Chaz stirred restlessly in his bed. It was certainly nice to be home again after months
of traveling, but traces of Alys lingered everywhere he looked. Sleep waited just outside
his grasp, and after several hours of insomnia he had reached the conclusion that he
would not be able to reach it that night. Perhaps fresh air would help clear his head of the
confusion and turmoil that swirled chaotically inside it.
He got out of bed quietly, careful not to wake his sleeping companions. They slept
peacefully, with the exception of Rune, who murmured in a voice that rose and fell as
though he were arguing with someone. Chaz smiled lightly at those who dozed around
him. Somehow, seeing them all together and knowing that they cared for him as he did
for them brought warmth and comfort to his aching heart. Rika's face was angelically
beautiful in the moonlight from the window, her sweet smile indicative of good dreams.
Chaz forced himself to turn away from the pleasantly peaceful scene of his sleeping
friends and left the house.
A girl he did not recognize stood outside, her brown hair lifted lightly around her
face by an evening breeze. She turned and smiled warmly at Chaz. He wondered how
she could tell he had come; his bare feet made no sound on the soft ground, and the door
did not creak when he opened or closed it. Still, something about her made him relax
completely, despite her unearthly calm. She was almost ... maternal, in a way no one had
been, not even Alys. He resisted the urge to run and hug her. She was clothed in pink
and white, and her armor shone gently in the moonlight.
"Hello, Chaz Ashley," she greeted him. Chaz backed up, startled. How does she
know my name? he wondered. Her eyes twinkled with amusement. "Don't worry, Chaz.
You have nothing to fear from me."
"Who... are you?"
She shook her head. "That's not important." She sat on the grass and stretched out
comfortably, her eyes never leaving the magnificent night sky. Chaz sat down beside
her, almost against his free will. A graceful hand swept across the stars. "That's what's
important. This solar system, these planets, these people..."
She turned to Chaz abruptly, as if surprised by his indifferent tone of voice. "You
don't love it, do you?"
"Why should I?" Chaz shrugged his shoulders. "I love my friends. They mean
everything to me. But I have no love for the planets themselves."
"To save one is to protect the other. If you would shield your friends from harm --"
Chaz drew back sharply. "Of course I would," he retorted quickly, offended. "I
would protect them from anything!"
"If you would shield your friends, you must protect the planets of Algol," the strange
girl continued as smoothly as if she had never been interrupted. She looked at Chaz
intensely. "You must not allow evil to conquer our solar system."
"Promise me," she pleaded. Chaz met her blue eyes for several moments and then
looked away, overwhelmed by the sadness and wisdom they contained. Whoever this
girl was, she had known and seen more than he could even imagine, and the tenderness
with which she looked at everything around her, as though each thing she laid eyes on
was impossibly dear to her, filled him with a sense of awe.
"I promise. I'll do my best, but..."
"That's all that can be expected. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to imply that you didn't want
to protect your friends. I understand what it's like to be willing to give everything to
protect someone." She smiled at him in her serious way, and he felt comforted by her
approval. Her eyes wandered back to the stars. She peered intently for a few quiet
moments and then pointed at a particularly bright star.
"That one's new to me. What is it called?"
Chaz struggled to bring to mind the little bit of astronomy he had picked up
throughout his life. His mind drew a blank, and he sighed. How am I supposed to know
that? I haven't even been to school. He remembered Alys's frustration at trying to teach
him the many skills that were vital to a Hunter. Words slipped into his mind, a memory
of one of Alys's lessons on navigation by the night sky, should he find himself lost
without a compass or map.
"That's one you can always count on," she had said. "It has a story behind it, but
you don't need to worry about that. And since it rhymes, you ought to be able to
remember the name, too..."
"Nero. The hero." Chaz completed her statement and thought foggily of his beloved
partner. Through the mist forming in his own eyes, he saw with considerable
astonishment that tears were trickling down his strange companion's cheeks. Her eyes
were closed and her face tightly set. Hesitantly, he placed a hand on her shoulder. She
smiled limply, with considerable effort.
"Nero," she repeated. "Nero's star." Her wet cheeks shone in the moonlight.
Chaz bit his lip. "I'm awfully sorry if I said something wrong."
"Oh, you didn't," she said, laughing through her tears. "You're a sweet one. Don't
worry about it. The name ... brought back a memory of someone I knew, someone I
loved. It's not your fault." She stood up awkwardly, and he found himself steadying her.
She blinked a few times.
"Are you all right?"
She nodded and wiped the tears from her face, looking for a brief moment like a lost
little girl. Then she pulled herself together and contemplated Chaz again. He felt himself
squirming under her strong gaze, but suddenly her face softened and her hand brushed his
"You've lost someone too," she whispered, and he was sure that she knew exactly
what had befallen Alys. This time it was his eyes that began to brim with tears, and the
stranger pressed his hand with sympathy. She understood what he was going through; he
could see that clearly in her face. Perhaps it was the someone whom she had recalled just
minutes before. "It is not for me to comfort you, I am afraid, but I can offer you what
help I have within my power."
She placed a hand on his chest and suddenly he felt himself filled with strength. Her
hand throbbed with a dim light as determination, love, and courage flowed into him,
helping to lessen the pain in his heart. At last she pulled her hand away, and the
throbbing light covered her whole body for an instant. She stood, magnificent, awe-
inspiring, like the heroine of yore that had slain evil in days long before Palma was
destroyed. Chaz fell to his knees before this marvelous being. She bent and kissed the
top of his head.
"Good luck, dear one," she whispered to him. "May the strength of many heroes
bring you success." She straightened and began to walk to the house. "Now, there is an
old friend that I must visit." She turned and walked through the open doorway, where
Rika stood watching her in amazement.
"I know you," she exclaimed. "I've seen pictures of you..."
The stranger flashed a smile at Rika as she disappeared inside Chaz's home. Chaz
and Rika both watched after her in silence. After a few moments, curiosity defeated awe
and Chaz asked the question that had been burning in his mind.
"Alis, the savior of Algol?" Rika said, almost overlapping him. "There were images
of her stored in Seed's memory from a long time ago. I learned about her from him, but I
never expected to actually see her. She's been dead for quite some time now... but it has
to be her."
Chaz drew a long breath, remembering the stranger's -- no, Alis's -- words about
saving the planets, and the mysterious strength that she had passed on to him. "It must be
her. She ... talked to me about Algol. And she asked me about the Hero Star."
"Nero," Rika said wonderingly. "Her brother's name. He died trying to defeat Lassic
ages ago, and he passed the battle on to his sister."
Suddenly, the night's events began to make sense to Chaz. Though he was uncertain
how a long-dead heroine could manage to come to his house in the middle of the night on
this of all nights, he accepted it as something bizarre that seemed almost normal
compared to half the things he had seen over the course of his adventure -- the things that
were completely out of his control. He found himself thinking that Alys would be mad
when she learned that she had missed meeting one of the people she had actually looked
up to. Pain overcame him again. Alys...
Apparently, Rika saw the change in his expression. It took her quick mind no time at
all to determine the reason, and she came towards him, hesitantly at first, as he started
trembling. He covered his face with his hands, clenching his teeth in frustration and
anger. Why her? Why Alys? She may have seemed hard at times, but underneath it all
she really was a wonderful person! She didn't deserve this! He was unsure whether he
had spoken any of this aloud, but he was beyond caring.
Gentle hands touched his shoulders inquisitively. He looked up and saw Rika on the
verge of tears. With her customary sympathy and a sob of sorrow, she threw her arms
around his neck and cried into his shoulder. He was taken aback for a moment, but then
his arms curled around her protectively. It was all right to grieve today; vengeance would
come in its time.