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Battlehymn Part 1


Battlehymn Part 1 Copyright Š 2011 by Zachary Ricks The audio podcast version of Battlehymn by Zachary Ricks is licensed under a Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. All other rights are reserved by the author. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at madpoetfiles.com. Sign up for updates and new episodes at exiles.madpoetfiles.com.

Ch 1, Scene 1 The half-heard song. The grey sky threatened rain, and even though he wore a light jacket, Shem knew it was a hollow threat at best. It wasn’t the kind of sky that brought rain to replenish and refresh the world. This gray drained the color even from the concrete of the sidewalk. The architecture in this section of Scythia was light and airy, businesses with major offices in the Imperial City, their spires reaching for the heavens. Under this sky, though, they looked more like the leafless branches of a barren tree, or the bleached bones of a creature long since dead. He played his guitar, fingering through some classical Spanish riffs, looking up and down the street at the sparse foot traffic. He wondered if the depressing weather might be why the streets by his favorite corner were so barren. Foot traffic was half, no, a third what it normally was this time of day, and the pittance in his case reflected the low traffic. He glanced again at the sky that hung overhead like a wool blanket, blocking out the sun. Two months out of the shelters, he wasn't too bad off, but if he couldn't find a way to replenish his meager credit supply, he'd be eating out of garbage cans. It might get


Battlehymn Part 1 so bad he’d have to consider hocking his guitar. A passerby threw a single coin into the case, and Shem gave him a nod and an extra flourish on the instrumental piece he was playing. Singing always brought better tips, but the lack of traffic wasn't something his singing was really going to overcome. Besides, he wanted his voice to be in top shape for the afternoon’s audition. It was a chance. Maybe a good chance — if he could pull it off. He grinned to himself. If? Just let him get a chance to show them what he could do. They’d be begging him to perform for this year’s festival. He finished the piece, and glanced up and down the streets of his corner. Light traffic during a lunch hour. The clock across the way blinked the time. It was already getting towards early afternoon. Lunch crowd traffic, already so light, was only going to die down. The guitar case of simple, unadorned plastic held only a few credits, a five note a busy man had thrown in to show how important he was to his following subordinates, and a coupon for a complementary entree at a local dining establishment. A disappointing take, but it couldn’t be helped. There just weren’t a lot of people around. If it was like this tomorrow, he’d have to scout out a new location. Shem watched the coupon’s colorful animation run through its course, opting not to press the un-mute button. “Carson's! Steaks, salads, and baked potatoes as big as a man's head! Try the Steak 'n Spud Special!" Buy one get one free. Shem counted out the credits in his case. Fifteen credits would buy a steak, but he really couldn't afford it. Of course, if it bought TWO steaks, he could save the other for tomorrow. And he was sure he’d sing better with a good meal under his belt… He tucked the coupon and the credits into a pocket, and whistled a quick five note tune as he tucked his guitar into the emptied case. A moment later, a small brown and black cat came tearing around the corner from a local alley. "Earning your keep today, Maya?" The small cat was deposited in a large pocket at his thigh, where after a moment, her head emerged and


Battlehymn Part 1 she rode with her front paws hanging over the side. She gave her nose a quick lick. He smiled and reached down to scritch her behind the ears, and they were off. Shem walked up the wide streets, headed toward Carson's and the possibility of cheap steak. A pair of green and gold peacekeeper armors flew overhead down the length of the street. Shem stopped and watched them for a moment, just as he always did. Imperial Starfires. He watched them streak by. The elegant lines and bright colors of the armored suits provided a stark contrast with the gray sky. There was always the military, Shem supposed, but he dismissed that thought as quickly as he'd done the thought of hocking his guitar. While he loved the clean and elegant lines of armor, and had since he first saw them as a child, something happened to men who served in the military. Shem had seen it first hand. He’d felt it firsthand. He touched the scar above his left eye. No, the soldier's life was not for him. As he approached the corner, he heard the murmuring sound first. Turning toward one of the large squares that dotted the city's business district he saw the crowd. Naturally, they were in between him and his destination. Carson's was two blocks down on the other side of the square. Shem pulled out the coupon. "Wonderful," he muttered. "Expires today. Of course." He scowled at the crowd. Of course they'd be over here, listening to... Maya suddenly hissed at the crowd. Shem had found her only a couple of weeks ago, but he'd quickly come to care for the little cat. He started humming to calm her and he felt the tension ease out of her at the sound of his voice. He kept humming as he approached, low and soft, but loud enough for Maya to hear. As he started through the crowd, Shem glanced at the pavilion someone had put up there. "REVOLUTION! POWER TO THE PEOPLE!" the banner proclaimed.


Battlehymn Part 1 Shem had seen one or two of these mentioned in the newscasts when he caught sight of them in the public kiosks. Revolutionaries. Protesters. People agitating for change from the rule of Akosh. No one seemed to be in charge, but the protests were springing up in various places around the planet, and around the systems in the Commonwealth. Some news commentators had suggested that they were a little too well-organized to be truly spontaneous, but efforts to track down a potential ringleader had apparently failed. And it wasn’t like they were really enacting any change — just making a lot of heat and smoke, but no light. Shem kept humming to himself. A tall, dark haired woman was addressing the crowd. She was loudly encouraging the crowd to do… something or other. Shem couldn't hear her too clearly over his humming, but there was real passion in her voice. He kept to the edges of the square, where the crowd was thinner, but it meant walking the perimeter of the square as opposed to cutting across, and took much longer. The longer he stayed, the more the woman’s voice intrigued him. There was something in what she was saying… if only he could hear it better. He made it halfway around the square before he slowed, then stopped, peering down the square at the stage from behind a short Okifelli man in a gray poncho, his hair done up in a topknot and a young woman in a tan poncho, with her black hair tied back in a shoulder-length ponytail with a red ribbon. She looked Okifelli, at least partly in the eyes. Strikingly beautiful, she caught his attention for a moment, but it was soon pulled back to the woman speaking on the platform at the other end of the square. Shem's humming grew quieter, so he could hear the speech, but he felt Maya’s body tense, and the sharp pokes of her back claws came out and dug into his thigh. Shem winced at the sharp pinpricks. His humming grew louder again, and he continued his way across the square. Poor Maya was a street cat, just this side of feral, and she must have been nervous because of the crowd, he told himself. He walked on through the crowd, which was easier and somehow different from crowds in the past. Then he realized - none of them were moving. They just stared at the young woman on the stage. Stared… and listened.


Battlehymn Part 1 Shem felt a chill run up his spine, and his smile froze on his face. He quickened his pace. Soon enough, he was out of the square and on his way to lunch. Two blocks up and to the left stood the establishment. Not as new and as polished as the image on the coupon, but beef was beef, as far as Shem was concerned. And after life in the shelters, he wasn't going to be too particular about the animal the steak came from, so long as it was four legged, non-sentient, and larger than a household pet. His stomach grumbled at the scent of roasting meat, and Shem reconsidered. Two legs was probably fine also. As he stepped into the steakhouse, he happened to glance back the way he'd come. Foot traffic was nearly non-existent, especially coming away from the square. It was strange - usually people would be coming in and out of the crowd, listening for a moment, then going on about their day, but not today. Except for two people, everyone walking the road was headed toward the square. And, as it so happened, the two people coming up toward him were the small Okifelli man and his female companion in the poncho. Shem blinked at the street, but the smell of roasting meats summoned him to more urgent matters. He ducked into the steakhouse, lips turned up in anticipation. This would be a day to remember.


Battlehymn Part 1 Ch 1, Sc 2. Steak and Vengeance. Naji felt a shiver as Ichigo grabbed her by the arm and pulled her after him. She opened and shut her mouth as she stumbled along, but she couldn't seem to put words to her objection at his treatment. All she knew was that the person up on the pavilion seemed to make a lot of sense, and she wanted to hear more. As they left the square and the voice faded, she found her words. "Hey, Ichigo, lay off." She knocked his hand away with the back of her arm. He reached out again, pulling her along by the poncho, grinning like the madman half the company thought he was. The man could drive an armor, though, everyone had to admit that, and he'd led the cohort through many a fight that Naji had thought would be the end of them in both a professional and more existential sense. Once they were a block or so out of the square, Ichi released the poncho and turned his manic grin on her. "She really had you back there, didn't she?" "What are you talking about?" Naji scowled at the little man. She loved Ichigo like her own father, but he could be frustrating beyond words at times. "The skald talking to that crowd back there." Naji felt the blood drain from her face at his words. Her fists clenched, and she stepped back toward the crowded square. She made it three steps before Ichigo Kamiyama got ahold of her poncho again. “Hang on there a minute, pilot. You just got out of that honey pot, and now you want to just waltz back in? Without protection? That’s gutsy,” Ichigo continued, “I mean, she got me stopped, and I've had training against that kind of thing." He scratched his neatly-trimmed beard, still grinning.


Battlehymn Part 1 Naji made a mental note to refrain from wearing ponchos in the future. Ichigo was too fond of using them as a handle. She turned and faced the little man. "All right, Ichi. If she stopped me, and I'm not saying she did, and she stopped you, and I'm not saying she did, how did we get out of there?” "Divine intervention, my young apprentice, in the form of that young man over there." Naji followed Ichigo's gesture and caught a glimpse of a tall, thin man with black hair ducking into an establishment that claimed to be a steakhouse. Ichigo started walking up the street towards the restaurant. “Ichi?” Naji’s eyes narrowed at her commanding officer. “What are you thinking?” “Me? Oh, nothing. Just want to make sure that I offer the appropriate thanks to that young man.” Naji caught a wisp of the smell of roasting meats on a gust of air and she allowed, on a provisional basis, that the establishment might provide something almost edible. The sudden growl of Ichigo's stomach made her smile. Ichigo’s instincts were legendary, and the man was as stubborn as a rock. Gentle, but stubborn. Besides, if the kid had gotten them out from under the influence of skaldspeech, he deserved their appreciation. And she meant to know how he’d done it. She looked around dramatically. "Well, it sounds like you’re hungry. It’s a little late for lunch, but I could probably eat a… oh, I don’t know, a steak, I guess. Oh, look! There’s a steakhouse right there. How convenient.” "A gentleman is supposed to be the one who asks the young lady to dinner, right?" Ichi teased, offering her his arm. "I'm no lady," Naji said, laughing. It was an old joke between them. "Ah, but that's just it." Ichigo replied, as he always did. She laid her hand on his arm and allowed him to escort her down the street. "A gentleman always treats every woman as though she were a lady. Even when,” he paused dramatically, making a show of thinking it over, “maybe especially when she insists that she is no lady."


Battlehymn Part 1 She didn’t blush as much as she used to when he said that. Ichi was more than twice her age, and there was nothing romantic in their relationship. It didn’t stop him from flirting outrageously when the notion struck him. She shook her head and thanked Deity that at least when they were in maneuvers, he kept it to the private comm channels. Mostly. She let Ichi open the door to the steak house for her. They found themselves in a dimly lit eatery. The smell of smoke had seeped into the deep brown wood paneling and the shaded glass at the front added to the… well, some people might call it ambience, but Naji thought that in this case atmosphere might be doubling as an excuse for poor cleaning habits. She looked over the high dividers and located their quarry seated in a booth facing them, but looking down at something in his lap. A white guitar case sat in the booth next to him, against the wall. She nudged Ichi and nodded in the man's direction. Seeing him at this distance, Naji blinked. "He's just a kid, Ichi." Ichi shook his head at her and waved the hostess over. "Tell the young man seated there we'd like to join him. And that we're paying." The hostess’ eyebrows rose, but she nodded, grabbing a pair of menus and place settings as she walked over to where the pale young man was seated. “That young man looks only to be a year or two younger than you, Naji. Watch who you’re calling kid.” At the booth, words were exchanged, and were followed by a shrug from the young man and a wave from the hostess beckoning them over. "Thank you for allowing us to join you," Ichigo said, offering a hand to the young man who stood as they approached, and after a moment's hesitation, shook once. Naji regarded the... boy, really... with a cool stare. He didn’t look that remarkable. He was tall, pale and clean shaven, with wild black hair and a scar over his left eye. Looked like he’d been in a scrap, a quick and decisive one, years ago. He was slim, but didn’t look too tough. If anything, she figured him for malnourished rather than wiry. The young man let his hand hang towards her in the air for a half a beat, then pulled it back with a shrug.


Battlehymn Part 1 "Ah." Ichigo began, subtly elbowing Naji in the ribs as they sat. Naji ignored it. "Please excuse my companion's rudeness, sir. I suppose we should begin with introductions. My name is Ichigo Kamiyama, and I am the owner and proprietor of a group of private security contractors called the Kami Cohort. My associate here is Naji Maligaya." Naji bowed her head in acknowledgment of the introduction. Her hand strayed down to the knife she kept in her boot. You never could be too careful meeting strange young men in dimly lit establishments, she thought to herself. And if he wasn’t immediately forthcoming about how he’d beaten the skaldspeech, maybe the knife would provide some needed motivation. "Shem," the young man replied, touching his chest with one hand “Shem Dormungard”. The other hand stayed below the table. Naji felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise. Kid probably had something nasty pointed at them. "And this," the young man continued, lifting a small cat up with his other hand, "is Maya." "A cat?" Naji said, the sudden tension leaving her shoulders. “Do they let cats in here?” She glared, first at the young man, and then for good measure, at the cat. Ichi gave her a mildly amused look. "As I was about to say, we’d like to buy your dinner as a token of our appreciation for a service you rendered to us earlier." The young man looked at them each in turn with a blank expression. "Service? Did you hear me playing earlier?" He motioned to the guitar case sitting next to him in the booth. Ichi shook his head. "Ah. No. I am referring to the song you were humming in the square a few minutes ago." He folded his hands on the table in front of them. "Oh? Oh! Well, I was just humming. Something was upsetting Maya, and music seems to calm her down." He stroked her fur for a moment, eliciting a surprisingly loud purr. “Though I hardly think that a bit of humming is worth a steak dinner.” Ichigo didn’t speak. “Hang on,” Shem continued, “private security cohort? You’re mercenary armor drivers?” The


Battlehymn Part 1 young man’s smile started to fade, and his eyes narrowed, glancing back and forth between Naji and Ichigo. “What? You hard up for recruits or something?” The waitress returned, depositing water glasses at the three settings and looking expectantly at them for a moment. Ichigo waved her away without taking his eyes from Shem. “The Cohort is a volunteer-only organization, Mr Dormungard, and the Kami take only the best. Circumstances were such that you happened to be singing the right song in the right place at the right time. It was… truly fortunate.” He took the glass of water and sipped it. Naji felt a cold chill run down her spine. She glanced at Ichigo. “That’s it?” She looked back up at the young man. “You were just humming?” She felt her frustration boiling inside her. She was close - so close. “We were bogged down in that witch’s spell, and the reason we were able to escape is because you were humming? You really expect me to believe that?” Ichigo’s head turned a fraction toward her, and Naji groaned to herself. She’d be hearing about this later, but at this point she was too frustrated to care. The young man’s eyes blinked in surprise, putting a protective arm between her and the cat on the table. She leaned forward, glaring at him, her fingers starting to curl around the knife in her boot. “What were you doing, really? How did you get through that? How did you get us out of it?” Ichigo put a hand on her shoulder, easing her back into her seat with surprising strength. He turned back to the young man. “I apologize again for my associate, Mr. Dormungard.” He fixed her with a steady gaze, all hint of the smile gone from his face. “She often feels that the direct path is best, even when she doesn’t really know her destination.” Naji blinked. There was a rebuke there, but at the moment she didn’t care. The kid had to have done something more than sing. There had to be a trick to it, and now that someone who knew that trick was sitting in front of her, Kamiyama was stepping in the way? She wanted to scream - wanted to beat this kid stupid until he told her what he’d done, how he’d done it, how to teach it to others. Her lips compressed in a frown and she grabbed the edge of the table, her knuckles turning white. She opened her mouth to respond to the rebuke. Whatever she was about to say was interrupted by a loud slam of the front door. She turned to see what had caused it.


Battlehymn Part 1 A giant of a man, arms and legs fully replaced by metal prosthetics, wearing an olive green tank top and a pair of shorts, stood in the door, glaring at their booth. He grinned, revealing metal teeth that fit together like a shark's. "KAMIYAMA!� he bellowed. "YOU OWE ME A BODY." Naji dove out of the booth, pulling the knife from her boot. Ah. Something to take her frustrations out on, and a way to impress this kid that she was not to be trifled with. Perfect.


BattleHymn part 1