Seemingly oblivious to the horrified looks of all those gathered around him, Dark Opal casually retrieved his clasp. He wore his own potent gemstone and smiled wildly as he looked around the room.
“What a remarkable welcome!” he said. “My dear friend, Sardonyx. You look rather glum, old ally. Perhaps you are still feeling the unearthly touch of the Emissaries of Vorn. Never fear. Now that I have returned, you may again seek shelter at my feet.”
Lord Sardonyx swallowed hard, nervously alternating between a desire to attack his old master and a need to grovel for his approval. This could change everything, he thought. Do I dare oppose him? He might reserve the worst of his spite for me if I again choose to fight against him.
Dark Opal looked at an agitated Carnelian and said, “And my wayward son here as well. You showed rare courage when you stabbed me in the back. I actually lost control for a second. That brief loss of concentration allowed the dark magics I was using to sweep me back through the ruins of my portal to the outer realms. Now you have kindly ushered me homeward. I will repay you all for your kindnesses — now and in the past.”
Carnelian drew his gun and fired it directly at his father, but the bullets melted as a magic glow enveloped Dark Opal.
“Do not rise too swiftly, young pup,” he said. “Your father’s hand is still as sure and deadly as ever before.”
“Curse you!” said Carnelian. “I reject you and all you stand for. You won’t mock me ever again!”
Lord Garnet drew his sword, only to have Dark Opal chuckle loudly.
“Garnet, calm yourself!” he said. “I am not here to do battle, for I have a kingdom to restore. I owe thanks to you all for my return. I was not dead, of course, but merely nursing my wounds in one of the dark realms of magic beyond this dimension. Still, your summons enabled me to return much sooner than I could have if left only to my own devices.”
He looked at Amethyst, and his dark eyes gleamed with malice as he said, “And where is the Witch Mother? Surely she had some role in this gathering?”
“Citrina is dead,” said Amethyst. “And don’t you say a word against her!”
“Dead?” said Dark Opal, raising one amused eyebrow. “I am so very sorry… that I wasn’t here to enjoy her moment of passing.”
“Would that she were here instead of you,” said Lord Moonstone. “Gemworld is in peril from invaders from beyond. They came through the ruins of your broken portal. You are to blame for them in many ways.”
“You know we didn’t want you,” said Amethyst. “We were trying to bring back Granch, in fact.”
“The irony pleases me,” said Dark Opal. “However, I will try to fill his role and serve as your ally. I understand you need my power now more than ever. I haven’t seen these fearsome invaders, but I will stand with you against them. In fact, I already know how to best them, although it will require an effort from all of you, and you will not like what will be required of you. That pleases me as well.”
Amethyst asked, “What are you talking about? How can we stop them?”
Dark Opal gestured broadly as he spread his arms. “They must be sent back through the portal to another realm. That will rid Gemworld of their presence for good, if said portal is properly sealed upon their forced departure.”
“But there is no longer a portal,” said Sardonyx. “Your domain is desolate now.”
Dark Opal nodded almost eagerly. “Exactly,” he said. “That is why, in order to defeat the invaders, you will all have to help me rebuild my Fortress Opal in all its glory!”
“He’s right,” said Lady Emerald. “That would be a way to banish them all once more.”
Lord Ruby sighed heavily. “And yet, to defeat them, we must do much to restore what may be a more terrible threat in their place.”
Prince Topaz frowned as he listened to the old mage. “That sounds like the warning White Opal gave us. Was he aware all the time that our actions might bring his brother back? Did he actually want us to do so?” It was a disturbing question, and its answer was beyond the young prince’s capacity to determine.
As the royals argued back and forth, Amethyst spoke clearly over the confused exchanges. “I agree. We will rebuild your home in exchange for your help in ridding Gemworld of the invaders. But we will only do so if you agree to this condition. Swear by your gemstone that you will never attempt to steal fragments of the other Homestones again or use them against us.”
“I do so swear to this pact,” said Dark Opal. “In fact, I swear it upon my son’s life.”
Carnelian glowered at him, and he could not find the words to make any reply. What can I do? he thought. How can I stay here with these royals while Dark Opal walks this realm once more? I cannot rest until he is dead. I won’t rest until I kill him once and for all.
The next few days passed in a whirl as Amethyst and the others used their magic powers and the labor of many of their subjects to do the unthinkable. They rebuilt the ominous citadel known as Fortress Opal. The heavily fortified structure loomed skyward like a stark and unrelenting skull.
Emerald did most of it, mused Amethyst as she gazed upward at the monstrous compound. Her powers over earth, wind, fire, and air made the construction really easy. Being able to shape the ground like that and use the wind to lift materials up high really cut down on the need for normal labor.
“Does the sight of my home bring back old memories?” said Dark Opal as he suddenly appeared beside the blonde princess.
“Yes,” she said. “I remember the time I kicked your blue tail.”
Dark Opal inclined his head slightly in answer and then said, “Indeed. As for me, I recall your mother’s screams and your father’s last words. But no, those cheerful scenes played out at your own home, not mine. My memory must be failing me in my age.”
Prince Topaz ran over and said, “Do not talk to her that way! You will respect her, or I will teach you better manners at the end of my blade!”
Dark Opal laughed harshly as he slowly walked away. After reaching the end of a paved walkway, he turned and said, “Give my warmest regards to your lovely sister, if she allows you to enter your former home, my exiled friend.” Lord Sardonyx stepped into view and laughed softly as he fell into step with Dark Opal.
As they disappeared around a row of razor-sharp thorns, Amethyst looked at Topaz and said, “Sardonyx has already returned to being Dark Opal’s loyal minion. Apparently, he’s decided to forgive and forget the fact that Dark Opal once sold him out to those creepy guys from Vorn.”
“Snakes have short memories,” said Prince Topaz. “The serpent slithers in his master’s wake. I think Sardonyx lived under Opal’s thumb for so long that he doesn’t really know how to live any other way.”
Amethyst nodded and said, “I’m sorry about what he said. Your sister doesn’t have much to say to you, does she? She still sees you as a threat to her rule.”
“She does, although my marriage to Lady Turquoise should appease her,” said Topaz. “I will, of course, surrender any claim to the House of Topaz when I become Lord Turquoise.”
Amethyst looked down at her hands, nervously rubbing one finger against the others. She was distracted by his presence, and his words still managed to hurt her.
At that moment, Prince Moonstone rode into view on a black horse with his own lover Lady Sapphire close behind on her own steed. “Princess, it is time!” he cried. “The Starry Sky beings have come, and we are under attack! It will be here that we either stand or fall.”
Amethyst jumped into action. “We will stop them, and we will win! I know it!” she said solemnly, even as she thought once more of Prince Topaz and briefly of her parents back on Earth. “We just have to,” she whispered.