IronHorse: The locomotive man CHAPTER 4

Maria sat rigid in her chair. The skirt and blouse she was wearing today itched like mad. Dressing up was never really her style. However, she sat next to IronHorse in the massive courtroom and did not scratch the tingling sensation in her calf despite her instincts to do so.

“Now, just for the record again, this is just a hearing. We need to clear up a few things about the incident on the night of October the 12th at approximately 1:45am.”

The person speaking was the city representative from City Hall in Atlas Park. She was an attractive woman, but her face was cold and her movements were precise and sharp. She had a glare that could scold even the most brazen of heroes and the room was silent when she spoke.

At the moment, she was representing the City in the whole mess here. Clockstopper and a few of his supporters fell into that category, but lines were sharply divided even among that group. The Paragon Police department refused to side with the city in the matter and was only lending evidence for the hearing. Carl was even sitting behind Maria and IronHorse in the courtroom doing his best to lend support. Hank was drumming up support in the precinct as well as acting as a witness.

Maria appreciated that. She was scared to death.

IronHorse on the other hand seemed to be perfectly fine. Jovial even. That was one hell of a trick considering he was heavily manacled and chained down to a heavy concrete slab placed behind the bench for “the defendants.” Clockstopper insisted that the “Rogue Machine” needed to be restrained. IronHorse submitted only as long as Maria was present.

“She’s going to read the report from the Paragon Police now.” Maria heard a voice whisper. “Then the prosecution will make its case, and then we make ours.” Maria nodded and looked at the woman speaking. She had a bright smile and a kind face. Her eyes were a brilliant blue behind simple glasses. Her clothes were professional, and well suited to this room, but her stark pink hair offset any tone of “Lawyer.”

“I still can’t believe you’re a lawyer…” Maria whispered to Sparkle or Miss Anna Keldowski here. Sparkle giggled and popped her gum as quietly as possible.

“Being a hero doesn’t pay ALL the bills. Besides, I found that working on retainer for a super group has a hell of a lot of benefits. I make sure we get a fair shake, and people get treated right.”

The pink-haired lass smiled brightly at the massive metal man and patted his well-polished and oiled shoulder. Before coming to the courtroom out of the “Holding Cells” Maria had worked IronHorse over with a brillo pad and almost a gallon of polish. She was still fuming that they had held him in a cell like a prisoner. IronHorse again let that slide off his back like so much water. She shuddered again and looked at Sparkle.

“Besides, I’m not going to let ANYTHING happen to this big lug. We owe him enough of an apology as is.”

IronHorse chuckled as his eye visor glowed a cheery pink. He would have laughed as well, but Clockstopper insisted that the “Dangerous Machine” be restrained in every way… including a mask akin to that seen in “Silence of the Lambs.” Not that it really stopped his voice because he didn’t really have a mouth. He just put on the act to shut the little robo-racist up.

Maria sighed and leaned over to Sparkle.

“You REALLY think we have a case here? I mean the Cops and you guys support us. I have the packing invoice still, but the crate was… well Tin-Man here used it for fuel on the first night we met. And what if they go historic? Every document that has records of IronHorse either paints him as a tall tale or monster.” Maria turned to her friend and looked at him with her big brown eyes.

“He’s not… He’s not a monster.”

Sparkle smiled and put her hand on Maria’s palm now. She nodded and tapped her nose.

“Don’t you worry. Shadowform has done more research on your big friend here, as well as several interviews.” IronHorse nodded and mumbled something before sighing in exasperation as Clockstopper whirled to make sure he could not talk… for the hundredth time. “Trust me… she has ways of finding out the truth and she is CONVINCED that IronHorse is innocent.” Sparkle stated. “Not only of things at the museum, but in the past as well.”

IronHorse jerked his chain at that and looked at Sparkle in shock. She only grinned and chuckled.

“She refused to tell me how she meant to prove it, but she was dead set on clearing your name of ALL charges. Past and present. I’m not sure what you and her talked about big guy, but it made a hell of an impression.”

IronHorse shrugged in a strained fashion… the chains only allowed so much movement.

Maria sighed and shook her head. She looked to the courtroom and saw the sea of faces. Heroes, police, civilians, and lawyers. She was tense and worried. If this did not work, then under Paragon law, IronHorse would have to be taken apart. She felt her stomach churn at that thought. How she had gotten so attached to the tin-man in so little time she had no clue. But as she watched him sitting there, she knew he had to be saved. Her eyes drifted to Clockstopper. He was glaring at IronHorse with hatred intense enough to melt steel. The little man was bandaged almost from head to foot and the report from Freedom Corps said he had several broken ribs. Sparkle said most of the damage was minor but still. With Clockstopper’s constant glare at IronHorse, she knew that if they lost it would not be another packing crate for the big guy.

It would be a furnace.

Maria fought back tears of worry and began to whisper a prayer in Spanish not only to God but also to her father to watch over them both.

Neither God nor her Father truly heard the prayer, but IronHorse did, and he had to do his best not to snap the chains that held him so he could lean over and hug Maria tight and chase her demons away. For now however, he had to play the captive, and for Maria he would do that.

The hearing proceeded simply and quietly. The reading of the report went almost unheard by Maria until Clockstopper began to yell that the Paragon Police had fallen under the thrall of the Metal Monster. That started a vicious shouting match and threats from several officers to revoke Clockstopper’s Hero License. The word psychopath was shouted and the little man was set to explode just as the City representative stepped in.

“ALL OF YOU! I should hold you all in contempt. No more outbursts from EITHER side. You so much as twitch Mr. Clockstopper and you will be expelled from this room. The same goes for the Paragon Police.” The icy fury coming off the woman chilled the room. Everyone fell silent but Clockstopper was obviously fighting the urge to lunge at the police.

“We will now hear from the prosecution on this matter.” The city representative turned over the floor and Maria sighed.

Meanwhile, in a back room on the far side of the Courthouse, Shadowform sat and wrote furiously. Her fingers were a blur on a keyboard of a junky old PC while her tail wrote notes on a scratchpad. Everything from the past day of talks with IronHorse, as well as her research into historical records and documents were being written down. Once all the notes were there, she stood and began to pace.

IronHorse operated for four years, but admitted to only truly being conscious for two of them. From 1864 to 1868, he was a main attraction in a traveling railroad show owned by a man named Anthony Dumas. A little known rail-baron who had a rather seedy background. They traveled from state to state before the infamous attack on the small town of Dudley Arizona and the nearby Indian reservation.

That was where the story diverged. IronHorse told of how it was in that time he truly “came to be.” He could not explain how really but he knew he woke up one day, and in his words: “Whammo! There I was!” He admitted to dreaming about Hopi shaman and hearing drums in conjunction with that night, but beyond that, he could only speculate.

“No shaman I knew of came to the rail-grounds for the show. They came after the shows to help some of the workers and I got to talk to a lot of them. I figure it was just a mixing in my dreams.” Shadowform jotted down the quote and mumbled. She doubted the “mixing of dreams” motif. Especially when IronHorse described his dreams from when he was disassembled. They were too accurate, and in some cases… intimate. Especially when he described being put back together by Maria.

Shadowform blushed and shook her head. Snorting sulfur fumes, she went back to her notes.

He stayed in that town for almost 2 years because the moment he awoke he began to fight against his “owner,” Mr. Dumas. IronHorse told many stories then. Things that were not in the books of tall tales about the west, or in historical documents.

He met Buffalo Bill Cody, who was only in the military at the time, but even then offered to buy IronHorse from Dumas. His offer was rejected but he wrote to IronHorse often. The metal man wished he held onto the letters, but he used them for fuel and to cover any correspondence with someone who was trying to convince him to just leave Dumas.

Not because he was afraid of Dumas, but more along the lines of wanting to keep an eye on the rail-baron.

There was the story about the strange raid into the town by odd circus folk. This had caught Shadowform’s attention and the story was captivating. It was horrid in implication that this demonic troupe of circus folk roamed about and found towns to “feed” upon. The feeding consisted of kidnapping children and, changing them. IronHorse refused to elaborate on how they were changed, and only said that he was damn glad of his iron hide cause it could NOT be warped by the “critters.”

“Possibly… Fae? He is akin to Cold Iron…” Shadowform whispered now. It was another mystery for another time.

The main problem was the story he told about the night in question. He claimed that he was nowhere NEAR the town when it was attacked. “A damn stupid mistake.” He whispered. His voice filled with regret. Shadowform noted that on her pad and pondered it again.

IronHorse left the town because something was attacking the reservation. He called them wolf-like things, but from the description, Shadowform was convinced it was a pack of werewolves. The way they hit in a team and took down the strongest warriors just by better tactics. IronHorse came out because he made friends with several of the braves and one of the shamans.

The pack hit in the night and IronHorse met them head on. She made a note about the metal man’s lack of subtlety but for something made out of Iron and Steel, subtlety was not really needed.

The fight was brief. The werewolves were clearly overmatched and beaten within an inch of their hides to hear IronHorse tell it. She was skeptical of that at first until she looked at the damages he caused in the Trolls and Clockstopper.

Those were with a few punches. Just one shattered a stone covered Ogre’s skull like a walnut, and a restrained punch broke seven of Clockstopper’s ribs even THROUGH his armor. Correlating that with the fight IronHorse described with the wolfmen… a “knockdown, drag out, ball to the wall brawl” in his words, seemed to describe a fight that would have leveled a building easily. Even with the noted healing powers of werewolves, a punch that can level an ogre in a blow would give a wolfman some definite pain.

However, the pack obviously had other motives. They grabbed the shaman friend of IronHorse and ran. He blindly followed trying to save his friend and came to an old abandoned mine. The descriptions were hazy here because IronHorse didn’t look much, just followed.

He told of tearing through several doors and finally a massive set of stone blockades before entering what he called a temple. “It was lit by torches and was filled with what I at first took to be folks from the town. Well they were of a sort… But these folks were residents of the cemetery and not the town.” IronHorse found some kind of lair filled with the walking dead.

He described the battle as lasting all night. He was swarmed and swarmed again to the point of barely being able to move. However, he kept on fighting. He even admitted to running low on fuel and in an act of desperation, grabbed one of the fallen zombies and stuffed the bits into his furnace. “Don’t EVER wanna do that again. Not that I felt bad about it but the STINK… Whoooeee! I can’t smell much but I smelled THAT!”

He lost count of how many he had beaten or torn apart when he heard the scream and then the explosion. A wall of fire ripped through the tunnels and incinerated the zombies. He lost track of the wolfmen and the force of the explosion blew his battered form up and out of the tunnels.

When he landed the mine collapsed and the only thing he found was the spirit bag of the shaman. He took that back to the reservation and found it was a smoking crater, as was the town nearby. What disturbed him the most however was that not a single body was found.

“The spirit bag was taken from me at the trail. Dumas claimed it was evidence I killed the shaman. No one listened to me… I kept on sayin’ that I never woulda hurt Raven’s Whisper. But no one listened…” That last quote gave Shadowform pause again. Raven’s Whisper was the name of the shaman.

Wolfmen, zombies, shamans, buried temples, and disappearing towns. No wonder they didn’t listen. It sounded crazy, or at least it would have if Shadowform were a normal person. To her it sounded like a bad day at her job. However, she could not reconcile the different groups. Obviously there was magic afoot there, but where did the wolfmen fall in? Moreover, the zombies, were they working with or against the wolfmen?

Shadowform began to pace again and snorted in frustration. What did it all mean?

The name of the shaman came back again. Raven’s Whisper.

That was the place to begin. She knew the dark paths and the ones lit by the fires of the occult. She knew of the nature spirits and of the men who could speak with them. She knew who could help here and where he could be found. The question was, would he help?

It was never easy speaking with a God… Especially one who was masquerading as a Hero.

Shadowform needed to speak with Father Raven.
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