Meg Long's Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves is a captivating debut about survival, found family, and the bond between a girl and a wolf that delivers a fresh twist on classic survival stories and frontier myths.
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?
A Macmillan Audio production from Wednesday Books.
Release date: January 11, 2022
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Print pages: 384
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Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves
Cold is the night that falls.
Fast are the wolves that race the storm.
I’m not one to run from a fight. But when I’m outnumbered and a storm is brewing, I’m not going to be a chump either. Storms on Tundar only mean more ice and near instant death from hypothermia.
The three corporate commandos blocking my way don’t seem to notice the coming storm, as they’re still pretty hell-bent on kicking my ass. The ugliest one smacks a pipe into his palm while one of the smaller guys moves slowly to my left, trying to flank me. I mark him as the one to take out first. Especially since he’s now standing between me and my exit.
I usually pick my marks better than this. With the corporate presence growing on-world by the day, the commandos seemed like quick chits. But these guys weren’t as green as some of the other corporate tourists. They must work for one of the bigger corporations. Or worse, the Corporate Assembly. I should’ve known better with the race coming up, but it’s not the first time I’ve chosen the wrong pockets to pick. Some days I wish there were more than just mining or sledding jobs on this frozen wasteland of a planet. Then maybe I wouldn’t be stuck picking pockets.
The wind picks up slightly and I can smell ice in the air. Tundar ice has a certain scent, like a wild caress and the kiss of a cold, cold death. It smells of promise.
I inch backward and the ugly guy smirks. He thinks he’s won.
He’s not wrong.
But he doesn’t know the Ket like I do.
I kick hard at the ground, spraying ice dust in his face, and he jerks back. Small guy lunges my way but I’m already ahead of him. My other leg spins and collides with the side of his head. I’m unbalanced by the force of impact and we both go down.
But I scramble away from him and slide myself in the opposite direction, fingers grasping at the manhole cover that none of them noticed. There’s always another way out in this city. And it’s always down. But the corpo commandos are still tourists on Tundar, here for the racing season and gone before true winter hits. They don’t know the extent of the Ket’s underbelly.
I rip the manhole open and disappear into the dark before the commandos can catch up. By the time they make it down the ladder, I’m three streets over planning my next exit.
It’s almost dusk. If I head over to Boss Kalba’s den, I can probably lift a few extra chits from the drunk gamblers betting on the fights. I can’t remember if tonight is flesh fights or hounds. But it doesn’t matter. There’s always pockets to be picked at the dens. And Boss Kalba’s fights are the most popular in the city.
Decision made, I double back through a passage that leads to one of the main avenues. As I come to an intersection with a bigger tunnel, I have to dodge the incoming people flowing underground to avoid the storm.
I hear a voice shout out behind me, but I quickly lose myself in the crowd. Unfastening my cloak, I tuck it under my arm while slowing my pace and shuffling along as the tunnel opens up into a main strip. Shops and stalls decked in neon line the walls. Holofeeds work better down here, so the strip is a maze of shops and bright corpo ads flashing things I’ll never be able to afford.
I let myself melt into the crowd, pausing here and there. I pretend to browse some arken blades while unbraiding my unruly hair, though the wistful longing in my gaze isn’t faked. But there’s really no point in drooling over the corpo knives. Not when the ion storms get so strong here the electric impulses that power the arc of deadly light on the dull side of the blade grow unstable. Definitely no point buying a fancy bladed laser when the fancy parts won’t work. Like most things on this strip, they cost more than I could ever steal. Doesn’t matter. The only thing I’m willing to spend that many chits on is a ticket off this frozen rock.
I feel more than see the three chumps pushing through the crowd behind me. I fluff my frizz of dark hair, knowing they’re looking for a girl with two braids and a cloak with silver markings. None of which is me. For now.
I make my way over to an intersecting tunnel that will take me straight to Kalba’s den. Just as I clear the crowd, a shout follows me.
I sling my cloak back on and break into a sprint. Three minutes, two turns, and I’ll be home free. Footsteps pound behind me and I push my legs. Faster. Faster.
This will definitely be the last time I steal from corporate military troopers. With all this incessant running, I wish I’d stolen more than the measly ten chits in my pocket. Wish I’d taken the lot. Shouts and footsteps get closer and I curse, forcing everything I’ve got into pumping my legs even faster. I can contemplate my life choices after I shake these guys.
I spy the ladder that leads to the back of Kalba’s den. The main entrance beckons in the tunnel beyond. I could shoot for the main door and pray these chumps lose me in the crowds. Or I can take the ladder. I know that it opens up to the pens where the fighting animals are kept. There will be fewer people to hide behind in the pens but it’ll be much harder for these bigger commandos to follow me through the narrow shaft.
Without breaking my pace, I leap at the ladder and scramble to the top. I hear the shuffling below as the three men struggle into the narrow space.
I jerk the latch open and press against the cover but it barely budges.
What the hell?
I throw my shoulder into it, pressing into it as hard as I can. It opens a fraction and then shuts again.
I feel fingertips on my boots and I shove again, practically jumping off the ladder rung as I slam my shoulder into the metal. There’s a squeal from the other side but it finally opens.
I scramble up and out, quickly slamming the cover back into place and locking it. Then I plop my butt down right on top of the damn thing.
The banging from the men below reverberates through the metal and up my spine. But the cover holds. No one bursts through.
My lungs are still burning as I finally look around me. The pens have been rearranged since the last time I was in here, picking up an injured wolf with my mothers five years ago. Where the manhole was in a forgotten corner before, the space has now been filled in with more cages for the fighting beasts. Of course they’ve expanded; it’s the way of the syndicates just like it’s the way of the corpos. Nothing is ever enough. And now I’m surrounded by fenced walls and cheap hay with restless animals pacing back and forth inside the cages. This probably isn’t the best place for me to be.
A low growl from behind me raises the hair on my neck.
Because now I’m sitting inside one of those cages.
I swallow hard and turn very, very slowly in the direction of the growl. In the corner, a red wolf is curled into a defensive position, her glassy amber-yellow eyes set dead on me.
She’s wounded. Something chewed up one of her front legs pretty bad. She must’ve been sitting on top of the manhole when I forced my way through it. No wonder it wouldn’t budge.
She bares her teeth at me.
Out of the pot and into the fire.
I try to control my breathing as the she-wolf growls again.
She’s not as huge as the hybrid vonenwolves engineered for ice sledding. She’s sleeker. Bred for fighting. More Old Earth wolf in her than the native Tundarian vonen, though she’s still up to my ribs. She could easily kill me in a few snaps of her powerful jaws.
I carefully move, inch by inch, until I’m no longer sitting but crouching. I keep my posture as relaxed as I can. Any of the hybrid wolves in this city have higher-than-average intelligence for an animal. I can’t let her think I’m a threat.
She growls again, shifting her legs underneath her, prepping for a possible attack.
The blood on her chest shows up stark against the white fur that covers the underside of her body. The top part of her coat is an orange-russet color but I can still see where blood is matted across the fur on her back, on her nose, in her mouth.
She must have just finished fighting. And I had to pop up in her pen while she was resting on the manhole cover. Fate is not usually my friend, but this is pushing it.
The cage ceiling is about six feet high. If I could stand, I might be able to jump and cling to the ceiling. She could probably still reach me but I’m banking that jumping isn’t something she plans on doing tonight. Not with her leg in such bad shape.
She snaps her teeth at me and I jerk in surprise, almost falling out of my crouch.
Her continued growl reverberates low and intense. I know what the sound of that growl means and I’m already rising. That’s an attacking growl. I’ve heard it many times before but not usually this close and personal.
As I stand to my full height, I slowly raise my arms to get as close to the cage top as possible, wishing like hell I were taller.
The she-wolf limps to her feet, the growl becoming short, aggressive barks. She’s going to come at me, wound or no. My vision tunnels to her teeth.
Suddenly, I’m yanked up by my wrists. My joints bark in protest but then I’m through an opening in the ceiling. I jerk my feet up behind me as the wolf leaps in my direction. Her teeth snap and a small corner of my cloak rips as I’m dragged onto the top of the cage.
She leapt even with the injury. I’m lucky as hell to be alive and in one piece right now. I glance over at my savior. It’s Temur, one of the grunts who patches up Boss Kalba’s hounds. He’s a foot taller than me and made of pure, sinewy muscle that flexes under his dark skin as he drags me out of the open hatch to safety.
I steal a glance back to the she-wolf. She’s reclaimed her spot on the manhole.
But she’s still glaring at me.
“I thought you knew better than to climb into a cage with an angry wolf,” Temur says, releasing my wrists.
“Didn’t know,” I spit out between gasps of air, “you rearranged.”
He shakes his head as we shuffle carefully across the cage’s ceiling to the edge and jump down the six-foot drop. Temur lands with no problem. I hit the ground and promptly fall over.
Temur grabs me by the cloak and lifts me to my feet. He’s one of the few people on this planet I would consider a friend. If I had friends.
“Have you been drinking sküll again?”
“That was one time.” I make a face at his reference to the alcohol made from rënedeer milk. “I’m friggin’ tired from running all over the city and then facing down an angry-as-hell wolf ready to bite my head off.”
“Running all over?” he asks with a raised brow. “Or being chased?”
I eye him. “Don’t you have anything nice to say?”
He shrugs with a chuckle, then points to the corner of my cloak that got snagged on the wolf’s giant teeth.
“Your cloak is ripped.”
My heart hitches and I reach for it, fingering the tears. I could ask Aunt Kirima to patch it for me. But then she’d have a lot of questions that I don’t particularly want to answer.
Copyright © 2021 by Meg Long
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