However, for all of Eve Eden’s efforts and much careful planning on her part, her successful impersonation of Princess Amethyst had failed to fool her most deadly of enemies. Dark Opal was too clever to believe that the lovely blonde woman was truly the lost heir of the House of Amethyst. He was ruthless and cruel, and he placed no value on either human life nor abstract codes of honor and virtue, but he was incredibly intelligent.
Dark Opal had been one of a pair of twin siblings, but unlike his scholarly father and beautiful but dutiful mother, he had never felt a need to honor the scheme of things in the Gemworld. He wanted much more than to be merely one heir to one of twelve noble families who together ruled the magical kingdom. Instead, he saw himself as a man of destiny who had a grand role to play that could not be encompassed within the narrow confines of a loyal son and subject.
Thus he didn’t wait upon his father’s natural time of death to take the throne of the House of Opal, nor did he ever consider sharing the throne with his twin. Rather, he made a very professional show of sorrow when both his parents died suddenly of a strange wasting disease, and then he sadly exposed his sibling as the carrier of the deadly germ. His twin was hastily banished to a distant city in the clouds, of all places, where he devoted his life to scholarly pursuits and seldom made any effort to leave his place of exile.
White Opal, the lighter-skinned twin, was known for his studies of the abstract, being more philosopher than soldier. Did he know that his ambitious sibling had framed him? Did he realize that the disease that killed their parents and paved the way to the throne for Dark Opal had, in truth, been created through dark magic by his evil twin? It’s likely that he did, but in truth, he was free of typical passions and cared more for solitude and study. Thus White Opal dreamed away the years in his city in the clouds while his ruthless brother plotted and schemed.
After Dark Opal gained the House of Opal for himself at a very young age, he struck a dark bargain with the House of Sardonyx. The ruler of that house was sinister, crafty, and devoid of any redeeming qualities except for a love of his wife and children. When they fell victim to a supernatural curse that turned their very bodies to crystal, Sardonyx left his palace on the Burning Desert and sought help from his neighbor Dark Opal. The oily man in orange had been relieved when Dark Opal had kindly offered his services to examine and perhaps cure the stricken family. Opal had succeeded, but his remedy came with a high price. He offered Sardonyx his family in exchange for his service. Thus, Sardonyx agreed and became little more than a pawn to his dark master. But while he plotted, killed, and lied for Dark Opal, he enjoyed every criminal act, and he had his family back at the same time.
The ruler of the House of Opal had never sired a normal child. His dabbling with dark magic had altered his body so that all of his children were born as monsters. He thus settled for raising a child plucked from Earth. Carnelian the red thief was loyal to his abusive adopted father, loyal enough to use his stealth and charm to get anything his father desired from any of the realms beyond the Gemworld. However, for all of his skills, Carnelian possessed no magic of his own, causing Dark Opal to view his son with scorn. Still, Carnelian clung to the hope that by pleasing his father he might someday gain some token gesture of approval. Perhaps he might even learn not to hate himself.
This uneasy peace had been the status quo for years until in one dark night Dark Opal and his army swept across the Gemworld and killed every royal family. He had been outraged by the fact that their magical gemstones had been scattered through the Earth, where he could not go without losing his power. Still, without the elders to rule each house, he could dominate the whole Gemworld. Oh, the threat that the young heirs might return from their places of hiding and thwart him was a worry, but he managed to hunt them all down, except for one. He could not locate the infant Princess Amethyst. Thus he imprisoned the other heirs and searched for their missing gemstones.
He finally found an ally in the Land of the Nightshades who could do more than poor Carnelian could hope to accomplish. The Succubus could not only detect the gems but also claim them for him, and she agreed to do so in exchange for his vow to use his armies to crush the rebels of Prince Lareden. That bargain had never been one he intended to honor, and after his planned theft of the gemstones by Carnelian and Sardonyx, he now possessed all he desired.
Dark Opal was tall and handsome, except for the fact that the dark magic that had corrupted his body had also disfigured his skin by leaving it branded with dark scars that radiated black crackling energy when he was angry. He smiled as he listened to a report from one of his many slaves. The woman called Laral cowered at his feet as she told him about the new Princess Amethyst.
“She is not what she seems,” said Laral, “although I can’t understand how she has the power she possesses. Citrina let slip that this Amethyst came from another dimensional realm entirely. I have her clothing here.”
Dark Opal studied the ragged dress and wig of Nightshade, smiling broadly, with white teeth gleaming in contrast to his darkened blue skin. “So she is an imposter. That means she cannot use the magic of the amethyst gemstone. That is a good thing. That also means I will allow her to live and play at being a pretty little royal. Why crush her when she can divert the peasants and amuse me?”
“I must return her clothing,” Laral said. “She might suspect me if it was to unaccountably vanish.”
Dark Opal nodded and said, “That was evident. Do not seek to instruct me in anything, my slave, or I shall teach you the meaning of regret and pain.” Sardonyx grinned as well, wiping his oily hands on his orange robes as he watched from the shadows.
As the traitor Laral returned to her duties at the House of Amethyst, Dark Opal barked out an order. “Carnelian, I would like you to test this false Amethyst. Do not kill her, but see if you can frighten her. See also if you can learn her true identity.”
Carnelian smiled winningly. He was handsome and as capable of the charm his adopted father possessed, but he was also full of conflicting impulses. At times he hated his father and himself as well. “Of course, father,” he said. “I will pry her secrets from her before I am done with the wench.”
Dark Opal smiled coldly and waved dismissively. “If you can carry out my orders without making yourself an abject failure, then you will have surpassed my highest ambition for you.”
Carnelian scowled, but he did not dare oppose his father. Instead, he glared at the smirking Sardonyx and vowed for the hundredth time to one day slay the grinning villain who so occupied his father’s good graces.
Meanwhile, Eve Eden was dressed for battle. As Amethyst she now wore a brief purple tunic and boots and had smiled to herself as she watched Laral depart from Castle Opal. It doesn’t take a detective’s eye to see that Laral was up to something, she thought. Trailing her here was simple enough for a woman who can walk the shadows.
She had used her stealth to follow the disloyal servant girl into the very heart of Castle Opal. Now, as she crouched in the darkness, she waited for the right moment and then darted downward until she had reached a subterranean level.
No guards, she thought. I can’t imagine Opal expects anyone to get this far into his fortress without being seen. Still, if Citrina is correct, then I’ll find the remaining heirs of the other gem houses locked in cells below the castle. She felt Dark Opal would not have killed them all, since he might need their secrets in order to master their respective gemstones.
She wore the magical Amethyst gemstone around her neck, but as experimentation had shown, she could not work its magic since she was not truly from the Gemworld. Still, she liked the feeling of having the mystical jewel on her bare skin. It gave her a sensation that seemed to encourage her. Good vibrations, she thought. I think Brian Wilson put it as well as anyone.
Nightshade finally stopped before a high doorway with one barred window. Peering through it, she saw several young figures in various colorful costumes, noting that their colors roughly corresponded to those associated with the other gemstones, such as turquoise, topaz, and sapphire.
She deftly picked the lock and stepped inside to confront the startled prisoners. “I am Princess Amethyst,” she said, “and I’ve come to free you.”
“Princess, this cell is no place for you,” said the blond and handsome Prince Topaz.
A sultry, red-haired woman in turquoise yelled, “The whole castle is but a living extension of its dark master.”
Indeed, as Eve whirled around at the sound of inhuman laughter, the entire wall assumed the shape of Dark Opal’s mocking features, and the door sealed behind her.
“Welcome to Castle Opal, my faux Amethyst! I have enjoyed watching your progress since first you arrived. As the Princess Turquoise put it so nicely, I will reiterate. This castle is but an extension of my will. I know all that transpires within its cold halls.”
Eve tried to use her powers, but the walls grew brighter as if illuminated by some unseen light.
“Contrary to my name, dear girl, I can stand the light and use it to prevent you from using your curious powers,” he said. An unseen force ripped the amethyst from her neck, and she watched helplessly as it vanished. Eve fell to her knees as her powers failed her.
“Allow me to assist you, Princess,” said Topaz. “I fear that here Opal’s will is absolute. That is one reason he fears us so very little.”
Eve allowed the handsome man to lift her to her feet as her keen mind wondered just how Citrina could have failed to realize that such would be the case. She frowned as an idea crossed her mind. Citrina claimed I was to be a fake Amethyst to inspire the people, she thought. Perhaps she truly just wanted me to be a sacrifice in place of the true one. She shook her head in disgust. And I walked right into the trap. Why did I ignore the danger signs? I wouldn’t have acted so foolishly back when I first started with the CIA. Does the gem dull my very thoughts?
Within the House of Amethyst, Citrina stared into a crystal sphere and said, “Do not doubt me, child. I did what had to be done. Gemworld can only survive if all play their appointed roles. If magical suppression of your normal wits is necessary, then so be it. If my plan is to work, then it is vital that Opal gains the magical amethyst, and that could only be done by having you fall into his clutches. He would suspect aught else.”