June 5, 795 TR
The lone fighter strode confidently over to the gates of the stronghold at the center of Eastergate, acting as if the guards surrounding the place simply did not exist.
Unfortunately, the feeling was not mutual.
A large man wearing black armor stepped in front of the archway and held his hand out before him. "This is a restricted area," he said gruffly. "Turn around."
The armored woman smiled slightly. "I am Cassandra d'Riveroak, rightful ruler of New Avalon. I go where I please. Move aside."
"Queen Hecate is the rightful ruler of New Avalon, and I should kill you for saying otherwise."
"I'd rather you didn't," a third voice said from within the castle. An exquisite female face framed by long, dark hair appeared in one of the front windows. "I shall grant this woman an audience. Step aside and allow her to enter."
The guard growled menacingly, but complied. Cassandra grinned at him as she passed. Her smile vanished when she saw the stronghold's vast hall.
Descrated holy symbols hung on all the walls, with black flags featuring the seal of New Avalon (rent in two) between them. At the far end of the hall was a gigantic throne made of iron, black as night. The lady from the window - Hecate, it seemed - entered this room within moments, walked across the floor and settled into the throne.
"Rhisiart Moonwalker," she said sweetly, "why do you not show yourself?"
The sword that held Rhisiart grew hotter and hotter until Cassandra had no choice but to drop it. Then its form changed into that of an elderly robed man with long white hair and beard and sparkling blue eyes.
"There," he replied. "Are you happy now?"
"Oh, yes. You have no idea how I've wanted to meet you."
"Funny - I can't say the same about you. Of course, perhaps I'd recognize you if you used your true name."
Hecate chuckled. "I doubt it. Before I found and activated those delightful little artifacts you were storing in Riveroak Castle's vault - thank you, by the way - I was Melantha Rowangard, an apprentice necromancer and citizen of no consequence. The moment I heard you were missing, I set out to claim this nation for my own. It would appear I've succeeded."
"Your victory is temporary."
"I think not. You're in the middle of the spider's web, Rhisiart - you and the moppet both. You may have defeated my high priest...yes, I know all about that...but I have a great many cards left to play. The only way you'll defeat me is if you take New Avalon itself from this world. I suspect that's beyond you."
Rhisiart closed his eyes for a moment. "You're quite right. But let me ask you something: why must I remove the entire web? Why not the spider?"
As he spoke, Cassandra felt his presence stab into her brain. CASSANDRA - RUN! LEAVE EASTERGATE!
No! I can't leave you!
YOU MUST! GO!!!
And though the fighter tried to resist, Rhisiart's last sending carried the wait of a mystical command. She ran from the stronghold as fast as her feet could carrier, past the surprised guards, through the streets that were almost empty, through the city gates and finally into the meadows beyond. Then, at last, she was allowed to stop, to turn, to look back at the city of Eastergate. The entire metropolis was surrounded by a golden glow, shot through with blue-black lightning. With a tremendous shaking and rumbling sound, the city rose from its position on the shore and flew high up into the air. The glow surrounding it grew brighter and brighter until it seemed to be a second sun. Its light filled the region, and all the surrounding terrain seemed to vanish in the fierce glow. Then, in a flash, Eastergate was gone.
As Cassandra's eyes adjusted to the ordinary daylight that now provided the only illumination, she felt something hard and somewhat round in her right hand. Looking down, she saw a diamond that seemed to hold glittering golden energy within it. She brought it up to her face for a closer look and felt Rhisiart's presence again in her mind.
Cassandra, I was unable to say farewell to you in person, so this shall have to suffice. Goodbye. You will never see me again. In addition to removing Eastergate from this world, I have cut off all the ties it had to Phaema. I have cut off all the ties I had to Phaema. And, furthermore, I have done what I can to enhance the shield that separates this world from all the others - which isn't much. But hopefully it will be enough to prevent Hecate from reentering this plane, should she manage to defeat me. Her magic is tied to Phaema, and therefore will only function there and in the city of Eastergate; thus, the multiverse will be safer overall if she is no longer a part of our world.
I had hoped to take all of New Avalon with me, but that proved to be more than I could manage after being exposed to the nature of Phaema for a week or so. It therefore falls to you to rebuild the nation, restore Riveroak Castle, and defend the Great Vault from further intrusion. You may think this difficult as few will immediately believe that you are in fact the rightful heir of House d'Riveroak. I believe I have solved this problem for you.
The crystal you hold in your hand has, among other things, the power to reveal the bearer's true nature. Clutch it tightly when you introduce yourself to anyone and they will instantly accept that you are Cassandra d'Riveroak, Princess of New Avalon, daughter of Artemis and Preacher. But that is not all.
The crystal is also - and I hope you will excuse my arrogance in calling it this - the Gold Bastion...after a fashion. It is nowhere near as potent as the other bastions, for I created it while a goddess created the rest, but it has a connection to all the others, and it has certain properties which you may find useful. Naturally, you won't be able to use all its powers - no one person would be capable of that feat, not even myself - but it will aid you in the defense of Riveroak Castle, and perhaps all of Phaema.
I wish I could explain to you how to activate it and what its exact powers are, but you will have to discover that for yourself. Study it as frequently as you can and I think you will find the key.
In time, the Gold Bastion will also unlock your true potential, the potential that has been dormant since you were an infant and Artemis worked to keep it from surfacing until you were ready. That may be days from now or years. I honestly don't know.
So that's it. That's what I'm leaving you. I still don't know if Phaema will survive to see the end of this year. Perhaps you will find a way to use this minor Bastion of mine to save the world. Regardless, I ask you to focus on protecting Riveroak Castle for now. Do not seek out KAAT'N. Do not seek out Oor-Tael. Do not even seek out High King Rolshin or any of our other allies. Protect Riveroak. If Phaema truly does die, you may be able to use the Great Portal to escape, and help a few others do the same. Don't take anything from Riveroak with you except perhaps a sword and some provisions; if this plane collapses it should take all those dangerous items we've stored in the Great Vault with it. Bear in mind, however, that many of the Bastion's properties will be forever lost if you are forced to leave; only its ability to reveal one's true identity will remain.
At any rate: protect Riveroak. Learn to use the Bastion if you can. (Well, call it something else if you like - arrogance has always been my greatest sin, as certain folk would be all too glad to tell you.) Leave Phaema if you must. That is all I ask of you.
May Gaea be with you, Cassandra. And may Gaea be with all of Phaema.
The fighter sat in silence for some time, until at last the sun began to sink into the horizon behind her. Then she stood and wiped away a single tear.
"Farewell, Rhisiart. Gaea be with you wherever you may be. I will honor your request." With that, she turned towards the west - towards Riveroak - and began her journey home.
(OOC: And if Elro DIDN'T explode while reading the above, I'll start to believe those fliers I see about Armageddon coming soon...)