Amethyst raced forward into a scene of battle. She wasn’t surprised by what she saw, since she was familiar with the personalities of her fellow royals. Thus she understood why the fiery Lady Turquoise had already engaged a glowing Starry Sky being in fierce combat. The same could be said for the brave Lord Garnet, who was generating blazing bolts of force and aiming them at another invader. What surprised Amethyst was that, while she found herself battling on the ominous heavily wooded grounds of Fortress Opal, her foe was not its vile owner.
This place still gives me the creeps, she thought. Even though Lady Emerald restored the forest, it has already taken on a monster movie look. I guess Dark Opal makes everything he touches turn out bad.
She raised her hand and aimed a magical purple bolt at the nearest invader, striking a golden-hued woman who was weaponless except for a heavy urn she held in front of her body. The bolt shattered it, and a massive wave roared out of the broken urn to engulf the area.
Amethyst gasped as she was swept along and then under by the crashing waves. How’d all that water come out of that urn? she wondered as she fell head over heels and fought to keep her grip on her sword.
A hand grabbed her rather roughly by her hair and yanked the battered and soaked princess to dry ground. “Lady Topaz?” sputtered Amethyst as she recognized the cold and haughty sister of her beloved Prince Topaz.
“Why the shock, my dear? We are allies now!” said the dark-haired royal as she continued to guide the slightly dazed Amethyst to safety.
“Thank you,” replied Amethyst as she choked up water and then tried to spot her foe.
“I am Aquaria,” said the golden woman as she approached the two Gemworlders. “What more fitting weapon would I use than the water I bear?”
“Her urn is a magic device,” said Lady Topaz. “Clearly, she may conjure a raging flood at will.”
“OK, then let’s turn that flood into steam!” said Amethyst, concentrating. Her purple magic sizzled with heat and surged into the urn itself. A cloud of scalding steam erupted from within and melted the golden woman into a dripping blob of golden tears.
“Well done,” said Lady Topaz. “I little suspected you to be such a deadly warrior.”
Amethyst shook her head and said, “I didn’t mean to do that, either. I really didn’t! I just thought I could make her have trouble seeing us through the steam. I guess when our magic was restored, it made a whole lot more effective against them.”
Dark Opal himself appeared on the back of an ebony scaled wyvern. He smiled wickedly as he rose above the scene of battle and directed his winged steed to breathe a noxious cloud of acidic energy straight at the being called Lord Centaurian. The centaur roared with pain and released a barrage of gleaming arrows at the monstrous wyvern. Dark Opal frowned as his pet suddenly plummeted out of the sky at an alarming speed.
The armored tyrant hurled himself away from the crashing mount, and his magic managed to cushion his landing a few feet away from where Prince Moonstone was wrestling desperately with what appeared to be a Minotaur. Hesitating for a moment, Dark Opal calmly dived on the creature and repeatedly plunged his sword into its broad back. Prince Moonstone watched wide-eyed and tried to crawl to safety.
Centaurian galloped furiously at them, but while Amethyst shouted a warning, it came too late. The centaur cruelly galloped over the fallen Prince Moonstone even as his beloved Lady Sapphire screamed in horror.
Amethyst flew at the centaur and encased it within a lilac-hued sphere. Concentrating, she hurled it skyward before letting it fade away directly over the struggling Minotaur.
Dark Opal grinned broadly as Amethyst managed to stun his foe. “We work well together, don’t we?” he said as he sliced through the centaur with his broadsword.
Rolling her eyes, Amethyst rushed to help Moonstone as Lady Sapphire cradled him in her arms. “He is badly hurt,” said Sapphire as tears flowed down her lovely cheeks.
Amethyst said, “Take him inside, and stay with him.”
Lady Sapphire nodded, and her own magic lifted the fallen royal and floated him inside the gaping maw of Fortress Opal. Lady Topaz followed her friend and departed the battlefield. Dark Opal had apparently destroyed Centaurian, and he now turned to finish the Minotaur.
Lord Sardonyx rode into view on a creature that resembled an iguana. He took in all that was occurring with his beady eyes and hurried to help his former master. “The creatures do not have the courage to stand long against you,” he said.
Dark Opal nodded and said, “How familiar that sensation must seem to you, my old friend.” They attacked the bull-man, working effectively together.
Nearby, Amethyst gasped as she saw a scene of horror. Lady Turquoise was holding her own against what seemed to be a heavily armored crab-man, but his razor-sharp pincers were snapping ever closer to the reckless warrior woman. The red-haired royal disappeared suddenly as the mandibles closed around her.
“She’ll be cut in half!” cried Amethyst as she flew directly at the crab-man.
To her relief, a blade suddenly erupted from within the creature’s grasping mandibles, and Lady Turquoise emerged to continue her attack. She was bleeding, but apparently her magic had shielded her from more serious damage. Prince Topaz rode forward on a white horse and scooped her into his arms as the creature tried to make another attempt to grab her.
Amethyst shook her head and blasted it backward while thinking, Of course, he comes to rescue her while I’m left bruised and soaking wet. She danced nimbly aside as the crab-man slammed his linked mandibles down where she had been standing. She danced upward and ran across them to send a blazing barrage of magical power directly into the creature’s face.
Lord Garnet was pressing his own assault on a being with a ram’s head. The burly Lord of the Stormy Peaks relished combat, and his mighty blows battered the monster while he seemed to ignore the thundering punches the monster had brought down upon him.
We’re winning, thought the princess of Gemworld as she watched Garnet and other royals battle the beings from the Starry Skies. Lord Ruby was standing on the battlement above, and his crimson magic radiated outward to engulf a golden scorpion. Lord Moonstone was fighting equally hard against a woman who seemed to be doing nothing to resist his attack. However, she also stood calmly in the face of his expert swordsmanship.
“Virgo? All these things match up with zodiac signs. What is Virgo’s secret?” wondered Amethyst. “Lord Moonstone!” Amethyst shouted. “I think she can’t be hurt, but she also can’t hurt anyone else! Stop fighting her!”
Moonstone nodded warily and lowered his sword. Virgo stood impassively by and made no attempt to flee or to fight. “Passivity is her weapon,” he realized. “She can’t be harmed, nor can she harm us.” He turned to Amethyst and said, “My thanks, Princess! I shall not waste any more effort upon her.”
Amethyst nodded but watched him sadly. He must not know about Prince Moonstone, she mused. He seems lost in battle.
Whirling around, she saw Prince Topaz and Lady Turquoise unite to finish off the crab she herself had blinded earlier. Lord Ruby had also incinerated the scorpion, but he now looked ill and pale as he rested above them. Lord Garnet grunted in pain as his foe surged upward and knocked him to the ground. Amethyst inhaled sharply, but before she could help the powerful man, he had thrust his blade though the ram-like man, and now he relentlessly pressed onward.
Dark Opal had left Sardonyx to finish a burly goat-headed monster. He surveyed the scene and laughed harshly. “These invaders were perilous when the Gemworld lacked its rightful balance of magical power, but now they pale like the sun at eve!” he shouted. “They pale before the Dark Opal!”
Amethyst had to admit that her enemy was perhaps the finest warrior on the field of battle. In his own domain, he was naturally stronger than any other royal. I wonder what happened to Carnelian, she mused. I can’t help but worry about him. He has no magic, and he feels so alone. She frowned as she saw a huge sea monster erupt from within the castle moat. It was a Starry Sky being, and she assumed the fish was a counterpart for the sign of Pisces.
“Lord Aquamarine would have loved to have caught and fried that one!” said a sneering Lord Sardonyx. “Too bad he died. At least his child bride and her infant son remain safely in your house.”
Amethyst bit her tongue. She couldn’t imagine the Serpent King being overly worried about anyone besides himself. “She will be safe,” she replied. “After all, Lady Emerald stayed back there, too. Her elemental powers will be a good back-up if we need them later.”
She began fighting the sea monster when something caught her eye, and she saw a lithe figure in red dart out of the shadows and into the castle. Carnelian? she thought, running after him and barely managing to catch a glimpse of the fleet man as he rounded a corner and headed deeper into the Fortress Opal. He knows that place better than anyone. Where is he going?
“I feel like I should follow him,” she said softly, stumbling on a darkened stair as she fought to steady herself. “Running in high-heeled boots is not something I’m good at yet,” she said ruefully.
Making her way deeper into the castle, Amethyst felt a chill. This place is so spooky, she mused. “Carnelian!” she called loudly as she saw the red figure descend seemingly into total darkness before vanishing abruptly. “An illusion? That was a spell that just sort of flickered out.”
No one answered, and she found herself standing on a bare platform that overlooked an empty chamber with a massive doorway standing partly ajar. “What is this place?” she said.
A powerful force shoved her forward, and she fell over the platform railing to the empty chamber below. The massive doors suddenly swept open in front of her startled eyes to reveal a dark portal with no apparent end. “I can’t see through it. It’s like an endless void,” said Amethyst. She felt a strong sensation come over her body and staggered off balance and then fell flat when she tried to rise. “What’s happening to me? I can’t stand up!” she cried.
“You are caught within the pull from the portal to the other realms! It is through these doors that I will banish the invaders before they regenerate. Oh yes, they are capable of doing so. I learned that when I first faced them.” The voice came from Dark Opal, who seemed to step directly out of the shadows.
“A spell of containment will draw their alien forms to the chamber itself, where no magic will work,” he continued. “They will be as helpless as you are, and the pull will send them through yon gates. You are currently being sucked into the same portal through which I mean to trap the invaders. Your loss will be viewed as a heroic sacrifice. Your memory will never die — and in fact, neither will you. You’ll just be lost within that same void forever.”
Amethyst gasped as she flailed helplessly with her legs and arms, but nothing she did could slow her progress toward the gaping portals. “You tricked me!” she cried. “I was lured in here by an illusion. You made me think I saw Carnelian.”
Dark Opal laughed as stood over her struggling form. “Exactly,” he said. “You seem to have developed a bizarre sympathy for my useless son.”
Amethyst tried to summon her magic power, but nothing happened. “What have you done to me?” she cried.
“No magic may work this close to the portals,” said Dark Opal. “That prevents intruders from attacking me should they force their way through the void to my home. But never fear — the spell I used to open the doors and link the invaders and yourself to their unyielding pull will remain in effect.”
Amethyst felt the cold stones of the floor against her cheek as she slid helplessly through the doors. She couldn’t stand, nor could she stop herself from being drawn into the void. No magic — nothing I can do will stop this trap! she thought.
Suddenly, an agile figure in red swung down on a rope and grabbed her around the hips. She was tossed over his shoulders and pulled away from the doors in a matter of seconds.
“Carnelian!” she gasped as he carried her away from the trap.
“Hold on!” he cried. “This rope is all that’s keeping either of us from falling into the void.”
Dark Opal scowled as he witnessed the odd rescue. “How dare you interfere with my plans in this way?” he shouted. “I took you from the other realm as a baby. I even raised you as my heir, and yet you still defy me!”
As he turned to face the pair, two long but powerful arms emerged from the gaping void and grabbed him from behind. He fell off the platform to the chamber below where his attacker stood revealed.
“We meet once more, father,” said an inhuman figure that fought to drag the wildly fighting Opal within reach of the portals.
“Granch!” shouted Amethyst as she recognized Opal’s first born son and her former ally.
“Princess!” said Granch. “I am pleased to see you once more. You spell of summoning did indeed reach my spirit, and it almost brought me home, but he blocked the way, and I was left here just beyond this dimension.”
“How many times must I kill you?” growled Dark Opal.
Carnelian cursed as Amethyst started to move down the steps again. “Leave them!” he hissed. “I didn’t follow you here to see you die!”
Amethyst said, “I thank you, but I can’t leave Granch alone again!” She stayed just beyond the point at which all magic failed and aimed a blazing bolt of eldritch power at the doors. The door slammed shut, and the powerful wind ceased. Granch broke free of Dark Opal, and the two circled each other warily.
“Leave this place,” said Dark Opal. “You are clearly a worthy son of mine, since you have done what no other could do. You have defied death itself.” He stepped aside, and Granch lurched past him to make his way up to the platform where Carnelian and Amethyst waited. “You may leave,” said Dark Opal. “I will banish the invaders as planned, and all of us will meet again on another day. I suppose I owe you this much mercy, since you restored my fortress.”
As Amethyst tearfully embraced Granch, Carnelian glared at them and then looked back at his father. Truly I have no place of my own, he thought. I am an outcast once more.
Once the trio had reached the upper levels of the castle, Carnelian turned and started to slip away, but Amethyst stopped him and said, “You saved my life, and my offer of friendship still stands. Don’t you know he only lured me inside by making me think I saw you go in?”
Carnelian looked at her with suspicion written on his handsome face. He shrugged and said, “Perhaps I will accompany you, after all. You clearly need looking after, and this brute certainly can’t take care of you.”
Granch scowled, but then his inhuman features broke into a crooked smile. “And I always thought you were the monster, Carnelian,” he said.
As they departed Fortress Opal, Amethyst saw a whirlwind of magical energies touch each being from the Starry Skies and seemingly draw it inside to where she assumed the portal would again await. She also saw Prince Topaz kissing Lady Turquoise and turned away to look at the other royals. All of them were alive, and she even noticed Lady Sapphire smile in confirmation over the now-resting Prince Moonstone.
“Gemworld is ours once more!” declared Lord Garnet.
As they cheered and congratulated each other, the royals each felt the same chill. They looked up to see Dark Opal standing on his fortress battlements with Sardonyx slightly behind him.
“The alliance is over,” said Lord Moonstone. “I think we all know that.”
Lady Turquoise said, “But we’ll be ready for him when he tries his next trick.”
Granch nodded slowly. The others had been surprised to see him, but none questioned his proximity to Amethyst. “My father’s evil knows no limits. We will face each other once more in the future.”
Amethyst leaned on the huge warrior and smiled winningly. “Yes, you will, and I’ll be right by your side,” she announced.
Much later, after the battle had ended and all the allies had returned to their own domains, Dark Opal stood before the closed portal and glanced up as Sardonyx stepped closer.
“You certainly won the day,” said Sardonyx. “Those things are now safely shut out of the Gemworld, and your rule here is secure.”
“Shut out?” said Dark Opal. “I prefer to think of them as awaiting the call of their master. You see, I have bound them to my cause, just as I did before with countless other-dimensional beings. Should I desire their services, I will free them once more. You didn’t think I would cast away such worthy pawns, did you? That would be like casting you aside.”
Sardonyx blanched, but he said nothing. He has truly returned, for better or worse, he thought.
After Amethyst witnessed a joyous reunion between Granch, her own soldiers, and the mystical presence of Citrina herself via the magical waters, she summoned the magical energies that allowed her to return to Earth as Amy Winston.
Carnelian and Granch both settled in nicely at Castle Amethyst, although I’m not sure how long Carnelian can go without irritating someone, she thought.
As she emerged through the portal into the Winston home, she heard a welcome conversation.
“Gina saw my magic books,” said Herb Winston. “She was just a college kid trying to act wicked. She offered to teach me magic, but she was just a spoiled girl with delusions of grandeur. Nothing happened between us — I promise. I wish you’d told me why you were so distant before.”
Marion Winston rested her head against her husband’s chest as he held her. “Oh, Herb. I was a jealous fool! We have to trust each other more than ever. We can’t let Amy down when she has so much pressure on her in that Gemworld.”
Amy Winston rushed into the room and joined the embrace as Emmy and her dog Taffy appeared at the head of the living room stairs and hurried down to welcome her back. “Mom! Dad!” she said. “It sure is good to see you too being nice to each other. I was so totally worried!”
Marion kissed her daughter and then beamed up at Herb. “Don’t worry, Amy. When you vanished again, we realized how wrong we had been to manufacture differences between us out of jealousy and fear. I’d say you brought us back together, in fact. Now, young lady, how about some desert before we ground you for life?”
Amy laughed as Taffy bounded up to her leg. “Sounds great, Mom,” she said. “It really sounds great.”