ShadowSpinners Press is thrilled to announce the release of The End of All Things by Matthew Lowes, creator of the Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls game that started it all. The third book in the Labyrinth of Souls fiction series, The End of All Things is an another unique and fascinating vision of the labyrinth, this time taking us on an incredible journey through the ruins of a strange underworld that is both ancient and far advanced from our own. Read on for an exclusive excerpt.
Chapter 1: Ghost Chatter
Rithik crouched in the barren soil and shuffled toward the edge of the high escarpment. Below, across a flat plain crisscrossed with the faint traces of long buried roads, lay the city of dust. Since the end of the last age of the ancients, its high ceramite towers had slowly deteriorated into ruins, yet they still stood tall, silhouetted against the red glow of the setting sun.
He flicked a switch on the chatter box strapped to his wrist and held it close to the earth. It crackled to life as he waved the box across the rocky ground. Ghost chatter. There was a lot of it here, and there would be more in the desert beyond the city where he was headed. But that was the least of his worries. He was already doomed. The ghost flesh was in him. On his left forearm was a growing patch of purple skin. Thin tendrils of spreading infection reached as far as his shoulder, and when the ghost flesh consumed his heart or his head, he would cease to be.
There was no known treatment or cure, so death was his constant companion now. It was a cruel and terrible spirit, wiping out everything in its path, like the apocalypse of the world that was. His body would be eaten by animals, lions probably, but he would be gone. Sharo, the dream dweller, said his spirit would be carried westward by the great eagle Samsa, to the cave of the goddess Yananna. There he would be cleansed of world corruption and reborn into the next life.
That was all well and good as far as a dream dweller was concerned. They had karo tea to quell their fears. But Rithik couldn’t escape death, and he couldn’t accept it either. He was a hunter of Tavala, like his father. He would not go quietly into oblivion. That is not how the people of Tavala had survived for so long. He would struggle on until the bitter end, no matter how bitter.
He might have climbed a mountain or taken refuge in the forest and simply waited for death. But something in him wouldn’t allow it. He had to have something to keep him going. So if Yananna held the secret to life and death, Rithik would not wait for Samsa to carry his spirit to her. He would go west now to seek her out. He would find her cave, plumb its depths, seek out the goddess, and know this secret for himself. That is what he would do.
He switched off the chatter box. Its power was running low and it didn’t take a standard power cell. More importantly, he didn’t have a standard power cell, and after years of use hunting for relics in the ruins of the river city, the power in his torch was gone. He would need the torch on his journey, and the city of dust was one of the few remaining places you might find the kind of standard cell it used. Unfortunately, the ruins were said to be crawling with tokmen.
He took a compact spyglass from the left chest pocket on his vest. He held it up to his eye and peered through it. A magnified view of the distance appeared in the circle of the spyglass. He scanned across the plain. In that otherwise barren expanse, a small ground hare caught his eye. He watched it for a moment, until it darted into its burrow by a tuft of scrub grass. Then he looked on toward the city.
The hollow shells of the ancient buildings were shrouded in darkness. He saw no movement, but the tokmen were there, somewhere. Maybe they were watching, even now. From ancient times the tokmen had fallen back into savagery. The evil that had laid waste to the world lived on in them. They could not be reasoned with. They could not be traded with. And they would not hesitate to kill and eat Rithik if they caught him in the city.
Rithik’s left hand instinctively touched the sword at his side, and he thought about the three heirloom grenades he had clipped to his belt. He lowered the spyglass and returned it to its pocket. His best chance was to sneak in under cover of darkness. It would make finding a power cell more difficult, but hopefully by crossing the plain at night, he would not alert the tokmen to his presence.
He shuffled back from the edge of the escarpment, and checked his surroundings once more. He listened to the air for any sign of danger. Then he unshouldered his light pack and sat in the dirt. He satiated his hunger with a piece of dried ubok and settled in to watch the fall of night.
He was alone now, well and truly alone. He was still young, twenty winters this past year, and yet all his life he had fought with death. When he had been eight, his father, Mathar, died on an expedition to the east. Before he died, they said, he had fought off ten Taivars singlehandedly so his companions could escape. Four years later Rithik’s sister, Praya, died of winter sickness. His mother survived, but had died inwardly after setting Praya’s body out in the wilderness. She hadn’t even said goodbye when Rithik left Tavala, as all those infected with ghost flesh must.
The red sun grew wide and hit the horizon like a fireball, spreading its weird orange light across the western sky. In the east, the gathering darkness already chased the light across the heavens. Rithik leaned back and watched the stars come out, and the deep blue of twilight turn to black of night.
Lights out, he thought. That was death, the approach of a starless night, a darkness so deep no thought could hold it, no dream could appear in it. That was what happened to the ancients. Death had come for them all. Even they could not stop it, whose great civilization had spread across the world, whose power had reached out to the heavens themselves. Now all that was left were ghosts, and the ruins of their empty cities.
Almost empty, he thought, remembering the tokmen. He gathered his things and rose to his feet. He shouldered his pack, brushed the dirt from his clothes, and made his way down around the back of the escarpment. As a hunter he had long grown accustomed to traveling by little more than starlight. If he hurried, he would make it to the city before moonrise, with less chance of being seen by tokmen. At the bottom, he set out across the plain, toward the city of dust, and whatever end fate would grant him.
~ ~ ~
Rithik is a hunter of artifacts among the ancient cities of a long-gone, advanced civilization. Infected with ghost flesh, a fatal disease caught in the ruins, he is banished from his village and must find his way in the wastelands. With the help of a mutant dog, he ventures into the post-apocalyptic underworld in search of the answers to life and death. In the dark forgotten depths, they discover extraordinary secrets and terrible dangers hidden by the catastrophic downfall of ages past. And in the farthest reaches of the labyrinth, Rithik must face the greatest enigma of all—himself.