Amethyst prepared to meet the hulking Count Leonine in battle while the angry Lord Sardonyx glared down at her from above. Carnelian swallowed hard but stood his ground as well.
At that moment a wall shattered, and as rubble cascaded inward, newcomers rushed into the chamber.
Lord Garnet, the stocky warrior from the Stormy Peaks, led other allies of the House of Amethyst into the palace. The handsome blond Prince Topaz entered with his sword drawn, as did his new lover, the fiery-haired woman warrior, Lady Turquoise. Behind her came the slightly hesitant but well-meaning Prince Moonstone and his stalwart father, as well as his fiancé, Lady Sapphire. Even the ancient Lord Ruby brought up the rear in his heavy robes. He had ruled all of Gemworld before Amethyst’s mother and father had come to power, and in spite of his age he was a loyal friend.
“We have found you in time! “shouted Lord Garnet as he hugged Amethyst tightly.
Prince Moonstone added, “Hurry, Princess. Your loyal unicorn Max awaits, and escape is our best option at this time.”
Amethyst nodded eagerly, racing to follow her loyal allies even as Lady Turquoise gave a shrieking battle cry and charged directly at Leonine. Her sword entered the lion-man’s body, but he growled in anger, not in pain. He swatted her with one raised paw, and she crashed backward into the arms of a worried Topaz.
“This intrusion means war,” said Sardonyx. “I will remember this when my new masters are in power.”
Lord Ruby pushed forward and said, “Lord of Serpents, your late father cowered at the mere sound of my voice. I am not what once I was, but there is still life and power within this frame.”
Lord Moonstone was balding and gaunt, but he was brave and faithful and didn’t like the sound of the declaration his old friend Ruby was making. “Away! This is not what we planned,” he said as his son and Lady Sapphire murmured their agreement. “We must rescue the Princess and live to fight another day.”
Ruby shook his head, releasing a burst of red energy directly at Leonine. “I will cover your retreat,” he said. “I treasure your concern, but as one who once ruled this entire world, my will shall still be sovereign one final time.” He smiled grimly as a red glow enveloped his portly body, extending itself to cover Leonine.
The lion-man snarled and leaped at the old lord, but all Amethyst could see was a blinding sphere of red energy. Count Leonine clawed at the ancient wizard, but the heroic Lord Ruby stood his ground and closed in on the beast.
“My ancestors ruled ancient Atlantis!” cried Ruby. “My power is not entirely drawn from this realm. You face one who may claim the most powerful of all mages as his distant ancestral sire!”
Lord Garnet shook his head in admiration as he pulled Amethyst on to her white unicorn, and she whispered words of greeting to the magical animal she had named after her late Earthly grandfather. Prince Topaz had carried Lady Turquoise to their chariot, where winged tigers pulled at the reins. Lady Sapphire had opened her massive golden chariot with its twin griffins to her beloved Prince Moonstone and to Carnelian.
The Crimson Rogue smiled ruefully and climbed aboard. “Fancy meeting you here, dear Lady Sapphire,” he said.
She turned away without response, taking offense at his jab. The Citadel of Sapphire had been destroyed weeks ago when antimatter briefly bled through Earth’s dimension into Gemworld, and her people had been rebuilding it since then. For her to be here now was a tremendous sacrifice.
Amethyst glanced backward as the group fled the scene of battle. “I can’t leave Lord Ruby behind,” she said. “He was like a father to my mother. Citrina said he raised her when she was orphaned.”
Garnet said, “Lord Ruby retains the final spark of true untainted power left in Gemworld. He ruled the world once, and he knows his own limits. I fear he wants it this way.”
As they left the burning sands behind, the brilliant red glow became brighter for a few moments before an explosion shook the palace and the scarlet light faded away.
“How did you find me?” asked Amethyst as she ride beside the mighty Lord Garnet. “How did you know I was in danger?”
Garnet laughed softly and said, “The storm told me. You know how I talk with the thunder.”
Amethyst smiled as the wind swept through her blonde hair, and she relished the feeling of freedom even as she thought about home once more. Will my absence cause more trouble between Mom and Dad? she wondered. I didn’t think dropping Carnelian off in Gemworld would take this long. Of course, I didn’t expect to find that everything here had changed in so brief a time.
Carnelian listened and watched the others as he sat slumped over in the chariot. They each respect each other, he thought glumly. They are all royals, and I am nothing more than the powerless heir of their most hated enemy. Even with Dark Opal’s gem, I can do nothing. Nothing!
The group reached the magnificent domain of the House of Amethyst, where the princess felt the old joy she had always felt before upon returning to what simply felt like home to her. Majestic towers of purple and rose climbed skyward, and smiling faces looked upward with pleasure as her subjects saw their beloved ruler return home once more.
Amethyst kissed a beautiful blonde girl who rushed forward and knelt at her feet. “Your return is most welcome!” cried her faithful maid Laurel.
The princess helped her rise and said, “I’ve missed you, too.”
Lord Garnet said, “Princess, it pains me to interrupt a scene that gives us all pleasure, but we are facing a crisis unlike any we’ve faced before. We may not stop for happy greetings while a war council is needed, and — in all likelihood — a time of mourning as well.”
Amethyst squeezed Laurel’s hand and nodded resolutely as she followed Garnet to the palace’s main meeting hall. She gasped as she saw several figures were already waiting for them.
The fragile child-bride Lady Aquamarine sat at the table holding her infant son and staring at them all with her usual mixture of timidity and silent superiority.
Since Lord Aquamarine died at the hands of Fire Jade and his own rebellious subjects, thought Amethyst, his much-younger widow and their baby have lived uneasily with islanders who demanded a republican form of government. Since she’s now wearing her husband’s gemstone, I’d say the rebels have given up.
Lady Aquamarine said in a soft tone of voice, “The rebels have deferred to my regency for my late lord’s infant heir. They realized they had no idea how to fight the current intruders.”
Amethyst nodded slowly in surprise as she wondered, Does she read minds? Spooky!
A beautiful but delicate woman in a demure green gown smiled in welcome as she brushed one platinum lock of hair away from her green eyes. “Princess Amethyst!” greeted the Lady Emerald. “I hope my sister is well. I trust Emmy is safe within your earthly home.”
Amethyst smiled at her friend and nodded. “She sends her love. She really likes it with my family.”
A sultry woman with flowing black hair and pouting lips looked coldly at Amethyst but lowered her head slightly in deferment to her homeworld’s ruler. “You little expected to see me here, did you?” said the snobbish Lady Topaz. “However, I offer you my loyalty as well.”
Prince Topaz stepped closer to his older sister and said, “You speak pretty words as always, but we all recall your past treachery, sister.”
Lady Topaz glared at her younger brother and said, “You are in no position to lecture me. I rule the House of Topaz, and you will soon surrender your gemstone and name when you become Lord Turquoise.”
Amethyst gasped as she heard the announcement. He’s going to marry Turquoise! she realized as her heart sank. I really have lost him forever.
A soft voice caught her attention as a gentle man in white robes stood up and smiled sadly. “We have gathered here, Princess Amethyst, because of the menace you’ve already faced. As you know, I am the last of the Diamond Priests, but I have new acolytes, and together we still work to maintain the proper alignment here on Gemworld. It was a terrible distortion of that delicate balance that first alerted me to the crisis we now face.”
Amethyst nodded and said, “The aliens — those Starry Sky monsters — came here through the dimensional portal Dark Opal built. When he died, everything got sucked into it, and I guess they got out.”
“That’s not what he means,” said Lord Moonstone. “He takes too long to get to the point.”
Lady Emerald frowned and pursed her green painted lips as she urged caution. “Please, Lord Moonstone,” she said. “Show proper respect to the Diamond Priest.”
Carnelian placed one boot on his chair as he laughed harshly. “Moonstone always had the manners of a stable boy,” he said.
Moonstone stood up and said, “Arrogant boy! You have no place here! Not only have you ever served our hated foe, but you and I have old bloodshed to settle between us.”
Prince Topaz nodded and said, “My sword is ever yours. Say the word, and I will cut this smirking villain into shards.”
Carnelian laughed again and said, “Bold words, Prince Ken Doll. Bold words, indeed. We both know your sister now wears the crown in your House, and your ravishing new lover will do so upon your marriage.”
Lord Garnet slammed his fist down on the table and said, “Enough! All of us are here because we must unite to restore our magic and drive out the invaders.”
Amethyst nodded and said, “He’s right. I urge you all to be calm and remember how well we all worked together when we faced Dark Opal. We must do so again, since the invaders have messed up our magic powers.”
The Diamond Priest said, “Forgive me, Princess, but I must correct you, as Lord Moonstone said I have failed to make my point. The invaders are a threat, but the greater problem is the way all of our powers have been diluted and damaged along with the balance my life is dedicated to preserving. It was the loss of balance that led me to gather this group and to trace you through your gemstone’s power.”
“But didn’t the invaders cause our magic powers to be weakened?” asked Amethyst. “Didn’t they mess up the balance?”
The Diamond Priest spread his hands apologetically and said, “No, dear Princess, I fear it is you who are to blame for our current crisis.”
Amethyst frowned as she listened to the ominous words of the Diamond Priest.
“When you recreated Gemworld and linked its existence to each of the twelve royal gemstones,” he said, “you successfully prevented its destruction by the death of any one of the rightful heirs, but you also made an error. You linked its existence and its proper order to all twelve houses, but with the fall of Dark Opal, there is no current heir to that domain. All magic here is out of alignment because the balance is dependent upon there being twelve active owners of the gemstones.”
Carnelian laughed harshly and said, “That is no problem! I am here. I’ve returned to reclaim my proper role as ruler of the domain of Dark Opal.”
Lord Moonstone almost snarled as he replied, “Dolt! You may have been Dark Opal’s adopted heir, but you are not of his bloodline, and you possess no magic! You can’t use the gemstone, and you can’t serve as the replacement we need in order to correct the imbalance”
Carnelian’s face turned red as he struggled to contain his anger. “Dark Opal made me his heir!” he said. “He had me brought here as an infant. He chose me because he knew he had no other heir. All of his other natural children were hapless freaks, and he banished them all to the Shadowlands.”
He made a loud and vehement display, but his mind returned to more than one conversation he had overheard from within Fortress Opal.
“This house has no heir,” Dark Opal had said on more than one occasion.
It’s not true, he thought. I am the rightful heir.
“Carnelian, I’m going to be blunt,” said Lord Garnet. “We have no time for polite words. You have no magic. You were not born to Dark Opal. I’m sorry, but you must see why you don’t qualify as the official heir we need.”
Amethyst couldn’t help but feel sorry for Carnelian. She also didn’t know what to say. “Can we fix my goof?” she asked. “I didn’t mean to mess things up so badly.”
Lady Aquamarine asked, “Did Dark Opal have any other true heirs?”
“He had freakish inhuman progeny, and he was sickened at the sight of them!” shouted Carnelian. “He banished them in the misty realm between life and death.”
“You know, there is one living heir to the House of Opal,” said Lady Turquoise. “Prince Topaz and I met him. Dark Opal’s brother White Opal lives, although he told us that he had given up any connection to the world below his lofty city in the clouds.”
Prince Topaz nodded excitedly. “He was as kind and gentle as Dark Opal was cruel and violent.”
Lady Turquoise said, “We will go back to his home in the clouds and explain our dilemma. He will join us as the new ruler of the domain of Opal.”
“Citrina taught both brothers when she served their father,” explained Lord Garnet. “But I had almost forgotten White Opal existed. I’d almost suspect a spell of some kind obscured my memory of him.”
“Go find him, please!” said Amethyst. “He may be the answer to our problem.”
Lady Turquoise smiled winningly and said, “We will not fail you, Princess.” She ran out of the chamber as her lover Prince Topaz followed in her wake.
Carnelian said nothing, but his expression was black with rage.
“What of Lord Ruby?” asked Amethyst. “I can’t leave him alone back there.”
“We must rescue him,” said Lord Garnet. “He bought us time to make this plan, but I don’t want that brave old man’s blood on my soul.”
Lord Moonstone nodded eagerly. “Yes, I agree. He achieved his goal. Now we must rescue him if at all possible.”
The Diamond Priest said, “He still lives. This must I know.”
“And I know how we may learn more about his current condition,” said Amethyst. “We may see if he’s hurt or a prisoner by looking in the Well of Vision.”
“I will join you,” said Lord Moonstone. “The rest will remain here and plan our next move.”
“May I also accompany you?” asked Lady Emerald.
Amethyst nodded, and the demure woman in green and the nervous and balding Moonstone followed her closely. As she led the others to the crystal pool of water that enabled the viewer to peer through its shimmering surface to see and hear beyond what the natural senses could reveal, she thought of the first time she had looked within its magical depths. Citrina the Witch Mother taught me how to use it, she thought. I sure miss her.
As the trio came closer to the ornate fountain that contained the magical waters, a shimmering figure appeared within them. She was ancient but benign and clothed all in yellow.
“Citrina!” gasped Amethyst. “I see the Witch Mother!”
“My child,” said the beloved old woman. “I told you that I would never truly leave you. I have merely awaited your summons via these waters of power.”