Author: Cecilia Roberts
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
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17- year- old Ana Maria Tei’s life has always been perfect: loving parents, good grades, and a future so bright it outshone the sun. But now words like “separation” and “divorce” are sending her world plummeting to hell. Determined to keep her family intact, Ana plans a family-bonding trip from
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.
Cecilia Robert lives in
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
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My eyes pop open just as the nurses dash through me and towards the bed, leaving my body tingling. I double over, gulping air. That was the most uncomfortable feeling ever. I hope I never experience it again. The nurse with the pear figure rushes to the monitor and starts punching buttons; the other rounds the bed and places a finger on the elderly woman’s wrist to check for a pulse. God, I don’t think I can do this.
Grim saunters towards me. Without a word, he clasps my hand, and once again I’m overwhelmed by brightness. I blink, and we’re standing inside a cavernous room, dimly lit with what looks like sconces high up on the walls. The room is empty save for what looks like a gigantic cylindrical, tinted brown glass dome in the middle of the room.
“We are in the west wing of my castle,” Grim says, walking over to the dome. “This room is specifically for soul transfers. Come.”
He halts to look at me, then nods. “Where I live?” Grim lives in a castle? He frowns at me. “You didn’t think I lived in some ghastly underworld, did you? I am very unimpressed with how humans portray me. Cloaks, skulls, scythes… thinking about it is gruelling!” My face heats up knowing I’m one of those humans. He spins on his heel in a flurry of trench coat flaps scowling, leaving me writhing in guilt.
The doors to the dome slide upward. Once we enter, they slide back in place. The room is warm, softly illuminated by a multitude of colours from the tiny glass vials arranged in racks—almost like wine racks—on the floor-to-ceiling shelves. When the colours shift and hit the glass interior of the dome, it reminds me of a mosaic.
Grim walks to one of the rows on my right. His fingers pluck the trench coat open, displaying an impressive amount of bottled souls, each with a different colour, snuggled inside tiny pockets. He removes them and places them inside empty racks. “Soul chamber, used for soul transfers and is done by Soul Collectors. The portal for the souls opens every day before dawn for only one minute. It is important to make sure your day’s collections are assembled here. Without fail. If the soul’s departure to the other side is delayed, they are no longer pure. The soul vial can only hold its contents for a maximum of twenty-four hours.”
I nod and swallow, too overwhelmed by everything to speak a word. Not pure. It sounds so sad for a soul to miss crossing over. I’ll have to keep that in mind.
After the soul transfer, Grim ghosts—that is what I’m calling it—us out of the room and back to a familiar stone-wall room. I glance around. The souvenir shop on my right is closed until later on during the day. Barred windows on my left and right display the sprawling city of Vienna as far as the eye can see. The night sky fades, replaced by grey, then light blue with white, cottony clouds. The sky is lighter on the east, as the sun’s rays push the night away.
I feel as if my heart is bursting. Grim brought me to my favourite place in the whole world. Inside the Watchman Chamber at Stephansdom Cathedral. How did he know? Is this his favourite, too?
I turn to face him. He leans his shoulder on the wall, a small smile on his lips. I didn’t even feel him slip his hand from mine “I know everything about you, Ana. Every little thing about you.” I shift from one foot to the other, flipping those words around in my head.
“But how?” My voice sounds hoarse, like I’ve just woken up. A dull headache is digging its way through my head. School is going to suck big time today.
Grim unhitches himself from the wall and glides closer. “I make a point of having everyone’s business at my fingertips. Yours in particular. If I am invested in a Novice, makes sense to know everything about her, no?”
Invested? Like invested since birth or “Oh look, she just lost her family so I’m sure she’ll trade her soul for them” invested. Normally I’d expect him, as a collector of souls, to do his job and not converse with potential clients, sealing deals left, right, and centre. In my case on the day of the accident after I woke up from my fainting spell, he seemed to be waiting. “Was I…” I clear my throat. I might be stepping out of line with my questions, but I need to know. “Was my being Novice planned?”
Grim’s eyes meet mine, unreadable and dark. Instead of replying to my question, he says, “Today was your first lesson. From now on, consider each and every collection a test. At the end of the months I set for your training, you will perform the ultimate test.” He tilts his head to the side. “Any questions?”
I glance down at my fingers. They shake a little. I curl them into a fist. “What if I fail?” I whisper. “Will you release me, return my soul? What about my family?”
“You will pass the test.”