.
Well, Lydia had more than bungled things this time, to the point where it was actually better not to try and fix it. There was no fixing her sham of a relationship to his grace, Duke Killian f*****g Lionette, no relation. No, it was better to run - and she couldn’t run any further away than where this ship was heading.
The white, lacey gown she was wearing fluttered in the wind, dragging at her in a way that nearly made her stagger backward. Annoyed, Lydia grit her teeth as she ripped off the detachable skirt. Blinking back the tears that had sprung unbidden into the corner of her eyes, Dia watched as the gauzy train of fabric flapped away on the current of air. With it went the last vestige of her love for a klutzy red haired boy she’d always felt something for - despite the fact that the man he grew into was an enormous douche. Oh, grown up Killian was hot, and charming...and yes, talented in ways that made her toes curl. But, she knew now that he didn’t want her.
He only wanted the clout that came from being married to her. She’d heard him bragging about how he was finally going to get his due - the respect of the nobility that shunned him because his grandfather had purchased their title. The fact that he was bragging about such nonsense to the slutty little strumpet he was banging in the room he was supposed to be getting ready for their wedding in was just the icing on their big fat lie of a wedding cake.
It was bad luck for the bride and groom to meet before the big shebang, but Lydia couldn’t resist slipping a heartfelt love letter under her groom’s door - and that’s when she heard them. Even after that, she nearly went through with it. She’d walked back to her bridal suite in a daze, and when her father came to escort her to the temple she’d taken his arm and let him lead her away without a word. Her father probably thought she was just nervous, though Lydia had never been the nervous sort.
It was only when she stepped into the temple, and caught sight of her waiting groom, looking handsome in his formal captain’s outfit, that her senses returned to her. She wasn’t entirely sure what she’d said, but it must have been especially nasty because her Uncle Moltar started clapping and whistling enthusiastically while everyone else stared at her in wide-eyed horror.
Moltar had never liked Killian. That should have been her first clue that something was wrong with her would-be husband. Uncle Moltar was like one of her mother’s pets; he had an instinct for telling good people from bad, and a habit of shitting on people he didn’t like.
What happened after that was a bit of a blur, but Lydia knew that she kissed her father on the cheek, saluted her pale-faced mother, hiked up her dress, and ran out of the temple before anyone could stop her.
Oh, and she’d stolen The Beast - her Uncle Moltar’s motorcycle. It had been sitting right outside the temple, like it was waiting for her. She couldn’t help herself and, well, Uncle Moltar had made it so easy. If she didn’t know any better she’d think he wanted her to do it; to take The Beast and run.
The motorcycle now sat in the belly of the airship whose deck she currently stood on, tucked in amongst the menagerie. While there was a long list of things Lydia was currently regretting, stealing the work of mechanical genius that was The Beast was not among them. Her grandfather had built it, she and her Uncle Moltar had spent many hours improving it, and now it was hers.
“Goodbye, Killi.” Dia whispered, turning away from the railing, away from the sight of her homeland fading into the distance. “You stupid fuckface.”
Lydia hated to think what the psychic seamstress, Selene, would have to say if she learned that Dia had trashed the intricate, beaded confection of a gown - but whatever. Selene wasn’t here. Her parents weren’t here. Even the twins weren’t here, though if she’d told them about her hare-brained plan they probably would have tried to go with her.
Lydia was on her own on a circus airship heading toward the Zircyn Empire, and it was too late to change her mind - even if she wanted to.