True to her word, the intrepid Lady Turquoise soon found herself guiding her chariot with its team of flying tigers toward an impressive citadel that apparently rested miraculously upon a thick bed of clouds.
Prince Topaz shook his head in amazement. “I still marvel at the sight of that palace,” he said. “How wonderful to live in the sky itself, and yet how dreadful a thought to always fear a fatal plunge to the surface below.”
Lady Turquoise held him briefly and smiled up at the blond prince. “Magic like that is a certainty,” she said. “I doubt White Opal ever has such fears. Do you recall how serene the city seemed while we visited last time? Even though we were about to face a war with the evil Fire Jade and her Ancient One masters, we felt like children on holiday, not warriors in peril.”
They heard a pleasant laugh and looked up to see White Opal leaning over a balcony and waving to them from above. “Welcome back, my young friends,” cried the handsome white haired man. “Welcome back!”
“He sure doesn’t act like his brother,” whispered Prince Topaz.
“And yet he looks like him,” she replied. “I mean, he looks like a white-haired, unscarred, normal-skinned version of Dark Opal.”
White Opal smiled broadly as two attendants helped the warrior woman guide her chariot and steeds to a place of landing while others rushed forward with beverages. “You are truly welcome here,” he said. “I understand you have triumphed over your foes. Well done!”
He nodded knowingly and said, “I see your puzzled glances. While I have pledged to never leave this citadel, I do have magical ways of observing all that occurs below in my former home. I fear I also anticipate what brings you here now, so I must be frank with you from the start. I will not leave my home here. My vows to my Lady preclude any loyalty to the Gemworld itself.”
“You speak as though this beautiful city was not part of Gemworld,” said Lady Turquoise.
“I must be a bit metaphysical to answer your statement,” explained White Opal. “This citadel is part of Gemworld, but it is also separate from it. It lies here and beyond at the same time. It is a time of nexus between the realms. ‘Tis fitting, since my Lady has her champions in countless dimensions and limitless eras.”
“Forgive my ignorance, but who is your lady?” asked Prince Topaz.
“A fair question, young sir,” said White Opal. “Words fail me when it comes to her whose smile illuminates my very being. But I will show you. She waits within.”
As he led the two briskly up into the streets of the gleaming city, they felt the same serenity as before, and they locked eyes with a shared understanding of the sensation.
“We need you below,” pleaded Lady Turquoise. “The Gemworld is linked to the health of all twelve houses, and the passing of your brother leaves no one to represent the House of Opal. There is no other heir!”
White Opal paused in mid-step and faced the young lovers. “I loved my twin, and if he ever loved anyone, he also loved me. However, I realized long ago that our destinies were separate and that we could never interact once I swore allegiance to my Lady. He knew it as well, and this is one realm that never fell beneath his predatory glare. He ignored it out of some lingering sentiment for the brother he once loved.
“You must understand that he was born scarred and discolored, and I was born healthy. Our mother lost her life in giving birth to us, and our father blamed himself for my brother’s condition. He had dabbled in dark arts, and he saw the result all too clearly upon his child’s face. Out of guilt, he could not stand to remain long in company with my poor disfigured brother, and he left our rearing to servants, swordmasters, and the Witch Mother, Citrina.
“She was harsh to us both and never played favorites, but a resentment of everyone but me grew in my brother’s heart, and this bitter root bore fearful seed. He and I shared many adventures together. We went on a quest that took us within the realm of the Ancient Ones, as you well know, since we took a chest of magical relics from their domain, and one such item guided you there when last we met. We also learned secrets that proved too dangerous for our own good. Our father became ill and lost the use of his limbs, living on in pain for some time before his death. Our family secret is simple — one son caused our father’s accident, while another caused his death.”
He continued slowly. “Dark Opal used foul magic to try to kill our father. He failed, but the old man was left crippled and in constant pain. I could not stand to see him suffer, and I used my own magic to end his misery and his life. I also fled the kingdom, since I could not live with reminders of what I had done, nor could I stand against my twin in spite of his evil act. I loved him more than I ever loved our father. I fled and never looked back. I was a soldier of fortune and a sword for hire until I found peace here as a champion of my Lady’s. I will never leave this domain again. I did not leave when my brother became the worst tyrant Gemworld ever knew, and I did not leave when he fell. My vows will not be broken, no matter what your needs may be. You are welcome to stay here, though.”
They entered a large chamber in which music softly played, and statues and paintings adorned what seemed to be a comfortable private room. A feminine charm and grace marked the placement of every item, and the couple immediately felt that familiar sense of peace that so dominated the entire citadel.
A beautiful woman with long, flowing platinum blonde hair sat upon a divan. She smiled warmly at them, and her silvery eyes brightened with interest and kindness. She wore a somewhat translucent shift that sparkled with the light, suggesting both regal nobility and an ethereal delicacy. She stood up and reached out to them as White Opal smiled with adoration.
“I am Trysannda,” she said in a musical tone of voice. “My champion has told me of your last visit. Know you are welcome here. All who embrace peace are welcome in my home.”
“The Lady Trysannda was once as lost to the ways of war as any of us,” said White Opal, “but she was rescued by a warrior known as Valcan, and he became but the first of her many champions. She has dozens of us all seeking nothing more than to safeguard her and secure the peace that travels in her wake.”
“I respect you and all you’ve created here,” said Lady Turquoise, “but what good is peace for a select few if the outside world crumbles in violence and strife? If White Opal will not claim his late brother’s throne, our realm may perish.”
Trysannda listened intently, and her eyes radiated sadness and understanding. “I am sorry, but while I cannot bring peace to the world, I may bring peace to those who willingly dwell within my citadel. It is an imperfect system, but I offer it freely to you all.”
Prince Topaz started to protest, but he sensed there was no use. “Advice! Will you at least advise us as to what we should do?” he asked. “We need a new and rightfully empowered heir to the Opal kingdom. Do you have heirs?”
“I am afraid not,” said White Opal. “It is not my way to depart from here, but I will offer what aid I may give. The search for a proper Opal heir may lead you to circumstances darker and more dangerous than the threat you currently face. I know I speak in riddles, but my heart is sincere. Tread carefully, friends, for there are worse evils than the invaders I saw from this domain.”
Lady Turquoise turned abruptly on one heel and said, “You have our thanks, but we must not delay. Duty calls us, and we will not surrender to any foe — be he armed with blades or lofty words.” The two departed rapidly and in disappointment while White Opal and his beloved watched quietly.
Trysannda said, “I have known many a warrior in many a peril, and I have always found virtue to win the day ere long.”
White Opal nodded and said, “And yet they know not what they may soon face.”