Guardians of Coronia
Legends. Myths. Stories passed down from generation from generation.
Legends. Myths. Stories passed down from generation from generation. For as long as time can remember, people have often told epic tales of dashing heroes and evil villains as a way of coping with the dark and troubled times. Nevertheless, even in fiction, there can oftentimes be a small grain of truth found within these long exploits, and even the smallest soul can give the world a sense of hope.
You may have opened this book and expected me to start with the words “Once upon a time, in a beautiful kingdom far, far away”. In that case, dear reader, you would be wrong on one count. While the story does take place long ago in a kingdom far, far away, it was not at all beautiful; indeed, it was quite the opposite. Our story starts in a country that is in the midst of a bloody civil war. It was the last place that you would expect anyone to be happy. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to tell you the story of a few brave individuals who met during this tragedy.
Our story begins in the land of Coronia, where a young, dark-haired, and dark-skinned lad stood outside a building watching the bustling marketplace. His hair was parted so that it covered his right eye, and he wore a loose dark blue shirt with black pants. He watched as the villagers scurried back and forth through the area. In a few weeks’ time, he would be one of those people heading the ports, for he would finally have enough money to buy a one-way ticket out of his hometown, get on a boat, and never look back at this godforsaken place again.
Just then, something whirred in his pocket. The young man put his hand in and took out a small, brightly colored diamond-shaped electronic device, which was now glowing red and vibrating in his hand. He slid the ends of the device apart.
“Hello?” he said.
“Hey Satya,” a voice came out from the device. “You better hurry up. Break’s gonna be over in fifteen minutes, and you know how Mr. Tahrman feels if you fail to come back to the workhouse in time.”
Satyendranath Sen sighed. He rubbed his right arm. “Yes, Veeru, I’m well aware of the consequences. Tell him I’ll be back soon.” He put the device in his pocket and started to walk back to the workhouse, sighing. As the young man made his way through the bustling streets, he passed several buildings that had no doubt been touched by the war, crumbling and derelict as though reduced to shells of their former glory. Few more weeks, he told himself. Few more weeks, and I’ll never have to think of this awful place ever again. He was so lost in thought that he did not see where he was going and bumped into someone.
OOF! He fell hard onto the ground. As he started to pick himself up, he took a look at who exactly he had bumped into: An older, middle-aged man who looked he was very certainly well-to-do. The man was looking down on him, with a very murderous scowl on his face.
“Did you just bump into me?” he barked at him. Satya flinched, as if reflexively. This was to be expected; it wasn’t as if anybody from the upper classes was going to show a street urchin like him any sympathy. Besides, it wouldn’t matter if he had tried to explain that it was an accident; he knew full well that the man wouldn’t have cared. The man continued to glare at him, and a few of the passers-by had stopped to watch the spectacle with interest.
The wealthy man shoved him back onto the ground. One of the spectators let out a jeer. Satya picked himself up again, and noticed a big brown dirt stain standing out on the right sleeve of his shirt. Great, he thought. Now I have to deal with this. “Let this be a lesson to you, riffraff,” the man growled. “You’re no more important is this world than any other street child. You won’t have anyone to mourn your passing but the rats and fleas, and even then that’s only if they’ll bother to care about you. Now go back to the filthy hole where you came from.” And with that, he abruptly pushed Satya to the side, and left in a huff. The crowd that had gathered around the pair soon dispersed.
The young man picked himself, grumbling and shooting the man a dirty look. As if he needed more reason to leave this country for good. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the man had dropped a few currency notes. He mulled it over, wondering whether he should take them, then ultimately deciding to do so. Once he was certain that nobody was looking around, he surreptitiously slipped the notes into his sleeves, then quickly left the scene.
Well, at least I managed to get something, he noted to himself, trying to do everything he can to avoid people’s stares. He hated that he had been reduced to working for an abusive taskmaster who forced his charges to resort to stealing for a living. His life was actually pretty decent before he had to work for Mr. Tahrman’s Home for Bangalorean Boys. He had a family who loved him and took care of him, up until they were murdered. He could still feel the cold that had suddenly entered the room that summer night, just minutes before their lifeless bodies dropped to the floor. He could still hear them trying to put up a fight against the dark assailant, heard the boots thudding across the floor looking to see if anyone else was there, heard a serpent’s hiss echo throughout the house. His heart was racing a marathon in his chest, his eyes watered up as he realized that his parents did not survive—
No, he told himself suddenly. I will not revisit that moment. His parents were dead, there was nothing he could do about that. Just like that, his whole world was taken away from, and no amount of recollection would bring them back to life. As he continued down the street, he passed an old tramp who was slumped next to a can asking for change. Very quietly so not as to wake him, Satya slipped out one of the stolen notes from his sleeve and deposited it into the can.
At least I still have something to show Mr. Tahrman, he told himself. He checked his watch; he still had a little more than ten minutes before his afternoon shift. He quickened his pace, hoping to make it back before Mr. Tahrman yelled at him again. Not that it would seem to matter, because Mr. Tahrman liked to yell a lot at the boys under his care, and he was always looking for an excuse to demean them for any slight, whether it was real or perceived.
As he was walking back, he passed by two purple-and-black clad soldiers in uniform who were heckling a vendor trying to sell some kebabs. Satya sighed. His parents often told him about the days when these soldiers didn’t move into town and make life even more unbearable than it already was. He moved in close enough to catch some of the conversation.
“Your identification, please?” one of the soldiers growled darkly.
“I’m just trying to sell a few kebabs,” the vendor protested.
“Any and all trade must be registered with us,” the other soldier added in a higher-pitched voice.
“Even if I did have an ID, why would I show it to you?” the vendor shot back, more annoyed. “I’ve lived in Bangalora my whole life, and I have no reason to put up with the orders of someone who thinks they can just barge in and start acting that they own the place.” Satya quietly admired his spirit; he too had wanted to do something about these enemy soldiers, but felt that he couldn’t make a significant difference.
“Oh really?” the first soldier snarled. “Perhaps a stint in a reformation facility would change your mind.” At these words, the vendor gulped, his eyes widening in fear, and Satya knew why: The reformation camps were places where people were detained indefinitely and tortured; often times, these people were forced to do backbreaking labor or, if they were unfortunate enough, await mass execution. At this, Satya made up his mind; he would have to settle for the old “lost urchin” trick. He cleared his throat and passed by the soldiers, doing his best to look pitiful and helpless.
“Pardon me, sir,” he asked imploringly, “spare a kabab?” He held out his bands in supplication.
“Move along, street urchin,” the dark-helmeted soldier barked at him.
“Sorry, sorry, not asking for trouble,” Satya answered meekly, making sure to snag a comm device. Because trouble always finds me no matter where I go, he thought to himself, turning a corner. As soon as he was certain that the soldiers couldn’t see him, he took a deep breath, and then pressed a button on the device.
“All officers to the plaza!” he barked, imitating a soldier. “We have a code red! Repeat, code red!” Seconds later, he heard the sound of two pairs of boots run down the streets. He smirked; his plan was a success.
I almost feel sorry for those two, he thought. Almost. If it weren’t for the fact that they are the ones making life in Gourishetty even more insufferable than it already was, I’d even have some pity for them. He peeked around in the direction of the vendor. Aside from being shaken up a bit, the vendor was now looking much more relieved. Satya turned around and went in the direction of the two soldiers. He was bound to have caused a commotion with that false report, and he wanted to be there when it happened.
Sure enough, it did. When he arrived, he could see that the soldiers had gotten into a squabble over what had happened. He chuckled; now all he needed was some popcorn to enjoy the show. He scanned the area for any souvenirs he could take, when—
“Hello, what have we here?” he said, his eyes hovering on a small crate with a black flower symbol imprinted on it. Whatever was in that crate had to be worth something very important; otherwise the soldiers wouldn’t have bothered guarding it. He made his decision: Before the soldiers knew anything, he would snatch it from underneath their noses and deliver it to the workhouse. There was no way that Mr. Tahrman would be mad at him for being late if he was presented with fabulous loot such as that.
All of a sudden, smoke started filling the area, and outlines of people started moving. Satya watched the scene with great interest; whoever these people were, they appeared to have some interest in the crate as well. Pretty soon, the outlines had started beating up the soldiers all the way around. Not wanting the prize to be snatched from him, he moved to take advantage of the chaos.
As soon as he located his quarry, he picked it up and, under cover of smoke, started to run forward to the workhouse. He could sense it within his reach, all he had to do was go a little further, almost there —
OOF! The next thing he knew, he was on the ground again, to his annoyance, the box making a heavy thud on the floor. Only this time, he noticed that a long green plant root had wrapped itself around his ankle. That’s weird, he thought. How did that get there?
“Going somewhere?” a rough female voice asked. Satya looked up and saw a tall brunette with short hair staring back at him with piercing green eyes. The brunette was wearing a brown outfit with green edges and green shoulder guards. She had on a belt that alternated between different shades of green with a circle in the center, and she had on green boots. The ends of her sleeves were wrapped with what appeared to be plant roots.
But he quickly got over his fear of the woman. “Yeah,” he started. “Taking what is rightfully mine.” Scrambling to his feet, he picked up the crate, snapped off the tendril, and started to bolt down the road. The workhouse was a lost cause; he needed to find a place on the black market to sell the junk and get out of the country quicker.
“Hey!” the woman yelled. “Get back here!” Seeing the boy ignore her command, she started to go after him, only to be stopped by a robed man with black hair in a samurai ponytail who was taller than she was.
“Enough,” he said, ignoring her protests. “Polyphemus will take care of him.”
The woman groaned in annoyance. “If he does catch him, please give me permission to kill the brat.”
Meanwhile, Satya has more trouble than he had expected. With the plan to return to the workhouse with the crate now southbound, he needed a new place to lay low until the snafu had blown over. There was no way that he was going to lose what could possibly be his only ticket out of the country forever. But he had bigger problems at the moment. The theft of the crate was bound to have attracted serious attention by now, and he could not risk getting caught and, gods forbid, being sent to a reformation facility. Already he could hear the footsteps of the soldiers chase after him, as well as the shouts grow louder and louder and they closed in on him. His heart started to race. At last, he could see something up ahead. He turned the corner only to realize in horror that it was a dead end. Now there was nowhere left for him to go.
The footsteps eventually caught up with him and he heard the sounds of several blaster rifles being trained on him. “All right, kid,” one of the soldiers snarled, “put the box down and hands in the air.”
Gulping, Satya put the box down and slowly raised his hands in the air. Then, in the distance, large, heavy footsteps sounded. Satya gulped. What could it be this time?
The answer came in the form of a hulking, muscular, one-eyed brute with brown hair wearing only a loincloth around his waist, who had turned around and entered the alley. He took out a spiked club and started to tear through the soldiers with ease. The soldiers shot magic blasts at the giant, only for them to bounce off his skin harmlessly. After disposing of the last two units, the giant turned to face Satya.
“What are you waiting for, kid? An invitation?” he asked in a deep baritone. “Follow me! And bring the crate as well!”
Satya nodded, then picked up the crate and ran off to follow the giant without a second thought.
As the pair got onto the busy street, blasts of laser fire swarmed them, one of them barely grazing Satya’s right arm. Satya’s eyes widened; he definitely needed to be on his guard. He ran ahead to the giant’s side. “Save me, please!” he begged.
The giant opened his mouth and was about to say something, when green thorns flew past him in the opposite direction and struck three of the soldiers pursuing him. Both Satya and the giant turned to see the woman in brown staring back at them next to the black-haired robed man, a manic grin alight on her face.
“HAHAHAHAHAHA!” she cackled. “What’s wrong, boys? Can’t handle this hot stuff?” She ran forward and took a flying jump, then started making quick work of the soldiers. It was then that Satya realized that it wasn’t them that she was addressing, but rather these guys. Whoever this girl is, she is scary intense, he thought, shuddering. He made a mental note to never, ever get on her bad side.
“Enough fooling,” the black-haired man called, sounding annoyed. “We have to deliver this to the dealer.”
“Aw. Can’t I at least get one last kill in?” the woman complained, nonchalantly backhanding an oncoming soldier without even looking.
“You know very well why I can’t allow that,” the man shot back, still annoyed.
The woman sighed. “Fine. Just get it over with.” She delivered one final blow to the last soldier’s stomach, causing him to reel over in pain.
The man nodded curtly. He pressed a few buttons on his wrist and held it close to his mouth. “We’re ready,” he said.
“All clear,” said a voice on the other end, and then an electric blue portal appeared right in front of them.
“That’s our cue, kid,” the giant remarked. He picked up the crate and started to head for the portal. Satya nodded; he had seen enough excitement for one day. He ran into the portal, obviously eager to get away from this battlefield.
“You coming or what?” the man called to the woman.
The woman in brown groaned in disgust. “Fine!” She too started to run at a quicker pace. As soon as she went through, the portal disappeared.
The two remaining soldiers looked at each other, obviously scared. They had failed to keep the crate secure. Just then one of the soldiers’ comm devices beeped. The soldier picked it up to see that the device displayed, in Coronian script:
RETURN TO BASE FOR A STATUS REPORT. NOW.
The soldier gulped. “Oh, boy,” he said to his comrade as he responded with a request for a portal. “This is not going to end well.”
The entire group exited the portal into a dingy, run-down store of some kind that was only barely lit with a single flickering light bulb. Up ahead of them was counter that was loaded with merchandise that Satya never seen before in his entire life—jewelry, mounts, the like. On his right was a small TV set that displayed the mug shot of a man with black hair and wearing a gray suit-and-tie outfit, with a broad smirk on his face and a cigar in his mouth. Underneath his picture displayed the phrase KENJI DOIHARA STILL AT LARGE.
“…the massacre was carried out by notorious mobster Kenji Doihara, who continues to evade the Gourishetty authorities,” the newscaster was saying. “If you have information on his whereabouts, please contact the Bangalora Police Department. Back to you, Madhuri.”
“Thank you, Pradhesh,” an olive-skinned, black haired, middle-aged woman was saying. “In other news, yesterday’s Universal Protest for Equality and Rights turned dark when members of the Black Rose descended upon the movement. The once peaceful protest group has now disrupted …”
“That’s enough of that, now, don’t you agree?” a voice interrupted, and Satya looked up to see an elderly, wrinkly, gray-haired man with moderately dark skin approach the counter and turn off the TV set. He didn’t know why, but Satya felt that this rat was bad news. The man turned his attention to the group. “And how are my favorite customers this fine day?”
“We got the crate,” the woman in brown said. “How much for the whole shebang?”
“I need to check to make sure I’m not being swindled, my dear,” the gray-haired man smirked, to which the woman sighed in annoyance. He produced a crowbar and proceeded to open the crate using it. When he opened the box, his greasy smile grew wider. “Lovely,” he said. “Standard TCI-X4000 photon bombs. These beauties pack quite a punch, and are quite rare.” Satya’s heart sank; he had lost his only opportunity to make a quick fortune to get out of here sooner. “It was probably good that you got these off their hands.”
“Yeah,” Satya muttered to himself sadly. “Too bad I won’t be able to sell those on the market anymore.” Unfortunately, this did not go unnoticed by the woman in brown, who promptly-and rather angrily-walked up to him.
“Do you think everything revolves around you?” she snapped, shoving him rather roughly into a bulletin board, next to a picture of another person—a green-eyed female mob boss who had long, red-orange hair parted over one eye and had on a black bowler hat with a red headband and black feather on it as well as a red-lined pink overcoat. “Are you that selfish enough that you don’t care about our continued existence?”
“I was doing what you were: stealing for survival!” Satya protested.
“You have no idea what we are doing! You don’t know us!” the woman in brown shouted at him.
“And I have no interest in doing so! I just want to get out of here as soon as possible,” Satya replied snidely.
“I assure you, nothing would thrill me more than to toss you out the window—from the highest floor of this building,” the woman replied in a low, rather threatening growl, raising a fist to him. Satya gulped in fear; it was quite clear what she wanted to do to him. “Fortunately for you, punk, we are not supposed to hurt the innocent.”
“Sun-Hi, enough,” the Cyclops said, rather annoyed. “Let the kid go.”
“Oh, don’t act like you’re the boss of me, Polyphemus,” the woman named Sun-Hi snapped, pointing a finger at the Cyclops. “Just because you’re bigger and stronger than me doesn’t mean that I have to put up with what you have to say.”
“Maybe not,” the man in the robes interjected, “but you still have to put up with me.” He turned to the dealer. “How much are you willing to pay?”
“Hm…” The dealer examined the shipment carefully. “I say one thousand rupees oughta cover it.”
“One thousand?!” Sun-Hi roared. “We busted our chops keeping this out of the hands of those goons! We won’t settle for anything less than two thousand! So either pay us more or no deal!” She cracked her knuckles to emphasize her statement.
“Sure,” the dealer shrugged. “I’ll pay you the two grand. Or, I can always pay you the one grand and provide an extra bit of information.”
“What information are you talking about?” Polyphemus asked, suddenly curious.
“I need to hear you say it,” the dealer smirked, his mouth full of old, decaying, yellow teeth. Satya shuddered at the sight with revulsion. Whoever this guy was, he could seriously stand to learn a thing or two about oral hygiene.
The robed man sighed. “Fine, we’ll get the one grand, in exchange for you coughing up the information.”
“Wise move,” the dealer responded. “I know all too well how desperate you are to send the Black Rose packing.” He opened a cash register and deposited a wad of paper bills into the robed man’s hand, then gave him a note. With that, the robed man turned to the entire group.
“Let’s go,” he started. “We got what we came for.”
“Go?” Satya asked, confused. “Where?”
“We’re going back to base to drop these off and pick something up,” Sun-Hi answered. “Unless, of course, you’d rather stay behind with him.” She pointed to the dealer, who was waving at them with an ominous leer.
Satya took one look at the guy. “I’m coming with you guys, if that’s okay,” he answered, deciding to put as much distance as possible between him and the dealer.
“Please be sure to drop by soon, people,” the dealer waved at them. “You know how very much I enjoy your company and business.” Satya shook his head, shuddering again. Hopefully, “soon” would mean “a very, very long time” in this context; there was something about the guy that rubbed him the wrong way. He turned, and another electric-blue portal opened up in front of him and the others. He wasted no time at all in going through the portal, the others following him with mild expressions of surprise on their faces.
Elsewhere in a dark, desolate hallway in a remote location, the two soldiers walked down the corridor with dread, their metal footsteps echoing off the chamber walls. Standing at the very end was a young woman with flowing brown hair wearing a bright green dress with a belt tied around her waist and brown slacks underneath her dress. Where there were supposed to be arms, she had instead long, thick, green plant tendrils. Her body was wrapped with two thick green tubes, both of which had two sharp, thick black spikes on them. She wore a spiked collar on her neck and another on her left leg. And judging by her body position, she had been expecting the soldiers for quite some time.
The two soldiers nervously approached their commander, who was standing with her back facing towards them.
“Report?” the woman in green started, rather coldly.
The soldiers looked at each other nervously, unsure of how they should proceed. At last, one of them started, “We… had a bit of a situation earlier, milady.”
“Elaborate, please,” the woman in green continued, still in a cold tone.
“A… um, a group of thieves seized one of the crates we were going to transport back to base earlier,” the soldier explained rather quickly, his throat becoming dry. His comrade sweated rather profusely underneath the helmet. He wasn’t sure how to explain himself and his partner out of this one.
“You do realize that the crate was of significant value, right?” the woman in green rebutted, rather menacingly. “That your boss ordered you fools to protect it with your lives?”
The two soldiers exchanged very nervous looks at this point. How were they going to get out of this quandary?
“Forgive us, milady,” the other pleaded. “We had no idea what to do to stop them, and we’re new to this.”
“Oh very well,” the woman sighed. “Since this is a first offense, I will go easy on you.”
The soldiers breathed a sigh of relief. Just then—SHRAP! Unexpectedly and without warning, the woman in green had turned around and fired two long, green, sharp thorns from her hand into their chests. The two of them looked on in horror as the thorns splashed red with their blood, their breaths coming out in short, wheezy gasps.
“You said... that you... would... go easy... on us... ” one of them managed to get out, before he and his comrade dropped to the floor.
“Believe me,” the woman sneered, “this is going easy on you. My boss is nowhere near as forgiving as I am.”
From underneath their visors, the two men looked at the woman in terror, before they both finally collapsed, never to rise again. The woman turned to face another guard who was standing nearby.
“Pick these disgusting things up,” she snarled, spitting on the floor next to the two dead bodies. “And make sure you get them ready for his arrival.” And with that, she departed, leaving the guard absolutely nervous of what was going to happen next.