Publication date: October 6th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, New Adult
Twenty-four year old book worm and blogger Zoe Graves was looking forward to the fourth and final instalment of her favourite book saga – The Augustin Chronicles. The evening was meant to be spent in line at the local bookstore with hundreds of other fans, getting the book, maybe even meeting the author, and ultimately spending the night with the dreamiest hero of them all, Lucien de Forest and the love of his life Noomi Augustin.
But somewhere someone thought otherwise.
Confused and hurt after a mugging by the bookstore, Zoe is somehow transported to another world, and suddenly finds herself in a snow-covered landscape witnessing a bloody fight far away from the English summer, and is left to rely on the help from the rather reluctant Matis, who just happen to be out to kill none other than Zoe’s favourite hero and heroine, Lucien and Noomi.
Although convinced she might be in some sort of limbo or maybe even in a coma, Zoe figures that her role in the story is to prevent Matis from killing her all-time favourite fictional couple.
“What are you doing? Hello? Earth to Zoe. Hey!”
“What are you doing?” Emma said slowly and loudly, as if talking to someone hearing impaired. She even made a gesture resembling sign language with her free hand.
Zoe looked at the computer screen absentmindedly, and then over at her sister as if it was obvious. “I’m writing a blog post.”
Emma’s sweet face contorted into a sour frown that really didn’t become her. “You’re obsessed with that blog,” she said, as she continued to chop carrots for dinner. “And books,” she added eyeing the ragged copy of The Last Isilin - the fourth instalment of the Augustin Chronicles lying next to the computer on the kitchen counter.
“Haven’t you already read that one?”
“Only three times.”
Emma arched an eyebrow. She didn’t even have to say anything. Zoe knew what her sister thought of her books and her book blog. Nevertheless, Zoe continued undauntedly. “It’s the second last book of the series. The last one comes out tomorrow. Lucien and Noomi finally got each other in The Last Isilin, but it was revealed that Olander had sent out a hired killer to finish them off.”
“Olander?” A rather impatient look on Emma’s face betrayed that she immediately regretted having even said his name as a question.
“The ultimate bad guy. The dark lord of Norling,” Zoe continued, thrilled that Emma had indeed uttered the name. “He tried to enslave Noomi, to make her his slave bride in volume one, Lord of the Forest, but Lucien saved her in the nick of time and then later left Olander for dead in The Lost Prince. He didn’t appear in most of The Last Isilin, and everyone thought he was history, but then he returned on the very last page, thirsty for revenge.”
Emma sighed audibly. Her carrots on the chopping board were feeling her frustrations. Still, Zoe freewheeled on. She couldn’t help it. She was obsessed with this saga, fangirling big time, and near to tears when thinking about the fact that this next book was the very last one. Then what? She’d have to resort to fan-fiction, addict that she’d become. She really hoped the rumours of a film, several films in fact, were true. She needed them to be true.
“But he can’t go after Noomi and Lucien, because his legs were crushed when Lucien fought him in The Lost Prince,” Zoe said. She felt her eyes widen and her pulse pick up. “So now he’s hired someone to kill them.”
“Oh no,” Emma commented dryly, looking sarcastically deadpan. “I can’t believe my little sister is such a nerd. You should find yourself a boyfriend. A non-fictional one.”
“I have boyfriends,” Zoe protested.
“Like right now? In plural? Are you seeing anyone at the moment?”
“No, but it’s not like I’m a nun or anything.” She shrugged and added under her breath: “I date.”
“Really?” Emma ploughed the knife into the chopping board tip first and released it to put both her hands on the kitchen counter. Then she leaned over it a little bit, giving Zoe a piercing stare. All she needed now was a sharp light and someone to act as the good cop.
“When was the last time you went on a date?”
“Last week,” Zoe replied promptly. It was a total lie, she hadn’t dated since she broke up with Tom last Valentine’s Day, and now it was August, the following year.
“Yeah? What’s his name?”
“How old is he?”
“Kind of young, don’t you think?”
Zoe shrugged. He was only three years younger than her. Not that he was real or anything.
“And what does he do for a living?”
“He’s a … chef,” Zoe said eyeing the carrots on the chopping board. “I mean he’s training to be a chef.”
“A chef?” Emma repeated, sounding like she knew it was pure and utter bullshit.
Zoe nodded and avoided looking at her sister by pretending she’d just gotten a very important e-mail.
“You should have brought him tonight,” Emma said in a suspicious tone, straightening up.
“What? Here? No, no, we didn’t really click. It was a blind date set up by one of the girls at work. We probably won’t be seeing more of each other. But hey, at least I’m dating, right?”
His eyes were dark, so very dark, and the equally dark hair, although some of it was braided, didn’t look girly or weird at all. Well, maybe a little weird, seeing as men like him usually only existed in the fantasy books Zoe read and not in the real world. She gaped at the sort of Mohawk the tight braids along the sides of his head and the loose hair on top created.
He squinted. “Stop following me,” he said, practically biting at her. “I don’t have time to save odd damsels in distress.” He picked up a couple of dead rabbits from the ground, turned back around and walked away.
Zoe didn’t move. She could hardly feel her feet anymore. “But what about your cloak?” she yelled after him. “Don’t you need it?”
“Keep it.” He waved a hand in the air and kept up a determined walk on the path that led up to the top of a small hill.
Behind Zoe there was a small piece of forestland. Although she couldn’t be sure, she didn’t imagine anyone lived there. Besides, she wasn’t going back to those dead soldiers, not even to just walk past them. She couldn’t stomach the smell. Everywhere she looked, all that she saw were big black mountains far away in the horizon and the big orangey white sky sending down all that snow.
It was then that Zoe realised that she’d continued her pursuit of the man. She didn’t have any choice really. She’d never been much of an outdoor person, and she wouldn’t last an hour under these conditions.
“You’re still following me,” the man suddenly said. His back was still turned, but he had stopped at the top of the hill. “Even if you’re keeping your distance, you are still following me.” He turned his head and looked at her over his shoulder. “Like a damn cat,” he added, sending her a tired glance.
“But maybe my home is in that direction,” Zoe argued. She was out of breath and her dry throat was killing her. “You did tell me to go home. Maybe that is what I’m doing?”
“But it isn’t, though, is it? You said you were lost.”
“Why won’t you help me?” She’d finally climbed the hill, panting like she was completely out of shape, which she actually wasn’t thanks to Jason. Down there, by the foot of the hill, there was a small cluster of houses that didn’t exactly warrant the description of a village. It was just a few houses pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Wherever that was?
The man glanced at her casually and then suddenly did a double take. The brow curled up and suddenly without any warning, he grabbed her cheeks with both hands and tilted back her head.
Zoe tried to pull away, but found that she didn’t have the strength to fight. Instead, she felt a burning sensation behind her eyes, the very eyes that the man kept staring into.
“Your eyes are green?” he said, looking at her accusingly.
She didn’t know how to respond to that. Her nostrils flared and the cold tore at the insides of her nose. What she wouldn’t give for some warm clothes, a roaring fireplace and some hot chocolate. Oh, and that man out of her face. There was a strange familiar charm to his face, but still, he was a cold-blooded killer who was staring at her funnily.
“Is that a common thing where you’re from?” He let go of her while eyeing her suspiciously.
“I-I guess it’s not that uncommon. Why?”
He shook his head. “What’s your name?” He turned around and started to walk down the hill as if he didn’t really care about the answer to his question. But he kept peering back over his shoulder, his eyes squinted, exuding something resembling surprise.
“Zoe. What’s yours?” She followed him, feeling accepted somehow, and it was such a relief that her chin started to wobble.
He nodded and then stopped peering over his shoulder. “I’m Matis,” he said.
Zoe swallowed and fought hard to keep the tears at bay. “It’s nice to meet you, Matis.”
He stopped abruptly and turned. “Is that it?” he said. But before Zoe had a chance to say anything, he made a low grumbling sound, something resembling an ironic scoff, and then continued marching away.
Zoe was confused. “Um, does that mean you’ll help me?” She had to yell it after him, his long strides making the gap between them grow quickly.
“I’ll get you thawed up,” he yelled back, sounding annoyed again. “And get you into some other clothes, something a bit more seasonally appropriate.”
“Oh my god, you don’t know how happy that makes me.”
“You do know that I’m a killer, don’t you? You saw me kill those soldiers. If I were you, I wouldn’t be so fast to rejoice.”
“It’s either death by you or by hypothermia, and I figured you’d have killed me by now if you wanted to.”
Matis scoffed and then shrugged as if she had a point.
“Besides, I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m already dead and in some sort of purgatory or limbo. Or maybe I've just lost my mind.”
“Wonderful,” Matis exclaimed sarcastically, apparently not really paying too much attention to her. Zoe couldn’t be sure, but he actually seemed offended somehow.
“It must be a very mild climate where you’re from?” Matis said. “In England? I mean, since you weren’t exactly dressed for the Worrockan winters.”
“Well, it’s summer there. Or at least it was when I left.” Zoe’s head snapped up when his words finally sank in, and she was immediately attacked by furious snowflakes stabbing her in the eyes.
“Worrockan?” she repeated. A flood of angry warmth rushed to her cheeks, and her shoulders started to shake uncontrollably. “As in the Kingdom of Worrock?”
Matis glanced at her sideways, his features suddenly set in a guarded grimace. He looked like he’d done last night, suspicious and alert. “Yes?” he said, dragging it out as a questioning threat.
“It’s our capital city.” He stopped and eyeballed her with a grim expression, his dark eyes flashing with what could only be described as mistrust.
Zoe scoffed while blinking excessively, trying hard to prevent the blasted snow from blinding her. “Who the hell are you?” she bellowed.
Thora and Silas both stopped and turned around simultaneously with confusion written all over their faces.
“Worrock is a fictional land,” Zoe continued. She stepped in front of Matis, facing him and stopping him with both hands against his chest.
“It is what?” Matis glanced over her shoulder, presumably at his friends behind her, before he returned his attention towards her furious outbursts.
“This is a setup, isn’t it? Where are the cameras? Where are the bloody cameras? Is it in your clothes?”
Zoe grabbed hold of Matis’ cloak and started looking for small cameras hidden in buttons or in those strange brooches that were holding his cloak in place, and every now and again she’d stop and listen for voices from a control room or something. Somewhere someone was laughing their head off and she wasn’t having it.
“What’s a camera?” Thora wondered.
Matis sighed as he grabbed her wrists and prevented her from searching him any further. He pulled her arms down and pulled her into him, holding her tightly in place as he glared down at her.
“I’m not crazy,” she hissed at him, lifting her chin and arching her eyebrows to let him know she wasn’t afraid of him. “It is you who are making me crazy with all this fake shit. None of this is real. It is impossible!”
“You think this is fake?” Matis released her wrists and quickly folded his hands around her upper arms, actually lifting her up from the ground, and then he tossed her away as if she weighed practically nothing.
“Matis!” Thora exclaimed in shocked horror as Zoe landed in the deep snow a couple of feet away.
“What? She needs to cool the hell down.” He walked past Zoe, who was desperately trying to get back up before the snow had a chance to soak through her clothes, leaving her wet and even colder. As Thora quickly came to her aid and brushed her down, Matis barged on, taking the lead with incredible strides.
“Hey! Wait,” Thora called out.
Silas started to follow Matis, but then stopped and turned halfway around by the sound of Thora’s voice. He looked like he had absolutely no idea what to do.
“Hey sweetheart,” Thora said to Zoe. “You have to keep up. And try not to infuriate Matis too much. He’s not a big people’s person.”
“No, really?” Zoe sputtered sarcastically. “He’s got some serious bipolar issues.” Although she got his point; the snow certainly wasn’t fake.
Zoe and Thora found a pocket right of the entrance shielded by a few large rocks that protected them from straying eyes. There, Thora washed and re-dressed, and now it was Zoe’s turn.
Zoe stepped out of her dress with a relieved sigh. Finally, she was free of the nagging, coarse wool, and even though it was only temporary, it felt so good.
“I know,” Thora said as she brought Zoe a pot of water, warm from the fire. “They itch like crazy, don’t they? But they keep you warm in the winter cold.” When she put the pot down on the ground, she gasped as her eyes trailed over Zoe’s back. “My goodness, you’ve got bruises all over. Are you sure there’s nothing broken, like a couple of ribs or something?”
“But Zoe…?” Thora brushed her fingertips over a particularly nasty-looking black bruise above Zoe’s left hipbone. Zoe twitched, and Thora quickly retracted her hand. “I’m sorry,” she said. “She really wanted to kill you, didn’t she?”
“No need to feel guilty then,” Matis’ voice sounded from the fireplace.
“It’s not nice to eavesdrop, Matis,” Thora shouted back, laughing. But when Zoe shot her a tight smile, her laugh quickly died down. “What’s wrong?”
“This is not my world,” Zoe whispered.
Thora nodded. “I’m sure you can go back as soon as we find Olander and the book.” Her eyes flickered and she had trouble remaining eye contact. Apparently, even Thora had a feeling that that would take a while.
“I have a family,” Zoe said. “They’ll be wondering where I am.” She crouched down to the pot and filled her palms with the lukewarm water, splashing it against her face, rubbing her neck, and dipping her hands back into the pot.
“Husband?” Thora inquired tentatively.
“I’m not married. I have parents, though, and a sister.”
“What’s her name?”
Zoe glanced up at Thora who looked genuinely interested.
“Um, her name is Emma.”
“Older or younger?”
“Older. She’s married and has twin boys.”
“So you have nephews.” Thora smiled. “Any suitors?”
Zoe scoffed. “You sound just like my sister.” She splashed some water on her shoulders allowing it to trickle down her back. “No, no suitors. And you? Do you have any family? Any brothers and sisters?”
“No. I’m an only child. It’s very rare, actually.” She winked and shot Zoe a naughty smile, making Zoe see flashes of rabbits humping vigorously in her mind’s eye. “But my mother was very small and weak, and she wouldn’t have survived a second pregnancy.” Thora laughed. “You’re finding it hard to believe that I come from the womb of such a woman, but my father was a big man, and all of this, this is pure muscle that I’ve worked really hard for.” She flexed her biceps and flashed Zoe her strong white teeth.
“I imagined all Kraquars were strong.”
“Well, how could you think otherwise, when the only Kraquar people you’ve met are the three of us? No, my mother was a potion-maker. She didn’t need the muscle power.”
“Your parents aren’t alive anymore?”
“No. I only have remote relatives like the ones living in Eldgaard. The ones we never made it to before you got yourself caught by Noomi’s guards.” She smiled. “No, Silas and Matis’ family is my family now.”
Zoe gaped at Thora, pointed a discreet finger in the general direction of the other inhabitants of the cave, and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Wait? Those two are related?”
“Not by blood, no. But they grew up together. Silas’ family took in Matis and his brother when their parents died just a few months apart. It was a long time ago, though. If you ask them, they are brothers.”
Thora shook Zoe’s dress, before offering it back to her. “You’re shivering. Here, put this back on.”
Zoe sighed, her eyes fixed on the purple dress. She stroked the coarse fabric with her fingertips. “Oh well, I suppose it’s better than freezing to death.”
2. A snake is often depicted in Worrockan jewellery. It represents the Boncrup Snake that vowed to protect the country from outside intruders.
3. Worrock usually has a very mild climate, except for the rather harsh winters - but on the plus side: they are fairly short.
4. The original people of Worrock are the Kraquars of which Matis is one.
5. Worrock is also home of a Niolan line of witches called Isilins - they came to Worrock many years ago. Now, there is only one Isilin left in Worrock, though.
6. Worrock is a popular place to settle down, not least because of the mild climate and short winters, but also because it is known as a peaceful country – except of course when demons wander through an interdimensional portal that leads straight to Worrock.
7. The outer city of Eldgaard is inspired by houses and villages in 19th century Denmark, whereas the village of Neffe is mostly inspired by Viking houses.
8. If you ever did travel to Worrock, you’d probably think you had travelled about 8-900 years back in time. Or possibly that you’d lost your mind.
2. I love this story. I want to live in this story. This story is so freaking awesome.
3. Yeah, no, this probably won’t be ready before August. August 6th – yes, August 6th. Definitely August 6th.
4. Oh hey, look! What a pretty *insert distraction*.
5. Wait a minute…! Was that another deadline that just whooshed by? Hey, where do you think you are going?
6. What the hell is this? I can’t publish this. I suck like no one has ever sucked before, maybe even worse than that.
8. You know, this might not be half bad. I think. Maybe.
9. I love Zoe and Matis so much! I should write a book about their son. He’d probably have gorgeous dark hair and the most dazzling green eyes ever.
10. Fine! October it is. I’m booking a blitz, damn it!
Introvert, creative, awkward.
Neel Kay lives with her husband and two kids in rural surroundings in the south of Denmark, not far from the German border. She’s a trained milliner, studied English at university, and now works a day job as a web editor. But she’s been writing always.
Love coffee, scarves and sea views. Oh, and butt-kicking heroines who know how to swing a sword and aren’t afraid to get a little dirty.