ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem was written outside the prompt calls, inspired by audience discussions and the "experiments by evil scientists" square in my 6-10-14 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Dr. Infanta thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

WARNING: This poem contains intense topics that may not be to everyone's taste. Some of the warnings are spoilers; highlight to read. There is mad science, graphic violence, character death, animal death, grief, traumatic manifestation of superpowers, vengeance, and other mayhem. It ends on a sweeter note, though. Please consider your preferences and headspace before deciding whether to read onward.


"Enter the Dark Horse"


Judd leaned into the harness
as he trotted down the driveway,
his big hooves clopping in time with
the other nine horses beside him.

The wagon was heavy with barrels
full of strange-smelling liquids and
crates of things that Judd could hear
humming faintly through the wood.

Things came to the work place in trucks
with noisy engines and reeking smoke,
but they left in the horse-drawn wagon;
perhaps whatever was made in there
did not like engines any more than Judd did.

The driver Cadby sat on the high bench,
whistling a familiar tune as he handled the reins;
now and then he swished the buggy whip
to guide the horses, but he never hit them with it.
Judd adored the driver with all his heart.

Suddenly there came a thunderclap,
though the sky was clear of clouds, and
a group of strange people appeared
in the road right ahead of them,
clad in brightly colored blankets.

Cadby hauled on the reins but
Judd and the other horses were
already scrabbling to a stop.

Some of the strangers ran toward the work place
while others headed for the outbuildings.
One looked at the horses pulling the wagon,
a beam of red light burning through them
so that the lead pair fell down dead.

Cadby roared in rage and pulled out
the little hand-tool that popped like a whip
and made holes wherever it pointed.

The stranger in the stupid red blanket
shouted with pain and clutched his shoulder.

Then he looked at the wagon
and the world exploded.

Judd came to covered in whatever it was
that had been in the barrels, and
whatever had been in the crates
was now sparking and spitting smoke.

Judd panicked, kicking and thrashing
in the harness, but the heavy leather
held fast and all of the dead horses
hitched with him made it impossible to move.

Then all at once it was as if Judd
had turned to smoke himself and drifted
through the harness to the side of the road.

Everywhere there was fire and noise
and horrible things happening.

Judd slunk to the wagon and
nudged Cadby with his nose, but
the driver smelled of blood and death.

Judd nudged him again, desperate,
and one arm flopped loosely to the ground,
the buggy whip falling from the limp hand.

A streak of red light cut past Judd's flank,
singing the hair and making him smell burnt.

Judd whirled, bugling in fury, and saw
the red-blanketed stranger facing him.
Judd ran to the man and stepped on him,
stomped down hard, on purpose.

Stepping on people was against the rules
but the rules had not kept anyone safe.
Now Cadby was gone and Judd
just didn't care anymore.

A woman wearing a blue blanket
ran up and hit Judd so hard he fell over.
He kicked her and stomped her
and felt the bones crack underfoot
but she healed fast instead of dying.

Judd wished she would stop healing
and be like his driver, dead --

and just like that, she was.

Judd's ears pricked forward.
That was satisfying.

He hunted down more
of the bright-blanketed strangers
and stepped on them and made them die.

He learned that he could
run right through walls
as if they were not there,
then turn solid again
when he wanted to attack.

There were white-coats pouring out
of the work place, some he knew
who were kind to horses and
others who had been cruel.

Judd snuck up on the cruel ones
and nudged them so they fell down dead.
It was their fault that he and his herd
had been here to get caught up
in this human fight.

He knew that.

He was not sure how,
but many things that had been
no more than flies buzzing in the background
now made a lot more sense to him.

Abruptly someone else appeared,
this time in a softer whuff of air,
a big man and a small girl.

The girl snagged Judd's attention --
she looked like a human filly,
but she smelled sharp and strange and old,
like the fancy grape juice that Cadby had liked.

"What a fucking mess," she said.
"I really hate mad scientists."

Judd huffed in agreement.

She spun around to look at him.
"Well aren't you interesting," she said.
"That's quite a power signature
pouring off you like trail sweat.
I wonder who you are."

Judd was a bit embarrassed to be
standing there as naked as an unbroken colt,
without a halter to show that he had his manners
or a breastplate to tell anyone his name.

"I'm Alicia, by the way," she said,
"or Dr. Infanta when I'm on the job."
She waved a hand at the wreckage.

"Ah-ee-uh," Judd said,
breathing along with her
out of habit, but he was startled
by the way his voice responded.

"Can you talk?" Alicia demanded.
"What's your name?"

Judd wondered about that.
His throat hurt and his face felt funny
and his head was full of new ideas.

"Huh," he said, as close as he could get
to the sound of his own name.
Then he walked over to the ruins
of the wagon and nosed his harness.

Alicia looked at the brass nameplate.
"Judd? That's you?" she said.

He wasn't really listening, though.
Instead he leaned over to nose Cadby again.
Judd sighed. He missed his driver.

"That guy was your friend, hmm?"
Alicia said, patting Judd's shoulder.
"I'll have my people give him a nice burial."

Judd looked around at the others,
the red-blanketed man and
the blue-blanketed woman
and the white-coats.

"Did you kill all these people?"
Alicia asked. "The superheroes and
the scientists who ran the experiments?"

Judd thought about that.
He had killed some of them,
but some had killed each other.

He moved his head up and down
as he had seen humans do when they agreed,
and then he walked around to paw at
the ones he had killed himself.

"Good job," she said.

Judd's ears pricked happily.
He never thought he would hear
Good job again, especially
not for making people dead.

Alicia pushed one of the enemy corpses
with the toe of her black-booted foot.
"You're quite the undertaker," she said.
"You haven't left me much to mop up."

"Uh-heh-hey," Judd said.
He liked the sound of it, and
he remembered the job it went with,
the little man who had come
to take away workers killed
by an experiment gone wrong.

"That's a good supervillain name for you,"
Alicia declared. "You can be the Undertaker.
Would you like to come home with me?
I can always use help stomping mad scientists,
and it would give you time to figure out
what you really want to do."

Her presence comforted him,
and Judd knew he couldn't
stay here at his old barn.

"Yeh," he managed,
trying to wrap his voice
around the odd twists
of human language.

He lowered his head
to lip at Alicia's soft hair,
wavy as his own but
a light brown instead of black.

She stroked his nose.
Judd had a friend again.

* * *

Notes:

The Undertaker (Judd) -- He is a big black Friesian stallion. He can speak English, but poorly; his voice is rough and difficult to understand. His favorite song is Michael Longcor's "Tribes of the Draft." Unlike most supervillains, he not only doesn't hide his identity, he actively advertises it. Even the undersoles of his shoes are stamped with his emblem, a horseshoe surrounding a spade.
As a horse, he has a good-sized brain; his Super-Intellect makes him as smart as a clever human. His Super-Strength is considerably more than a human's, plus his body is designed for draft work so the physics of certain motions (pulling, pushing, kicking, trampling, etc.) will be far more effective.
Origin: He used to work as a draft horse for a mad science facility, hauling the kind of super-gizmos and exotic chemicals that weren't compatible with conventional engines. One day a superhero team hit the facility, wrecked the cart he was hauling, and killed his beloved driver. None of the other horses in harness survived the chemical spill, but it gave him superpowers and he managed to phase himself to safety.
Uniform: Black leather tack with silver fittings, with his name on it.
Qualities: Master (+6) Draft & Dressage Skills, Expert (+4) Tough, Expert (+4) Endurance, Good (+2) Friends with Dr. Infanta, Good (+2) Patience
Poor (-2) Savage Temper
Powers: Average (0) Death Touch, Average (0) Immortality, Average (0) Phase, Average (0) Super-Intellect, Average (0) Super-Strength
Poor (-2) Human Speech
Motivation: Revenge. He targets mad scientists primarily, superheroes secondarily, and makes occasional detours for people who abuse animals.

Rayblaze (Ray Cooper) -- He has naturally tan skin, brown hair, and brown eyes. He belongs to the six-part superhero team the Spectrum. He is killed in action by the Undertaker.
Origin: A welding accident at his factory job made him able to generate a heat ray of his own.
Uniform: Silver dexflan jumpsuit with a red capery cape.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Fast, Expert (+4) Ladies' Man, Good (+2) Welder
Poor (-2) Patience
Powers: Expert (+4) Heat Ray
Motivation: Burn the candle at both ends.

Thunderfist (Thyra Lindenberg) -- She has shoulder-length blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. She's tall and very muscular, built like a Viking warrior. She belongs to the six-part superhero team the Spectrum. She is killed in action by the Undertaker.
Origin: She inherited a family gauntlet that grants superpowers to a worthy bearer.
Uniform: Silver dexflan jumpsuit with a blue capery cape.
Qualities: Master (+6) Tough, Good (+2) Bragging, Good (+2) Leader
Powers: Good (+2) Regeneration, Good (+2) Super-Strength
Motivation: Uphold the family honor.

* * *

Draft horses are used to pull plows, carriages, and wagons. Read about the harness and how to drive horses.

Horses have deep symbolism, especially black horses or dark horses.

A buggy whip or carriage whip is used to guide horses with motion or light touches, not for smacking them.

Spooking is a flight reaction when horses are frightened. Draft horses are very laid-back but they are still prey animals and tend to be frightened by loud noises, fire, and blood. There are ways to deal with spooking.

Revenge is a combination of negative emotion and malicious action, the source of many tropes. It has pros and cons. Revenge ranks among the most common supervillain motivations.

Talking animals appear in many stories, another popular trope. Sometimes they have a speech impediment. In this case, Judd has been hearing English all his life but has just gained the ability to speak, so he can barely say anything. Horses have an excellent memory for words, and for relationships good or bad. They don't think like humans, but they are surprisingly sophisticated.

Grief can be devastating to animals as well as humans, including horses. Know how to comfort a grieving friend. Given her age, Dr. Infanta has a lot of experience with this.

Aw, Judd...

Date: 2014-07-30 03:58 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Oddly enough, I think he's better off with a /supervillain/ than off on his own. I've already got a fondness for Alicia; this is another reason why.

We've seen glimpses of Judd, but this is still only a slightly longer glimpse. He's had years to come to grips with his origin and identity.

GREAT story.

Re: Aw, Judd...

Date: 2014-07-30 08:57 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Red-winged angel staring at a distant star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
I think he is, too. There's a lot of things in this world that need fine manipulation, and horse lips are kind of remarkable that way, but there's only so much one can do with them, and a horse used to care would be in bad shape in a short period without. Dr. Infanta can get that for him if she takes him under her wing.

... and what a picture they'd make, the little girl perched on the Friesian's back. Fanart bunny!

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-30 05:13 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Red-winged angel staring at a distant star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
Oh, poor Judd!

Which is not to say that he didn't do some bad stuff! Only to say that ouch, I feel for him. Poor guy's whole team was cut down as 'collateral damage' without a second thought, and if he hadn't stomped the responsible soup flat, I don't know if anyone else would've even thought of it.

I'm now wondering who his farrier is. *s*

(As an aside, I amused myself for a while trying to guess his breed, until you mentioned the wavy hair.)

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2014-07-30 09:02 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Red-winged angel staring at a distant star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
>>Since they aren't police or military, they don't enjoy the protections forbidding people from fighting back. Both Judd and Cadby were justified in responding to deadly force with more of the same.<<

I've been wondering about this in Terremagne. It seems like soups have a high tendency toward vigilantism (not just in your world; all over the place) and that really makes people's lives difficult.

Yeah, "The Undertaker" is not exactly a reassuring name, either! Nor the logo.

>>*chuckle* In Hallelaine, my centaurs consider "vanity soles" with an imprint to be lingerie. <<

I love this!

Friesians really are awesome. I was fortunate enough to see Behind the Mask perform recently, with both the riders in costume and the horses in fancy tack, and the speed and grace they display is truly amazing in a horse of that size.

I lean toward heavier horses anyway, but Friesians are very nearly magical.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-30 05:45 pm (UTC)
lynnoconnacht: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lynnoconnacht
Awwwww. Poor Judd.

Re: O_O

Date: 2014-07-30 08:55 pm (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu

Oh, certainly. I don't see any connection... except via the title, which for me is an inescapable one.

And Oh fooey. I was mixing up the names. The title connection was so strong for me, I mentally switched the name "Judd" onto the driver, Cadby.

Edited Date: 2014-07-30 08:57 pm (UTC)

Re: O_O

Date: 2014-07-31 01:54 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
I think a more appropriate song is Leslie Fish's version of Kipling's "The Undertaker's Horse"

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-31 01:52 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
I like this. Poor Judd! Dr. Infanta is, I think, a pretty good person for him have fallen in with -- one could do worse. Too bad the superhero team did't have her sense of ethics.

Good article on comforting a grieving friend -- good advice there.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-31 10:45 am (UTC)
ext_74: Baron Samadai in cat form (Default)
From: [identity profile] siliconshaman.livejournal.com
Holy... you just created your world's equivalent of Bad Horse!!!

Ok, I'm impressed, given that you made a super powered horse actually believable!

Thank you!

Date: 2014-07-31 06:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> Holy... you just created your world's equivalent of Bad Horse!!! <<

*laugh* I actually hadn't known of that character until you referenced him, but when I looked him up, that was a lot of fun.

>> Ok, I'm impressed, given that you made a super powered horse actually believable! <<

The key is that Judd is still a horse. It's different for an animal born with superpowers (like Ironsides) than for one who acquires them suddenly, too. Those experiences play into their personality and actions. Judd is like an abused horse who is suspicious of certain categories of people, but okay with others -- that's a thing horses really do, some won't accept a woman rider, or a man rider, or can't abide people who whistle, etc. based on past experiences. He's always going to think like a horse, so where a human supervillain would usually retreat into solitude for a while after a traumatic experience, Judd wants someone to take care of him. Most of his powers fit with equine nature or mythology; and the one that doesn't, human speech, will take him a while to learn.

I'm glad this worked for you.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-03-29 01:30 pm (UTC)
kiramaru7: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kiramaru7
Loved it! I've never read a story about a super powered horse before, let alone one written as a poem! *is always impressed by those who can write poetry* It's really well done & the characters that that we're introduced to are very likeable! Well done! :D

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2015-03-30 06:47 pm (UTC)
kiramaru7: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kiramaru7
I'm glad you're glad! :D Sweet! The most I've ever done is write something from a dog's POV, which was fun. :D

:D

Thanks! I'll have to check them out! :D

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2015-03-30 07:40 pm (UTC)
kiramaru7: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kiramaru7
Yeah? Mine was just an ordinary dog. XD If you want to read it, let me know & I'll find the link.

That sounds like fun! Let me know when they have the open call & where to go, so I can request it for you. :D

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2015-03-30 09:48 pm (UTC)
kiramaru7: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kiramaru7
Thanks! Just give me a nudge when the time comes & point me to the best place to request it. :D

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-27 01:30 am (UTC)
gingicat: drawing of me based on wedding photo (Default)
From: [personal profile] gingicat
You do succeed at making it sound like a horse brain rather than a human brain. Makes me think of Black Beauty.

And at first I didn't realize that the attackers were heroes -- well done!

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-01 02:03 am (UTC)
helgatwb: Drawing of Helga, holding her sword, looking upset. (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
I just re-read this, and. Did Rayblaze target the horses?! I, I just. I'm savagely glad that he is dead.

I like this one.

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