Realm Walker by Kathleen Collins
Series: Realm Walker Series, Book One
Published by Carina Press on October 28, 2013
Genres: Urban Fantasy
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An estranged mate, a mangled body and a powerful demon who calls her by name…
As a Realm Walker for the Agency, Juliana Norris tracks deadly paranormal quarry using her unique ability to see magical signatures. She excels at her job, but her friends worry about her mysterious habit of dying in the line of duty without staying dead. That’s only the first of her secrets.
Most people don’t know Juliana became the mate of master vampire Thomas Kendrick before he abandoned her seven years ago. Most people don’t know the horrors she endured at the hands of the vampire he left in command. Most people don’t know her true parentage, or why a demon on a world-threatening rampage has taken a personal interest in her…
Even as Juliana pursues the demon, it goes after all she holds dear—including Thomas, who is back to claim her for his own. But if she can’t reconcile her past and learn to trust herself again, she will lose him forever.
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.
Realm Walker Series
Juliana Norris, Realm Walker with the Agency, is an Altered. A fact that she runs up against every time she’s forced to work with human police officers, and their species-ist commissioner, on cases they can’t solve themselves. Which happens more than they would like to admit.
Her gift—the quality that makes her the best Realm Walker in the business, without boast—is the ability to read magical signatures. Whether the gift came from her father, the dark fae god of death, or the mage mother she can’t remember, is anyone’s guess. And when Altered children start going missing with only wild magical signatures as clues, her heritage is the last thing on her mind.
She can’t afford such distractions, and she definitely can’t afford to worry about the fact that her mate, master vampire Thomas Kendrick, hasn’t spoken to her since she saved him from a demon—maybe it’s because she had to stab him to do so. Because whoever is kidnapping these children must be very powerful to wield wild magic. Very powerful, and very dangerous indeed.
In the warm afternoon light, a lone swing rocked back and forth in a steady rhythm, its chains groaning a mournful dirge despite the fact no one sat upon it. It hadn’t faltered once in the hour since the child vanished. The fifth to disappear in three weeks. Each one taken in front of at least a dozen witnesses who couldn’t recall a single thing later—no details of when they’d last seen the child, nothing about any strangers hanging around. They didn’t even recollect hearing a scream of protest. In this case, every student and teacher on the playground had been distracted at the same exact moment, but no one could remember by what when asked.
Police and technicians swarmed the steps of New Hope Elementary and the courtyard in front. All of them instinctively avoided the playground and the magic at work there. All except the figure that stood in the far corner by the rusty swing set, hands in her pockets as the late-October wind whipped around her, snatching at her clothes and carrying the scent of burning leaves. Her hair was short but still long enough for her to catch an occasional glimpse of the royal-blue streaks among the black as it blew into her face. She tucked an errant strand behind one ear, but doubted it would stay put for long.
A Realm Walker, an officer for the Agency, Juliana Norris was here because the first policeman on the scene had called her directly. This wasn’t the Agency’s investigation. Not yet, anyway. Her involvement was strictly advisory until the commissioner climbed down from his shiny pedestal long enough to admit local law enforcement wasn’t up to doing the job on their own. While the victims thus far had been Altered, the perp hadn’t been identified. Since it was possible a human was behind this, Commissioner Phipps claimed jurisdiction. No one high enough at the Agency cared enough to contradict him. Yet.
Her phone vibrated at her hip. She glanced at the screen as she pulled it out—Ben Nichols, her boss. The initial kidnappings had garnered so much attention in the Altered community he’d been forced to cut her suspension short by a week—an action he hadn’t been happy to take at all. A fact he reminded her of every day.
“Norris,” she answered and braced herself for another reprimand.
“You haven’t filed a report. What’s your status?”
The clipped tone of his voice exhausted her. She was tired of the daily conflict. “I haven’t filed a report because there is nothing to report. We know nothing further than we did before.”
“I took you off suspension to get results, Norris. So far I’m not impressed.”
“No, you took me off suspension because you didn’t want to get shredded by the press for keeping the Walker with the best record out of the game while the Thief does his hunting. You know I’m the most likely to find him.”
There was a stretch of silence. “I know you are. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
He hung up and she slipped her phone back into her pocket. Her insistence she was the best Walker for the job had nothing to do with arrogance and everything to do with her particular blend of talents.
She possessed a gift that enabled her to see the unique signature of any living being. A signature was a spectrum of colors that told her exactly what type of creature an individual was, no matter how artfully they might try to hide it. She could also see the signature of a spell cast on anyone, or anything, other than herself. Whether the gift came from her father, the dark fae god of death, or the mage mother she couldn’t remember, was anyone’s guess.
Activating her gift made her eyes glow several shades brighter than their normal emerald, so she kept them hidden behind a pair of dark glasses. She studied the muddy brown of the stasis spell used on the swing. This particular shade of brown marked it wild magic. Dangerous magic. It also meant that whatever cast the spell wasn’t using his own power. Wild magic belonged to no one; it simply existed. And its signature was strong enough she hadn’t been able to get a read yet on what was doing the casting. It could be a mage, a fae, a god or anything else with any kind of magic ability. Which narrowed the suspect list down to about nine-tenths of the Altered community.
What she did know was the magic took great power or skill to wield. While it was better for everyone if they did, power and skill didn’t necessarily go hand in hand. Maybe luck would be with them for once and one of the bastard’s spells would backfire and fry him.
The Making of Michael Bishop
A Realm Walker Short Story
Keep your distance. Don’t look him in the eye. Feed him and leave.
Michael D’Augustino is a priest in the time of the Inquisition. Marked as weak for his refusal to torture those charged with sorcery, heresy, devil worship or worse, he’s given another task. Feed the prisoner in the cell in the darkest corner of the dungeon. With the edict comes a set of instructions.
Ever obedient, Michael does exactly as he is told. Until the night his charge doesn’t eat and Michael has to enter the cell to find out why. Instead of the beast he believes to be imprisoned there, he finds a man. A broken, tormented man who asks for help.
But all is not as it seems and, before the night is through, Michael will be changed forever.
An unlit torch hung on the wall beside the cell and Michael took the flint from the table beneath it. His hands shook as he tried in vain to light the torch. Finally, it sparked and flared to life. With trembling fingers, he pulled it from the wall and reopened the door. Stepping quickly inside, he shut the door behind him and pressed his back to it. He could not risk anything escaping, animal or otherwise.
Darkness recoiled from the flickering flame and receded before him. There along the back wall a huddled form. Michael’s pulse raced and his palms grew slick with moisture. He adjusted his grip on the torch. He both anticipated and feared the moment the creature revealed itself.
“I can smell you, priest,” it said, without lifting its head. When Michael didn’t respond, it looked up, squinting its eyes against the light. Michael was careful not to meet its gaze directly. His father told him the creature could ensnare with a look.
He was struck by how normal the man—the vampyr, he corrected himself—looked. Emaciated from his captivity perhaps, but otherwise his blond hair and dark eyes could have belonged to anyone. Any human. This was not the beast Michael had been led to believe was imprisoned here. Was this another innocent falsely accused? No, Michael had heard it kill and eat the animals he brought to it. Whatever it was, it was not purely human. He needed to remember that.
“You’re the timid one. If they sent you, they must intend for me to live another day yet,” its abused voice croaked.
The creature’s words had an echo of the bishop in them. Pointing out Michael’s flaws, his inability to hurt another as if it was something to be ashamed of. “Why do you say that?”
“You feed me, heal me. You have never injured me.” The voice sounded so pained, Michael cringed in sympathy. The creature detected it, though it misinterpreted the cause. “You have no reason to fear me. You have done me no wrong.”
“I am uncertain of that,” Michael said. “If I were a merciful man, I would not continue to bring you food.”
The vampyr’s dark eyes studied him, the flickering flame of the torch reflected in their depths. “Why do you say that?”
“They only heal you so they can torture you afresh on the morrow. If I did not feed you, you would not heal and perhaps they would leave you be. For a day at least.”
“Do you honestly believe that?”
Michael shook his head. If it didn’t heal, the bishop would only torture it further to find out why. “Abomination you may be, but no one deserves an existence of endless torture.”
The vampyr chuckled, a low sound, halting as if he’d forgotten how to laugh. “Don’t be so sure of that, timid one. I can think of many who deserve the punishment I have been given, even if I am not one of them.”
Realm Walker Series
Can she find a killer in a town where the basest desires are allowed to run free?
There are zombies in the Dead Zone and Juliana Norris is sent to take care of the problem. And for there to be zombies, there had to be bodies. When vampires are found to be the culprits, Juliana is sent undercover in the red light district of Kansas City. Lying to her mate, Thomas Kendrick, isn’t something she wants to do, but she’s in another vampire’s territory and Thomas would not be pleased. Besides, she’s more than capable of doing the job and she needs to prove it to everyone. Most of all herself.
Charles Morgan is in control of the Kansas City area, making a rich living off his various enterprises. Juliana goes undercover at the strip club Lust and gets sucked into his dark, decadent world. More victims turn up and the Agency is positive they’ve got their man, but Juliana is not so sure. When the Agency refuses to listen, she reluctantly turns to Thomas for help. He intervenes but finds Juliana unaware of the danger she is in and discovers she may just be too deep for him to save.
About the Author:
Kathleen Collins lives and works in Missouri. By day, she labors in the local prosecutor’s office. At night she writes while surrounded by her husband, two boys and two loveable mutts. She is constantly thinking of her next project and loves to connect with her readers. You can find her most often on Facebook or on her website.
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