Chapter Three: The Crossroad

1916 Words
“Hi Uncle Echo.” Lydia said, looking shyly up at the older drow from under the cover of her long, full lashes. Lydia knew what she looked like. She might be a mess at the moment, but she still had the big blue eyes, full pink lips, and sweet round face she’d always had. Her looks had always done right by her, softening people up for when she body slammed them with her wild antics. Echo barked a sudden laugh, which made his son jump. It was an odd sound for the preternaturally quiet former rogue who rarely cracked a smile, let alone laughed - but one that Lydia had heard many times before. Like her mother, she had a way of breaking him. It was probably the contrast between her feigned innocence, and the horrific way she’d trashed her life, that did it for him this time. While her mother had a fondness for awful puns, Echo was all about irony. “Mon dieu, if it isn’t the runaway bride.” Echo finally said after catching his breath. “Don’t just stand there like a statue, Harmon. Let the little lady in.” Lydia beamed up at the stunned look on Harmon’s face as she pushed past his rigid form and let Echo pull her into a hug. “Oof, Dia, how much have you been drinking? Mmm, nevermind. I don’t think I want to know the answer. Why don’t we find you a nice hot bath before you Aunt Cadence realizes you’re here and descends upon you like a ravenous vulture?” Echo said, grimacing a little as he released her from the quick hug. “Harmon, make yourself useful and bring The Beast around to the carriage house. It won’t do to leave it sitting out front like that.” Dia balked at this, clutching the keys of her motorcycle to her chest possessively. “Whoa, now. I don’t know about that. You know the one but me or Moltar touches The Beast. She’s temperamental.” “I’m sure I can handle her.” Harmon said stiffly, holding a hand out for the keys. “Temperamental is my specialty.” It was Lydia’s turn to blink. Her bottom lip wobbled, and her face broke into a smile. “Seriously? Hoo, boy. You must have seriously bad taste if you’re hitting on me right now.” Harmon withdrew his hand, his cheeks turning bright red as he looked away from her and his father - who was grinning so wide that now that it was kind of creepy. “I...I wasn’t doing anything of the sort! I just meant that I’m good with constructs. You can trust I won’t damage your Beast. That’s all.” Harmon sputtered. “And really, who would hit on you in your state. I’ve been to dive bars that smell better.” Dia snorted a little, and shook her head. “Please. The closest you’ve been to a dive bar is riding past in your four horse carriage while on the way to the smoking lounge where you and your chums discuss water polo. But, if you say you’re good with machines, then fine. Don’t scratch her, or I’ll kick your ass.” Lydia held the keys out, and Harmon snatched them up with a defiant look on his face. His jaw twinged a little, but instead of spouting off again like he so obviously wanted to, he turned on his heel and walked out the still open front door. It closed behind him with an echoing click that was somehow more ominous than if he’d slammed it. It showed that he was not the explosive kind of man, but the slow burning kind - which was far more dangerous. “I think he likes you, ma petite choupinette.” Echo said, dodging easily when Lydia tried to smack his shoulder. It was a futile effort. Echo had long since grown used to dodging both Lydia and her mother’s little smacks, but Dia still had to try. It was the principle of the thing. “Whatever. I think I’ve had my fill of poncy rich boys. Spinsterhood actually sounds more appealing to me right now. No offense.” Lydia said, grumbling. “None taken, little lady.” Echo replied with his usual nonchalance, motioning her to follow him down one of the long hallways. “We have an abundance of guest rooms, and alas, very few guests. You can have your pick of any of these rooms. I assume, from the state of your dress, that you didn’t have the chance to pack anything before fleeing the Dynasty?” “You’ve always been the observant Uncle.” Lydia rolled her eyes a bit at his pointing out of the obvious. “I’ve got a little bit of money on me, some odds and ends, but yeah...not much else. All the bags I’d packed for the honeymoon were already on the ship before the ceremony even began.” Lydia paused by one of the doors that Echo had opened and felt her breath catch. The room was beautiful, painted in alternating matte and gloss black and grey stripes, with red and purple accents. As she looked closer, she realized that the subtle patterning in the glossy stripes were actually laughing skulls. It was exactly the kind of room that Lydia herself would have designed. The moody lighting and satin sheets contrasted with the strong wood and leather of the remaining furniture, and gave the space a modern, but still slightly cheesy goth vibe that was Lydia’s calling card. “This is why you’re my favorite Uncle.” Lydia squealed as she run into the room and jumped right onto the plush four poster bed, whose gauzy black curtains had dustings of dark purple stars. “Seriously, did you design this room for me?” “When you showed an interest in artificing, your mother hinted that you might want to attend the Academie Esoterique. Your Aunt got a little carried away at the idea, and yes...she had this suite done up for you. After you were accepted to Vertasia University instead, she left it just in case you visited. You know she always wanted a daughter.” Echo said, leaning against the door frame as he watched Lydia roll about in the bed. “I think my parents would have been thrilled with four boys.” Lydia said, snorting. “They never stopped trying, you know...even though Uncle Ichigo told them it wouldn’t happen. Sometimes, I don’t think I am enough for them. Other days, maybe I’m too much.” “Hmmm. That may be true they never stopped trying, but I don’t think they are as disappointed with you as you make them out to be. It’s a miracle you survived, Lydia. Do you really think your mother and father don’t wake up every day thanking the Goddess for your continued good health?” Echo said, going to sit on the edge of the bed. Echo had always been honest with her. Blunt almost to a fault, in a way that her parents and her other Uncles could never bring themselves to be. His council, as infrequent as it was due to the distance, was still some of the most valuable to her. “I know they love me...but sometimes I don’t think I deserve it. I’m constantly embarrassing them. Like this mess I got myself into with Killian.” Lydia said, curling her knees up to her chin. “I thought I was finally going to make them proud, you know. Settle down with the good guy from the right family, finally learn how to control my powers, give them the grandkids that Uncle Pita is constantly whining about…Become the mature, adult Lydia that people keep expecting me to blossom into.” “Those are certainly some pretty sounding goals. But, perhaps instead of focusing on shaping your life to make other people should live your life for yourself, hmm? What is it that you really want to do with your life, Lydia?” Echo asked, reaching over to brush a matted curl from her cheek. “I...I don’t know anymore. I feel like somewhere over the last year, since getting mixed up with Killian again, I kind of lost myself.” Lydia admitted it out loud, and to herself, for the first time. Putting the truth out there, that she had no idea what she was doing anymore, was deeply embarrassing. She had always been so sure of herself; when had she started caring so much about what other people thought? “You have a prime opportunity, right now, to change course. Don’t shy away from it. When the opportunity came to me, I took it and I have never once regretted it, even though it was the complete opposite of what any of my friends or family members wanted for me.” Echo said firmly, giving her shoulder a light squeeze before pushing up from the bed.  “I won’t call your mother right away, but we will need to reach out to her soon. I don’t want to let her worry too long. You never know what that woman might do if she gets really, really worried.” Dia nodded at this, not bothering to object because she knew he was right. Elise had probably sent out an army’s worth of search parties already.  Echo headed to the door, leaving Lydia alone with her thoughts. Dia didn’t know the whole story, but she knew that her Uncle Echo had been a Zircyn spy during the second desolation, and had ‘changed course’ by changing sides - joining his mother and the Dire Beavers as a counter-spy for the Dynasty. Echo had eventually worked his way up the ranks of the Dynasty’s political system and into an ambassador position, allowing him to return to his homeland in a roundabout way. Technically, he was a citizen of the Dynasty, having given up his Zircyn citizenship after defecting. Their situations couldn’t have been more different; she wasn’t being forced to hurt people, or tortured by a crazy spymaster. No one was holding a crossbow to her head demanding that she fall in love, get engaged, or get married to Killian. But, practically she could see the parallels. Like Echo had once done, Lydia was standing at a metaphorical crossroad. It would be easy enough to borrow a comm earring and call home. Her parents would welcome her back with open arms, probably teleport over to get her right away regardless of how expensive teleport tickets were. If she wanted to try and patch things up with Killian, which she didn’t, the possibility was there. She still had her acceptance to Veritasia University, and knew full well that it was past time she started getting a hold of her necromantic power. But...but what? She didn’t know. Her mind was clanking noisily in her skull, like an unbalanced mana engine whose mechanisms were threatening to go up in smoke. Lydia sighed, and closed her eyes a little bit as frustration and sadness fought for release from her aching chest. A sad little whimper worked its way past the seal of her lips, and tears that had been pushed back by the excitement of being in a new city finally rolled down her cheeks. She wanted to change, didn’t she? To become the daughter her parents deserved? But...
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