Five years ago, the Profound Darkness had been slain by the hand of Chaz Ashley. What with the ultimate incarnation of evil destroyed and the solar system returning to normal, the Hunters worried that they would go out of business. But there was still work for them. Humans were still capable of just as much evil, and they were constantly being hired to bring to justice murderers, robbers, rapists and people who sneaked out of the window of the inn at night without paying their bill. Children still fell into holes, Sandworms still went berserk during mating season, AI still went out of control despite Demi's attempts to repair the damage that had been done by Dark Force's malicious commands, the impact of the Great Collapse and thousands of years of isolation and disrepair, and, if the rumours were true, a few of the more radical students in Piata Academy were breeding their own biomonsters in the basement again.
And that damn dog was ALWAYS getting lost...
Mission 1: The Emperor Rappy
"That one there."
"'Tinkerbell's Dog'? I'm afraid we already have a team on the case..."
Chaz followed the secretary's gaze to the five Hunters who stood in a circle around the bar, trying to coax an alarmingly fat dog away from the snacks. It had already chewed its way through five bags of roasted salted laerma nuts and scoffed the lot. Despite their whistling, yelling and treats offered, the dog wouldn't budge. None of them had cake, and Rocky was only interested in cakes.
"Not that one. That one over there." he pointed to another job on the notice board, "The one with the really, really high price tag."
Chaz needed a lot of money to buy a new sword. The Elsydeon had shattered in the course of protecting him from the massive forces unleashed by the Darkness' destruction, he had sold his Laconian Sword to afford some Star Dews which he had used up during the final battle and the only place that did swords nearly as good quality was the Mahlay family shop, who charged him extra because Hahn's father hated him.
The receptionist reached up and took the job advert off the wall. It was on the top of the board so she had to stand on a chair, giving one of the Hunters a good look up her skirt. This gave the dog a chance to dart past him and out of the front door.
"Ah. It says 'The birds that were terrorising our village and eating our crops have returned. Please exterminate them!'. Its from Mr. Sekreas in Torinco. He's paying thirty thousand meseta plus the three thousand he didn't pay last time. How nice of him. He must have received that letter I sent him explaining what I would do to him if he didn't pay up."
Chaz sighed. So the Rappies were finally back...
"I told you so, didn't I?" said Rika for the tenth time today as the Hydrofoil sputtered again, spraying them all with water. They no longer had their own Hydrofoil, having been forced to return all three vehicles to Demi, so they had to hire a Motavian with a dangerously frantic look in his beady red eyes to drive them to Torinco. It was a miracle that the vehicle he claimed to have found in a garbage dump in Tonoe got them across the ocean in one piece at all. The Motavian's driving was so bad that even the monsters were afraid to attack them in case he ran them over. "I told you that the birds would just go somewhere else! They must have been secretly hiding in an even deeper cave, somewhere undisturbed, waiting for their leader to recover from its wounds..."
"Hey, its okay, its King Rappy. We fought it before and won, remember?"
"With four of us, and it was still a difficult fight!"
"But we were much weaker and less experienced then. At our current strength, we could easily AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!!"
They weren't even at the island yet, and Chaz could clearly see the size of the enormous bloated mass of yellow feathers waddling up and down the coast line, eating everything in sight. It was somehow cute, in its own monstrous way. Its antennae bobbed up and down and its big round eyes lit up when it caught a Leviathan and ate it.
"I wonder if its the same one or a different one?" mused Rika, "How big do those things grow, anyway? It must be difficult for them to find enough food, what with living on a desert planet and all... do you think they originated from Palma?"
"SHUT UP!" screamed Chaz, drawing his sword, a manic look in his eyes, "Right, we said we would defeat that thing, so we have to keep our promise to our customer and fight it! No surrendering! Its not as big as the Profound Darkness anyway!"
They jumped off the boat - the Motavian was relieved that he was not expected to drive up to the island with the huge bird on it - and ran to the shore and into the fields where the Rappy was eating anything that didn't run fast enough. Claws extended, Rika pounced on it, latching on to its underside. It squawked and turned its head ponderously around to regard her. Then it flapped both its arms and began jumping and down, creating such powerful shockwaves that Chaz was knocked off his feet and Rika was dislodged and flung away. Then it began to warble.
The tall grass erupted. From every direction, Rappies of every size and colour emerged and ran at them, squawking, flapping and pecking. Hundreds of them, they quickly swarmed Chaz. He could no longer see Rika through the wall of beaks and feathers, only hear her screams.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOO! MEGID! MEGID! MEGIIIIIIIIIID!"
Chaz opened his eyes. His vision was still bleary. Every part of his body was in agony from thousands of cuts and scatches and bites. He could just make out a small boy standing over him.
"Hey, mister, why're you saying funny things and lying around? Did the birdies get ya? Are you gonna die? Can I have your sword if you die?"
Chaz opened his mouth to tell the boy to bugger off. Then the boy's eyes widened.
"Hey, you're that nice Hunter who helped me recover from that illness!" he said, "I can't let you die! I owe you! You saved my life, so I'll save yours!"
"Trimate?" Chaz asked hopefully.
"Even better'n Trimate!" Something was pressed into his hand, "Its the Sword you leant me the other time... the Sword of Alis! It brought me the strength to live on despite my fatal illness, so I'm sure it'll help you recover your will to fight!"
Chaz groaned. A plastic sword. Just what he really needed. He closed his eyes and succumbed to the blackness enveloping him.
"Alis be praised!" said the child, already running away.
Suddenly, there was a familiar sound. It was a kind of a clear, melodic note that rang out in his mind. Then a ghostly image appeared before him - a beautiful woman with long hair and intelligent, courageous eyes. She wore a breastplate over her dress. Her smile was radiant.
"Am I dead?" asked Chaz, "Is this the Elsydeon?"
"No, Chaz, you are not dead. I am speaking to you through the sword you wield. You must not die in this place! Get up, Chaz Ashley!"
"Wait... the plastic sword?"
"It is a poor likeness, but it is still a likeness of my sword. Do you really think it matters which sword it is? I had lots of different swords in my time anyway, they wore out really easily on long campaigns, why would one be any more special than the others? Its the spirit of the wielder that counts... and their willingness to protect Algol from any threat, no matter how great or small. You are still Algol's Protector, Chaz, even now the Darkness has been defeated. Rise again and challenge your foe!"
"Wait... Alis... let me see the image of... Alys... one last time..."
But the apparition had already gone, as had the darkness. It was replaced by a soft, warm white glow that soothed the pain. A Nares technique, he recognised.
"Chaz!" yelled Rika, "I thought you were dead! Why are you holding a plastic sword?"
"Rika... the bird...?"
"I wounded it, so it flew away. I think it went towards Termi."
Termi? That was where the statue of Alis was... and the stupid plastic swords... could it be connected?
"We have to follow that bird right away!"
Leaving the island was more difficult than arriving there. Their Motavian pilot had fled back to the mainland. After a long argument, they persuaded a villager in Torinco that, since the Rappies had all either been killed in the blast of the Megid spell or flown somewhere else, it was safe for them to take a boat out. The boat was much slower than the Hydrofoil but fortunately the obese Rappy was even slower. There were no monsters on the way back because the Rappy ate them all.
Using a pair of binoculars one of the tour guides in Termi gave him, he watched the bird fly over the ocean. It was remarkably fast for something that weighed so much, something that looked as if it shouldn't be able to fly at all - but then, he had experienced first hand how strong that thing was.
"We need to formulate some sort of battle strategy."
"Some sort of what?"
"You know, like, you hit and I'll heal, or..."
"Or you hit and I heal?"
"I hate being the healer."
"Well, I'm a lousy healer."
"Let's both hit then."
"But then who heals?"
"Thinking time over! The enemy's here!" cried Rika, pointing to the large yellow shape now clearly visible in the sky.
Once again, Chaz wondered exactly how that thing flew. He watched as the Rappy perched on the spire of the Ladea Tower. Damn, he thought, now I have to run all the way up there! Fortunately there were no monsters here either because all the monsters in the Ladea Tower were either constructs of dark energy, annihilated instantly when the Profound Darkness was banished from the solar system, or had run away because the Rappy started eating them.
"Rappy!" roared Chaz, sword brandished, "Alis has charged me with the duty of slaying you! I'm going to carry out that duty even if I have to sacrifice my own life in the attempt!"
"Calm down." sighed Rika, drawing her claws, "And don't use that plastic sword in battle!"
The bird squawked, fixed its infeasibly cute eyes on Chaz and beat its powerful wings in an attempt to throw the Hunter off balance again. However, as it did so, he leapt into the air and grabbed hold of the bird's antennae. The antennae thrashed and whirled around in the air but Chaz hung on for dear life. Alis' voice rang clearly in his head once again and he saw that face, serene but powerful. He saw a ghostly blue aura surround the plastic sword and he felt it thrum with energy, alive like the Elsydeon had been. Then he hurled the sword with all his might and it pierced the Rappy's skull and lanced straight through its brain, killing it instantly. The Rappy plummeted off the top of the Ladea Tower. With a sudden panic, Chaz realised that he was falling with it. Rika ran down the steps, hung out of the window of the fifth floor and caught him on the way down.
"No falling off really tall things!" she said sternly.
"You're a one to talk! At least I don't jump out of the door of a spaceship!"
Rika dropped him. It was only five floors down though, so he survived.
"Well done for completing your commission. Here's your pay of fifteen thousand meseta. Please come again to the Hunter's Guild where we enrich the lives of Hunters!"
Chaz sighed. His pay had been docked because the Megid technique he cast in the middle of the field had destroyed the crops.
"This is what happens when you leave problems to fester and escalate!" said Rika.
"Do we HAVE to have a philosophical discussion at the end of every completed job?" sighed Chaz, "You've done it ever since the first time I brought you into the Guildhouse, with the Sandworm ranch incident in Mile. Its getting on my nerves! Why can't I just be a normal Hunter and finish a job and go home and not talk about it?"
"We can never be normal Hunters, Chaz, not after all we've been through."
Chaz thought again about the vision of Alis and the mysteriously empowered sword. No, he thought, I guess I'll never just be a normal Hunter.