On a frozen wasteland of a planet, a girl is on the run with a wolf…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves, Meg Long’s captivating debut novel about survival, found family, and the bond between a girl and a wolf, out from Wednesday Books on January 11th.
On a frozen wasteland of a planet, a girl is on the run with a wolf who is born to be a killer but bound to be her guide. As they fight to escape ice goblins, giant bears, and a ruthless leader intent on trapping them both, one question drives them relentlessly forward: where do you turn when there is nowhere to hide?
The den is packed tonight. Kalba’s got four fighters going at each other at once and the crowd loves the spectacle.
Bodies push as close as they can to the action. The smells of unwashed thermal suits and booze waft over me as I slowly make my way through the crowd.
I didn’t intend to pick any pockets on the lower level but in this frenzy, it’s impossible not to. The crowd jostles and pushes every time one of the burly fighters lands a punch. My fingers slip right in out of habit.
The taking isn’t much. A few chits here and there. Some lint. A fighting knife, which I drop on the floor. I make it a point to avoid weapons that aren’t worth pawning. A common blade isn’t worth the time it will take me to sell it.
I get pushed up close to the pit as one of the fighters gets thrown against the fencing. She doesn’t stay down for long and slams the other guy into the floor. I’m equal parts disgusted and impressed. Impressed that the big guy is still conscious. And disgusted because for me, fighting is about survival. Not about sport. The fighters don’t just rip each other apart, they prolong the action as much as possible to make as much money as possible. Makes my stomach curl.
About six months back, Kalba asked if I wanted to fight for him. He saw what I did to a guy who tried to take too many liberties. But I refused. Didn’t want more eyes on me, not then. Not now. Safer to be invisible in a place like this. Besides, Mom didn’t teach me to defend myself so I could get pounded on for a few chits.
A third fighter tackles the woman while she’s throwing hay-makers into the guy on the ground. The crowd goes nuts as the blood flies.
I quickly press back into the mess of bodies. Away from the fence. Away from the fight. As I approach the staircase, I’m happy to see only one of Kalba’s lackeys guarding the staircase. The other one is probably out monitoring the crowds. With the race coming closer, more and more people are packing into the Ket. And there will be more to come. But one guard makes it easier for me right now.
I tug my hat down to shade as much of my face and dark curls as possible. I grabbed it when I left today for this exact purpose. I left my cloak downstairs and I’ve got most of my hair pushed up under the hat so as not to be recognizable. At least, that’s the plan. Even though Kalba said he’d square up what I took from those commandos, I’m not going to go around with my cloak in plain sight. They’d recognize me in a flash and I don’t doubt for a second they’d hold a grudge.
I pass the guard at the staircase and head to the bar on the far wall. I’ll wait for him to be distracted, then I’ll dash past him. I order a bottle of beer. It’s about as potent as a glass of tea but it’s cheap and will help me blend in.
I take a sip and try not to grimace at the taste.
“What? Our beer’s not good enough for you, scavver?” A voice next to me practically sneers the words as I turn.
“Yeah, I’m talking to you, you freak. I know who you are.” The woman is older, thin, and mean-looking with frostbite scars on her nose and cheeks. She smells like piss and sküll liquor.
She jabs a finger in my face. “You got a lotta nerve showing up at this bar.”
“I just came for a drink.” I turn my attention back to my beer, praying that this slimeball will get bored and move on.
“But you shouldn’t be allowed to drink here. This joint’s for racers. You’re not a racer.”
“I’m a guest of Boss Kalba’s.”
The woman spits on the ground, her saliva landing inches from my boot. Rude.
“Guest, my ass. Your mother might have been a racer but she chose to marry that scavver trash. Then they quit racing like they was too good for it. You’re just like them, a piece of shit.”
She takes a swig from a shot glass and it takes all of my self- control not to smash it in her face. It’s not the first slur I’ve heard against my family and it won’t be the last. Besides, I have more important goals. I steal a glance over to the stairs. The lackey is looking toward the pits. Perfect.
“It’s been a pleasure,” I say, and leave the bar. But the woman follows me and suddenly she’s got friends. I see three guys stand with her in my peripheral vision. They begin to taunt me as we all move toward the stairs.
“Hey, isn’t that the scavver’s kid? Does she think she’s good enough to race?”
“No way. Just ’cause her mother was a racer don’t mean shit.
She’s tainted with scavver blood.”
“A racer married one of the ice freaks?”
Laughter erupts. I’m almost to the stairs. I need to slip past the guard and make sure that these loud assholes don’t.
“Your mothers got what they deserved,” the woman sneers again, louder than the rest.
I stop midstep. Take a breath. Focus on the pockets upstairs. “They deserved to die out there. Scavvers ain’t fit for dog meat—”
My fist slams into the woman’s face before I even fully turn around. Her head rocks back with the impact.
One of the big guys lunges for me, but I dodge, sidestepping out of his path. As I move, I knee him hard twice while yanking him down by the shoulders. Once in the balls and once in the ribs.
Before the other big one can start swinging, I yank a glass off a nearby table and smash it across his forehead. He crumples to the ground.
Then the woman’s back on me, hands and nails clawing at my face. Someone else punches my jaw and I fall. I don’t stay down, though. I stick with my momentum and roll away. Getting my feet back under me, I scramble to standing as the woman plows into me, using her head like a battering ram. The force pushes me backward and slams my spine into a table behind me. Pain rocks my torso as I struggle to keep my breath.
Now I’m really pissed.
I slam my elbow into the woman’s exposed back. Her arms loosen enough and I knee her right in the gut. I dodge suddenly as a huge arm swings my way. Ah, the one loitering in the back who must’ve punched me. I owe him for that. He swings again and I drop my weight to duck right under his hook, then spring upward, turning my momentum into a glorious uppercut that lands square on his chin.
He staggers back, off-balance, and I don’t hesitate to kick him hard in the chest with my back foot. The chump flies into a table of mean-looking commandos, who immediately start hollering and causing a bigger commotion than our fight.
I tune back in to my surroundings and spy a few of Kalba’s goons coming our way. Too many for me to slip by. With a wistful glance at the staircase, I disappear back into the crowd, making my escape.
Pushing my way back to the elevator is exhausting. By the time I get back to the wolf cages, I’m over this place. Over the racers and their backward attitudes. Over Kalba’s joint with its lowlifes and dregs. Over helping this stubborn wolf.
I peer into the cage. She’s only eaten one of the herb balls. Frigging great. My head throbs something awful, so I grab a raw piece of meat that’s in front of one of the other cages. Sinking down by the she-wolf’s cage, I press the cold meat to my chin. Now that the adrenaline has worn off, I realize that my whole face frigging hurts. I’m sweating like a karakonen goblin under my layers and I’m tired of everything on this dumb planet.
Temur appears from around a section of cages, takes one look at me, and scurries away. I’m starting to scare even the ones who don’t hate me. Great.
I reposition the mostly frozen meat, pressing it up to the side of my face and closing my eyes. The chill feels good on my burning skin, and the throb lessens a bit. Breathing still hurts, though. I’m going to be hella sore tomorrow.
A throat clears and I crack my left eye open a fraction. If it’s Kalba, I’m going to pretend to be incoherent.
But it’s not. It’s Temur with some rags. He points to my lip and nose. I hadn’t even realized they were bleeding. Maybe I am a little incoherent. I take the damp rag from him and begin to wipe my face. Temur sits down cross-legged by me, his gaze jumping from me to the wolf and back again. Like we’re both fragile and broken. I turn my head to look at her. Mistake. Giant stabbing throb. I blink hard against the pain, my eyes watering.
As they refocus, I get a look at the she-wolf. She doesn’t look fragile despite her injuries. There’s no hiding the predator, even with the matted fur and injured leg. Her body hums with leashed energy. It’s in the muscles of her hind legs and the threat of teeth peeking out from her jaw.
Nothing fragile there.
The meat against my head is starting to feel slimy, so I flip it over to the other side. Ice hits my skin again; blessed, momentary relief. We sit there, the three of us, for a good long while, not saying much at all.
Temur probably wants to scold me but thankfully he’s silent as he watches both of us.
After a while, the meat thaws and becomes sticky on my skin. My body temperature has made it warm. I stand, still a little wobbly, but I manage to open the feeding hatch in the she-wolf’s cage. I toss the meat to her. Her eyes watch carefully as it lands near her head, but she doesn’t flinch or jump at all.
“Do you think she’ll eat it?” Temur says, helping me close the latch when my fingers fumble with fatigue.
“She hasn’t eaten for days,” he continues. “She won’t touch the meat we leave in there. She’s barely touched the herbs.”
We both watch her sniff the air. Then she moves without getting up and begins to lick the meat. Temur looks at me in surprise.
“What?” I say.
“Maybe she wants to see how you taste,” he says. I roll my eyes and it makes my head ache.
“She wanted her food warm,” I say. “That’s all.”
I watch her lick the meat for a minute more, then I turn to leave. Even though I think that I’m right, that she didn’t want frozen food, I can’t escape the chill creeping up my spine. That maybe she did want to see how I taste.
Excerpted from Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves, copyright © 2022 by Meg Long.