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CHRONICLES OF KASSOUK
BOOK four

 

BLUE

LIONESS

Romantic Science Fiction
by Vijaya Schartz

 

 


In the face of Human slavery, Black Sword Captain Ariela of Kassouk must do the unthinkable. Rebel against the Mutant regime. But she cannot do it alone.

Ariela suspects the king’s death is no accident. And the tyrant who usurped the throne looks guilty as hell. As leader of the Human rebellion against the Mutant rulers, Ariela is desperate for help, and Lord Starro, the handsome Crown Prince of the Star Children, offers the technology the Human faction lacks. But can Ariela trust a spoiled, arrogant foreign prince who never fought a battle, and thinks he is destined to rule the universe? Is she trading one tyrant for another? No matter how kind, handsome, or fascinating, Starro has frightening mental abilities. And this alliance is not safe, especially for Ariela’s heart.


Click on covers to learn more about each book

CHRONICLES OF KASSOUK

Set in a world where a human transport crashed centuries ago, the Chronicles of Kassouk relate the evolution of a human community kept at a level of medieval development to serve a more advance race.  Constantly battling to regain their rights, the human population struggles for freedom.

 


Fallen Angel Reviews - 5 angels

"Ms. Schartz's new book Blue Lioness is a fast paced and compelling story
that held me spellbound  from the start.  I for one can't wait to read Noah's Ark,
 the next book in the Chronicles of Kassouk series."

 

Sensual Reads - 5 stars - sultry

"Ms. Schartz presents the fight to live a life without slavery and a hot love story all at the same time. This story will capture the reader’s interest from page one and not let go until the last page is read."

 

Manic Readers -  4 stars

"Blue Lioness rips along at a great pace, and keeps you scrolling through pages on your e-reader, as fast as you can. Although it is part of a series, this one stands alone very well. Schartz has a very active imagination, reminiscent of JD Robb’s 2060 way of life."

 

Coffee Time Romance - 4 cups

"Wow! Talk about a real page turner! I absolutely Adored Blue Lioness. Ms. Schartz is an incredible storyteller with a very big imagination...The world building is so imaginative in this story that it just kept me turning the pages late into the night, because I was desperate to see what happened next and to see if Ariela and Starro were going to get their happy ending. If you love science fiction romance with stellar world building, and a beautiful love story, oh, and sentient big cats, then you do not want to miss this one. I for one am going to go out and buy the rest of the books in this series, and I encourage you to do so as well, Ms. Schartz is not to be missed!"

 

The Hope Chest Reviews - 4 stars

"Overall, Blue Lioness was another fun, action-packed fantasy novel from Vijaya Schartz that I enjoyed. I'll now be looking forward to the release of the Chronicles of Kassouk prequel, Noah's Ark, which is due to be released in 2012."

 

Red Roses for Authors - 4 roses

"A very good story... best read in order with the other books in the series... The world building comes to life for the reader as each detail pulls them into another world and lets them live it with the characters. This one is hard to put down... the reader will keep turning the pages until the very end."

 

Long and Short Reviews

"Her plot is intense, adventurous with battle and love scenes and as unlikely as it is she brings it to a believable level. She further creates memorable characters... that shine brightly -- and none brighter than her hero Starro and her heroine Ariela who really rule the pages throughout the novel. Her love story is a favorite of mine: forbidden love that finds a way to survive and succeed. Her love scenes are muted enough that they will not offend any true romance reader and yet sensual enough to make the most avid reader of the genre satisfied as well... it’s made me want to not only go back to read the first three but I am now looking forward to her next adventure in these chronicles. If you love the science fiction genre, especially one with a great romance, this will fit the bill. It did for me."

 

 

BLUE LIONESS

Was nominated in January 2012 for a
Preditors and Editors award for the best eBook
Science Fiction novel of 2011

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

Ariela's throat tightened and she choked on unshed tears. Her high boots hammered the cobblestone of the narrow street of the Citadel, and her scabbard clicked against the metal hooks of her black leather uniform as she strode resolutely toward the Palace of Princes. She glanced right and left for signs of trouble among the bewildered mourners flocking to the last viewing. Even on a glorious spring day, anything could happen in such volatile circumstances.

Hellion, who loped silently at her side, bumped a thick, furry head against Ariela's hip. The lioness always picked up on her mood.

Ariela indulged the feline and caressed the silvery fur. "I can't believe the King is dead."

Hellion grunted in response, and Ariela wondered how much the smart cat understood. Probably more than anyone suspected.

Force of habit, she scanned the three-story buildings ensconcing the narrow street on both sides. From an open window, a little girl gawked at her black uniform. Quickly, the father behind her grabbed the child and bowed in apology. Ariela nodded back.

She'd recognized the man, a member of the rebellion against the Mutants. He'd attended last night's secret meeting. But she didn't let the recognition show on her face. With the Citadel full of Grays for the event, the Human population must appear to be friendly.

Great Engineer, please don't let anything bad happen today. Crowds could be so unpredictable.

When she neared the cobbled square in front of the Palace of Princes, the street widened and adjacent fares came together into a spacious half circle. The crowd thickened as the population of the Citadel converged toward the palace to pay their last respects.

Many only came for the free food, of course, and the usual pickpockets wouldn't miss an opportunity to snatch a fat purse. Ariela grabbed Hellion's collar and let the lioness clear their path.

The great cat sniffed the air and pulled Ariela, following the aroma of roasting meat. Hellion never missed the scent of food.

Despite the festive ambiance and the sweet smell of freshly baked pastries, Ariela noticed sad faces, a sniffle, the brush of a tear. She caught furtive glances under the peasant hoods, and jaws squaring in anger. Even Hellion, loping at her side, twitched her silvery blue pelt, emitting muffled snorts.

Soon, Ariela came into view of the gilded wrought iron gate, wide open to let in the mourners. Tall Mutant guards in gray armor, Grays for short, immobile, hand on their phasers, flanked the gate and lined the inside of the golden ornamental fence, as if to protect the precious metal from looters.

Beyond the gate, lay the vast, sun-bathed esplanade fronting the Palace of Princes, a decadent, three-story edifice of curlicued white marble balustrades and balconies, lined by a row of alabaster statues.

The Grays, aloof and taciturn, eyes hooded and staring out over the square and the streets, reminded Ariela of the stone statues. Just as unemotional, too. How could they not feel the undercurrent of anger roiling through the throng?

The guards paid Ariela no heed as she crossed the gate into the esplanade. Her uniform as Captain of the Black Sword Garrison allowed her to carry weapons anywhere, even in a Mutant enclave.

Ariela hoped the crowd wouldn't turn against the Grays, like it did at several silk mills and marble quarries in the past few days, since the announcement of their beloved king's untimely demise. The Grays had killed a dozen rebellious workers with their high-tech phasers, further angering the masses. But their precious technology might not protect them from a full blown Human rebellion.

Here, however, on Mutant ground, the crowd knew nothing of the palace's lethal defenses that would curdle a mother's milk in her breast... The gilded bars of the fence didn't shimmer with destructive power today. But when activated, that power would pulverize anything that came too close. Ariela also knew about the batteries of deadly canons sitting on the flat roof. She shivered at the thought of what Mutant weapons could do. At least, the populace had heeded her advice and left axes and pitchforks at home. It was for their own safety.

Ariela pushed through the crowd. Craftsmen, artisans and merchants had come in rich, colorful attire. A few paraded their felines. Farmers and villagers from miles around also crammed the vast enclosure.

Fathers carried small children on their shoulders. Calls popped here and there. Heads craned, trying to see, at the center of the esplanade, the truncated step pyramid erected overnight that would serve as a stage.

All around the cobbled square, long trestle tables dressed in red silk, offered free sweet bread, pastries, ale, wine, and even dumplings. But the mouth-watering meat aroma came from a row of roasting pits. Over there, cooks turned an entire pig, two goats, and two halves of an ox over piles of glowing ambers, while dripping fat juices on the tender roasting meat.

Ariela's stomach tightened at the idea of food. She couldn't swallow a bite if she tried.

At a pastry table, she recognized a familiar blond head over a sea of long-haired villagers and called in a battle voice, "Talsin!"

The blond head turned to her hail, displaying a streak of blue hair at each temple and a mouth full of turnover. Her younger brother squinted in the sunlight and smiled. He licked his fingers then motioned for her to meet him by the left wing of the palace. He indicated one of the white statues lining the front wall. They represented the Princes of Kassouk, the highest born, the purest Mutant blood.

Ariela knew which statue he meant. She nodded. Talsin always had clever ideas, which sometimes got him in trouble. What was it this time?

They came together in front of the familiar pedestal above which stood a tall, elegant alabaster woman with a noble face. The triangular runes on the base read Lady Naya, Princess of Kassouk... their grandmother.

But despite the drops of Mutant blood in their ancestry, Ariela and Talsin were born with five fingers, hence Human, and unworthy of superior education or princely titles. Humans did not rule in Kassouk.

Talsin mussed Hellion's head playfully then pointed to the top of the seven-foot pedestal. "That would be our best vantage point."

"Smart kid." Ariela reached and hooked her hands to the top edge to hoist herself upon the statue's wide base. Once there, she lowered a helping arm.

"I'm fifteen... not a kid anymore." Still, he grabbed her arm anyway and let her lift him to the top.

Hellion crouched. In one leap, she landed smoothly next to them, then the lioness draped her supple body across the enormous feet of the statue as if to claim them, discouraging anyone else from crowding their privileged lookout. Lions were fiercely loyal, but the females also had protective maternal instincts. And Hellion had adopted Ariela and Talsin as her brood.

Ariela sat at the edge of the cool white stone, dangling her booted legs. "Amazing how life can change in an instant."

"It's terrible, losing them both in one strike, King Dragomir and Queen Tora." Talsin dropped next to her.

Ariela laid a protective hand on her younger brother's shoulder. "Life is never fair. But somehow, we survive."

"I wonder what happened." The suppressed anger showed in the tightening of his jaw. "I hope they tell us how they died."

Ariela also hated the secretive nature of Mutants. "With King Dragomir, we've lost the only voice of reason in the Council of Princes."

"Who is going to protect us from these six-fingered freaks, now?" Talsin's gaze darted right and left above the sea of heads.

"Careful what you say in a Mutant enclave." Ariela gently squeezed her brother's shoulder. "They may have hidden monitoring devices."

"Maybe it's time they heard the truth."

Ariela knew better. "They know the Humans hate them. They just don't care."

She returned her attention to the crowd. The entire population of the Citadel attended the festivities. The pyramidal stage dominated the center of the esplanade. An elegant ramp, supported by an arch, like a bridge, connected the stage to a second story balcony of the palace.

When a giant holographic image surged from the stage, all eyes focused on it and a loud murmur swelled and ebbed.

Taller than the palace itself, King Dragomir, high brow, copper skin and long black hair, stood and smiled, along with the representation of his beloved Queen Tora, pale, with cropped blond hair and azure eyes. At their feet heeled two white tigers. Both sovereigns waved their six-fingered hands to the citizens gathered to pay a last homage.

Mourners fell to one knee on the cobblestone and lowered their heads. A shame that the masses still considered such feats of technology as miracles. How many times had Ariela told them holograms were not miracles? Still, they reacted like children at a puppet show.

"I remember when they recorded this hologram." Ariela's voice cracked. "That was at the winter solstice, the last time I spoke to the king."

Talsin chuckled. "Oh I remember that night. You came home so drunk, you passed out outside the door."

Ariela cleared her throat to cover her embarrassment. "I was very upset... and the wine was free." She realized her brother was old enough to understand. She lowered her voice... just in case. "That night, the king told me the Council was trying to kick him out. He ordered me to prepare the citizens of Kassouk, train them to fight back, just in case anything happened to him."

"He knew he was going to die? That's why you started the militias?" Talsin nodded understanding. "What are you going to do now?"

"Find help." Ariela sighed. "The militias are not ready, and I can't do this alone." She returned her gaze to the peaceful hologram of the royal couple. "It's better to see them like this... happy. At least, we don't have to watch their bodies burn on a pyre. I hate traditional funerals, it's always so sad."

"Why a viewing and not a funeral? What happened to the bodies?" Talsin no doubt enjoyed digging into the mystery, the intrigue. He did not suspect the dangers any shift of power presented for the common folks.

The hologram vanished. A disappointed murmur arose, quickly extinguished by a few measures of martial music.

In a drumming of boots, a contingent of guards in red armors, a kind Ariela had never seen before, marched upon the bridge from the second floor balcony and took their places in perfect straight lines, on a lower step along the four edges of the pyramidal stage, looking out at the crowd. Taller than the Grays, obviously Mutants given their taller stature and six-fingered hands, they all had red faces and a wrathful black stare.

They reacted to the slightest sounds and movements, edgy and alert, even menacing... Their nostrils flared and their beady eyes darted in every direction... a far cry from the taciturn, Human-looking Grays. Had the Mutants created a new breed? An aggressive race of fierce warriors? Why? The very thought made Ariela shudder with dread. As if their technology wasn't damaging enough, they had to cook a batch of bloodthirsty killers.

How many of these had they hatched? These would not be afraid of patrolling the streets of the Citadel. May the Great Engineer protect the Human race.

A stout Mutant in white silk robes, a Prince of Kassouk according to his garb, now walked the ramp briskly toward the truncated pyramid. Upon reaching the center, he scrutinized the Human crowd with an arrogant port of the head. He had black skin, piercing golden eyes, and long golden braids.

Ariela gasped. "How dare he show his face here?"

Talsin's shoulders rose and fell in surrender. "All right. You got me. Who is this clown? Am I suppose to know him?"

With her grandmother's complicity, Ariela had studied the secret archives. She had no doubt about the Mutant's identity, although he seemed to have gained a lot of authority since his last recorded public appearance. "It's Brother Kohl. King Dragomir demoted him from the Council and exiled him from Kassouk a century ago."

Talsin's brow shot up. "About the time we colonized the Eastern continent?"

"Exactly." Ariela noted with satisfaction that her history lessons hadn't been lost on the boy.

Talsin frowned. "Why would an outcast preside at the last viewing?"

"I don't know." Ariela chewed her lower lip in frustration. "But it can't be good."

On the pyramidal stage, Brother Kohl cleared his throat. Ariela noticed the amplification of sound surrounding the crowd through hidden technology. The mourners quieted. Of course, they had no idea who the Mutant was. To think of it, his statue didn't stand among the other Blood Princes either. Yet, he was an old one.

Brother Kohl's black face now appeared to float, large above the crowd against the azure sky, solemn and arrogant. His expression remained unreadable, but Ariela could sense that behind the neutral mask, he wore a permanent smirk of self-approval. His bulging golden eyes reminded her of an amphibian.

Kohl raised his arms emphatically. "The tragic accident, that took the lives of our sovereigns when their flyer exploded in high orbit, leaves us bereft," the baritone voice boomed.

"Their flyer exploded?" Talsin gaped.

Ariela deemed the accident too convenient.

"They were taken in their prime," Kohl went on, "their life cut short, just before our king's two-hundred-and-sixtieth birthday."

A murmur rolled over the crowd like soft thunder. A few timid voices rose.

"Short?" Talsin scoffed. "That's three Human lifetimes!"

Hot anger crept up Ariela's throat.

Talsin shook his head. "No bodies to tell the story, no compromising evidence... How neat."

"Shush!" Ariela surveyed the sea of heads below and whispered, "Humans are not supposed to know anything about affairs of state, remember?"

"I know." He sighed and his shoulders sagged.

Ariela didn't want to create problems for her grandmother. Lady Naya had already received many reprimands from the Council for letting her access Mutant knowledge. Even though she had King Dragomir's blessing.

Brother Kohl's bulbous eyes gleamed like gold, so did his tightly braided hair, and his false smile did not reach his eyes.

"He is quick to claim it was an accident," Talsin whispered between clenched teeth. "What if that flyer didn't explode on its own?"

"Shush." Ariela surveyed her fellow Humans and tightened her grip on her sword hilt, finding its presence reassuring.

"But more importantly," the booming voice resumed, "their sudden demise leaves the lands of Kassouk in need of new leadership."

The citizens glanced at each other, fear showing in the white of their eyes. Ariela felt it, too, the foreboding that chilled the spine before a disaster.

"According to the ancient laws laid down centuries ago at the start of our independence from the Godds, the next in line for the throne of Kassouk is the oldest Mutant of the First rank."

"The purest blood." Cold dread drizzled down Ariela's spine. She now remembered why King Dragomir had banished Brother Kohl from the Council so long ago. A shiver bristled the small hair at her nape. "We are doomed."

"Stop talking in riddles." Talsin flashed her his most exasperated glare.

"Listen for now." Ariela softened her tone. "I'll tell you later."

Brother Kohl extended his arms to encompass the masses and smiled broadly. "Today, the Council of Princes ratified my claim as Dragomir's legitimate and uncontested successor. I am now High King of New Earth. You will address me from now on as your Supreme Lord and Sovereign, your Liege."

Talsin emitted a low whistle. "He didn't waste any time."

"Long live Lord Kohl," the Red guards hailed in strong unison. As they straightened with pride, their faces exuded a fervor unnatural for Mutants.

"The blight on them all. May the Great Engineer protect the Human race," Ariela muttered.

An uncomfortable silence spread over the esplanade, then a few hesitant voices rose. "Long live the High King!"

"An unnecessary wish," Talsin railed. "Mutants live for five centuries."

"Kohl hates Humans," Ariela managed through clenched teeth. "He betrayed Kassouk once to an alien race. That's why King Dragomir stripped him of his succession rights."

Talsin scoffed. "And I'm willing to bet there is no gentle queen to soften the mind of this venomous black toad."

Around them, the hesitant cheers subsided for lack of enthusiasm. Ariela understood. While Dragomir had taken power as a hero and a liberator of the Human race two centuries ago, Kohl was a total stranger to the citizens.

The new High King spoke, silencing the crowd. "Starting tomorrow, each citizen will volunteer one day of physical labor per week for the benefit and well-being of this kingdom and its rulers."

"To do what?" A challenging male voice.

"We loved King Dragomir. We don't even know you," a woman called.

"We don't owe you anything!" A raucous, elderly voice.

The Reds shifted on their feet, like impatient war horses awaiting the call to charge.

Kohl squinted at the trouble-makers. His hand went to the fold of his robe. Was he hiding a phaser in there? "We are reopening the old duranium mines."

"These mines are not safe!" Another man yelled.

Ariela shuddered at the thought. She leaned toward Talsin and whispered. "The only reason to mine more duranium would be to prepare for war."

Her brother glanced at her wide-eyed. "But against whom?"

A murmur rumbled among the Human sea of mourners, slight first, then rising like an unfurling wave.

"Enough exploitation!" A fist rose above the heads to the right.

"No more slaving for the High and Mighty!"

"Let them dig their own ore with their precious machines!"

A shower of dumplings and pastries pelted the stage. The crowd cheered and more food projectiles flew.

As one, the Reds and their newly appointed king activated their phasic shield that shimmered like transparent eggshells around each one of them. Then the Reds fired phasers with inexorable precision and those who had spoken against their king screamed and fell. Ariela knew they were dead.

Cries of outrage quickly waned when the Reds targeted the new complainers.

Women grabbed their children and ran. Citizens quickly carried the victims toward the gate. Others prudently retreated away from the stage.

Toward the fence, the Grays at the gate had come to attention. They, too, had activated their shields that shimmered in sunlight with transparent flickering energy.

On the platform, the new King smirked. "Remember this day when you are tempted to disobey my orders."

Turning on his heel, he marched back to the arched ramp linking the platform to the palace balcony, flanked by his contingent of Red Mutant warriors. After they walked out of sight, a loud murmur of outrage billowed like a dark storm cloud.

Ariela rose to her feet and called in her battle voice. "Calm down!" Even without amplification, her voice carried, and the citizens listened. They had learned to trust her in the past few months. "Don't give them an excuse to take you in chains into forced labor! That's what they want."

Her strong words cooled a few hot heads.

"Today we pay homage to our departed king and queen." Ariela knew, however, that tomorrow would bring more trouble.

A reluctant mumble of assent coursed through the throng. Good. The people of Kassouk weren't ready to claim their freedom... not against this new breed of Mutant warriors. Not yet.

The holographic image of King Dragomir and his queen resumed, and the musicians played the funeral hymn. The mourners quieted, out of respect for their dead rulers.

Ariela realized her little stunt may have called attention to her influence on the citizenry of Kassouk. Would she become a target for Kohl's machinations? But she had promised King Dragomir she would protect the people of Kassouk from Mutant abuse, and she would keep her word, no matter the cost.

She checked the row of Grays by the fence. They had deactivated their shields and regained their taciturn composure.

Hellion groaned a danger warning.

"Beloved, drop down!" The compelling voice in her head surprised her but she obeyed. Warrior instinct.

Ariela pushed Talsin out of the way as a bolt whistled through the air. The arrow glanced off the alabaster statue with no strength left. As if spent. Where did the warning come from? And why had the bolt lost its momentum?

Talsin rose, brushing his tunic, his face paler than usual. "No harm done. Stray arrow."

"No. It was meant to kill me." Pulse beating at her throat, Ariela searched for an archer and a crossbow in the direction where the bolt had originated, toward the fence. Or through the fence? A human weapon. An assassin's weapon. But the killer had already vanished. Definitely an assassin.

A prickle at the nape stirred her warrior instincts. Ariela turned and gazed up and to her left. On a private third floor balcony reserved for the royals, disturbingly close, stood the strangest couple.

Talsin followed her gaze. "Who are they?"

Ariela recognized the woman leaning on the balustrade, a tall Mutant with long flaxen hair falling straight on square shoulders. "It's Lady Esperana, King Dragomir's daughter, Ambassador of Kassouk to the Eastern continent."

"The one they say has gone native?" A hint of wonder tinted Talsin's voice.

Lady Esperana was surveying the crowd. The man at her side, on the other hand, watched Ariela intently.

"Beloved." That voice in her head again. His voice? No. It couldn't be.

Ariela's skin prickled when their eyes met. The man's turquoise stare upon her made her blood rush. "Her companion looks foreign."

Too tall to be entirely Human, he had a strange aura about him. Was it the refinement of his muted silk attire that kept Ariela enthralled? Or the noble port of his head? His tan skin had the luster of mother of pearl, and his high forehead and shaved scalp gleamed in sunlight. The tight muscles on his bare arms marked him as a trained warrior, yet he carried no weapon that she could see, not even a ceremonial dagger, like Lady Esperana.

The intensity in his striking eyes made Ariela tingle all over. She had the definite impression that he could see all the way to her soul. She'd never seen anyone like him, even among galactic foreigners. More colorful, maybe, but more strikingly handsome, never. Who was the charismatic stranger?

Ariela recalled from her studies that the native males of the Eastern continent shaved their heads. Could he be an Easterner? They never ventured away from home, but travelers claimed they could read minds. Of course, Ariela didn't believe such tales, and even less the legends attached to these superstitions.

Yet, she understood how such a man could give that impression to weaker minds.

 

 


Award-winning author Vijaya Schartz

 

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