Arche woke up in a cold sweat. That dream again... The dark prison cell. Cress and Chester finding her. The long, arduous trek to Dhaos' lair. The final battles.
The dream was never smooth and sequential. More often it was just flashes, moments of that dark and frightening time. But for some reason, this time had been so much more vivid, more raw.
"It's been a hundred years. That means they'll be starting out... Now," she realized aloud. The fact that it was, technically, one hundred and two years didn't phase her.
"I have to... I can't meet them. I can't let them meet me. That would destroy everything. Claus said it would cause a paradox." Panic began to flood through her until a sudden realization struck.
Arche smiled to herself, but it was not a happy smile. The solution was blindingly simple. Cress himself had told her what happened. The Lone Bridge, as it was called, had been destroyed in an earthquake about a month before the destruction of Toltus.
Arche knew that spell. Now, after a century of study, she knew how to make it stick. And a bridge would be easy to destroy.
The first thing to do, she decided, was a disguise. Just in case. Studying the mirror, she smiled ruefully. The thin girl she had been at 17 was no more. Now she was at least as stacked as Mint had been... Was now, even. Her waist was still small, but her figure had achieved that of Childbearing Potential.
Sighing, she found some bandages, and taking some old shirts, altered her lines. It wasn't long before she was a somewhat portly androgynous figure, and in a few more minutes, she was dressed. The Black Robe of her old traveling days was rather worn and tired-looking, but would more than serve her purposes. Instead of her usual thick ponytail, Arche bound her hair into tight braids which she coiled around her head, then smeared with ashes and dust. A little flour to her hair, face, and hands. The hood of the robe, which she'd normally despised, came up over her head. Surveying her reflection in the mirror, Arche didn't recognize herself.
She wished she knew of a way to travel instantly, as did Suzu. Even the Techbirds would have been a good alternative. Maintaining her anonymity wouldn't be easy. She didn't want to use her broom, but walking would be boring and obvious. If only there were some way she could just appear at the bridge, cast her spell, and be gone. But there was no such luck.
Fortunately, the night was dark. The bridge was close, and Arche doubted anyone would see her. Leaving no light, nor taking any, she slipped out of the house, walking swiftly towards her destination.
The urge to show off was there. She wanted to make a scene, but knew that would be the worst possible way to raise suspicion. The earthquake had to seem as natural as possible.
So it would. Standing in the center of the bridge, the enrobed sorceress studied it. Stamped her foot a few times. At one point, she even hung over the edge to see how it was supported...
"Built to last," she muttered. "Figures." She smiled briefly at the intense irony of the situation, sending a wistful look Euclid way.
Closing her eyes, she concentrated, murmuring the beginnings of the spell. Her eyes, half closed, were focused on another plane. Her hands wove patterns in the air. As the magic gathered and she drew close to the invocation, she paused, the air glowing red around the symbol she had traced. "Claus, this is in your honor. Cress, Mint, Chester... This is for you.
The world shifted. Fell apart. Slid out from under Arche's feet. Went black.
She woke up in the safety of her own home. The house was dark, but there were the smells of cooking from the kitchen area.
"You're awake," her mother said. "I was worried about you. I heard about the earthquake and came immediately, with a little help."
"You know I had to do it, Mother."
"I know. It's hard, baby, I know it's hard. Giving up something you love more than life itself never comes easily. The temptation to be with them is strong, but you know you did the right thing."
Arche closed her eyes and wept. "Mother."
Gentle arms were around her, the comforting medicine of a mother's embrace soothing her. Quietly, the elven woman rocked her sobbing daughter in her arms, just as if Arche was once again a child.
"I'm not going to go to them, when it's over. I'm afraid."
"You know there's nothing to be afraid of, Arche. They'll not have forgotten you."
"I know. But I don't care. I don't want them to know I did it, even if they know why. And I don't want to face him again. I mean them. Not..."
Arche's mother nodded.
"I don't want him to know about Travis. I don't want to tell him about Claus."
Arche's mother raised an eyebrow. "I wouldn't worry. As far as your archer was concerned, you have nothing to fear, nor to worry about. The man is resting in peace now, and the other would surely have no way of knowing."
"Still, I feel so... It's weird," Arche said. "I mean, I know more about him than his own son. But it doesn't matter." She smiled ruefully. "In more ways than one."
The elf laughed softly. "Very true. But how you deal with it is your choice. It's years in the past. Perhaps it's time to move on?"
Arche's mother kissed her daughter on the forehead. "If you're all right, I'm going to go home now. I'll see you soon," she smiled. "And next time, remember to get off the bridge before you destroy it."
The door closed softly behind her. Everything about her mother was quiet, gentle, soft. Arche sighed. She wondered if she'd ever lose her rough edges.
She sighed. It was odd, she thought to herself, how very like and unlike his grandfather her old friend had been. Each had been quite a character. "Sorry, Claus. But I don't think I'm going to tell him. Not for a long time yet." She gazed south, towards Euclid. "I wish I could have told him then. But I think it's better this way. Maybe. Maybe someday."
For now, she was going to continue the hundred-plus year wait for The One. Soon enough, she was sure. They would need time to rebuild Toltus - or rather, to build Miguel where once Toltus had stood. She hadn't yet decided when she should find them, or if. Maybe they would come to her when they were ready.
If they hadn't forgotten her.