As most of you know, my interests lie heavily in light sci-fi, fairytale retellings, and dark, eery fiction. So, if you're anything like me, boy do I have a story for you today! Manette Eaton is sharing her sci-fi short story, Thief of Souls, which is loosely based on the Grimm fairy tale, Godfather Death. Manette is a senior in college living in South Dakota and is currently working on another sci-fi retelling, this time of Bluebeard. Enjoy!
Thief of Souls
By Manette Eaton
Vitlana watched the young man from her shadows in the corner. He was tall- from what she could tell since he was sitting- and slender. His arms were all muscle and his fingers were long and nimble.
Yes. He would do.
Vitlana finished her drink and walked to the counter where the young man sat with the drink he’d been staring at for the past hour.
“You don’t belong here,” she said and sat next to him.
“I suppose not. But I don’t know where else I should be,” the young man said.
“What’s your name?”
“Robert,” she said slowly, tasting the word. It rolled around in her mouth, sweet and naïve. “Would you like a job?”
He looked at her for the first time, hopeful but also skeptical. At least he wasn’t completely naïve.
“What kind of job?” He asked.
“I need a… a doctor.”
Robert snorted. “I’m not a doctor. I’m not anything.”
“Oh, you needn’t worry about that. I can take care of the little details. Really I just need you for appearances,” she said. “And I can pay you well.”
Vitlana hid her smile and pulled a stack of bills out of her coat pocket and set them on the counter. Robert stared.
“That’s just half. I’ll pay you the rest when the job is done,” she said. “Think about it. What could your family do with money like that? I’m sure they’d be quite proud of you.”
Robert licked his lips nervously and asked, “What did you say the job was?”
The Manlin’s shields kept them from being seen as they landed in a field on Hidn just outside of a city. Robert had never left his home planet, Rey, before and tried not to let Vitlana see his awe.
“Where exactly are we?” He asked.
“A city called Yamupa. It’s the capital of Haverine,” Vitlana said. She jumped out of the Manlin with the supplies in hand and waited for him to follow. “Here are your papers if anyone stops you. It’s just a list of experience, where you studied, things like that. I doubt anyone will bother you though. A friend of mine arranged for your arrival. A servant will take you to the King’s chamber. Once there, give him this.” She handed him a small vial with dried leaves in it. “Make sure he takes it then leave immediately, tell the servants the king will be asleep for awhile and that he’s not to be disturbed. By the time the body’s found we’ll be long gone.”
“You want me to kill him?” Robert asked.
“Yes. And don’t ask why because it’s none of your business. Now hurry.” Vitlana pushed him toward the city and watched him disappear through the gates.
Robert tried to look confident but was too afraid that everyone could see through the act. His hands became sweaty as a servant came down to meet him and led him to the King’s chamber.
Robert sent everyone out then approached the gray figure beneath the heavy blankets. The king blinked at him and waited. His breathing was hoarse and labored.
Robert remembered himself and bowed. He then set about pretending to examine the King even though the man would soon be dead if Robert followed Vitlana’s instructions.
The symptoms were surprisingly familiar. Robert remembered some of the people in his village visiting his mother with their ailments. There was one plant that could be used to help anything. His mother always administered it when there was nothing else she could do.
“Not to worry, Your Highness,” Robert said. He bowed again and let himself out of the room then grabbed the first servant he saw. “Give him tea made from fayron petals.”
“Fayron petals, sir?” She asked.
“You do have them?”
“Of course, sir. I’ll do it immediately, sir.” The servant scurried off, once again leaving Robert alone.
He wondered how long he could stay before Vitlana became suspicious. He wondered what she was doing.
Robert went downstairs and paced the front hall. For some reason, Vitlana wanted the King dead. Surely the king couldn’t have done anything to deserve death.
Either way, Robert couldn’t kill the king. He’d never be able to face his parents again. They’d be so ashamed if they knew, no matter how much Vitlana paid him. And Robert would be unable to live with the guilt.
The servant Robert had sent to make the tea hurried toward him, grinning.
“It worked, sir,” she said. “He’s already sitting up.”
“Good,” Robert said. “Give him two cups per day and he’ll soon be perfectly fine.”
“He’s asking for you, sir,” the servant said.
Robert nodded and went back upstairs. The guard at the door stood aside to let him in.
“You wanted to see me, Your Highness,” he said.
“I wanted to thank you for saving my life,” the king said slowly. His voice sounded heavy but his breathing was coming easier. “Whatever you wish for, I shall grant it.”
“Really, that’s not necessary, Your Highness,” Robert said, his head swimming with the possibilities. “I’m just happy I could be of service.”
“Nonsense, young man.” The king thought for a moment then said, “You are not highborn, that much is obvious. However, someone who was would have been rewarded my daughter’s hand in marriage. Whether you are noble or not, I think that is sufficient price for curing me when no one else could.”
“Your daughter, milord?” Robert asked.
“In marriage. She’s the youngest so you would not become king but you would be a prince. Do you find that agreeable?”
Robert smiled. His family could be proud of a prince. They’d never go hungry again. Maybe he could even move them to Hidn, set them up in a large house with servants to do their work. They’d never have to lift a finger for the rest of their days. They could have everything they ever wanted.
“I would like that very much, milord,” Robert said.
Robert was moved immediately to one of the guest rooms. He spent the remainder of the evening unpacking his things and exploring the large room. It was almost as big as the house he had grown up in with his six brothers and sisters.
A pang of homesickness hit Robert but he comforted himself with the thought that they would soon join him.
Vitlana knew the young man failed before the note reached her. She paced in the Manlin angrily and waited for dark. Even from this distance she could hear the celebration in the city at the news of the King’s restored health and the princess’s engagement.
A couple hours after the sun set, Vitlana hurried across the field and let herself into the castle through a side door.
Caution be damned. She wasn’t going to let that boy turn on her like this. She and her mother had waited too long for their revenge.
Vitlana had been given a carefully detailed layout of the castle- it paid to collect favors. She found Robert’s room easily and let herself in.
Robert was sleeping on the far right of the bed and was slipping off it. Vitlana rolled him over. He opened his eyes and she shoved her hand over his mouth. Robert was too frightened to fight.
“Did you really think you could betray me and get away with it?” She asked. “Any other job and I may have forgiven you. But not this one. This one is too important.” Vitlana leaned closer so their noses were nearly touching. Robert’s eyes became wider than ever. “Do you know what Vitlana means? It’s a Jodlazian word. Thief of Souls. Do you know why they call me that?”
Beneath her hand, Robert whimpered. In one swift motion Vitlana pulled out her knife and thrust it into his throat. She stepped out of the spray of blood and wiped the knife on the blankets before returning it to its sheath and going to the window.
Vitlana looked out cautiously then crawled across the balconies and vines to the king’s chamber and went in. He slept peacefully now that the boy had cured him.
Vitlana smiled and put her hand over his mouth. The move woke him immediately and he struggled against her but was still weak from his illness.
“Good. You recognize me,” Vitlana whispered. “I wonder, how many other bastards did you exile?”
He tried to yell but her hand was too tight around his mouth.
“By the way, mother sends her love.” Vitlana stabbed his throat.
It was all over now. In the morning they would find the body. Vitlana wrote her name in the King’s blood on a piece of paper then lay it on the body. They had to know it was her. It was the most important part of the mission.
Now, Vitlana could continue with her life and return to her mother. Vitlana would let her know as soon as she returned to the Manlin that the mission had been successful.