Courtesy of The Serial Box, we’ve got an excerpt of “A Long Cold Winter” (The Witch Who Came in From the Cold Episode One,) out this month! This episode is written by Lindsay Smith and Max Gladstone. Also, all of that fantastic artwork is by Mark Weaver.
Read on for the excerpt!
Excerpt of “A Long Cold Winter” by Lindsay Smith and Max Gladstone
Prague, Czechoslovak Socialist Republic
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 adversary was 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 fist 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 finally 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.