Welcome to Prague, 1970: the epicenter in a struggle of spies and sorcerers. The Witch Who Came In From The Cold follows agents on opposing sides of two struggles: the Cold War, and an ancient conflict between two occult secret societies: the Consortium of Ice and the Acolytes of Flame. A CIA and KGB agent will find their loyalties to country tested when they realize they must work together to prevent the destruction of the world at the hands of the Flame.
Gabe Pritchard, grizzled CIA agent and proud American never believed in sorcery--until he walked into the wrong room in Cairo and ended up with a powerful magical Elemental living inside his head. Tanya Morozova, latest in a long line of Ice Witches, knew loyalty to the Consortium before she ever took up the KGB badge. Now they're both stationed to Prague, a city built on powerful ley lines and thrumming with both political and magical tension.
In Season One, a CIA extraction of a Soviet scientist ended in chaos when one of the American operatives betrayed the U.S. in order to deliver the magically-powerful scientist to the Flame. Tanya and Gabe worked together to foil the plot--but trust is hard to come by amongst spies and suspicion lingers throughout their agencies, both magical and national.
In Season Two, Tanya and Gabe must deal with the fallout of their actions from Season One as each plays their own dangerous game to try to learn the secrets of the Flame without getting burned. Meanwhile a powerful sorcerer arrives in Prague to lead a ritual that could turn the tides of war.
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About the Author
Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia, drank almond milk with monks on Wudang Shan, and wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat. Max is also the author of the Craft Sequence of books about undead gods and skeletal law wizards—Full Fathom Five, Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise, and Last First Snow. Max fools everyone by actually writing novels in the coffee shops of Davis Square in Somerville, MA. His dreams are much nicer than you’d expect. MaxGladstone.com. @maxgladstone.
Cassandra Rose Clarke grew up in south Texas and currently lives in a suburb of Houston, where she writes and teaches composition at a pair of local colleges. She holds an M.A. in creative writing from The University of Texas at Austin, and in 2010 she attended the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop in Seattle. Her work has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award and YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. Her latest novel is Our Lady of the Ice, out now from Saga Press. CassandraRoseClark.com. @mitochondrial.
Ian Tregillis is the son of a bearded mountebank and a discredited tarot card reader. He is the author of the Milkweed Triptych, Something More than Night, and the Alchemy Wars trilogy. His most current novel is The Rising (Alchemy Wars #2). His short fiction has appeared at numerous venues including Tor.com, Fantasy&Science Fiction, and Popular Science. He lives in New Mexico, where he consorts with writers, scientists, and other disreputable types. IanTregillis.com. @ITregillis.
Fran Wilde’s work includes the Andre Norton-, and Compton Crook Award-winning and Nebula-nominated novel Updraft (Tor, 2015) and its sequels, Cloudbound and Horizon, as well as the novella “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” (Tor.com 2016). Her short stories appear in Asimov’s, Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Nature. She writes for publications including The Washington Post, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, and iO9.com. franwilde.net. @fran_wilde.
Read an Excerpt
Kralupy nad Vltavou (north of Prague)
April 1, 19701
The barge was on fire.
Not that it wasn't supposed to catch fire eventually, Karel noted, hurrying to stamp out his cigarette. But it was supposed to be a controlled burn. A final farewell. Long after the seedy thugs he'd hired had jumped down onto the barge from the bridge where he now crouched. Long after they'd pried open the hold with the crowbars and mystical charms Karel and his Flame colleagues had supplied. And long, long after they'd chiseled the Consortium of Ice's frozen Hosts free and loaded them into the truck that even now sat, idling, near the docks. And it certainly wasn't supposed to surge toward the heavens like an unholy combustion, devouring everything in its path.
No, this fire was nothing like the one Karel Hašek had planned. And it had come much too soon.
Karel swore under his breath. What the hell were those imbeciles doing? He rushed to the vantage point at the base of the bridge that spanned the narrow gap where the river Vltava twisted beneath the suburb of Kralupy nad Vltavou. The signal he'd been awaiting—a sharp whistle, a flicker of green on the charm clenched in his hand—wasn't likely to come. Briefly, he sorted through his mental catalogue of charms and ritual components on his person, then muttered fuck it under his breath and brought the binoculars to his eyes.
Flames. Orange and red—and a sickly undertone of green—filled his vision. He staggered back, adjusted the binoculars' focus. Now he could see the chaos filling the decks—Karel's own men and the Ice guards both running, shouting, waving pistols and fire extinguishers, flames racing along a stack of wooden crates and lapping greedily at the wheelhouse. One of the thugs he'd hired raced past, his jacket consumed in that hungry green flame, and flung himself overboard into the Vltava. Karel cringed at the splash and plume of smoke that followed.
Shit. This fire was definitely not part of the plan, and if he didn't get down there soon, they'd be lucky to collect any of the Hosts at all. But with the Ice running around in an uncoordinated flurry, when they had the advantage of the defensive position—
What was the Consortium of Ice doing? Had they known the Flame had planned to attack, and were trying to throw them off? Zerena was greedy, yes, but she wasn't careless. She wouldn't have agreed to this plan if she'd thought there was any chance Ice would be prepared for the raid. And anyway, there were only supposed to be two guards on the boat—just enough to steer it upriver, barely enough to even manage the boating functions, much less protect the precious cargo in the hold.
A shot rang out, ricocheting against the embankment walls, smashing Karel's last hope that maybe, just maybe, this catastrophe could be undone. Soon enough, they'd have the Státní bezpečnost police force swarming down on them. But if they could get away from the smoldering wreckage first, with at least some of the Hosts, like they'd planned . . .
He swung the binoculars toward the boat's aft side, where Vladimir crouched over the locked hatch that led to the hold. Come on, Vladimir, get inside. Stick to the plan. A golden light swirled around the witch as he chanted and wove the distant ley lines' energy into power. Then the hatch issued a cloud of white mist and, with a grin, Vladimir yanked it open.
Karel exhaled. All right. If they moved quickly enough, they might still salvage this mission. He tugged the belt on his trench coat tight and ran toward the center of the bridge, thumb running over the charm in his pocket, coaxing it to life.
More shots—three in a row, followed by sharp curses. All the flames were tinged in green now, and a heavy metallic stench flooded Karel's nose. "Stop wasting bullets!" someone screamed. "Can't you see they don't work?"
Karel reached the bridge's middle and swung himself up over the railing. The charm flared to life and enveloped him in a white flash.
With a thud, he crashed onto the barge's deck. Far, far more heavily than he should have, with that charm. Karel toppled forward with a gasp. One ankle crunched uselessly beneath him as pain seared up his shins. He rolled onto his hands and knees to stagger to his feet, but his left ankle couldn't support him. Hot pain radiated from it as he felt the bones shift and crunch.
The charm should have cushioned his fall—he'd charged it himself, had used just such a charm countless times in his service to the Flame. Did the Ice have some sort of shield to block his spell? Such a thing was rare, difficult to charge, even more difficult to arrange the ritual for, but it was always a possibility . . . Karel propped himself against the nearest crate, drew a fortifying breath, and limped toward the hatch. No time to wonder. If they were going to get the Hosts out before the entire barge was engulfed, they had to move now. He raised a hand toward Vladimir, who was inching his way down into the hold—
A massive dark figure dropped down before him, right behind Vladimir. It was backlit by flame, shadows marring its features, but there was no missing the bunched muscles or the teeth gleaming in the greenish fire.
Karel opened his mouth to cry out to Vladimir.
The figure reached down. Ripped Vladimir from the hold.
And in one clean twist, snapped his neck.
Karel took a step back. His broken ankle slid out from beneath him, skidding on the damp deck, and he crumpled to the ground. Shouts, flames, shadows swirled around him; he blinked, momentarily dazed. Something hot and heavy in the air was sinking into his brain, dulling his senses. It itched and prickled beneath his skin. Magic flitted through the air, from activated charms to hastily assembled rituals—but as the deck groaned beneath him, as the crackle of flames grew, he sensed a sudden stillness. As if he were in the center of a great void.
No magic. No elements, waiting to be woven into spells. No energy throbbing in the ground and the river and the air. He felt nothingness, and it was suffocating him.
The shadowy figure was drawing near.
Karel fumbled at his side, reaching for the Makarov whose slender barrel was pressing into his ribs, and pulled it free. His sweaty fingers slipped as he cradled the trigger. Aimed at the figure. Clenched his teeth, bracing for the recoil. Fired.
The figure swatted its hand through the air, halfhearted, as if flicking away a fly. The bullet clattered to the deck.
Karel stared at the attacker, a yawning chasm opening up in his stomach. The attacker stared back with black eyes like two chunks of volcanic glass, glinting in the night. Karel's throat closed, an unnamable terror pinning him in place.
Two shots rang out—Karel's men finally finding their courage. The stranger, unprepared, flinched and staggered back as a bullet burrowed into one shoulder.
Karel tried to steady himself on his feet. With his attacker distracted, maybe he stood half a chance. But before he could act, two of his men rushed forward and hoisted him up by his elbows. The figure huffed an angry breath, breaking eye contact, and took off running toward the other side of the deck.
"C'mon, boss. No time to waste," one of his men said. "They're already starting to wake up."
Karel leaned on the man, grudgingly, and limped toward the hatch with him. "What in the hell is that—that thing?"
"No idea. But whatever it is, it's killed some of the Ice crew, too."
Karel winced as fresh pain lanced up his leg. The news should have been a relief, but Karel never did care for unknowns. "Well, if it isn't one of ours, and it isn't the Ice—"
Two more of his hired thugs emerged from the hatch, struggling to lift out what appeared to be a very stiff corpse. Karel knew better. It was one of the elemental Hosts who'd been placed into stasis by the Consortium of Ice for safekeeping. While they were in stasis, the Ice couldn't access their raw elemental power to charge rituals of unimaginable strength, but then, neither could the Flame. Tonight's goal was to reclaim as many of the slumbering Hosts as possible. Alive. If they died, then the elemental lodged within them would be released, free to wander in search of a new Host, and then the Flame would have to start the hunt for the elemental anew.
There were ten Hosts in the Ice barge's hold, according to Karel and Zerena's sources. Almost a third of all the Hosts in the world. If they could recover all the Ice's holdings—
Karel winced again. That if was getting louder by the second.
"Get them to the truck," he shouted. "Quickly!"
Karel's assistants left him propped against a stack of crates, gun in hand, and climbed into the hatch, joining the other men to work in shifts, clearing out the hold. Not nearly fast enough. Karel's pulse was hammering in his ears, over the roar of the flames and shouts behind him. Something in the air tasted wrong. It felt as if all their magical charms were twisting and curdling and crumbling away. Whatever was causing it had dampened his weightlessness charm, that much was clear—that's how he'd ended up with a shattered ankle.
And then there was his strange attacker, capable of swiping bullets from the air—
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of swearing. "Shit. They're waking up!"
Karel limped toward the hold. His men were wrestling with another Host, this one soggy and limp instead of frozen solid. The Host tossed her head and gasped for air, a wrenching, slurping noise. Karel reared back, face twisting as revulsion rippled through him.
"Subdue her. Get her to the truck! Quickly, quickly, pospěšte si!"
More shots behind him. A thud. A shout. A feral growl.
And then the shadow lunged past him.
It ripped the Host woman from his workers' arms. The heat from the flames was searing now; everything was warping that sickly shade of unnatural green. The air smelled heavy and leaden as the shadow backed away, toward the barge's edge.
"You don't know what you're dealing with," Karel said. "The Flame will not forgive you."
The figure tilted its head. Karel imagined it was smiling in the dark.
"Release her. Now." Karel raised the Makarov.
The shadow snorted. They both knew perfectly well how that would turn out.
So Karel pointed the gun at the Host woman instead. And fired.
The Host went limp in her kidnapper's arms, red blooming from her temple. The creature glared at Karel, then eased the Host's body down to the deck with sudden gentleness. Lumbered toward Karel, a fist raised. The flames leapt and sparked, hungry, heavy, sour—
Another Host clawed out of the hold, dripping with melted ice. "Help! Someone help me! I've been kidnapped!"
How was the stasis magic wearing off so quickly?
"We need to go. Now," one of the hired men urged Karel. Karel's gaze caught on the Host, staring at the dark figure rushing toward them . . . At the unnatural flames, now nearly consuming the boat, and the shouting Ice guards running around the boat's fore, trying to douse them. Karel nodded, unable to speak. Let the thugs slide supporting hands under his arms to help cart him to the docks.
He tossed one last glance back at the barge. It looked about as sturdy as a marshmallow, wrapped in greenish flame. Somewhere on the deck, Vladimir's body twisted and curled in the heat.
"How many did we recover?" Karel asked as they helped him into the cab of the truck.
Karel winced. Zerena would have his head for that.
"Two are still in stasis, but one is awake. We restrained her. We'll let you figure out how to deal with them."
"Just get us the hell out of here!"
The men were all too happy to comply. They throttled the truck into gear and peeled away from the docks.
As Karel slumped against the window, he watched the green flames in his rearview mirror, their bright light blotted by a lone silhouette.