I received my first proof of Shadows of Absolution a few minutes ago. The cover was mostly a placeholder so I could get it before I left for vacation and I need to rework it because it printed way too dark (it's darker in person than it is on the pictures below). I'll be working on it over the next week while the remainder of my beta readers finish up.
He abruptly stopped walking and Dacibrega ran into his elbow. Bethel smiled as he stared in the direction of a collection of flat, concrete walls gracing the village center. “Oh, a labyrinth.”
Some of the slabs had toppled over, but most still stood upright. Their jagged tops mirrored the rise of the Gana range to the north and west. I wondered if my grandfather used this very labyrinth as inspiration for his mountains. I made a note to ask him about it when I returned home. If I returned home. Maybe nature would finally claim me and I would never see any of them again. Maybe that would not be so bad.
I sat on a mossy stone bench near the labyrinth entrance while Bethel stepped into the maze. I closed my eyes and listened to the dry leaves rustle in the slightly salty wind. The sun stroked my face with a surprisingly intense heat, which parried the early evening chill for a short time. I ran my fingertips along the chips and grooves of the bench.
A great and richly thunderous boom rang out between the young trees. The sound did not rattle the branches as I expected. Instead it stroked them, caressed them. They shuddered under its growling vibration.
I slowly opened my eyes and watched Dacibrega swing a dried-out branch at the huge, empty water drum a second time. The drum was taller in diameter than he was and the sound it produced was gloriously deep and beautiful. I smiled at him and kicked at the pebbles around the bench.
“This place is dead?” Dacibrega asked. Or, maybe he stated. I could rarely distinguish questions from statements with him. He dropped the branch onto the cracked pavement.
“No, very much alive,” Bethel whispered. Leaves barely crunched under his feet as he reversed his path to escape the center of the little labyrinth.
“Haunted,” I said. I planted a strong kick on a jagged rock. It struck the water drum with a metallic ping.
“Nature is alive here, and so are we. It is never silent here. Listen to the wind, the little animals, the river. If you listen hard enough, you can hear the roar of Ara. This is not dead. Death is silent,” Bethel responded. He skipped over the last few low rows of the labyrinth and sat next to me.
“How would you know?” Dacibrega asked. “I don’t believe you will ever know death, not for a very long time. Not until she and I are dust under the ground and the stars shift to some unrecognizable sky.”
“I've seen enough death to have a good idea.”
“I do not think you have seen anything,” Dacibrega retorted.