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by Frodo

We kid ourselves with the expression "happily ever after". Very few times is it happy. Seldom times does it last forever. All it is after, plain, simple, and unadultured after. All fairy tales end that way, but life isn't a fairy tell. We must pull ourselves out of our delusions and come to grips with reality. "Happily ever after" doesn't exist.

Chaz Ashley lived happily ever after. At least, that's what he planned to do. There was a huge difference between what happened, and what he planned. He did live, if one could call his existence living. It certainly wasn^t happy. Not by a long shot.

Our story begins five years after the Protectors of Algol destroyed the Profound Darkness and freed their worlds from the age-old curse, or at least they thought they did. Things were going peacefully enough on Motavia and life began to settle into some facsimile of its old routine for Chaz. Or at least as much as it could resemble his old life without including his dead mentor, Alys Brangwin.

He still worked at the Hunter's Guild. In fact, he became something of a local legend himself. Next to Alys, he was the Hunter with the most cases completed. He saw Rika daily, as she lived across the street from his house in Aideo, but they had drifted apart over time and were now simply just good friends. Life was good, or at least as good as it gets.

One morning, identical to thousands of others, Chaz walked into the Guild. He walked up to the receptionist and inquired about the available cases. She looked at him quizzically. "I'm afraid there aren't any cases available at the moment, Chaz," she said, apologetically. "Business is becoming scarce. Peace isn't all that lucrative for Hunters. Maybe you should consider a change of professions?"

Chaz gazed at her in shock. "Change professions? I've been a Hunter all my life. There's nothing else I know how to do," he hesitated for a moment. "Okay. There's nothing else respectable that I know how to do."

The receptionist stared at him, looking more than a little puzzled. "It was just a suggestion. Anyway, you should check back tomorrow. There's bound to be work sometime."

Chaz shook his head as he walked out the door. Times had certainly changed. Just five years ago there would have been at least half a dozen cases waiting for the picking. Three years ago there would have at least been four. And just one year ago, there wear always at least two. Now months would pass between cases. Times of peace were certainly hard for Hunters.

Chaz cursed silently to himself. It was his fault that things were the way they were. If he hadn't started meddling in the strange affairs that he had found himself drawn into after Alys's death, there would still be plenty of cases. Well, there would be plenty of cases if Algol still existed, which was debatable. After all, it had seemed that they had defeated the Profound Darkness at the last possible second before it broke what little remained of the seal.

As he entered his home, Chaz sighed. A simple titanium sword leaned against the wall, for he had given the Elysdeon to Rune to return to the Esper Mansion for safe keeping years before. Chaz picked up the sword. It was a remarkable piece of craftsmanship, that was true, but no sword would ever fit his hand as perfectly as the Elysdeon. No sword would ever hold and edge as well as the Elysdeon. No sword would ever...

Chaz snapped himself out of his wave of nostalgia. The past was better left untouched, for it brought back memories he would have given anything to forget. Memories of Alys.

Chaz slumped down into a chair and held his head in his hands. He had started it again. The memories came flooding back, memories that he didn't need and didn't want. Memories of Zio, Dark Force, and Alys...

He stood at the summit of Zio's Fort, staring at the control Android Demi. She explained to them how she had been captured while trying to shut down Nurvus, Motavia's control center. Just then, he appeared on the scene. He was Zio, the Black Magician. Zio the cultist. Zio the fanatic. Zio the servant of Dark Force. Zio the killer of Alys. Gryz turned first, his hands roaming to his ax, for he lived to destroy Zio to avenge the deaths of his family.

Battle ensued, but Chaz found that no matter what they tried, Zio remained unscathed. He babbled on about how his God, Dark Force, protected him. At the time it had seemed just meaningless pratter, but Chaz now knew that there was a Dark Force, and that it was one of the most sinister beings known to the denizens of Algol.

Zio hurled a bolt of black energy at him, but Alys moved and caught the blast herself. She dropped like a stone into Rika's arms. Hahn yelled something, it wasn't all that clear now, and they had retreated.

One of the things that had stuck in Chaz's memory was the look of Rika's face as she sobbed, "It's no use Chaz. Even Gires won't heal Alys's wounds." It was a look of total dispair, a look that pleaded for him to be able to do something, anything at all. He couldn't. There was nothing he could to, except cast a Ryuka technique to carry them to Krup. Why he chose Krup he would never know. Perhaps it was because Hahn was standing near him. Perhaps it was because Alys had said that she had always liked that town. He never would know, not that he cared to. He wished he could forget the entire thing.

The expression of pain on Alys's face as she choked out a command to seek out Rune was awful. It scarred Chaz deeply to see the face of Alys contorted into something so pain-filled that it scarsely looked human any more. But he had obeyed, and had found Rune, but it was too late. By the time that they returned, it was too late. Not even the Psycho Wand could save Alys by that time.

They buried Alys at the outskirts of town. Part of him had died that day. If it were not for Rune and Rika, he probably would have committed suicide. And who knows what would have happened to Algol then. As it was, he was only deeply depressed, not dead.

The next few memories that Chaz found himself reliving were from three different places, and of three different creatures, but they were all of Dark Force. Dark Force, Zio's commander. Dark Force the Profound Darkness's servant. Three battles, each won only by the breadth of a hair, and each more terrible than the last.

Chaz sat there sobbing as image after horrible image was played in front of his tortured mind. It was like this all to often. Hours later, Rika would find him attempting suicide and manage to stop him. It was always like this.

Chaz Ashley was a husk of a man. He sat there and waited for it all to end in the usual way, but it didn't. Rika came by an hour later than usual and an hour to late to be of any help. She found Chaz sprawled out on the floor, his titanium sword drive through his heart.

Perhaps in death Chaz lived happily ever after for in life nothing could have been further from the truth...

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