This is chapter four of a novel set in the universe of The Horsemen comic book by Jiba Molei Anderson. The first three chapters were illustrated and published in comic book and trade formats by Griot Enterprises. The remaining chapters are still in art development. While they wait for illustrations and print versions, they will be released in a text only format on my Patreon! So all patrons can get preview chapters (over 100 pages of material), exclusive, before the official release!
If you want to catch up on the story leading up to this point you can find the individual issues and trade collections on the Griot Enterprises website. The trade book of Mark of the Cloven: Heirs to the Throne has the first three issues and comes with a bonus prologue scene.
The Story So Far
The Orisha are the ancient gods of the African continent. They were people who so perfectly represented the ideals of humanity’s good side that they transcended into something divine. In the distant past they did battle with their evil counterparts, the Deitis. These beings represented the different facets of human vice and corruption. The Orisha won the war and defeated the Deitis. Once this was done, they left the world, allowing humanity to grow and thrive on its own.
But the Deitis were not truly dead.
They rose up and, over centuries, used their evil influence to corrupt the world from the shadows. Once this became evident, the Orisha found human excellence to incarnate their energies into. They embodied and empowered seven people from Detroit with their cosmic energy and returned to the world as The Horsemen.
The Horsemen, with their newfound powers, set upon defeating the deceitful Deitis. After seeing the state of the world, and the degree to which the United States was corrupted, they set their eyes to their motherland. In a much disputed act, Shango the Destroyer, wiped the city of Abuja, in Nigera, from the face of the earth and forced the unification of all the African nations.
From the rubble they forged a new shining city and heart of this new African Union, Lumumba. Using their unique gifts, the Horsemen transformed the continent into a blossoming utopia from which to confront the Deitis and heal the world of their harmful influence.
The world of the Horsemen is one of political upheaval and a rising presence of powerful forces. New technology produces threats daily. The Deitis grow bold in their need to maintain control of the world. The return of the Horsemen has released a spark into the world, and people, both good and evil, are finding themselves gifted with amazing new abilities. These people, known as the Manifest, take sides with world governments, the Deitis, and the new African Union.
In Chapter One, Yemaya is captured by a trio of villains intent on hurting the Horsemen and winds up battling her own brother.
In Chapter Two, Ogun is forced on a mission to steal some strange technology on the other side of the world and has a very close brush with death.
In Chapter Three, Oshun roots out a manipulative cult in the heart of Lumumba and comes face to face with a fanatical chemist.
For Chapter Four, we turn our eyes to Chicago and Eshu’s hunt for the trouble with the underground railroad going from the U.S. to the A.U..
Officer Colleen Vale parked her cruiser a distance from the others. They were flashing blue and red, clustered around the crime tape. The night officers were on duty, working the scene. Her shift was over and she should be headed home. But she wasn’t.
She needed to see.
Sergeant Belenko spotted her and tossed a sympathetic half smile. “You sure you wanna do this?”
She shrugged. “Wouldn’t you?”
He nodded and raised the tape for her. She ducked under. They walked down the dark alley together. “He’s in the garage there. I’ll warn ya, he looks like the other ones. You know, the weird ones.”
The techs had set up portable lights and strung off an area of the floor containing footprints. There were a couple of plain clothes guys, probably feds, a few uniforms, and the photographer milling about.
“Any chance I could get a minute?” she asked.
“Sure thing.” He raised his voice. “Hey, fellas. It’s the partner. Take five, willya?”
Nobody said anything; they just filed out. Belenko patted her on the shoulder and followed suit. With the room cleared, she could finally see the body.
Holt had been her partner since he’d transferred up from New Orleans, two years after Katrina. He’d worked some rough stuff down there during the crisis. Rough enough to consider Chicago an easy assignment. He was a hell of a cop, and the fact that he was a half-black Creole man, and she was a suburb bred, mid-western woman had never been an issue. They worked well and were good friends.
Holt was on his face, hunched forward, with an arm stretched out. It looked like he’d been standing upright, reaching for something, and simply collapsed. He was still in uniform, and from the look of it, he hadn’t changed out of it in the two weeks he’d been missing. Colleen had been the last person to see him. The body wasn’t fresh; he’d been gone for days.
But no, it wasn’t his position or his clothes or the state of decay that was striking. Just like Belenko had said: this was a weird one. All of the pigmentation from his entire body had been dragged into his right hand. His skin, hair, eyebrows, and lips had all gone chalk white. Everything but his hand. His hand got darker from the forearm down, ending in jet black fingertips. They looked burnt. It was like someone had put a color magnet onto his nails that had sucked every shade from him and collected it in one place. It was awful. He didn’t look like himself.
He looked like the other victims.
“God damn it, Holt.” She turned away and set her eyes on a stack of old paint cans in the corner. A few deep breaths allowed her to regain her composure. She left without looking at him again. She didn’t need to. The memory was seared forever. When she stepped out, the other guys went back in.
“We’ll find who did this. I promise it,” said Sergeant Belenko.
She was numb. Nothing about Holt’s disappearance had been normal, but she’d never imagined it would end like this. Dead, but somehow worse than dead. Unknown dead. Mystery dead. There was no reconciling it. She’d already seen too much, now this…
She needed a walk. She passed her cruiser and just kept going. She passed rows of brownstones, took a right onto a bigger street, and kept going. She didn’t pay attention to the closed shops or the open night spots. She ignored the people she passed, some laughing in groups, some alone; dog walkers and cell phone chatters. They didn’t matter. None of it mattered. After an hour, she sat down at a bus stop. There would be no transport this late, but she wanted a break before turning around and heading back to the nightmare.
A male voice spoke from behind her.
“It looks like you’ve had a rough night.”
Officer Vale wasn’t used to being harassed by men while she was in uniform. Out of it, sure, but usually the gun kept her from unwanted attention. She stood up and turned, ready to tell whoever it was to leave her alone.
Beneath a mane of dreadlocks, his face was covered in white ash paint in the vague semblance of a skull. He was shirtless, barefoot, and wearing a long-tailed tuxedo coat. She recognized him immediately.
He turned his palms up to the sky in a beggar’s gesture and smiled wide. “Guilty.”
They were criminals, these Horsemen. The world courts did not recognize the rebuilding and unification of Africa as justification for the thousands they’d killed in Nigeria. And the U.S. in particular was aware of their illegal “underground rail-road” that allowed American citizens to leave despite the retention laws. Her hand went to her gun.
“There won’t be any need of that,” said Eshu. “Well, not if you want to find out who killed your partner, anyway.”
She didn’t draw her gun. “What do you know about it?”
He came around and slouched onto the bus stop bench next to where she’d been sitting. “Not enough. Somebody, or something, is destroying my underground network.”
“Your illegal network.”
He brushed it off. “Sure, sure. But I assume you’re more concerned with people being dead than people breaking a controversial law, am I right?”
She kept her gun holstered. “Go on.”
“So, for months now, I’ve got folk acting strange. Selling out their friends, families. People I trusted. Makes no sense. And then I’ve got bodies. Strange corpses, with no color, black hands. Thing is, they’re the same ones who were acting strange, you dig?”
She dug. He continued.
“So I figure it’s somebody with the Spark. Look into that. No luck. Then I figure it’s maybe got something to do with this group, the Cloven, who’ve been messing with us, bastard children of the Deitis. Again, no luck. So I go even further, into the spirit worlds, looking for answers. You believe in the spirit worlds?”
She hadn’t. Not until the day Holt went missing. Nothing she knew could explain what happened that day. Now she had no idea what she believed.
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
He nodded sympathetically. “I get it. It’s hard to believe in shit you can’t see. But trust me, there’s a lot we don’t see. But even there, it was a bust. No luck. I’m at the end of my extensive resources.”
“Then why are you here?”
He stood up. “I may be at the end of my resources, but not yours. A little bird tells me that you were there, when one of the murders happened and your partner went missing. You saw something.”
She took a step back from him. “I don’t know what I saw. It was… I don’t know.” She’d gone over this, over and over, with Belenko. It was a confusing jumble of chaos in her brain where the memory should be. There was Latino music, and screaming, and laughing, and Holt aiming his gun at her. None of it would come into focus.
“I can help you remember,” he said. “We can stop this.”
She disagreed. “It won’t work. They tried a hypnotist on me. It didn’t do jack.”
Eshu looked apologetic. “I was thinking of something a little more radical.”
“Your past is behind you. It’s in the spirit worlds now, in the land of the dead. I can’t go into your past without you, it’s yours. But together, we could. I think we can find answers there.”
Her eyebrows went up. “The ‘land of the dead’? Are you kidding me?”
“I am quite serious.”
“This is insane! I’m not going anywhere with you!”
“I won’t force you, but whatever this thing is, I can’t stop it without your help. More people will die, you will never know what happened to Holt, and that thing in your brain will never go away. You are spirit touched now, whatever you decide.”
She looked him up and down, considering. There were no leads in the murders, and she doubted the police were going to dig any up. Eshu wasn’t wrong in searching strange angles. There was nothing normal about the murders, and regular police work wasn’t going to solve them. If she really wanted answers, she’d doubtless have to deal with the abnormal. From what she could tell, Horsemen and spirit worlds were not that different from some of the stories she’d heard from officers dealing with some of these new, so-called Manifest people.
The ridiculousness of her situation struck her, standing there at two in the morning under a Chicago street light with a criminal professing to be an African god asking to take her into some ghost filled spirit world. How much stranger could it get?
Eshu snapped his fingers and pointed at her. “I knew you had it in you!”
His attempt a humor annoyed her. “So how does this work?”
“It’s easy. We take a little walk, hit the Crossroads, and we’re on our way.” He headed down the street. “Just stick with me.”
Dubious, she followed.
They walked for a couple of blocks without talking. Eshu stopped in front of a florist shop. The façade was painted lime green, and in the window there were faded pictures of girls in prom and quincenera dresses holding bouquets. Eshu took the padlock off the metal gate, swung it aside, and opened the front door.
She entered and he closed everything up behind them. Inside, the place was crowded with as many stuffed animals as plants. It all smelled like plastic, flowers, and incense. They squeezed through to a staircase leading down to a dark basement. It was full of boxes and rolls of dusty, colored paper. They had to navigate the maze of stuff to cross the room and reach another door. Eshu opened it and fresh air washed over her. They stepped out.
Despite having been in a basement, they emerged on the rooftop of a building three stories high. Across the gravel top was a billboard with strange Arabic characters and a cartoon crocodile holding up two tires above their head. It appeared to be sunset.
“What the hell?”
Eshu ignored her and headed for the fire escape. “C’mon.”
He climbed down it, and she followed. The street was dirt. Most of the windows had sheets hanging as curtains. They didn’t see anybody. After a few blocks, they passed under a stucco archway into a garden. Everything smelled like orange blossoms. Colleen was wishing she knew a little more about Middle Eastern geography. It seemed like that’s were they were.
And then they weren’t.
The garden gave way to a small forest of pine trees bordering an empty, weed-cracked parking lot. Beyond, was a small derelict carnival. It looked abandoned and was in the process of being absorbed by scrub and tall grass. Eshu passed up the still carousel, the broken spinner, and the shuttered novelty games, and he headed straight for a large wooden coaster. It had a sign over it in Russian or Polish or something, all the letters outlined in fading flames. He hopped over the rusted ticket turnstile and got on, sitting down in the rickety first car. He patted the seat next to him.
“You can’t be serious,” said Colleen.
“You signed up for this ride.”
She sighed and joined him. Moments later, there was an electric crackle, and colored lights flickered to life. A long, excruciating squeal of metal ended in a jolt as the car pulled out of the station. It shook violently and slowly climbed up the ramp to the drop. Colleen clung to the safety bar, certain that the entire thing was going to fall apart. Eshu lounged, his arm across the back of the seat, his head tilted up, looking up to the sky. They crested, hesitated, and then the ancient roller coaster plunged.
She couldn’t help but scream. She’d never been a fan of coasters in the first place, and this thing was a deathtrap. They shot at incredible speed, straight down, around a curve, and into a tunnel in the hillside. Lights flashed swirling patterns as best they could with half their bulbs dead.
When they exited the tunnel they were hundreds of feet up on what appeared to be the Chicago El train tracks. She didn’t stop screaming.
There were skyscrapers everywhere, of every type and variety. Tall glass spires next to deco-style buildings from the 1920s. Bridges connected them, and ramshackle balconies hung from most like over-sized fungus. Elevated highways curved and twisted through the labyrinth of towers in insane cloverleafs. The sky was an orange purple smear punctuated by rainbow stars. There were at least a half dozen moons she could see. Eshu spread his arms.
“Welcome to the Crossroads!”
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