Title: Reaper's Novice (Soul Collector #1)
Author: Cecilia Roberts
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
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Enter Grim, aka Ernest. He promises to relinquish the four souls if Ana agrees to trade her soul for theirs and serve a lifetime as his novice. In order for Ana to graduate from her Reaper’s Novice station to a Soul Collector graduate, Grim puts her to test. To her horror, she finds out becoming a Reaper’s Novice didn’t happen by chance. It was preordained, and she is forced to make a choice: save her family’s souls or come to terms with who she really is and complete the task set for her.
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Zig was right about one thing: Grim is about to push me off the nest’s edge. Last night he told me he’ll assign me a client for collection. I hope my wings will be strong enough to fly solo.
My parents and I cancel brunch and visit Anton in the hospital. He’s due for release tomorrow. I glance at Mom, her arm hooked with Dad’s. When we arrive home from the hospital, I power on my computer and scroll down my messages. I emailed Rolf yesterday, he hasn’t replied yet. I scroll down to read Lea’s email. She arrived safely and is looking forward to beginning her summer job at the museum on Monday. She reminds me to keep an eye on Reiner for her. I plan to call him tomorrow. Maybe go out. He might let me in on what’s happening.
I spend most of the afternoon with Lucy at the playground, skating a thin line between anxiety about the lone collection Grim intends to send me on and relief that it’s almost evening and he hasn’t contacted me. After coming back home, I immerse myself in tidying everywhere and everything to occupy my mind. Mom seems pleased about my sudden urge to clean.
As I finish wiping the kitchen sink clean, something ‘dings’ and I rush to check the microwave. Nothing. Words flash like neon in my mind, and I yelp at the sudden intrusion. Mom looks up from her interior design magazines. I murmur “cramps” and dash to the bathroom and turn the lock.
Is this how Grim alerts about collection instructions? Why didn’t I think to ask? Why didn’t anyone warn me?
I steady my breaths, and read the instructions.
Assignment: Soul collection
19th District, Georges Hospital, Room 302
Age: Ninety-three years
Soul Colour: Red
No name, just the soul colour. This one seems to have lived a vibrant life.
I grab my soul collection trench coat, shove it inside my rucksack, and dash downstairs, heart pounding in my chest. Mom looks up, and so does Dad, working on one of his carvings at the kitchen table.
Keep cool, Ana. I clear my throat and try to keep from fidgeting. “I’m just going out for a little while. I’ll be back before dinner.”
“Are you are meeting Rolf?”
I shake my head. “He travelled to Japan with his father. I’m going for a stroll along the Danube. Then catch up on my reading.” I tap the rucksack. My chest twists painfully.
Dad lowers his tools on the table. “I could join you if you like.”
“Maybe next time?” I force myself to walk slowly out the front door, even though my feet want to run.
Outside, I dash under the low hanging branches of the walnut tree, glad for its leafy limbs, which hide me from sight.
Breathe. Concentrate. Conceal. Focus on my destination. Shift.
And smack straight into a wall. Rubbing my nose, I scan my surroundings and head for the hospital’s entrance while digging out the trench from my rucksack and putting it on. I shift to room 302 and freeze.
Eight people surround the bed obstructing my view, speaking in low voices. I scoot around them. On the bed lies a tiny woman, her hands clasped together as if in prayer. She says something, stops, and takes a jagged breath. The red of her soul flickers on her skin. Seconds later, she smiles, deep lines creasing her pale cheeks. A little girl with blond curly hair sitting on the bed next to my client whimpers. She wraps her small fingers around my client’s.
My number one mission: know the names. The souls deserve respect. I peek at the nametag stuck on the metal rail at the foot of her bed: Frau Elfriede Hofer.
I wait as Frau Hofer’s family pays their last respects. I shove my hands inside my pockets and shift my blurry gaze out the window. Once her family leaves, I wipe my face. Although I have collected souls with Grim the past weeks, it still gets to me every time.
Frau Hofer opens her eyes and smiles. I wrap my hands around hers, gazing into her green eyes. And our conversation begins.
She’s had a wonderful life. She met her husband at the beginning of the second World War and fell in love. At eighteen, he was drafted. It took her three years before she saw him again. They got married before he went back to war. I see images of him coming back when the war was over, and life after the war, struggling to make ends meet. Her six children were her dream and life. Her husband passed away fifteen years ago. She adores her three daughters-in-law and three grandchildren, but she’s worried what will happen when she leaves. From her memories, I see how she’s kept her family glued together. Nothing can break that bond.
I tell her exactly that. She nods, and I know she’s ready. She closes her eyes and, with a smile, she draws her last breath.
Once Elfriede’s soul dances its way inside the vial, I replace the cap, mark it, and slip it carefully inside the padded pockets of my trench.
Outside the room, I slump on the wall, cover my face with my hands, and take deep breaths. I did it. All I need are a few more steps to deliver the vial to the soul chamber. I climb to my feet and hurry down the bustling hallway. With my head low, I head for the stairwell. I could shift, but I need to savour this feeling. My first solo collection success. A male nurse dashes past me, pushing a patient on a stretcher. I brush past a group of nurses waiting at the elevator. As I’m about to push the door leading to the stairwell, a familiar scent swathes my senses, freezing me on the spot.
Cecilia Robert lives in Vienna with her two children, has an incurable obsession with books, anything romantic, TV and medieval architecture. When not working in her full time job, catching up with her two children, writing or reading, she can be found, knitting or crocheting, taking photos of old buildings.