As you may know, I’m a big fan of Serial Box, and so we’re pleased to have an excerpt today from Season 1 of THE WITCH WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, recently published in physical form by Saga Press (June 13, 2017). Perfect binge reading for the summer! Plus, I received a copy of it, and it is a BEAUTIFUL book. They did a really nice job on the cover. Check out our Instagram for a pic! And, if you’ve already read Season 1, check out Season 2, which is out now in e-book and audiobook form from Serial Box.
Excerpt from THE WITCH WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, Season 1
Prague, Czechoslovak Socialist Republic January 1970 1.
Tatiana Mikhailovna Morozova lay on her belly on the slate roof tiles, trying not to let the cold harden her muscles. She needed to stay limber for whatever came next—if it ever came next. The past few nights had proven fruitless, but she couldn’t let down her guard. She listened to Prague’s nightlife settle around her, from the distant mutter of drunks to the crunch of thin boot soles against snow to the heavy chill crackling in her numb ears, and tried to sift through them for any signs of her target.
But none of the street sounds were out of the ordinary; not a single person was out of place. Her entire operation, so carefully crafted, had been for nothing.
Tanya grabbed the binoculars from the rooftop ledge—KOMZ, dense metal and enviable optics, standard KGB issue—and surveyed Staré Město Square once more. A lone man crossed the square, kicking up a swirl of fog in his wake, but his frowning face was not that of their target. She swiveled her gaze across the night-stained square toward the streetlamp at the northwestern entrance, where a woman leaned against the post. Tanya couldn’t hear the repetitive click of the lighter flicking open and snapping shut, but she could imagine it; she knew the sound too well. Nadezhda was just as bored as she was— knowing Nadia, probably more. If their target didn’t show soon, it’d be another empty night. Another battle lost.
With a growing sense of desperation, Tanya checked each exit of the square once more. Their sources had hinted that their adversaries were working on a new, advanced scouting method, and this was just the sort of night for them to turn it loose. All their analysis indicated tonight was ideal—weather conditions, star alignment, magnetic pull, all those fiddly little calibration elements that operators like her rarely had to take into consideration. That’s what the bureaucrats were for. But if Tanya let another target slip past, too many people would pay the price.
Several of their assets had already vanished, and they couldn’t afford to lose even one more. She had a better chance out here, on the edge of the Iron Curtain, but then, so did the other side. It was difficult to get information when she was back in Moscow, spending her days in the dank basement of the Lubyanka headquarters, pretending she couldn’t hear the screams from the interrogation cells. And her family was better connected than most, better skilled at greasing the ancient gossip machinery that far predated the East-West divide.
The messages they did manage to pass on were always brief, vague, smuggled in via coded newspaper advertisements or a short radio broadcast on a signal strong enough to pierce the censors’ static. We have located one in Burma, the message might read, or One lost to them in Marrakesh. Tanya didn’t know which side was ahead, but suspected it was a little too even for anyone’s comfort.
Something rattled on the roof ledge beside her.
Tanya dropped the binoculars and glanced toward the array of devices lined up on the ledge. They weren’t so much devices, really—the largest of them was scarcely wider than a ruble—as charms. Talismans. One was twitching like an electric wire starting to fray; another hummed with a barely visible glow. Some kind of detector slowly coming to life.
Tanya held her breath like a st squeezing shut. There it was, just on the edge of her hearing: a shuffle and scrape, dry and rhythmic. So rhythmic it sounded mechanical. Close enough, anyway. Tanya raised the binoculars again, and sure enough, Nadia had flicked the lighter to life. Their target had arrived.
Nadia lit the cigarette, but held it aloft, uncertain. Come on, Nadia. Give me a direction. Give me something to work with. The bright cherry bobbed as Nadia scanned the square.
Finally, she jabbed it in the direction of a frothily ornate building tiered like a wedding cake of stone.
Tanya swiveled toward the old town hall. There it was, a dark figure, a blur behind the veils of fog. Crunch. Crunch. Each step in slushy snow a labored act. Was the target injured? Weak? Undercharged? They could only be so lucky.
She set the binoculars aside and bounded for the fire escape.
Tanya and Nadia crossed paths one block west of the square, ahead of their target. The street was a patchwork of shadow and light, everything reduced to hazy blobs that either melted into the darkness or blotted the lamplight. Having to rely on their own imperfect eyesight, the women were at a disadvantage.
Better to focus on what they could turn in their favor; better to minimize their shortcomings and leverage their strengths. Just as their forebears had stolen the secrets of the atom bomb rather than wasting money uncovering it for themselves. She and Nadia had three advantages over their target: One, they could be certain their target would take the most direct path available to its destination. Two, that it would move at a steady pace. Three, and perhaps the most crucial: It had no idea they were looking for it.
In truth, Tanya much preferred stalking this kind of prey over the usual drunken, paranoid diplomats the rezidentura chief frequently sent her to follow. Those men were always ready to throw a punch, looking for spies everywhere, a confusing mix of alcohol and counterintelligence training sending them looping halfway around Staré Město trying to shake tails real and imagined. But that’s where the advantage ended. Diplomats, agriculture secretaries, cultural attachés, and the like—they rarely showed a fraction of the raw determination that tonight’s prey surely would.
“Couldn’t get a good look,” Nadia said, voice pitched low so it wouldn’t echo o the stone around them. “Still not sure who they’re after.”
“We’re close to Bar Vodnář.” Tanya pointed along the narrow, curving street ahead, through the hazy shapes of balconies and cherub statues jutting from the dark. “Everyone likes to make trouble there.”
“Well, let’s try to stop it before it gets too close. Last thing we need is to pick a fight with some supercharged construct.” Nadia pitched her cigarette into a snow bank. “You have enough dampeners?”
Tanya’s jaw stiffened. Between her grandfather’s constant second-guessing and Nadia’s chiding, it was hard not to feel like a child, fumbling along. Hadn’t she proven herself enough? But she nodded, huffng out a white cloud of breath before her. “I’m ready.”
“Great.” Nadia rolled her shoulders and her neck—the fighter in her limbering up for a brawl. “Since we don’t know exactly what we’re dealing with, let’s keep it standard. You take the lead, find out who our target’s after. See if you can’t get that person to safety in a hurry. Use the Vodnář safe room if you have to, though try not to get that nosy bartender involved if you can avoid it. I’ll circle back and try to delay or disable our target.”
Tanya refrained from pointing out that this was exactly how she’d set up their operation last time, only with their roles reversed. That operation belonged to another world—a whole other set of problems. Their mundane daytime world of geopolitical struggle, scrabbling for scraps of information that could change the fate of governments, entire continents. How tiny it all seemed, comparatively.
No, Tanya thought, as she glimpsed their target up ahead. Its limbs—definitely something stony, bound with metal and a host of other elements—shimmered in the dim streetlights a block away. A construct, a being assembled by powerful sorcerers and breathed to life with elemental energy. A creature fueled by a single purpose: to hunt down an elemental Host.
This world was something else entirely.
Interested? Pick up a copy of THE WITCH WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD today!
Spies and sorcerers face off during the Cold War, with the fate of the world in balance in this print edition of a hugely popular serial novel from five award-winning and critically acclaimed authors.
The Cold War rages in back rooms and dark alleys of 1970s Prague as spies and sorcerers battle for home and country. The fate of the East and the West hangs in the balance right along the Iron Curtain—and crackling beneath the surface is a vein of magic that is waiting to be tapped.