Title: Reaper's Novice (Soul Collector #1)
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 Vienna to Tuscany. Except fate has other plans. Ana’s
parents and siblings are killed in a car accident on their way to pick Ana up from school.
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.
I pull Zig inside the Hotel Sacher Confectionery shop, famous for its traditional Sacher torte. Immediately, I’m blasted by the sight of dark chocolate cake and the scent of freshly brewed Viennese coffee, which reminds me of Sunday morning brunch at my house. My stomach grumbles mercilessly.
“Feed that beast in there before it devours us all.” Zig jabs a finger at my belly.
I laugh, and go back to ogling the cakes behind the glass display, picturing Anton smiling and gulping down the dark chocolate cake, apricot jam smeared on his lips. I dig out my savings, hand them to the lady behind the counter, and point at the smallest of the Sacher tortes. A few minutes later, Zig and I exit the shop and join the stream of pedestrians, strolling in and out of shops with bags in hand.
At the corner of Kärntner Strasse and Opernring, we stop to wait for the lights to change. A tram zips by. My gaze automatically drifts to the Vienna State Opera House. This is where magic happens.
When I was thirteen, our class visited the Opera House on an excursion. I remember walking through arched doorways and carpeted hallways, promising myself over and over that one day, this will be my dream.
Funny how life changes, twisting and turning dreams inside out, wringing them dry.
My stomach twists at the memory. I need to get out of here. Fast. I blink quickly, averting my gaze from Zig. Him seeing my face right now is the last thing I want.
“So what do you say?” he asks, oblivious to my current state. The light changes, and we join the crowd of people crossing the street. “Join me?” I give him a sidelong glance. “Do you trust me?” he asks when I don’t answer his questions.
“Would a deer trust a leopard to a cuddle?” I say, eyebrows raised.
He narrows his eyes. “Which one am I? The leopard or the deer?”
“Do you trust me?”
He doesn’t miss a beat. “Completely.”
I miss two beats. “Why? You hardly know me.”
“I just do. Come on, an hour of pure fun won’t kill you.”
I sigh. “Maybe later.” His shoulders sag. “Would you like to join me?”
His eyes light up, giving him a boyish look. “Never thought you’d ask.” He takes my hand. In the next step, we shift to the hospital.
“You’re reckless, you know that?” I say, placing a hand on the door of room 112. “Don’t you care that people notice when you disappear right before their eyes?”
“They’ll have something to talk about.”
I shake my head. “You could at least let me practise my shifting skills.”
“Aren’t I always?” He grins.
“Do you even know the meaning of that word?”
He winks. “You’d be surprised.”
I roll my eyes and walk inside the room. “
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.
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The decision is made for us when low murmurs carry through the air from the path on our right. Probably one we should avoid.
“Do you hear that?” I say.
Zig nods, eyes trained on the path the voices came from.
“We should take that one.” I pull him in the other direction. Holding hands feels so kindergarten. I can’t remember the last time I held hands for more than ten minutes—other than my best friends and boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend. Quickly I shove those thoughts away. This isn’t the time or place.
Zig pauses to take out the pouch containing the dust and marks the trail, then grabs my hand.
This path, which is actually a room of sorts, is not as wide as the hallway we came in, but it’s about thirty feet high, lit by sconces. Shelves are mounted on the wall next to the mirrors. About ten steps into the room, the use of the shelves becomes clear. Vials of different sizes and colours rest on them.
I slip my hand from Zig’s and inch closer, eyes glued on the vials, labelled in a slant, neat handwriting in chronological order of century, year, month, date, and hour. Peering closer, I realise they’re all empty. Something writhes in the mirror. I lean forward, my nose almost touching the shelf in front of me. Mist-like grey, almost translucent, forms swirl inside the mirrors. Even after Zig told me what Sinteler does with souls, I’m not prepared for the real thing.
“Dear God, Zig, come take a look at this.” I glance over my shoulder to find Zig staring wide-eyed, mouth hanging open at the shelves opposite where I stand. As if the souls can sense us, the wailing becomes louder and they thrash faster.