One of the great pleasures in doing this blog tour has been not only getting to know other writers, but getting to experience their work. Today, Catrina Taylor is kind enough to share an excerpt from her novel Birth of An Empire: The Beginning. Enjoy!
I want to thank the talented Mr. Blake for hosting this excerpt of my novel today. I also want to take this time to thank you, for taking a moment to read what comes after my note. As is the case for every author I know, Xarrok is like one of my children, and giving birth was an incredible joy. It has been an indescribable adventure alongside active and lively characters, in a universe of intense struggle. It has been fun to write. In this excerpt you’ll get to meet one of the two main characters of the Birth of an Empire series, in his native environment – battle. He is leading his team into the heart of a Ven attack and doing so with his typical recklessness. It will be exciting to hear your thoughts on the excerpt.
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Birth of an Empire: The Beginning – Chapter 2
Yatrell woke up to a sharp searing pain in his mind. Alarms were sounding loudly around him. Angrily he muttered, “Ven.” He reached under his pillow and pulled out his weapon. Without taking time to dress, he entered the minds of those under his command to ascertain where they were. Most were also just waking. He projected to them, ~I am being telepathically attacked. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to communicate this way. Assemble in the common area, now. Pietro not uniform, just the weapon.~ Quickly he moved to the common area, wearing only shorts, t-shirt, a holster and he carried his weapon in hand. He was surprised that he had no resistance, aside from the clear telepathic attack. As he waited for his team he took note of the rattling of the ship and then the sudden but brief quiet before the relocator transportation lights started appearing all over. He yelled loudly, “We’re being boarded. Get here now!”
Anara was next into the common area. She wore her uniform pants and a tank top. She had two small projectile weapons in hand, one directed energy weapon in a holster on her hip and an assortment of small bladed weapons strapped to her. Standing nearly at Yatrell’s height, she was intimidating to anyone standing against her.
“You slept with those on didn’t you?” He grinned and gestured to her arm where one of the bladed weapons was strapped.
“Yep. Well, some of them. Can’t be too prepared.” She turned and saw three more of their team coming into the common area. “So we’re waiting on Pietro?”
A tall man with sandy color hair and hazel eyes nodded, “Yea, the kid isn’t getting how fast he has to move.” A relocator light appeared right in front of the man, who quickly drew his projectile and fired as soon as the Ven appeared solid. The head of the smaller alien splattered across a table behind him. “One.”
Anara shook her head, “Canith, you’ve got a long way to go to catch up.” The men in the room chuckled, knowing they hadn’t kept pace with her in several of the last number of battles. She turned to Yatrell in a serious tone, “We can’t wait for the kid. We need to move out.” Quickly, she switched one projectile for the energy weapon in her holster.
Yatrell nodded, “You’re right. You take these guys and head toward the armory. I’ll get the kid and we’ll meet you there. Make sure you collect as many of our people as you can on the way. Get them armed and ready to return the gesture.” One of the men started to speak up regarding the order, but Yatrell just glared at him and he thought the better of it.
Anara nodded and gestured for the team to follow her out of the room. As she moved with the other three out of the common area, another relocator light appeared. This time it was wider than the previous, relocating multiple Ven into their path. She stood with an energy weapon in one hand and a projectile in the other. She smiled as seconds later she took out two of the Ven. “Two.” She looked over her shoulder as her team took out the rest. “Good. Time to clean house. Let’s move.”
Yatrell heard the noise but turned away from where his team exited and toward the quarters section. He knew if he didn’t retrieve the kid, Pietro might not handle his first battle on their ship. As he moved through the halls, the power cut out. Everything remained dark for several seconds before a relocator light appeared in front of him. As the Ven man appeared inches in front of Yatrell, he was prepared. Yatrell reached out and clutched the throat of the Ven, then shoved him up against the bulkhead behind him. The Ven struggled and Yatrell gripped harder, taking the much shorter man off his feet. Yatrell tried to focus in an effort to read him, but he couldn’t get through the psionic block. The searing pain in his head forced him to relent. In response to this growing and intensely painful headache he took pleasure in watching the Ven invader gasp for his last breath.
He dropped the body and stepped over it, continuing toward Pietro’s quarters. As he walked, the halls became illuminated by a dull red light from the emergency systems. When he was only steps from Pietro’s door, the ship shuddered again and then everything near him went silent. More focused than before, he quickly found himself outside the young man’s quarters. Through the silence around him, he heard the fight inside Pietro’s room. Yatrell reacted. Quickly he input his override codes and enter the room. Upon doing so, he looked at the young man pinned beneath a Ven woman. She had a dagger to his throat. Yatrell growled, “Get away from him.” The woman sneered, looked Yatrell right in the eye as she slit the teen’s throat.
Pietro made one last kick, pushing the Ven woman off him. He then stumbled for two or three paces before collapsing, blood pouring out of his neck and coating the floor.
Yatrell looked at Pietro, unable to help him as he took his last gurgled attempt for air. The Ven woman then jumped on Yatrell, pushing him back into the hall, hard against the wall. With a dagger stuck in his abdomen he glared at her, “Ven bitch.”
The female soldier leaned against him and with furious intensity she growled, “The weak will serve us or they will die.” She twisted the dagger as she spoke. “You, I like dead.”
With a grunt, Yatrell shoved her off him. In one motion he yanked the dagger from his side and threw it at her. The blade pinned her to the wall through her arm. As she struggled to break free, Yatrell walked up to her and stood inches from her face, “You like to attack children do you?” Before the woman could speak again, he pulled his own weapon from his side and fired at her, leaving a sizable hole in her body. He took pleasure in the moment she slumped over and died.
Seconds later another bright light formed nearby and deposited two Ven men at his side. Before Yatrell could react, one man attacked him. He was pushed to the ground with a thud. Stunned for a moment the Ven soldiers began to pummel him. Angrily, Yatrell reached up and dislodged a small band around one of the Ven’s head. The intensity of the telepathic attack lessened just enough for him to notice. “So that’s how you do it.” A smug expression quirked at the corners of his mouth, before he pushed the soldier off of him. The second Ven soldier growled something about his mate being pinned to the wall, then punched Yatrell between his kidneys almost stopping his lesser heart. Flinching from the impact, Yatrell ripped the band from his head and pushed him toward the woman’s body. As he rid himself of the second Ven attacker, the first grasped him from behind and lifted him over his head, dropping Yatrell backwards onto the deck hard. The second man then jumped on Yatrell with his mate’s dagger in hand and tried to force it into the Dentonian’s chest. Yatrell pushed the man’s hands back and countered with a punch and twist that moved the man into his teammate. Both Ven toppled to the ground. In that moment, Yatrell moved quickly to recover his own weapon. The Ven regained their footing in time for Yatrell to pull the trigger of his firearm and kill the second Ven soldier, before turning on the first and doing the same.
Without another thought, Yatrell moved to his feet again and started toward the armory. He encountered several more Ven along the way, but made it with almost no further injury. When he entered the armory there was a cluster of Dentonian forces retrieving weapons and assignments from the Captain. Yatrell approached asking the Captain, “What’s next?”
Before looking at Yatrell the Captain began, “Take Gamma and Kappa teams to protect the Engineers restoring the coil reactor. The systems outside engineering will remain offline as long as we don’t have full power. We need the coil reactor back online to take out those ships.” He turned to hand Yatrell a fresh weapon and then paused when he looked at him, “Man! You look like you engaged Turaant Level Ven alone.”
He shrugged, “Who knows, maybe I did. It’s not like they mark their ranks clearly or something.” Then before the Captain could respond further, Yatrell walked off to meet with his team. When he found Anara and the others locking their weapons into active cycles, he ordered Canith to get Kappa team together. Without hesitation, Canith moved off to assemble Kappa team. Yatrell turned to Anara explaining, “We won’t have much time to move. They are appearing everywhere, as expected. They have no discretion.” He ran through his fresh weapon and waited for the assigned reinforcements.
Anara looked at him for a moment. She noticed how his blood and sweat drenched shirt clung to his side. She hesitated before speaking, “Pietro didn’t make it?”
“No.” Yatrell took his assigned weapons and ranking vest from Set, his third, and looked back at Anara, “I’m fine Lieutenant. It’s just a flesh wound and the bleeding has stopped.” His attention turned to Canith when he approached with Kappa team. “Good. Let’s go. We need to move fast. There is no telling what will come at us.” He pulled the vest over his chest, covering the dagger wound but not before the Kappa team leader noticed.
“Yatrell, you can’t lead with that wound. I’ll get them down there, you go to medical.” The Kappa team leader, Masterson, stepped forward and Lieutenant Cree stopped him by placing her hand on his chest. He stared at her with disdain, but she didn’t move.
Yatrell snapped his eyes to the other Lieutenant Commander and in a tersely he spoke, “You will remember your orders, Lieutenant Commander.” He fastened the vest, strapped his weapons into place and put his small gun into a holster. “Let’s move out.” Both teams fell into rank and position behind him as they left the armory. They moved swiftly through the halls onto a mobile lift, killing every Ven soldier that appeared in their path. Once on the lift they readied their weapons, expecting engineering to be under siege as is typical of a Ven attack. The combined Dentonian team had operated as a strike team before, usually out ahead of the main wave. This time they were moving into the heart of the battle, without back up. The intensity was clear on each of their faces.
The corridor the Dentonian teams had to cross was the widest on the ship. It was large enough to allow significant portions of the ship’s engines to come on board already assembled. Now, instead of engine parts, it was Ven soldiers that cluttered the corridor. Instead of large silver and black components being hovered over by engineers, it was short aggressive soldiers seeking technology and subordinates. Lieutenant Commander Jae and his team had no intention of allowing the Ven success.
Before they got off the lift, Yatrell stopped it and spoke to his team, “The themis grenades are the fastest choice. Don’t hesitate with them. We already know what they will do and we need to answer in kind.”
The other Lieutenant Commander scowled at him, “What are you talking about? We can’t use those in close quarters or on this ship! If we have one missed toss, we’re done.”
Canith and Set began to prepare their grenades when Anara spoke up, “It should clear them fast.” Then she began to count and prepare her own. “Set your counts to milliseconds.”
“We don’t have options, Masterson. At best, you’re looking at a hundred of those creatures outside that door. There are eight of us. You tell me what other choice we have and I’ll take it, but I can’t think of one.” Lieutenant Commander Jae spoke with a firm tone and prepared the two grenades he had on him. Lieutenant Commander Masterson remained silent and readied his primary firearm.
The defense team stepped out of the lift and into the vast engineering corridor. The eight man team was staring at the backs of more Ven than any of them wanted to count. Masterson stepped forward and knelt out of the way of those behind him. Anara threw the first grenade well over the Lieutenant Commander’s head. It bounced and rolled through the feet of the Ven crowd. She whispered, “And…” A moment later a flash of light was followed by the sound of bodies being singed and a small handful of Ven evaporated into tiny specks of dust before finally disappearing into the air.
Once the first grenade went off, all of the nearby enemy soldiers turned and opened fire on the small strike team. Materson, already in position, began firing and cutting down the numbers while the rest of the team threw their grenades and slipped back into the lift for cover. Quickly the Ven numbers thinned out. By the time the Dentonian force ran out of themis grenades, they could see gaps in the crowd before them.
The command came loudly, “Close the door.” Yatrell continued to fire at the Ven as his team fell deeper into the lift and the doors slid shut. Once everyone was inside the lift he grinned. “I think that went well.” He gestured to Anara, the smallest in the group, “I’ll lift you through the hatch. To the left is one of the maintenance tubes. Climb in there and move along the sides. Every opening, drop or throw another grenade. It doesn’t matter what kind.” He looked at the rest of the team with him, “Set, Canith and Seth go with her.” Yatrell began to lift them up and out of the lift’s hatch.
“That side ends before engineering.” Masterson spoke up as he looked at his team. “Everyone’s already thrown at least one theimis and we don’t have an inexhaustible supply.”
“No we don’t, but there are other weapons on all of us that can be used, along the openings.” Yatrell chuckled, “Anara alone is a walking arsenal.” He gestured to his second in command and the numerous weapons she carried. “They will drop and make a run for the door. We’re going to clear the way.” Set was the last from the first group out of the lift and into the tube.
“How? You can’t put four people out against a hundred, or however many are left after the assault.” Masterson asked with frustration evident.
“I have no intention to. You and your team are going into the other tunnel. It’s ventilation and, like the maintenance tube, it has a few openings. It’s also a bit larger. Should make moving easier. You can repeat the same process and help to clear the distance between here and engineering. Yes, you’ll have to drop out, but that drops out much closer than the other tunnel.”
Lieutenant Commander Masterson nodded to his team, who were already preparing to climb out of the lift, “What are you going to do?”
“What I normally do. Something unexpected.” Yatrell grinned. When the banging on the door began he started to help the other group out of the lift and Masterson turned and reached down for Yatrell’s arms and helped him out of the lift as well. Yatrell began removing the various grenades he had on him and activating the ones set on a timer before dropping them into the lift. “We won’t be using this one for a while after this.” Masterson followed his team into the ventilation tunnel on the other side of the shaft. Yatrell looked up, “I’ll see you in engineering.” The men nodded to each other before Masterson disappeared into the system and Yatrell began to climb, fast. One deck up and he got out of the lift shaft. Just as the door closed behind him, the explosion from the lift rattled the deck and door enough to knock Yatrell from his feet.
Dazed but able to stand, Yatrell quickly tried to reach out to the teams telepathically, to make sure they were alright. Instead of reaching them, he was greeted by an intense and debilitating pain. He stood and staggered for several steps before he pushed through the pain. He moved down the now empty hall and stepped passed two Dentonian bodies. The man that was face up was someone he was familiar with and he found himself mumbling, “Rix.” He remained diligently aware of his surroundings, expecting to see a Ven relocation light. Nothing came as he made his way to the small arsenal in the deck’s weapons locker. Quickly, he pulled out a small bag designed to attach to his belt and filled it with two different grenade types. He then grabbed the other armaments that he could strap to himself. He moved to the end of the hall, stepped into a vertical maintenance shaft, and he climbed down. As he passed the maintenance tube between decks he could hardly hear his people, so he moved faster.
At the bottom rung he pulled one of the themis grenades out of the pouch and set the timer, but didn’t activate it. Then he pulled another out and jumped down the last half length. He turned and found himself not two lengths from the nearest Ven. Four stood in front of him, each with a cocky grin on their face. He tossed the first grenade toward them and they scattered. He then activated the other and threw it not far from the base of the ladder and climbed fast back up it. He took a laser blast to his leg and projectile to his vest, but climbed no slower. By the time he reached the top the second grenade exploded, clearing his path below. He made his way back down the ladder and onto the engineering deck.
Lieutenant Commander Jae looked to his right when he heard a clatter to the ground. Masterson and his team were about to emerge from the tunnel before Anara and her team. “Masterson, get everyone into engineering.” Then, Yatrell turned toward the other tunnel one last time, still not seeing the side open. “I’m going to draw their fire.” Without further thought, he moved in the path of the weapons’ fire. As he did, he tossed another themis in one direction and bowled over one of the larger Ven soldiers near the opening. Quickly he pinned the solider and slammed his fist hard into the Ven’s face. Hearing it crack he reached for the Ven weapon and turned it on the crowd, rapidly closing in. The beam streamed through one Ven body and pierced the ones behind him as well. As he fired several fell with a single shot. When it warmed in his hand, he tossed it at the oncoming attackers. Feeling a hard crack between his shoulder blades, Yatrell leaned forward and yanked the band from the head of the Ven he had pinned. As he did, he noticed the Ven bleed down the sides of his head.
Then, Yatrell looked up at the crowd of weapons facing him. Without a thought, he grabbed the nearest Ven energy weapon and played with the settings. One Ven woman kicked him hard while he did. He was pushed off of the Ven he pinned as the energy weapon made a high pitched whine. Suddenly, the Ven moved away from him and as far back as they could. All of the Ven moved, except the one he had previously pinned to the ground. Quickly Yatrell shoved the weapon through the abdomen of the solider and took off for the engineering door, just seconds after his team made it in. The explosion shook the floor beneath them and Yatrell commented, “Someone is going to hate me tomorrow, for that.”
The Dentonian defense team didn’t waste a moment. They moved together and took advantage of the short window Yatrell had bought them.
The lead engineer smirked when he noted who it was leading the defense team into his section, “Well, if it isn’t Lieutenant Commander Jae. Welcome to the engineering core and coil repository. Now get your sorry backsides all the way in here and take up defense. We need to get this online already.”
“Aye sir.” Yatrell chuckled . In unified movements, the team took up positions around the engineering door and began to hold off the invaders as the onslaught began again. When he stood in position, his back against the half wall, he was able to get a clear view of the entrance. With his focus on the Ven trying to push into engineering, he called to the engineering Commander, “How long will this take?”
The commanding engineer called back to Yatrell, “Ten minutes if we can focus and not have to kill something.”
“Understood.” Yatrell then fired, killing another of the Ven soldiers as they attempted to push their way into the section, “Let’s hold ‘em off. Engineers need ten and then we play clean up.” The team fiercely held the door, keeping the Ven out of engineering.
After a few minutes, the engineers announced that the coils were charging. Hearing this motivated the defense team to start to push out of engineering. As the room filled with a sharp, high pitched whine, the Ven began to fall back. Shortly thereafter the lights came on and power returned throughout the ship. The ship shuddered hard and lurched forward then backward again as the weapon fired. When the ship stuttered and shifted it sent Yatrell over the railing and onto the deck below him. He landed with a thud loud enough to make his team fall back to his previous position. Stunned he blinked and stared up at the coil as it returned to a normal functioning state. From his back he watched the coils start to turn and light up again, and the engineers on that level moved toward him.
Anara looked over the side and called down, “Ah… You ok down there?”
After several moments Yatrell realized he was spoken to and called up, “Uhmm… I think so.” And then the room went black.