As Amethyst gazed around the stark landscape that stretched endlessly around her, she whispered, “What happened? What could have happened here?”
“We’re lost,” stated Carnelian. “I suppose even the fabulous Princess of Gemworld can have an off day. Try again.”
He was about to mock Amethyst once more when something stopped him. The young man had no magical powers and had grown up with this fact being constantly thrown in his face by people like Sardonyx and other lackeys of his evil adopted father. However, even he could certainly feel the electricity as the broach he wore beneath his blue cloak vibrated. Turning away from Amethyst, he glanced furtively down to see the opal gemstone pulse with a dim light. Clearly, his late father’s talisman was responding to the fact that it had been returned to its place of creation.
And yet — by the Dark Opal — this is Gemworld! he thought. This is my father’s former kingdom. There can be no doubt.
He drew the blue cloak around his shoulders and cleared his throat. “Little Princess, I think I spoke in haste. This wasteland can only be my father’s domain. When he fell and I was drawn to Earth, his every creation must have been eliminated as well. Perhaps the ruins of Fortress Opal, as well as the landscape he so personally shaped to suit his whims, all returned to the void when he died. He lost control of the dark forces he had been marshaling in battle with your forces when he… fell. I suppose the wild magic swept everything away along with his body.”
Amethyst was about to mention that Dark Opal fell after his adopted son stabbed him in the back, but she held her tongue. Actually, after Opal’s death, a rainbow filled the sky, and Citrina said the world had been purified, she thought. It certainly didn’t look like this. I can’t even detect any sign of the forests or animals that started to return after that battle.
Looking upward at the oddly brilliant constellations that filled the sky, she shivered, not from any feeling of coldness but rather from the sensation that she was being watched and was in peril. The source of the danger made itself known in a spectacular fashion as one of the constellations loomed closer and magically manifested itself in an all-too-physical form. A muscular centaur in a gleaming golden helmet appeared before the pair and galloped directly at them with thundering hoofs.
Carnelian gasped in surprise but reacted swiftly enough to hurl a dagger at the half-man/half-horse before it could get too close to their position.
The centaur snorted derisively, knocking the dagger aside with one deft gesture before aiming a large bow at them. “How dare you raise arms against Lord Centaurian!” he bellowed. “If all the slaves of this realm are as defiant, our rule here will prove to be most harsh.”
Amethyst stepped forward, angrily tossing back her hair as she spoke in the measured tone she’d been taught by Citrina. “I am Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, and you will not enslave anyone here. I don’t know how you came here or who you think you are, but you sure aren’t going to rule over me!”
Silently adding an arrow to his bow, Centaurian fired expertly at the regal heroine. She shielded herself with a hastily formed magical dome and planted both high-heeled boots firmly in the soil.
“Let’s just see how he likes a touch of amethyst magic!” she cried as a blazing bolt of lilac-colored energy erupted from her hand and struck the arrogant intruder directly in his bare chest.
Centaurian grunted in pain but held his ground and aimed a second arrow at his foe, releasing it with blinding speed.
Amethyst melted it with another bolt of power, but she had barely realized her success when another lethal shaft whizzed by her left ear. He was too fast for me, she thought as she dived to the left and rolled to her feet once more. If I had not moved slightly, he would have hit me.
Carnelian had watched the entire exchange in silence. He was appalled by the condition of his father’s land and, in fact, viewed the situation as a personal affront. This land should be mine, he thought. I am Dark Opal’s only living heir. He killed his first-born son — that freak, Granch — long ago, and together we dispatched his other monstrous offspring when they escaped from the Shadowlands in which he had imprisoned them.
He leaped toward Amethyst as she created another magical dome. “You can’t beat him,” he roared. “Get us out of here!”
Amethyst smiled slightly and said, “Thanks for the vote of confidence. I want to learn more about him. He clearly isn’t from around here.”
Carnelian sputtered, “But he’s just another other-dimensional being like the many creatures my father dealt with in his bloody reign. He had an entire chamber set aside to allow entry and exit from a multitude of dimensions. He bargained and bullied beings from across the cosmos. Clearly, if his realm collapsed within that same portal within the ruins of Fortress Opal, then this centaur merely emerged from that same now-damaged doorway. I’d say when it fell, it must have broken open the chamber, and now the entire area is unstable.”
Amethyst nodded slowly. Carnelian did seem to have some grasp of the principles of magic and science, although she hated to give the cocky man any credit. “OK, OK, I get it,” she said. “Now help me drive him back to his own world.”
Concentrating, she allowed the magic to surge up within her lithe body before guiding it toward her target with amazing precision. Lord Centaurian staggered under the assault as he clearly found himself caught off guard. Amethyst cried out with delight and ran forward to continue her attack.
She is magnificent, thought Carnelian as he watched her move.
Amethyst raised one hand, only to gasp as her magic energy faded abruptly at her feet. The centaur seized his advantage by charging at her as she hesitated.
“Move! Move!” screamed Carnelian.
The beautiful blonde managed to generate a shield seconds before the huge centaur crashed into it. The impact knocked him backward only slightly, and he smiled cruelly as he prepared to renew his assault. Amethyst reeled unsteadily on her feet as the shock of the blow caused her to see spots before her eyes.
Carnelian cursed and started to run, staggering as he abruptly turned and raced back toward Amethyst. She felt his arm loop around her hips as he pulled her desperately out of the path of the now-crumbling shield. “Get us out of here! And hurry!” he hissed in her ear.
She tried to open a portal, but the magic would not work. “I can’t do it!” she cried. “My magic has been off ever since we got here!”
Carnelian gritted his teeth as the centaur loomed over them and reached out with two powerful hands. “Fly! Just lift us away!” he pleaded.
Amethyst nodded, and seconds before the centaur could grab them, the odd pair soared skyward. “If he can fly, I mean, he did drop down out of the sky, then–” began Amethyst.
Carnelian said, “I know, I know. He may have powers to rival anything seen here since Dark Opal.”
Amethyst pressed one hand to her eyes as she grew dizzy. “I’m sorry, but I can’t keep us up any longer!”
Moments later, the young woman fainted, and the flying duo crashed to the ground. They had managed to escape from the wasteland, and — seconds before the impact — Carnelian had recognized the burning sands of the nearest neighboring realm. It was all too familiar to him.
“Sardonyx — wonderful,” he gasped before the crash knocked him senseless.