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The Dark Path [Hardcover]

Walter H. Hunt
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In this gripping sequel to The Dark Wing (2001), Hunt does a better job of depicting character and handling zor mythology and interspecies relations than in his debut novel. Humanity and the winged zor are now staunch allies, but the lurking alien menace hinted at in The Dark Wing, the shape-changing, mind-controlling vulh, now roars on stage red in tooth and claw. In the best tradition of Honor Harrington, Commodore Jacqueline Laperriere, commander of an outpost on the planet Cicero, breaks the rules to save some of her troops and warn others. Later Jackie must re-enact the quest of Qu'u, the legendary zor hero, on the Plain of Despite, seeking an ancient weapon that holds the key to defeating the vulh. While the ending may be a trifle rushed, it offers plenty of surprises.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

This fine sequel to Hunt's Dark Wing (2001) reads somewhat like a collaboration of David Weber and Orson Scott Card. It sports a valiant space navy, represented by Commodore Jacqueline Lapierre, an officer well suited to sit at the same table as Weber's Honor Harrington. And it includes the implacable vuhl, a shape-changing, mind-controlling, insectoid enemy race that recalls the original foes of Card's Ender Wiggin. The alien zor, formerly implacable enemies of humanity, are now staunch allies against the vuhl. Lapierre and her zor exec, Ch'ke'te, elude an early vuhl attack, after which they must play roles out of zor legend to retrieve a legendary talisman that holds the key to their common survival. Imaginative twists include the facts that the human and zor quest team employs the telepathic assistance of Ch'ke'te's dead mate, Th'an'ya, and that some human POWs are finding out how to penetrate vuhl disguises. Gripping stuff that, fortunately, presages a further book. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

"Walter H. Hunt is the new master of military SF. - Nebula Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer

About the Author

Walter Hunt lives in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. The Dark Path is the sequel to The Dark Wing, his first novel.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1
 
 
In the dream he saw a battered landscape marred by battle just beyond the brow of the hill. A pall of gritty smoke drifted through the air near where he crouched. He could hear the cries of the wounded and smell the stench of war: blood and fire and death.
He looked at himself, at the ancient ceremonial sword hanging loosely in a scabbard at his waist. His legs were young and strong, not old and withered; it reinforced the dream-state, making him even more aware of it--but the feeling! He had forgotten what it was like to be young.
The thrill of pleasure from that sensation washed away as, in the dream, he realized where his hsi had been taken.
This is the Plain of Despite, he told himself as an explosion shuddered through the berm.
The Plain of Despite: where the hero Qu'u had gone to acquire the gyaryu he now wore , to face anGa'e'ren and perform the Lament of the Peak. His familiarity with the legend and the sure knowledge of the symbolic significance of this mental construct sent a chill down his spine.
He willed himself to scramble along the hillside, keeping his head down. Dream-constructs or not, his legs held him up as he made footholds. Still, the activity was unfamiliar and almost alien to him after being an invalid for so long.
He reached the end of the low ridge and came to a wide-open area with large standing boulders. Beyond, the land seemed to slope down to a wide valley. The whole scene was lit eerily by flashes of lightning: or was it artillery?
Beyond the valley was a huge blue-black façade extending outward as wide and as high as he could see. With an enormous effort of will, he let his eyes travel upward until he was craning his neck. At an impossible distance he could make out a fortress of some sort, a sprawling structure with turrets and outbuildings.
The Icewall: the Fortress of Despite.
At least he could look up. Only heroes could raise their eyes on the Plain of Despite.
Your imagination is going to kill you, old man, he told himself, but it didn't see to reassure him. This was no dream of his own imagination; even he could not conjure up the Plain of Despite, the Icewall and the Fortress…at least not in such detail.
It was the sword sending his hsi this way. You accepted it, he
told himself.
It was a shNa'es'ri, even if it seemed inevitable.
Sixty years ago the gyaryu, the zor sword of state, had been offered to him by the High Lord. He had taken it just as the Admiral had taken it before him. He knew what that meant. He knew what this meant as well.
He walked carefully between the boulders, the gyaryu before him. It felt like a live thing in his hands, snarling at the place it found itself. The valley he entered was shrouded in fog. It was a L'le, though it was more spread out, more like a human than a zor settlement. There were People there walking or flying, all but oblivious to his passing. As he came close, their wings often seemed to move slightly, as if forming a half-forgotten pattern of deference or respect. In most cases, however, the wing-positions conveyed nothing but despair.
The closer he came to the center of the L'le, the fewer active zor he saw. Instead he saw them frozen in position, like statues or grostesque chess-pieces, pinned in place, lifeless.
The Valley of Lost Souls, he thought.
At the far edge of the valley the settlement ended in the dark, blank face of the Icewall. He could make out the Perilous Stair now, a climbing/flying path that led eventually to the Fortress. A zor stood at the base of the Stair with its face turned away, wings placed in a pattern of respect.
As he approached, the zor turned to face him. He stopped suddenly as he recognized the human head atop the zor body.
"Marc?"
"A long time, Sergei," the Marc Hudson-zor said, the crooked smile sneaking onto his face just as Sergei remembered it. The wings assumed a posture of deference. "You look
good."
"So do you, for someone who's been dead as long as you have."
"How long has it been?"
"Thirty years," Sergei said, looking away. "I spoke at your
funeral. You outlived most of us--Bert, Uwe, even Alyne."
"Alyne." A ripple of affection found its way into the Hudson-zor's
wings. Hearing Marc speak his late wife's name chilled
Sergei.
"Why am I here, Marc?"
"esLi wills it. Or do you want the real answer?" The Hudson-zor smiled again.
"The real answer."
"The real answer is…what has been foreseen is about to begin. The flight has been chosen and the decision is made."
"Do I have to climb that?" Sergei asked, gesturing toward the Perlious Stair behind the Hudson-zor.
"That is for another to ascend," the Hudson-zor said. "It is a shNa'es'ri for that person, not for you."
"What does esLi will for me, then?"
"What do you think?"
"I think…that the burden of the sword is great. I have carried it since the Admiral died. I'm not sure that I can accomplish this a'Li'e're, my old friend. I have chosen the flight, but I don't know if my wings can carry me where it leads."
"They carried you here," the Hudson-zor said, gesturing.
Sergei looked at where he pointed, and saw his own wings, formed in the Posture of the Enfolding Protection of esLi.
"enGa'e'esLi Sergei said to himself, or perhaps to the Hudson-zor, naming the wing-position.
"esLiHeYar, old friend," the Hudson-zor said, and the iridescent fog of the Valley of Lost Souls drifted between them, obscuring the Icewall and the Perilous Stair and the Hudson-zor last of all.
* * *
The captain of His Imperial Majesty's ship Cincinnatus had tactfully and politely withdrawn after exchanging courtesies with his distinguished passengers, leaving Sergei Torrijos, the Gyaryu'har of the High Nest and Admiral Horace Tolliver of the Imperial Navy, to take their breakfast alone in the captain's mess.
Sergei carefully removed the peel from an orange while watching Horace Tolliver push food around on his plate.
"Another sleepless night, Horace?" he asked.
Tolliver rubbed his neck with the palm of his hand. "How anyone sleeps aboard these ships, I'll never know. I just can't get used to it." He set the fork on the table with military precision. "How about you? You're a long way from your garden in es Yen."
"Slept like the dead," Sergei answered, though the echoes of the Plain of Despite still haunted him. "It's about time you woke up."
"I didn't realize that my sleeping cycles were of any interest to you. Especially since you've done your best to avoid me during the entire trip."
The older man coasted his chair to a side table and turned. His wrinkled face was wry and amused. "Not at all, not at all, Horace. I've been meaning to corner you since I came aboard, but I've been kept busy by my handlers."
"All right, then." Horace Tolliver stood and adjusted his uniform in a mirror. "To what do I owe the honor of a visit by the Gyaryu'har?"
"Curiosity. And friendship. Hands across the water and all. Remember, I was an officer in His Majesty's Navy once…long ago."
"Long ago. It was a different navy eight-five years ago."
The old man looked up, the pain of remembrance crossing his face. "Has it been that long? Eighty-five years. You weren't even born."
"But you digress." Horace looked annoyed as he turned from the mirror and sat down. "All right. Tell me how I can help you with your problem."
"Has it occurred to you that there must be a mighty important reason for His Majesty to send you out personally to inspect a border naval base? Especially when accompanied by an official"--he
tapped the sword lying across his lap--"representative of the High Nest?"
"Cicero isn't just a 'border naval.' It's the biggest and most important border base of the Solar Empire."
"But it's still at the border. It's at the boundary of--presumably--uninhabited
space."
"'Presumably'?"
"You certainly don't have to be coy with me. I've read the reports on the disappearance of the Negri Sembilan and the Gustav
Adolf II."
"Those were at the highest clearance--"
"You seem to forget that your government and mine are allies. An official of the High Nest--especially the Gyaryu'har--is privy to such documents.
"In all fairness, Horace, we'd conclude that the threat is nothing more serious than pirates, operating outside the Empire somewhere. I'm sure the CO at Cicero--Laperriere, I believe her name is?--is competent enough to conduct a sweep of the area, root out the pirates and knock them out. So why send out the brass to conduct an inspection? Are we there to see if she does it right?"
Horace crossed his arms in front of his chest.
"It's really very simple, Horace. The Admiralty suspects that something is wrong and plucked you from your desk and me from my garden to find out what the hell it is."
"I see. Why haven't I been told about this?"
"You are being told, Horace. The fact of this excursion is your briefing, and actions speak louder than words. Especially in this case."
"Twaddle." The admiral felt particularly good about telling someone Sergei's age that what he'd just said was "twaddle." He savored it for a moment before continuing. "The Admiralty is expecting a report on the whereabouts of its two missing ships. They will have it, because I intend to find them."
"You…what?"
"I have no intention of sitting on my ass and waiting for them to turn up by themselves. That is why the Admiralty is sending a flag admiral to Cicero."
"You're a staff officer, Horace, not a--"
"I am an admiral in His Majesty's Fleet, you may recall. I have a commission and active-duty experience. If Cicero's CO is competent, then no action will be necessary. If she is queasy about taking charge--"
"That," the old man interrupted, "is about the stupidest thing I have ever heard you say. Or ever heard of you having said, for that matter. Border c...
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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