Realm Walker Online - Kathleen Collins

Chapter One

Juliana Norris didn’t want to die in the cold Canadian snow. Of course, she hadn’t wanted to die on the rain-slicked streets of Bern, the cool sheets of her freshly made bed or the backwoods of Alabama either, but that hadn’t stopped it from happening just the same.

Despite her grim thoughts, the odds of actually freezing to death were low. The troll would kill her before she lasted that long. She let out a laugh that sounded more like a snort. Gods, she was such a pessimist. She blamed the weather.

Her breath formed a cloud around her face and ice crystals in her nose. Her eyes burned, her fingers ached. For hours, she’d been hunting the troll. Hours she was supposed to have been spending in the warm Fiji sun drinking a Mai Tai and walking barefoot in the sand at a mermaid coronation. The Agency called to tell her about the reassignment just as she’d been ready to walk out the door. Damn, stupid flea-bitten troll.

Her only consolation was that she wasn’t here alone. She’d conned her mentor at the Agency into coming with her by reminding him that he still owed her for tracking down a band of feral pixies the month before. Nathaniel West was a 150-year-old werewolf with an immunity to silver and a wicked sense of humor. He’d taken her under his furry paw when the Agency recruited her and he’d been looking after her ever since. Last she’d seen, he’d been in full wolf form as he followed the troll’s path into the trees. All that fur probably kept him warmer than she was at the moment.

She thrust her hands out in an angry gesture and thought of fire. Flames sprang up before her in a thin line. Her spell, mediocre at best, was enough to melt the foot-deep snow and harden the ground beneath when it threatened to turn to mud. The warmth soaked through her jeans, thawing her briefly before it disappeared, leaving the cold to seep into her skin right to her bones. A brief thought of the idiot the Agency sent to Fiji in her place had her gritting her teeth. She didn’t even know who it was, but she doubted they deserved the sun and the sand more than she did. She always pulled the crap assignments. Maybe if she quit being so cursed good at her job they’d quit calling her.

Juliana needed to find her prey. She couldn’t go home until she did and she didn’t intend to spend the night in the wilderness. The beast had been making supper of the locals’ prize steers for months. Game wardens had been looking for the troll with no success. After losing four cows in a fortnight, the farmers complained to the right people and the Agency was called in.

Once her target entered the heavily forested area, it followed a well-worn game trail. The troll kept meandering off into the trees, but she wasn’t even tempted to follow the three-toed tracks. She left that to Nathaniel and his nose. Filling her lungs with crisp air, she forced herself to relax and let her gift flare to life. Neon bands of color immediately shrouded the landscape showing her the path of any creature recently in the area. Apparently, there were a lot of gnomes in Eastern Canada. Who knew?

Every being had a signature. A color uniquely theirs. Juliana didn’t know anyone else who could see them. Which was why she hunted the troll. It could cover its tracks all it wanted, but there was no way it could hide from her.

As she followed the main path, she kept her eyes locked on the landscape around her, searching for the troll’s earthy brown signature or Nathaniel’s vibrant mix of yellow, brown and red that marked him as a shifter. For a while she’d seen both paths intersecting as her friend followed the trail laid by the beast, but she’d seen neither for some time.

Her line of sight shrank as the ground dropped away over the edge of a hill. She paused and sucked in several deep breaths, wanting to be in top form before she went farther. After a moment, she eased forward again. Trolls were lethal opponents. If it snuck up on her, she’d be in more trouble than a knight at a dragon rally. When she reached the top of the hill, a clearing came into view below her. So did the troll.

She bit back a curse and swept aside