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Equus ferus malus

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From his earliest days out in the world, struggling to walk beside his mother while small humans stand around making odd squealing noises, he knows he’s destined for something special.

What that something is, he can’t be sure, but it isn’t long before he decides he isn’t likely to find it in a pasture or stable. Sure, the food is good and readily available, but the humans refuse to talk to him as an equal – don’t they know intelligence when they see it? – and, quite frankly, it’s boring. When the humans do talk to him, they only seem to want to break him to a life of menial labor.

He wants more. He craves adventure.

And he certainly isn’t about to tolerate a stranger in his stall with the aim of cutting his testicles off.

***

He runs, and he runs – and he discovers that he really likes running. He can’t outrun the human vehicles, but it’s a good challenge trying to keep up with them. The humans at the farm don’t have anything that could possibly catch up to him, but he doesn’t let his guard down; that’s the first step back to the farm, that idiot in the white coat and a life of drudgery.

Now that he’s escaped, there’s no going back, even if it turns out food doesn’t naturally come in bags. But once he gets the hang of what’s edible and how to sneak food away from inattentive humans at rest stops, he’s in good shape.

Really, the food theft is just as fun as the running. There’s a thrill to it; he finds himself stealing food when he could just as easily eat grass more and more often. (It doesn’t hurt that human food usually tastes better, but that’s only part of it.)

After several days, he reaches his first human city. It isn’t very horse-accessible, which he finds to be a glaring oversight on the humans’ part. The doorways are too narrow by far, and a lot of them have stairs before you can even get in. Who thought that was a good idea?

City humans, as it turns out, aren’t very bright either. They keep trying to take him places without so much as asking what he wants. Not that he knows how he would answer; he has yet to find an effective way to communicate with the humans, nor any who seem able or willing to understand him.

It’s getting to be a problem, and that’s underscored when some humans do catch up with him and take him somewhere. He’s not sure what they require of him, other than something involving a saddle, which doesn’t leave him disposed to like the situation much. Saddles and their ilk are a sign that the humans think they can control him.

But then he hears the words “race track,” when some of the humans are talking to each other, and decides he’ll at least see what this place has to offer (aside from regular meals for the first time in weeks) before plotting his escape.

He likes the race, apart from the fact that it isn’t nearly long enough for his tastes, and the humans do at least seem to appreciate the fact that he’s good at it. It’s more respect than he’s had from them before now, but it’s... oddly lacking. He’s not sure what would replace it, but respect isn’t quite enough to satisfy him. He’s restless; he wants something to steal, he wants his freedom, he wants out of this racing operation.

It’s a matter of biding his time, for the most part – the races make it bearable – but before he has a chance to enact his plan, there’s an incident. As the crowd gathers before a race, he catches a flash of white in the corner of his eye. It’s that stupid human from the farm, he knows it – he spooks, and rears, and bolts.

Later, he overhears some of what the humans call “news.” The human who was going to steer him during the race died from the fall. He did that. It’s his fault, even though he hadn’t planned it.

He’s oddly proud of that.

***

He takes advantage of all the chaos surrounding that failed race to leave again; he’ll be better served on his own. Besides, he wants a chance to find out more about what it feels like to live a life of crime, or at least as much of one as a horse can manage. After all, why should the humans get to have all the fun?

There are certain limitations; it’s hard to be a safe cracker, for instance, when you don’t have opposable thumbs. But he’s willing to learn to work around what he can’t do. Besides, it’s not as though he’s in this for the sort of things humans keep in safes; what would he do with money when no one will take it from him?

Horses do, however, tend to lull humans into a false sense of security, which makes it all the better when he takes what he wants from them – their food or their lives, usually. It depends on the day. The looks on their faces when they realize, too late, that he means them harm almost make up for all the times he’s ignored. And if he needs to cover his tracks and there’s a handy open flame, it’s the work of a second to kick over something flammable.

It’s not long before the media sits up and takes notice. Apart from their annoying habit of putting words in his mouth, he finds he likes the attention; there’s fear alongside the respect now, and it makes for a heady cocktail. It’s everything that was missing at the race track and then some.

He’s never had a name, not that anyone’s tried to ask; the farm didn’t bother giving him one and he wasn’t at the race track long enough for one to stick. So the media fills the gap, cycling through a handful of frankly ridiculous monikers before they hit on a couple that take off.

The best one comes when a newspaper runs a photo some human was lucky enough to take while he was busy, with the simplest headline possible: BAD HORSE. Perhaps he wouldn’t have chosen it for himself, but he’ll take what he can get.

The notoriety doesn’t only bring him the respect and fear of the masses; it catches the attention of some like-minded humans. He hadn’t thought there were any of those around, but apparently there are – quite a few, if he can believe the human with the bizarre metal things affixed to his face.

The human calls himself Professor Normal, though Bad Horse doubts he’s either of those things (well, perhaps a professor – it’s not as though anyone’s taken the time to explain human education to a horse – but certainly not normal). He begins dropping by Bad Horse’s current base of operations, if one can call the first abandoned warehouse he had the good luck to stumble across that, with some sort of handheld video player, which he leaves set up at a good viewing height.

The videos go into the history of a group that called itself the Evil League of Evil; the name’s a little redundant, to be sure, but the story is worth putting up with that. Unfortunately, it went out in a blaze of glory several decades ago, at a point when the humans seemed to have strange ideas about what other humans should and shouldn’t drink. Given that, he doesn’t really see the point of all these videos.

Fortunately, Professor Normal is at least better at guessing what he’s thinking than most humans, and tells him there’s been interest of late in re-forming the League. They’ve had a hard time finding the right leader for it – but now, they’re starting to think they’ve found just the horse for the job.

In the end, it’s too intriguing to pass up.

***

When in the course of evil events, it becomes necessary for Villains to re-establish the bands which have connected them with each other, and to assume among the powers of this country, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Heroes and of Villains entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of all requires that they should declare the details which impel them to this unity.

The League doesn’t have formal headquarters, no more than they have anything else an organization of this caliber normally would. But he’s pleased nonetheless to find they’ve at least staked out a horse-accessible building for the time being. It’s better than having to – well, having to listen to the humans have this argument after they’d agreed to bring him in, at least. With that sort of forethought, there’s hope for the operation yet. He starts dropping by regularly, after his first visit.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Villains are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are existence, acknowledgement and the pursuit of Chaos.

Fake Thomas Jefferson – this is the first time Bad Horse has really been tasked with trying to tell humans apart, but at least this group’s tendency toward strange outfits makes it easy – is singularly obnoxious. When he’s not writing the League’s charter (or, more accurately, plagiarizing it from his namesake) or complaining to anyone who holds still long enough that he’d really rather they set this operation up on the other side of the country, he’s arguing that since sexism is an acknowledged evil these days, it stands to reason that the League’s reformation should exclude women, as the original did. Professor Normal and the other human in on the proceedings so far are dubious, partly because they don’t think you can call three humans and a horse a league, as such, and partly because neither of them wants to tell Fury Someone Or Other she can’t join.

That to secure these rights, Leagues are instituted among Villains, deriving their unjust powers from the will of the members, that whenever any form of Heroism becomes dismissive of these ends, it is the right of the Villains to alter or to reassert it, and to charter a new League, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and productivity.

Bad Horse understands their point a little better when Fury Leika takes it upon herself to come by their hideout and file her application. She’s wearing what even he can tell was originally some kind of formal wear, even though it’s seen far better days, and she eyes every single one of them with pure malevolence. It’s clear to him that she’d gladly do away with them all and restart the League herself, if they turned her away – and isn’t that the sort of approach it’s better to be allied with?

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Leagues long disestablished should not be re-formed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that Villains are more disposed to suffer, while Heroes are sufferable, than to assert themselves by banding together as they are not accustomed.

Fake Thomas Jefferson concedes the argument with bad grace – and not before trying to say Bad Horse is obviously on his side, completely disregarding what little of a code Bad Horse and Professor Normal have been able to hash out so far. It rankles, but it wouldn’t be so bad if that were the last time the presidential impostor took on the role of interpreter. Bad Horse is entirely certain the human doesn’t understand thing one of what he’s trying to get across; he’s got to find someone who does, if Professor Normal can’t whip up a translator.

But when a long train of abuses and Heroism, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute monotony, it is their right, it is their duty, to rebuild such a League, and to provide new guards for their future security.

***

It comes as no surprise that the League gets through exactly none of its first five coordinated efforts without one of its members trying to sabotage the operation, each with varying degrees of success. Leika does an especially masterful job of leaving most of them high and dry on a jewelry store heist, with a little help from the other female human they’ve let in on the League’s founding; by the time the rest of them get there, the ladies have been and gone – and they made sure to re-arm the alarm system on their way out.

Fortunately, they get out before the police show up, so it still looks like the League as a whole pulled it off. He’d rather it appear that they can present a united front; it’s easier to sell to the public that way.

The heroes are definitely scrambling to keep up, but from what Bad Horse can tell, they’re not showing any signs of banding together against this new threat. Fake Thomas Jefferson’s supposed sources say they’ve heard mutterings of some sort of heroes’ council, but even if that news weren’t coming from Fake Thomas Jefferson, Bad Horse would really doubt it. The heroes are too lost in trying to get all the glory for themselves while blaming as much collateral damage as they can on whatever bad guy happens to be convenient; it’s exactly why the League is handy.

No one else is going to back them up, so they might as well back each other up. When they can stop, as Professor Normal once said, throwing each other under the bus.

After a particularly nasty meeting – in which Leika won’t stop sniping at every male-shaped body in the room, Dead Bowie threatens to pull her arm off and eat it, and Fake Thomas Jefferson puts words in his mouth no less than five times in ten minutes, despite having had his reference materials trampled for his troubles last time – Bad Horse leaves the city. If he doesn’t get away for a while, he’s liable to knock over a bucket of gasoline on the lot of them and let the League burn; better it go down like that than be exposed for the sorry excuse for an organization it really is.

The funny thing is, he doesn’t actually want it to come to that.

It’s amazing how quickly he’s come to care about the League’s success. As much as they fight, and as often as they ruin each other’s work, they’re still the only group of like-minded people he’s heard of – well, aside from the Henchmen’s Union, but he is no human’s minion. Even though things are fraught more often than not, the League accepts him as he is. It’s more than he can say of any of the other groups of humans he’s had to deal with.

His wanderings take him to a small town, or what looks like one. There aren’t enough humans staying in it overnight, he realizes after a couple of days; clearly it’s here for the look of the thing more than anything else. Whatever it’s supposed to be, no one thinks twice about a horse being there.

At least, that’s what he thinks at first – but on the fourth day, it turns out someone did notice his presence.

“Hello!” someone calls out; it’s all he can do not to startle, even as two other voices join in. That gives him pause long enough to look at the three humans and try to figure out what it is their clothes mean. They’re definitely not dressed like most humans – if he had to pin it down, he’d call the style somewhere between that and Fake Thomas Jefferson.

One of them steps forward. “Bad Horse?”

He nods; since they took the time to seek him out, he wants to know what they have to say.

“Rigor Mortis Kid,” the human says, touching the brim of his hat. “This here’s Deadshot Dwayne and Goatface McGee. Till recently, we were the Rock Ridge Barbershop Quartet.”

Bad Horse actually has to think that one through for a moment; from what he knows, ‘quartet’ means there should by all rights be four of them.

“Used to be four of us,” the human on the left says. “But Bananas Foster Eastwood went – well, bananas, few months back. Last time we saw him he was yellin’ at an empty chair.”

Bad Horse snorts at the picture that makes, mainly to cover up how stunned he is that they seem to know exactly what he’s getting at. To be fair, it hasn’t been a very long conversation so far, but they’re already doing better than even Professor Normal’s been able to pull off.

The human in front shrugs a little. “We know horses. Point is, with Eastwood out of the picture, we’ve found ourselves out of work – no one wants a three-man quartet. And we heard through the grapevine that you need yourself a better interpreter or three.”

He does need someone better able to speak on his behalf, there’s no denying that. But he still hesitates; how’s he supposed to know he can trust them?

“We’re Union-certified,” the human on the right says. “Anyway, worst we’d do is embellish what you tell us a little. It’d be more of what you’re thinkin’ than what you got right now.”

It certainly would, and there’s no doubt this is the best conversation Bad Horse has had in a long time – if not the only real conversation he’s had in his life. It wouldn’t hurt to give them a trial period.

The human on the left nods. “Fair enough. You don’t like us after a week, we’ll be on our way.”

From that alone, he likes them already – as much as he’s ever going to like having to rely on someone else to speak for him. He’s well aware of the potential threat the Henchmen’s Union poses, if they ever have a mind to oust the League; but then again, maybe having a few listed members in his camp will help keep them in line.

It proves to be the start of an excellent working relationship.