Chapter 17:

The Beginning

Galaktika Gamble: Stolen Light

The last semester of high school was difficult for me. Though I was able to get help with my addiction and learned better ways of coping, I had missed a lot of school and had to catch up. I still found myself thinking about Ela often. I may have given myself a purpose to keep going in life, but I still couldn't help but blame myself for her death. John's avoidance of me didn't help either. Rumor had spread all around school that the reason for my absence was due to a drug overdose. The friends and acquaintances I knew didn't greet me with smiling faces or happy waves when I returned. It seemed like every face that looked at me was full of judgment or pity.

I never officially quit the Astronomy Club, but since John didn't want me around him or those he cared about, I stopped hanging out with them or going to club events to avoid being around Zack. As I started isolating myself from my friends, I couldn't help but wonder if they actually cared or not, since they didn't try to talk to me to make me stick around. Looking back on it, I'm sure they probably cared. They most likely didn't know how to help me. Whatever the reason though, it was a bit lonely suddenly becoming a loner after being somewhat of a popular kid in my school. Thinking about it made me feel bad, knowing that Neil had been a loner like this for most of his life.

After a few weeks of being alone at school, someone finally talked to me. I was sitting in the cafeteria by myself eating lunch when she set her tray down on the table and sat next to me. It made me jump at first, as I didn't expect anyone to sit next to me. When I saw who it was though, I wasn't sure how to react.

Abby: You look like you need a friend.

I smiled nervously and shrugged, but kept it at that. Abby always seemed nice, but her attempt to talk to me was unexpected. I couldn't help but keep my guard up. Kyle usually kept Abby around him like a puppy on a leash, and I didn't feel like dealing with Kyle if I could avoid it. Despite my lack of a vocal reply, she seemed determined to talk to me.

Abby: I know it's a bit late, but I'm sorry about what happened to Ela. You deserved to be happy together.

I appreciated her condolences, but I didn't want to talk about it. I gave her a curt reply, hoping she would drop the subject.

Ivan: Life happens. There's not much I can do about it.

Abby pushed the food around on her tray with a fork as we sat in silence. I wondered if I replied too harshly, but she didn't appear to be mad at me.

Abby: This might sound weird, but I was always jealous of you.

Ivan: There's nothing to be jealous of.

Abby: It's hard to explain. Something about the way you still kept going after every bad thing that happened to you made me wish I was like that. I wanted to be that strong.

Ivan: Strong? Have you heard the rumors? I collapsed.

Abby: Yes. I knew about it before most of the school. Aaron told Kyle the first time you showed up at his place and word went through the grapevine quickly. Despite what happened and everything you've been through, you're still here and back in school when you could've given up and dropped out. That's strength.

I shook my head and continued eating. It was a bit upsetting to know that the reason everyone knew about my struggles was through Kyle's loud mouth, but I couldn't blame him. If I never took the Xanax to begin with, this wouldn't have happened in the first place.

Abby: I know everyone seems to be judging you right now, but your strength to return to school after everything that happened inspired me to find my own strength as well. I finally ended my relationship with Kyle. He was an ass...he only cares about himself. He threatened to share nude photos of me as blackmail for leaving but I don't even care anymore. I'm just glad I'm out. I doubt he actually has the balls to share those photos anyway.

Remembering the rumors I heard about how Kyle treated Abby in the past, I couldn't help but smile at the good news of their breakup. Any girl unfortunate enough to end up with Kyle would probably not be safe in the long run. It would only be a matter of time before that idiot caused physical harm to her.

Abby: One time I used the way you and Ela treated each other as an example of a healthy friendship or relationship and he got really mad at me. I think that's probably why he liked picking on you so much. I'm sorry about that.

Ivan: You don't have to apologize for that. I don't think it's your fault. He tried to pick on me from the very beginning, before I really even knew who he was.

Abby: He just likes tearing everyone down. He wants everyone to be below him. He even forced me to fail my classes so I would have to repeat senior year again with him. He's just...pathetic. I'm glad Neil punched him. He's never had anyone stand up to him before until Neil did that. Kyle never punched back because he's all bark and no bite. Speaking of Neil, how is he doing? He's been gone longer than you were gone. Is he alright?

Ivan: Yeah, he's fine. He dropped out of school after the bus accident. He figured it was the best thing to do to keep the school safe.

Abby: I see. I'm sure that really tore him up internally for so many to be injured or hurt in one accident. Everyone thinks he's some scary or bad guy. I used to think that for a while too...but he's not though. One time I found him hiding out behind the gym crying and panicking by himself after another student died near him.

Ivan: Neil is one of the most caring people I know. He only acts mean to people so they stay away from him. If they stay away..they're safer. He lost everything and doesn't want anybody else to have to lose everything too.

Abby: That's sad. I hope someday he won't have to isolate himself anymore. Both of you deserve a normal life.

Abby finished eating her meal and stood up.

Abby: I won't try to force friendship on you, but if you ever feel like you need another person to chill with during school I'm here. Being a loner like this after years of being in a group is hard for anyone to get used to. We might as well keep each other company instead of being completely closed off from the rest of the world. Especially with how the whole school seems to treat us now.

I nodded at Abby, expressing my gratitude silently. She picked up her tray and put it away before leaving the cafeteria. Though I felt bad that she didn't have friends anymore either, I never really felt the need or desire to become her friend since we didn't have any interests in common. There wasn't any harm in being in each other's presence though, so her offer to keep me company was a nice gesture.

The rest of senior year was like that. We never talked much or did things friends would do together, but we usually sat together quietly during lunch break. Kyle seemed to be pissed about it and tried to start false rumors that Abby cheated on him with me to make himself look like a victim, but those rumors didn't spread very far. Everyone already knew that Abby broke up with him due to the terrible ways he treated her and others, and with how upset I was over Ela's death, there was no way I would consider another relationship anytime soon, if ever. Either way, I didn't care about rumors or the way people saw me anymore. I was just focused on getting through the school year.

Though my grades dropped a lot during the time I was gone from school, with hard work and extra homework I was able to get my grades up to a passing grade of mostly C's. It really messed up my GPA, but I figured it could've been much worse so I was glad I was able to work hard enough to pass and graduate after I hit rock bottom just months before. I couldn't help but be a little proud of myself.

Graduation felt a bit surreal to me. Something about knowing that I made it through school and was about to enter the life of adulthood was...weird. Though I had to grow up fast due to my parents’ deaths, I still never truly felt like a real adult. I didn't feel like a kid either. For most of my life, I felt like I was trapped between the two, trying to be mature and independent while having kid-like responsibilities, such as school. A part of me was proud for making it so far despite the hard times in my life, but another part of me felt sad. So many people were at the graduation ceremony to see their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, or other relatives finally walk across that stage to get their diplomas. It felt lonely knowing none of my family was there to watch me get mine. Seeing so many families smiling happily and having a good time that night made me miss mine so much. I wondered if my mother would be proud of me. I was never a solid believer in an afterlife, but a part of me wished I was. Then I could at least try to fool myself into believing my parents and Ela were watching.

When the ceremony was over, I didn't stick around to take pictures with anybody. There wouldn't be anyone to take pictures with, since I didn't have friends anymore. As I walked to the door to leave, I noticed John and Zack look at me, but I tried not to pay too much attention to it. I quickly left the building and let the door shut behind me. Looking back on that, I'm sure I probably seemed really dramatic and angsty, but I wasn't intending to be that way. I just wanted to go home. As I was walking through the parking lot to the sidewalk, I heard Abby call my name.

Abby: Ivan! Wait a second!

I stopped and turned to look at her. She looked a bit frazzled from running in heels to catch up to me.

Ivan: What?

Abby: I just want to say thanks. I don't know if we'll ever see each other again, but I appreciate the time we kept each other company. It helped me get through a rough time and I'll never forget it. I don't know what you plan to do with your life from here on out..but I know you'll do great at whatever you choose. Good luck. I hope you have a good life.

Abby held out her fist. I smiled and gave her a fist bump as I replied.

Ivan: Thanks. Good luck to you too, Abby. See you later.

I turned and walked away. Even though graduation night seemed a bit depressing, something about her last words seemed a bit encouraging. It was nice to know that even if I didn't have many friends or family around, there was still someone that believed in me.

Feeling a little bit motivated to start adult life, I immediately started looking for jobs in the area. Surprisingly, it didn't take me too long to eventually land a job at a coffee shop in town. Once I got a job, my grandpa stopped sending money as often. Though he would send some occasionally out of guilt if something bad happened, he wanted me to be more responsible and use my own money, which was completely understandable. Being an adult, I didn't want to have to rely on any money he sent me anyway. Adult life is expensive though, and I didn't always have enough from my job to help pay for unexpected bills. Eventually, Neil started looking for a job as well. I tried to tell him he didn't have to do that since being around people might cause more deadly situations to happen again, but he insisted on finding one because he felt like a leech staying at home while not helping pay for anything.

Eventually, Neil was able to get a job working fast food, but that didn't last long. Someone would die in his workplace, and they weren't willing to risk it happening again. The process repeated itself many times. He would get hired, someone would die, then he would get fired. With each time, it became even harder for him to find a new job as well, since news spread fast. Sometimes employers would trash his application as soon as he handed it to them and they saw his name. From a business standpoint, I could understand why they wouldn't want to hire him. He was a danger to both employees and customers, and if news spread that he worked there, their business would have a drop in customers. However, I couldn't help but feel bad for him. Everything in his life seemed to go bad, so it was sad that this seemed to go down the same route as well. I told him to try applying where I worked since they knew me and I could possibly talk them into it, but even the coffee shop completely skipped his application and told me it wasn't going to happen. Sometimes there were a few places that would hire him because they felt bad for him, but usually feeling bad for him didn't last long once a near-death experience would happen at their own workplace. Even those who seemed to genuinely care for him and wish the best still had to let him go in the end for the safety of their other employees. This went on for a few years. It would make him angry, but he knew they were only doing what they thought was best so he couldn't hold a grudge.

Luckily I was able to keep my job despite my friendship with Neil. As long as he didn't enter our shop, they had no problem with me working there. After working there for a few years, I was even able to make a few friendly acquaintances with a few co-workers and regular customers. It was nice.

Adult life felt like a record on repeat though. I would wake up, get ready for work, work my shift, come home, repeat. The days seemed to blur together. Before I knew it, time flew by so fast that I didn't even notice how repetitive it became until the cycle was finally broken. It all started on February 12th, a little over a week after Neil's 21st birthday. The day started off normal like any other day. I went to work. I chatted with a few of the regulars. I accidentally misspelled someone's name on their cup and they yelled at me for it even though they never told me how to spell it when they ordered. There was almost always someone that got angry each day for one reason or another, but for the most part, my job was enjoyable. When I finished my shift I went home and played video games by myself as usual. Neil was out of the house, at a job he was recently was able to get. He didn't seem to like the job, but he was grateful he was even able to get one at all. Despite the day seeming normal like any other day, I could feel it. I'm not sure how, but I just knew something different would happen that day, and I was right.

After hours of playing my game, I looked at the clock and noticed that Neil still hadn't made it home. It was almost 11 PM. I thought about texting him, but I figured maybe he was just working overtime. As I continued to play my video game, I couldn't shake that odd feeling though. It was a feeling I hadn't had in a long time..a weird sense that something life-changing was about to happen. After about an hour, I finally heard the door open. I called out from the living room to greet Neil.

Ivan: Welcome back Neil! Was today better than yesterday?

I heard Neil mumble back with an irritated tone in his voice.

Neil: Yeah, just perfect Ivan. Two people died today because of me. One was a child.

Though it was upsetting news, suddenly him arriving home late made sense. Knowing him, he likely took the long way home and let himself have a meltdown in private. I paused my game and set the controller on the coffee table, trying to give encouraging words as I walked to the front door. I knew my words probably seemed repetitive, but he shouldn't have to blame himself over something that he didn't do.

Ivan: Neil, we both know that it's not your fault. It's not something you can control. It's something that just happens, and though it's unfortunate, you kn-

My eyes became wide when I turned the corner, seeing Neil in the doorway. I froze in place. I felt like the air left my lungs for a second. Standing next to Neil in the doorway was a girl with long white hair and white eyes, and elf-like ears, literally glowing in the dark. I was speechless. A part of me wondered if I was hallucinating like I did during my Xanax withdrawals, but I noticed Neil gave her an irritated glare. There was no doubt; I wasn't imagining her. He was seeing her too.

Ivan: Who is this?

Neil ignored my question and left the room. He went to the bathroom to wash the splattered blood off his face before, sitting on the couch in the living room. I wasn't sure if I should chase him for an explanation or ask the girl for one instead. Seeing how upset Neil looked though, I decided to talk to the girl. I felt extremely awkward and nervous, but I tried my best to sound polite.

Ivan: Hello? My name is Ivan. It's really nice to meet you!

I held out my hand to shake hers, but she didn't seem to notice me. I started wondering again if maybe I really was hallucinating. Instead of replying to me, she suddenly ran to the kitchen and started to levitate in the air. I tried my best to stay calm, but my thoughts were in complete chaos. I had to be dreaming. She definitely wasn't human, but there was no way some sort of mythical creature could exist. Despite my own fear and disbelief, I followed her.

Girl: You're so beautiful!

The girl reached out to the light bulb in the kitchen. As soon as her finger touched it, it exploded. She let herself fall to the floor and cried. Though the kitchen had become dark, her glow seemed bright enough for me to see all the broken glass on the floor. Seeing that she could interact with the physical world, it confirmed again that this definitely wasn't a hallucination. Biting my tongue, the pain confirmed that it shouldn't be a dream either. Somehow, someway, this was reality.

Girl: I....I killed it! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to... I-

Unsure how to react, I tried my best to comfort her and placed my hand on her shoulder gently. I tried my best to sound completely normal just in case my shock would make her more upset, but I'm not sure if I was able to hide it well.

Ivan: There, there. It was just a lightbulb.

I noticed Neil had gotten up from the couch and stood by the wall, looking at us. Though it was dark, I could see some of the details of his face due to the girl's glow. I could tell by his expression that he was just as confused as I was. Knowing that he probably had a lot to tell me, I decided it might be best to get the girl out of the room so we could talk. I looked at Neil and silently told him to get the broom. When I looked at the girl again, it appeared that she had calmed down some.

Ivan: Let's get you to bed while we clean up this mess! It is late at night after all!

Girl: But I just woke up! And I need to discuss his wish!

I couldn't help but be intrigued. Wish? I wanted to ask what she meant. Even so, I knew it would be best to have a moment alone to talk with Neil. Seeing how irritated he looked I was sure there was something he needed to tell me.

Ivan: We can discuss this in the morning! Neil needs the rest of the night to cool down, alright?

Girl: His name isn't Neil, he's Jesus Reincarnated! And as Gamma Geminorum, I need to know what I can do to help his wish come true!

I stifled a laugh. Throughout our time in school, there were a few kids that used to laugh and call Neil "Jesus" because he had long brown hair. I knew he must have said something that confused her. I raised a brow and looked at Neil.

Ivan: Jesus Reincarnated, huh?

Neil grumbled and continued to sweep the broken light bulb off the floor.

Neil: Oh shut up. I was being sarcastic, but she obviously didn't catch on.

He turned to the girl and spoke to her in a serious tone.

Neil: Alhena. My name is Neil Doune. Continue to call me by such. Alright?

Alhena nodded. Much to my surprise, Neil cracked a small smile and placed his hand on her head. Of all the years I knew him, I had NEVER seen him go out of his way to give comforting touches to anybody. I couldn't believe it. Everything that happened that night seemed unbelievable, but I saw it all with my own eyes. I started internally questioning myself if I somehow slipped into some parallel reality since hallucinations and dreams were ruled out, but chances of that seemed so unlikely.

Neil: I know you seem to be very concerned, but I would really appreciate it if you went to sleep. Please. I need a moment to relax on my own.

Alhena: Yes sir! Your word is law!

The girl smiled and looked at me.

Alhena: Is there a place I can sleep here?

I laughed nervously, still feeling my heart race from all of the unexpected things that happened.

Ivan: Yeah, I'll let you take my bed until we can find something better for you.

I led her to my room. She thanked me happily and shut the door. After a moment of replaying the past 20 minutes in my mind to try and make sense of it, I returned to the living room and looked at Neil, hoping he would give me some thorough explanations.

Ivan: Sooooo....What is she?

I followed Neil to the kitchen as he got a new light bulb.

Neil: She claimed to be a goddess. I didn't believe her at first, but now I'm really starting to question.

Hearing him say that, it gave me a chill down my spine. Neil was not the type to ever believe in anything. He was less likely to believe in something than I was, and I wasn't easily swayed into beliefs like that. Neil was like a poster child for atheism. To hear him say that was enough to make me feel like my head was spinning in circles. I started to panic a little, unsure of how to process so much information in such a short amount of time.

Ivan: Her appearance isn't normal! She actually glows! She barely even touched that light bulb and it exploded! I highly doubt a normal person could do that...

Thinking about the possibility of that girl actually having some sort of omnipotent power, I took a deep breath. Was she really a goddess? If goddesses did exist, why was she in our house of all places? Having her around could be dangerous if we weren't careful.

Ivan: I would hate to piss her off...

Neil: Guess it's a good thing she seems like a nice person. I don't understand why she is here though.

Thinking about what she said earlier, I noticed her name sounded oddly familiar to me. Mumbling her name to myself, I grabbed my laptop and sat on the couch, opening up the web browser. Neil asked me what I was doing, and I invited him to join me as I looked for answers on the internet. He immediately accepted, telling me that he didn't want her here as it would be dangerous for another person to live in our house. I typed the girl's name into the search bar and scrolled through the results slowly, reading the summarized content each one.

Gᴀᴍᴍᴀ Gᴇᴍɪɴᴏʀᴜᴍ ɪs ᴛʜᴇ ᴛʜɪʀᴅ ʙʀɪɢʜᴛᴇsᴛ sᴛᴀʀ ᴏғ ᴛʜᴇ Gᴇᴍɪɴɪ Cᴏɴsᴛᴇʟʟᴀᴛɪᴏɴ.Tʜᴇ sᴜʙɢɪᴀɴᴛ sᴛᴀʀ, Gᴀᴍᴍᴀ Gᴇᴍɪɴᴏʀᴜᴍ, ɪs ᴡʜɪᴛᴇ ɪɴ ᴄᴏʟᴏʀ.

Gᴀᴍᴍᴀ Gᴇᴍɪɴᴏʀᴜᴍ ɪs ᴛʀᴀᴅɪᴛɪᴏɴᴀʟʟʏ ᴋɴᴏᴡɴ ᴀs Aʟᴍᴇɪsᴀɴ(ᴍᴇᴀɴɪɴɢ "Tʜᴇ Sʜɪɴɪɴɢ Oɴᴇ") ᴀɴᴅ Aʟʜᴇɴᴀ(ᴍᴇᴀɴɪɴɢ "Tʜᴇ Bʀᴀɴᴅ", ɪɴ ʀᴇғᴇʀᴇɴᴄᴇ ᴛᴏ ᴛʜᴇ ʙʀᴀɴᴅ ᴏɴ ᴀ ᴄᴀᴍᴇʟ's ɴᴇᴄᴋ).

I stared at the results in shock, remembering all those times I playfully teased Ela for reading mythology about star gods. She may have been on the right track all along.

Ivan: Does this mean she's a star? I knew her name sounded familiar.

Out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly saw a dark figure. It looked like a shadow. Just as quickly as it came, it went away. Even though I felt a little bit of anxiety from it, I took a deep breath and tried to remain calm, assuming it was probably from a lack of sleep or the craziness of the day taking its toll on me. I heard Neil mention something about Alhena's name sounding familiar to me due to my time in Astronomy Club, but I didn't catch most of it.

That night, Neil explained to me how he met Alhena. He said on his way home after being fired from his job, he crossed the street. A child and its mother were ran over. As Neil usually does when someone dies around him, he ran to a secluded area and had a breakdown, just as I suspected. He said during that breakdown, he yelled that he wished he could figure out what happened to his family and why deadly situations followed him. After that, he said Alhena crashed into the ground, claiming to be there to help his wish come true. All of it seemed so absurd, but seeing her with our own eyes was proof that this was real. Somehow, Neil summoned a star goddess, and she was determined to help him fulfill his wish.

For the first time in years, we were back on track to figuring out the mystery of Neil, his family, and his near-death experiences. Nothing else worked, so perhaps some divine miracle would finally give us the answers we were looking for. However, we never expected it to turn out the way it did. As we found clues and answers to Neil's questions, everything became even more complex. What we thought would be a small quest to find simple answers to his questions turned into a brutal war that would determine the fate of the entire universe.

The outcome of the war would determine if we would finally steal back the light that was taken from our dark lives, or if the entire world would have to suffer through worse pain than what we had already endured.