Two days later, Amethyst in her thirteen-year-old Amy Winston identity slouched in a battered bean bag chair and adjusted the volume on her cassette player as loud voices rang out through the home on 995 Maple Street.
“If you can’t make it home for dinner, then you could at least call first!” shouted Marion Winston as she angrily shoved a dish into the dishwasher.
Herb Winston opened his mouth but then closed it again without speaking. He sighed loudly and then replied to his attractive wife’s angry words. “I’m sorry. You’re right,” he said as he stepped closer to his wife, slipping one arm around her waist. “Marion, this happens so seldom, so why are you making such a big deal out of it? I need to shift my schedule at times to work with students in need of tutoring. You’ve never minded before.”
She stiffened and walked away from his embrace, slipping off the apron she was wearing to reveal a stylish lilac blouse and matching skirt. She opened the refrigerator, removed a cake pan, and then used her back to bump the door closed behind her. “OK, Herb. Forget it,” she said. “I’ll be back soon. I’m going to take this over to the new neighbors. I’m no Betty Crocker, but a cake’s a cake, and we should have done something for them a while back.”
Amy frowned as she tried to ignore the obvious tension between her parents. Since her return from Gemworld, she had tried to resume a normal routine. The red skies and shadow monsters are gone, and Gemworld is safe, she thought as she slipped in a Sheena Weston cassette. I thought things would be cool here at home, too, but something is wrong with Mom and Dad. There’s a real chill between them. I sure hope it’s not my fault. They’ve been so understanding about the whole Gemworld thing over the last year.
She pouted as she recalled another relationship gone wrong. As Amethyst, she had been attracted to the handsome Prince Topaz, but the blond hero had abruptly switched his own affection from Amethyst to the fiery red-haired warrior woman, Princess Turquoise. The two lovers had insisted that they were still loyal to the House of Amethyst, but the blonde Princess Amethyst had angrily replied that she didn’t need the love of a subject for his monarch.
“Just because he found out I’m only thirteen here on Earth, Topaz stopped loving me,” she said as she settled into a sulk. “He probably doesn’t even care that I saved the whole Gemworld by myself — not as long as his precious Turquoise is by his side!”
She heard the rapid click of high heels on the wooden floor and saw her mother exit the house. Mom was sure dressed up, she thought as she returned to her music, rolling over on one side as the sound of “I Would Have Been with You” filled her earphones.
School was weird, too, she thought. Everyone’s talking about Rita’s dad. I can’t believe he was mugged and left in an alley. I sure hope he pulls through. I know stuff like that used to happen across the road from Emerson at Hudson University, but since Robin the Teen Wonder started showing up there so often, crime sort of stopped. Of course, he’s not been seen around the city for a while, now, come to think of it.
A pretty brown-haired girl in a green dress came into the room, and Amy removed her earphones. “Emmy, what’s up? You look pretty excited,” she said as the youngest princess of the House of Emerald rushed over. Since Princess Emerald’s oldest sister had assumed their late mother’s throne in Gemworld, young Emmy had divided her time between Gemworld and the Winston home. She had been delighted by Earth and often said she had no desire to return to her birth world.
Emmy said, “I was looking out the window. Your mom — she’s dressed really cute. I love that skirt…” She suddenly looked alarmed as she continued to peer through the window. “She’s next door — she’s at Carnelian’s house!”
“Omigosh!” cried Amy. “What’s she trying to do? I heard her say she was going somewhere, but I was sort of tuned out.” The two rushed out the door as Amy recalled the weird series of events that had led to the arrival of their new neighbor.
Shortly after Amethyst had overthrown and destroyed the evil tyrant Dark Opal, his adopted son, Prince Carnelian the Crimson Rogue, had been cast back to the world of his birth — Earth. As a thirteen-year-old calling himself Carl Nelligan, he had taunted Amy by revealing that he was now living next door to the Winston home.
He had enough knowledge of stuff here to buy a house and build some mad scientist gadgets in order attempt a return to Gemworld, she thought, but that was when there was cosmic clutter blocking the way home. I don’t know what the little creep has done since then, other than show off at my school and make eyes at Rita.
“Do you think Carnelian had something to do with the mugging?” asked Emmy. “I mean, Rita’s dad was stabbed, and he’s good with knives! Rita was spending a lot of time with him, too.”
Amy nodded and said, “You’re probably right! I bet Mr. Bettman caught them doing something. With a wacko like Carnelian, anything is possible. I mean, he was raised by Dark Opal, and he grew up as the only person in all of Gemworld who couldn’t work magic. He’s got issues, as Mom would say.”
“My elemental powers work on Earth,” said Emmy. “I can handle him.” She gestured with her hands, causing a focused wind blast to force the door open. It revealed a startling sight.
Marion Winston was sitting at a table giggling almost girlishly while a handsome man with dark hair, dark eyes, and a stylized goatee held her hand and caressed her palm.
“I see you have a long life-line,” he said. “How wonderful! I would hate for someone so charming to come to a sudden, messy end.” The man glanced over her shoulder and met Amy’s gaze. “Ah, the lovely daughter. You are so like your beautiful mother. I believe you want to be just like her when you grow up. Don’t worry. I just know that you’ll end up just like her. I can almost promise it.”
Marion blushed, pulling her hand away as she stammered, “Amy! Emmy! What’s wrong? I was just welcoming Orville — I mean, Mr. Nelligan — to the neighborhood. He was teasing me by pretending to read my palm.”
Amy glared at the man called Orville and thought, He’s a robot — I know that much. Carnelian built him and even made him look like his late father Dark Opal, minus the blue skin and scars. She caught her breath and said, “I think Dad wants you.”
Marion’s eyes narrowed, and she said, “He can wait. I’m still visiting with Orville. Why don’t you kids join his nephew in the rec room downstairs?”
“By all means, do that,” said Orville. “Young Carl would love to see his pretty classmates.”
Amy nodded grimly as she made her way downstairs. She gritted her teeth as she heard her mother’s musical laughter. “She’s flirting with him!” she whispered. “My mother is totally into the worst villain since… since… I don’t know — Gargamel!”
Emmy placed one hand on her back and whispered, “It’s just a machine. It looks like Opal and talks like him, but it’s nothing more than an automaton or golem.”
Amy nodded and said, “That makes it even worse! My mother got all dressed up for a robot.”
In the recreation room, a handsome, dark-haired boy in a red shirt looked up from a workbench and smiled broadly as the two girls entered. “Well, well. What brings you here? Not that I’m not happy to see you. After all, we may soon be family. A rather bizarre Brady Bunch, if you will. I can just do away with poor old Herb, and your mother will be my own Florence Henderson. I’ve been watching the TV since I came here, you see. Groovy, isn’t it? Or at least it was until they preempting my shows with coverage of all those super-hero funerals from the Crisis. So a few people in capes and colorful long johns died — so what? Enough, already!”
“You creep!” said Amy. “You keep that thing away from my mom. For that matter, what did you do to Mr. Bettman?”
Carnelian said, “I? You wound me? Or, should I say I wounded him! No matter. He’ll recover, and his insipid daughter won’t recall a thing. You see, she was here when I included him in a little practical magic. Her father’s blood was a key ingredient. Strange how that lovely Samantha Stevens never uses blood in her spells on TV. Anyway, my spell was a failure. I’m as powerless here as I was in Gemworld. I guess I’ll just stay here and make a life for myself in this little ‘burb. I think your mother will make a great step-mommy, dear sister-to-be.”
“Stop trying to be funny,” scolded Amy. “You’re as obnoxious here as you were in Gemworld in your adult body.”
Carnelian smiled wickedly and said, “Put that to the test, little Princess. I’ll leave your mother alone for good if you promise to take me back to Gemworld.”
“You cannot do that, Amy!” gasped Princess Emerald, known as Emmy. “You can’t bring Carnelian back to Gemworld!”
“I can,” said Amy Winston. “I mean, he belongs there. He may have been born here, but he was brought to Gemworld the same night I was brought here by Citrina. She even followed one of Dark Opal’s minions when he came here and snatched baby Carnelian. He’s lived in Gemworld longer than he’s been here. It’s the only home he has ever known.”
Carnelian’s eyes gleamed as he nodded and said, “So true. My heart longs to return to my father’s realm. After all, there’s no place like home, as one of this world’s travelers once declared.”
“Call off Uncle Orville,” demanded Amy. “Hit his off button or unplug him. Only then I’ll take you across. Emmy will stay here and make sure that Orville doesn’t come back on because of some time-delay feature you’d programmed into him. You’re sneaky enough to do that.”
“All right,” said Carnelian. “I agree to your terms. I’ll follow your every instruction if you’ll see me home.”
Amy thought, Dark Opal is dead. Fortress Opal is in ruins. Even that snake Sardonyx is on our side now. What harm could a magic-free guy like Carnelian do in a world of pure magic?
Later that night, as Amy held a blanket up to her neck within her bed in the Winston home, she listened intently and tried to hear any conversation from her parents’ room. Nothing, she thought. Why are they acting so cold to one another? Was Mom trying to make Dad jealous or something? They were fine before my secret became known to us. Did I do something to ruin their marriage?
Inside the Winston bedroom, as Herb Winston snored in bed, Marion Winston, wearing a pink nightgown and slippers, sat before a mirror and brushed her hair. But her thoughts were far from the scene of domestic bliss. I saw Herb take that Gina Tonelli in his car, she thought bitterly. She was throwing herself at him, although she is one of his students at Hudson University. I bet she was the student in need of help he spent time with as well. I think he’s having an affair, and no matter what I do, I can’t bring myself to confront him. If I say something, I may lose him forever, but keeping it all inside just makes me angry. Am I not as desirable to him as I used to be? Orville certainly found me charming. He was flirting with me.
Meanwhile, Amy had waited long enough. The house was dark, and she was ready to make her move. She tossed off her sheet, and Emmy quietly followed her as they climbed out the bedroom window, allowing Emmy’s elemental magic to lower them to the ground on a gentle breeze.
“There he is,” said Amy. “When we leave, you go in and make sure his robots have been dismantled like he promised.”
Emmy squeezed her hand and said, “I will. Go in peace.”
Amy walked over to where Carnelian waited beneath a large tree near the fence that bordered the two yards. Even though he was in his earthly form of thirteen-year-old Carl Nelligan, he was always Carnelian to her. His eyes and his smile betrayed his true self, and she shuddered once more as she recalled his evil adopted father.
Dark Opal was both a master mage and a gifted warrior. He was evil and relished his dark powers, but he was no coward and had murdered more than one of Amethyst’s allies, beginning with her true parents, Lord and Lady Amethyst. When that robotic copy of Dark Opal said he was sure I’d end up like my mother, she thought to herself, he meant he was sure I’d be killed at his hands as she was by the real Dark Opal. I knew that, but I couldn’t say anything at the time.
She approached Carnelian, who grinned broadly and rubbed his hands together with undisguised glee. “Well met by moonlight,” he said with a courtly bow.
“I don’t know if that’s from some old TV show, but you can save your time by not trying to be charming,” she said. “You appeal to me exactly as much as one of your father’s death hounds.”
Carnelian smiled broadly and shook his head ruefully. “You are such a harsh critic. Still, you are in the driver’s seat, as they say. I will obey your commands.”
Amy concentrated, once more feeling that strange sensation of incredible cold followed by unbearable heat as a portal opened between Earth and Gemworld, and her body changed from that of a girl of thirteen to that of a beautiful and capable adult princess of Gemworld. It’s like being born and dying all at once, she had once thought as she experienced the magical transformation of form and location.
As Princess Amethyst, the lovely blonde wore a brief purple tunic and skirt over matching shorts and boots. The sword at her hip was a weapon she had mastered along with the bow and other traditional weapons of the mystical realm under the expert tutelage of the loyal Lord Garnet. The mighty warrior’s missing son was, in fact, her ally Prince Garnet, who now served the Ancient Ones while remaining friendly to her cause as well.
I wish I could find a way to reunite them, she thought, but young Garnet feels as if he must honor his pledge to the Ancient Ones who found him when he was cast into that ghost world long ago. That reminds me, though — Dark Opal was already scarred according to Prince Garnet when they all attended the investiture of Emmy’s grandfather. That means the story Nabu told me about Opal’s being scarred at the same time my father died was either a lie or a misdirection of some kind.
She shivered as she emerged from the portal, followed closely by the now-adult Carnelian, who wore a red tunic and pants with a blue cloak and had curly dark hair and a small mustache. Some girls would find him good looking in a bad boy kind of way, but I know he’s a real rat, she thought.
Carnelian frowned as he gazed around the strange environment that the portal had revealed. The night sky was brilliantly illuminated by a dazzling array of constellations, while the landscape below was completely devoid of any structures natural or manmade in origin. It was a total wasteland.
“Princess, I am loathe to impugn your magical prowess, but even a poor powerless man like me can see that this is not Gemworld.”