Well met!

This isn’t a new release announcement, but I wanted you all to know that the first books in my two major series are FREE for a limited time.

That’s right, CITIZEN MAGUS and MUSES OF ROMA are now FREE on all major ebook platforms. I don’t know how long I’ll keep them free, so grab them now while you can!



Remington Blakes, a magus from a 21st century where magic powers the world, has a big problem.

His former mentor, William Ford, stranded him in ancient Rome without a memory as to how or why. Well a guy has to eat, so he’s forced to eke out a living as a magus-for-hire among Rome’s plebeians. He calls himself “Natta Magus” since his real name sounds too Germanic to the discriminating Romans.

When Natta learns that Ford has conjured daemons to kidnap a senator’s young daughter, he jumps at the chance to track Ford down. Natta chases him to Rome’s Germanic frontier to not only rescue the child, but learn the terrible secret behind why Ford left Natta in Rome.

CITIZEN MAGUS is the first book in the Journals of Natta Magus series.


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Marcus Antonius Primus began a golden age for humanity when he liberated Roma from Octavian Caesar and became sole Consul. With wisdom from the gods, future Antonii Consuls conquered the world and spawned an interstellar civilization.

Three weeks before the millennial anniversary of the Antonii Ascension, star freighter captain Kaeso Aemelius, a blacklisted security agent from Roman rival world Libertus, is asked by his former commanders to help a high-ranking Roman official defect. Kaeso misses his lone wolf espionage days – and its freedom from responsibility for a crew – so he sees the mission as a way back into the spy business. Kaeso sells it to his crew of outcasts as a quick, lucrative contract…without explaining his plan to abandon them for his old job.

But Kaeso soon learns the defector’s terrifying secret, one that proves the last thousand years of history was built on a lie.

Can Kaeso protect his crew from Roman and Liberti forces, who would lay waste to entire worlds to stop them from revealing the civilization-shattering truth?

MUSES OF ROMA is the first book in the Codex Antonius series.

Download MUSES OF ROMA for FREE!
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Well met!

No question that life was hard in ancient Rome. Especially for Natta Magus, that time-traveling wizard from an alternate 21st century where magic is real.

In the all new WOUNDED MAGUS, book three in the Journals of Natta Magus series, Natta graduates from saving Rome to saving the world.

Here’s the blurb:

Natta Magus watched Helva, the granddaughter of Cleopatra, literally leap into hell to save him and Augustan Rome from annihilation.

The least he could do was bust her out. His twenty-first century honor would accept nothing less.

So along with Cana, a slave-turned-magi apprentice, and Paetus, his self-appointed chronicler, Natta sets off for Alexandria, Egypt, where he hopes to find a way into the Egyptian underworld to rescue Helva.

But his ship is attacked and sunk along the North African coast, bringing him face-to-face with a former adversary who has somehow gone from every day, first-century human to magical demigod. And not only that, the adversary wants Natta’s help in bringing about a magical apocalypse that will change the world and the history he knows.

Natta has to fight his way through pirates, daemonic hordes, and his own dark temptations to not only stop the apocalypse, but save Helva from the Torture Goddess herself.

Just another day for him in the Roman Empire.

WOUNDED MAGUS is available on Amazon Kindle for $4.99, and in trade paperback for $12.99.

Need to get caught up? Read CITIZEN MAGUS and SHADOW MAGUS, the first two books in the Journals of Natta Magus.

Check out the first chapter of WOUNDED MAGUS below.

And remember: Semper ubi sub ubi!


Chapter One

I awoke to darkness and the sounds of lapping water. The smells of moldy wood, old sweat, fish, and the sea all mingled into a miasma every bit as potent as Rome’s. After a disorienting moment, I remembered where I was: on a sea galley crossing the Mediterranean to Carthage.

The darkness wasn’t absolute. Cana had set a dim spark globe above us before we had gone to sleep. We were in the captain’s “cabin,” which was about the size of my apartment’s closet back home in twenty-first century Detroit. Cana lay on the cot, and there was barely enough room for Paetus and me to lie curled up on the floor next to her. It was my letters of credit from Caesar Augustus himself that had earned Cana, Paetus, and I the best sleeping spot in the galley.

But none of that had awoken me. It was the muffled cries of alarm from above us, followed by thumps of bodies falling to the deck. If there had been rousing bouts of laughter, I would’ve chalked it up to drunken sailors and gone back to sleep. But it was the ensuing silence that kept me awake.

Our galley was under attack.

Out of all the travel methods in the ancient Roman world, boat travel always seemed the most dangerous to me.

No, Natta Magus, you’re from the future, Paetus and Cana had said, for once in agreement on something. It is the best way to get to Egypt. It would take weeks to travel the roads through Anatolia and Palestine. You’re too used to your aero-planes and horseless trollies, Natta Magus. Trust us, Natta Magus, this way is best.

The four-day crossing from Sicily to North Africa was a nightmare. We encountered monstrous swells that almost toppled our galley and made me yack up the meager porridge they served onboard. The hull leaked in six different spots, which required slaves armed with buckets to monitor them round the clock. And then there was the whole day without a breath of wind to move our sails. It made me wonder what it would be like to die of thirst on a salty sea. And this was only the first half of our journey. Once we reached Carthage, we’d board another galley that would hug the North African coast and take us straight to Alexandria.

All part of a normal voyage, the Carthaginian captain explained. Nothing to worry about.

I’m not an “I told you so” kind of guy. When I realized the ship was under attack, I simply nudged Cana on her cot. My apprentice’s brown eyes shot open.

“Don’t panic, leerling,” I whispered, calling her the Dutch word for apprentice. “We’re under attack.”

She opened her mouth to say something, but Paetus shot up into a sitting position next to me. “Attack? Are you—?”

Both Cana and I shushed him at the same time. The whites of his eyes were almost as bright as the spark globe above us.

A man screamed on the deck, and we all jumped. Heavy feet creaked and bent the floorboards above our heads. We stared at the ceiling in silence. Then came a thump and the sounds of many feet rushing across the deck.

“We should help,” Cana said, still watching the ceiling.

“Are you mad?” Paetus hissed. “It’s probably pirates. They’re monsters. I’ve heard horrid tales. They’ll slice us open from neck to groin and let the gulls feast on our innards!”

Cana rolled her eyes and whispered, “Piracy has been extinct for decades. You read far too many fantastical tales.” Her tone was impatient as it always was with Paetus, but her Latin’s Gallic accent was far more pronounced. It meant she was scared.

Paetus’s wan face turned pink with anger. “Just because Pompey Maximus destroyed them doesn’t mean he made them ‘extinct’. They could still lurk in every cove and—”

“Paetus,” I said. I kept my voice low, calm, and firm like a leader should. “Whoever they are, Cana’s right. We either do something now or wait for them to find us.”

Paetus groaned.

“I have practiced slapen,” Cana said. “I can get at least four.”

More likely one, I thought. Cana had a habit of overestimating her strength. But what she lacked in strength—at the moment—she more than made up for in confidence and shear stubbornness to learn. She’d grown more in the last two months that I’d known her than I had in all four years of secondary academy in Detroit. I never believed that magi of her strength could naturally develop so early before the Great Awakening. She’d surpass my strength in the next few years.

If we made it through the next five minutes.

“Only if they’re kind enough to bunch up for you,” I said to her, “and if none of the crew are among them to dissipate the spell. If so, go for it. If not, we need another plan.”

A shout came from above in a language that certainly wasn’t Latin. It sounded similar to the Carthaginian captain’s words when he gave orders to his crew and slaves. The freedmen rowers just outside the cabin’s thin curtain murmured nervously in their rowing bays.

“Paetus,” I said, “do you understand what they’re saying up top?”

Paetus knew about a dozen languages, Carthaginian Punic being among them. He looked sick with fear, but he cocked his head and listened. His shoulders slumped and he looked even sicker, if that was possible.

“They just killed the captain,” he whispered. “The pirate leader told his men to search the rest of the boat.”

My throat seized up and my bowels cramped. I wasn’t surprised by my physical reaction to danger. I’d been in many life-and-death scrapes during my three years in Augustan Rome, versus zero in my twenty-first century life. I’ve fought vampire-like monsters called strix, a sewer basilisk that almost killed Augustus himself, ghosts, daemons, and, most recently, the magically conjured avatar of the Roman revenge goddess Invidia. You’d think I’d laugh off a few mundane pirates.

But this was how I always felt before a fight, from a brawl with drunken Roman plebs to an arena-destroying battle with a deity. And somehow I’d survived all those. I had a destiny, supposedly, and it wasn’t to die here.

“Cana,” I said, my voice level, “grab all your spell components. We may not be coming back here. Paetus, take only the scrolls and bags you need. Leave your trunk.”

Cana was already cinching her leather components pouch before I’d finished my order.

Paetus gave a shaky sigh and then gathered the scrolls on which he’d been writing before we went to sleep and stuffed them into his shoulder bag. He eyed his trunk, filled with even more scrolls, books, and clay tablets, and sighed again.

I made sure my trusty old Wolverines baseball cap was firmly set on my head, secured my own components vest, and fastened my gladius belt around my waist. I also slung my watertight leather bag, which contained Augustus’s letters of credit, over my shoulders. I sealed the scroll tubes with these journals you’re reading and the cherubic statue of my dearly departed house spirit Lares. I left behind my other sacks with a change of clothes.

I glanced at the wrists of both Cana and Paetus. They both wore the enchanted leather bracelets that I’d given them. I reached out with my cell magic and could feel my feet wanting to walk toward them. As long as they wore those, I could find them if we got separated.

“Think you can swing a blussen?” I asked Cana.

“Yes but how will we see?”

“Use cell magic to filter your eyes to heat. You’ll see them, but they won’t see you.”

She nodded, then gave me a worried look. “What are you going to do? Are you going to use—?”

“No,” I said firmly.

“I can stop you if you lose control. I know the words—”

“I said no!”

Things weren’t that desperate for me to give up a bit of my soul. Yet.

A girl’s scream came from the cabin across the hull from us, and then a young man’s angry shouts. There were two Carthaginian girls in that cabin, one eleven and one sixteen, traveling with their brother who wasn’t much older than them. The brother was yelling something in Punic. The other girl was screaming now, and the harsh laughter of the pirates finally got me moving.

“Put out the spark globe and cast the blussen!” I hissed to Cana.

I turned my Wolverines baseball cap around so that the bill faced backwards and flung the curtain aside.

Continue reading on:

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SHADOW MAGUS published!

shadow_magus_20160613_ebook_smWell met!

Natta Magus, that time-traveling wizard from an alternate 21st century where magic is real, is back for an all new adventure in SHADOW MAGUS. Here’s the blurb:

Natta Magus is getting used to life in Augustan Rome. While it doesn’t have twenty-first century perks like baseball or coffee, at least his unique magical skills can help his Aventine Hill friends.

But the Roman government has noticed his talents, and they call on him when a religious artifact from Rome’s ancient past is stolen. Natta discovers the thief is a magus as powerful as him, which should be impossible in this era. Unlike him, the magus wants Rome to die screaming.

Play ball.

SHADOW MAGUS is available on Amazon Kindle and in trade paperback.

Kindle | Trade Paperback

I’ve included the first chapter below. Happy reading!


Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A time traveling magus from twenty-first century Detroit walks into a bar in ancient Rome—

No? Oh this is a good one.

I was that time traveling magus—stuck in Rome going on two years now—walking into the seediest tavern along the Tiber riverfront during the reign of Caesar Augustus looking for the scion of an equestrian family whose paterfamilias claimed the teenage boy had been “bewitched” into joining an acting troupe. And just so you know, prostitutes in Roman society were looked upon with one tick more respect than actors.

Told you it was a good one.

Like most Roman taverns, it was in the garden level of a rickety tenement that was ancient when the Republic was founded. I walked down five worn, brick steps, left the blue skies and bright sunshine of a fine Roman afternoon and entered the open doorway into the dark tavern.

The stench hit me first: spilled wine, stale posca, and human body odor. Pretty much what you’d expect from a Roman tavern. And it was so dark I might as well have been walking into the underworld. When my eyes adjusted, I saw long tables with benches, each holding a couple of lit candle stubs. Two large men almost my height sat at one table across from each other, their heads in their arms on the tables with wooden cups next to them. I couldn’t tell if they were sleeping, passed out, or dead. Three plebeians sat at a table to my right taking turns rolling dice from a tin cup, alternating between cheers and groans depending on the rolls.

One of the sleeping men suddenly belched and then threw up on the stone floor next to him. I grimaced and looked away. That guy was still alive.

“Oy!” came a voice to my left. A man with large forearms shuffled out of a room in the back carrying two huge clay jugs with sloshing liquid and set them down behind a stone counter. I figured him to be the owner, since he wore a solid black tunica, and not the drab gray of a slave. He glowered at the nauseous drunk. “I told you to use the bucket at your feet next time, you cac stain!”

The drunk grumbled something and then went back to sleep.

The owner was about to say something else, but then noticed me standing in the doorway. He gave my black Wolverines baseball cap a long look, and then said, “Fancy a drink, dominus?”

I was about to ask for my runaway actor when I heard a burst of laughter come from a hallway in the back. The opening was covered by a thick red curtain, and sunlight peeked around the edges. The finder spell that I’d cast back at my shop to locate the actor wannabe made my feet want to walk toward the curtained doorway.

“Actually,” I said, “I’m here to see the show.”

“Two denarii, dominus.”

I fetched two coins from the money pouch on my spell components belt and put them on the counter as I walked past the owner toward the curtained door. I pulled the heavy curtain aside and headed down a short corridor toward a sunlit courtyard at the end. I passed one room on the right that was filled with jugs and sacks. Another room on the left must’ve been the owner’s residence: a woman sat in a chair next to a bed breastfeeding her infant child. She gave me a tired glare, and I felt my ears heat up. I quickly averted my eyes toward the courtyard.

The courtyard was about forty feet square with tenement balconies on all four sides of the three-story wood buildings. A small stage was set up at the far end where maybe a dozen plebeian citizens sat on stools laughing raucously at a bawdy comedy act that…well, let’s just say that the Romans can’t get enough of large, fake penises being used to humiliate their enemies. In this particular demonstration of quality drama, an actor playing a young Octavian was using his large penis to smack around Marc Antony and his Egyptian lover, Cleopatra, who had apparently persuaded Antony to do himself up with Eastern eye liner and clownish makeup. The actors playing Antony and Cleopatra—both men—ran around the stage trying to flee Octavian’s raging manhood.

Apparently not even the thirty years since Antony’s defeat at Actium was enough to diminish the humor from that bit.

My finder spell told me that “Cleopatra” was Septimius Naevius Balbus, the equestrian kid that I was looking for.

I sat on a stool in the back to watch the comedy unfold. Once Octavian finally stabbed Antony with his, um, weapon, the show took an even stranger turn. Octavian strode off the stage, proud of his victory, while Cleopatra wept over Antony’s body. A troupe of musicians stationed behind the stage began a haunting tune with their horns and lyres. Then “she” began an equally haunting, yet beautiful dirge that literally gave me chills. The kid’s voice went up and down in the tradition of ancient music that I’d become used to over the last two and a half years. I’m no musical genius, but to my untrained ears, he seemed to hit every note. The kid had talent and obviously loved what he did.

Which made me wonder about ratting him out to his father.

I admired many things about ancient Rome. My Praetorian friend, Gaius Aurelius Vitulus, was one. He was the epitome of ancient Rome’s virtues: honor, bravery, and a righteous sense of justice. He didn’t hesitate to protect the innocent, but if you crossed him, he wouldn’t hesitate to kill you dead. Vitulus’s wife, Claudia, was another. She knew my weird history, knew the danger I occasionally put Vitulus in during the “delicate” cases for which the Praetorians called on me—the only practicing magus in Rome—for help. Yet she never hesitated in opening her family’s resources to me if I needed help. Even with a newborn son, she found time to send baskets of food to my shop on the Aventine Hill whenever she’d hear that business was slow for me.

But there were many things about ancient Rome that made me cringe. As a man of the twenty-first century, slavery, of course, was at the top of the list. A close second was the almost religious preoccupation with social status that was practically written into every Roman law. I grew up in Detroit, a city in the mid-western American Union, where even the poorest people had a decent shot at being successful if they worked hard and persevered. In Rome, it was also possible to rise up the ranks, though freedmen and citizens usually did it by “marrying up” to the next social rung, or distinguishing themselves in the legions, or becoming talented orators in the Forum (this, of course, only applied to the guys; the gals could only pray to Juno that daddy married them off to one of the above).

One of the things that annoyed me about the social system here, though, was that once your family did scratch and crawl its way to the top of the ladder, it was the height of scandal if anyone in the family wanted to descend a few rungs. Like the kid Balbus singing his heart out on stage. Balbus’s father, the senior Septimius Naevius, had hired me to find Balbus and report back on the kid’s location. I assumed so that the Naevius goons could drag the kid back home kicking and screaming and force him to be a good future paterfamilias. I took the job because, well, business had been slow lately, and while I appreciated Claudia’s gift baskets, I was tired of feeling like one of her clientela. Vitulus and Claudia were my Roman family, not my patrons, and I wanted to keep it that way.

But this case was bringing back memories of when I struggled to tell my parents that I wanted to study the Finder arcanum, not Energy like they had. It certainly wasn’t the dire situation Balbus was in, but I had an inkling as to how he felt. My parents had just assumed that I shared their passion for developing magical batteries, routing magic via the Aether to power homes in Detroit, or just tinkering with magic-powered devices to make them more efficient. They were surprised when I told them that wasn’t my thing, and I had seen the disappointment in their eyes. But they understood that my passions just didn’t match theirs, so they went on to support my endeavors.

I couldn’t imagine living in a place where my parents could’ve forced me to study Energy rather than Finder.

So once again, my conscience wanted to overrule my stomach.

I hadn’t realized how transfixed the rest of the audience was with Balbus until he finished singing. The small crowd erupted in appreciative applause. The rest of the troupe joined Balbus on stage, all of them smiling as they bowed. I waited until the troupe had exited to the small, curtained backstage before getting up and making my way toward them.

I found the actors joined by the three hidden musicians. All six performers held a cup of wine in their hands and were drinking to a well performed show. They seemed filled with post-performance energy, laughing and joking about different parts. They still wore the garish makeup, and metal costume jewelry dangled from their ears, around their necks, and on their wrists.

When they finally noticed me standing there, I nodded to Balbus and said, “You’re a good singer. I haven’t heard a performance like that in years.”

“My thanks, citizen,” Balbus said, nodding back to me with a grin. “You can show your appreciation by telling your friends about us. We play here every evening just before sundown.”

“Your father hired me to find you,” I said.

Balbus froze, the grin on his face turning into a rictus and his eyes widening. His friends also stared at me with the same shocked expression.

“Look, I just wanted to let you know before your father sends…”

Balbus’s eyes flickered to something behind me. He gave a quick nod.

I turned in time to see a fist the size of Mount Vesuvius heading toward my face before all went black.


Continue reading on Kindle or in Trade Paperback.


citizen_magus_final_20150920_1000hI’m excited to announce the release of my new fantasy novel, CITIZEN MAGUS, the first book in a new series about a wizard from an alternate 21st century who gets stuck in ancient Rome during the reign of Caesar Augustus.

The blurb:

Remington Blakes, a magus from a 21st century where magic powers the world, has a big problem.

His former mentor, William Ford, stranded him in ancient Rome without a memory as to how or why. Well a guy has to eat, so he’s forced to eke out a living as a magus-for-hire among Rome’s plebeians. He calls himself “Natta Magus” since his real name sounds too Germanic to the discriminating Romans.

So when Natta learns that Ford has conjured daemons to kidnap a senator’s young daughter, he jumps at the chance to track Ford down. Natta chases him to Rome’s Germanic frontier to not only rescue the child, but learn the terrible secret behind why he left Natta in Rome.

CITIZEN MAGUS is available on Amazon Kindle and all major ebook retailers for $2.99, and in trade paperback for $13.99.

Kindle | Trade Paperback

I’ve included the first chapter of CITIZEN MAGUS below.  I hope you have as much fun reading the book as I did writing it!


My name is Remington Blakes, but people in 6 B.C. Rome call me Natta Magus.


For starters, I am a fully trained, licensed, and insured magus from twenty-first century Detroit in the American Union.  Second, I needed to feed myself somehow after I got stranded in ancient Rome, so I set up my own magus shop on the Aventine Hill.  What Roman would hire Remington when they could hire (cue epic echo) Natta Magus.  It means something like “artisanal wizard” in Latin, so I guess you could call it a marketing decision.

But there were times like now, running through Rome’s crowded streets on my way to stop a magical murder, that I wondered if there were safer ways to earn money.  Like joining the legions.

Gaius Aurelius Vitulus, my Praetorian friend—perhaps my only friend in Rome—stopped ahead and gave me an impatient frown.  I once saw him make a corrupt quaestor spill his guts with just that frown.  He was a few inches shorter than my six-foot two-inch frame, but he had the intimidating build of a twenty-something man who spent the last ten years in the legions.  When I caught up to him, he said, “The sun is setting, and we’re still a mile from the temple.”

“I’m going as fast as I can,” I growled.  “These damned sandals are killing me.”  Eighteen months in Rome and I still longed for the rubber-soled sneakers I wore back home.

“Your dawdling will kill Celsus Maximus,” Vitulus grunted, and began weaving his way again through the crowds and labyrinthine Roman alleys.

Vitulus was dressed like any other citizen of the equestrian social rank—a white woolen tunica with two narrow, vertical red stripes down the sides—but his bearing and the well-used, pearl-handled gladius on his belt made the crowds part for him.  The gladius was a gift from his father upon his ascension to manhood on his fourteenth birthday.  I once asked Vitulus why he didn’t brush the stains off the pearl handle, and he said that the stains remind him the gladius was a tool and not a bauble.  I tried not to think of how many men he’d killed with it during his days in the legions.

I’d known Vitulus for about a year, and all I can tell you is that by contemporary Roman standards, he’s a huge Boy Scout.  He values honor above all other virtues, always keeps his promises, will fight to protect the innocent, but won’t hesitate to kill his enemies.  A year ago I had helped Vitulus and his boss, Praetorian Prefect Salvius Aper, with a “delicate matter” involving supernatural forces.  They’d come to me ever since with more “delicate matters” that gods-fearing Romans didn’t want to believe in.

Take the case of Celsus Maximus, the famous gladiator whose murder we were racing to prevent.  Now I abhor slavery like anyone from my time, so when Vitulus came to me for help in finding Celsus, I turned him down.  I had hoped that Celsus had escaped the bloody gladiatorial games that Romans loved.  But then Vitulus told me that a clay tablet had been left in Celsus’s empty quarters.  It said that Celsus would be killed unless “Remington Blakes, the one you call Natta Magus,” shows up alone at the Temple of Sterquilinus outside the Porta Ostiensis by sundown.  It warned of dire consequences if I brought anybody with me.

Well that piqued my interest.  Only two people in ancient Rome knew my real name.  Vitulus was one.  The other was the all around bastard who abandoned me in ancient Rome in the first place, my former friend and mentor from the twenty-first century, William Pingree Ford.  He’d been using his magus powers in Rome over the last eighteen months to try and change history, and I’d done my best to clean up his messes.  But he always stayed a few moves ahead of me.  I had to catch him, so I could not only stop him but make him send me home.

Was it a trap?  Maybe.  He’d passive aggressively tried to kill me last year by sicking daemons on me, though I think that was more to distract me from his real plot to kill Caesar Augustus.  I stopped him, but that’s another story.

No, this was the best lead I’d had on him in months, and I couldn’t ignore it.

Which is what worried me.

“I don’t understand how Celsus could be captured,” Vitulus said as I came even with him again.  “He’s a cunning warrior.”

I dodged a flock of sheep heading to the Forum and blinked the sweat out of my eyes.  My Detroit Wolverines baseball cap, which helped me focus my magic, was soaked in sweat from my jog through Rome’s stifling and close streets.

“Magic beats might every time, my friend,” I said.  “If William is behind this, then Celsus may not have had a chance.  We need to—”

I stubbed my open toe on a stray rock and unleashed a string of modern curses.  Vitulus eyed me with amusement.

“Is that how you curse in ‘Anglish’?” he asked.

“English,” I said, limping next to him.  “Latin curses don’t feel as good.”  And I hope I’m not here long enough for them to do so.  “As I was saying, we need to figure out why William would kidnap Celsus of all people and use him to lure me to this temple.”

“If your former mentor wants to kill someone famous,” Vitulus said, barely breathing hard, “he couldn’t have found anyone more famous than Princeps Augustus himself.  Celsus has over a hundred kills in the arena in just the last year alone.  He rarely ever gets wounded, and he’s refused the wooden sword of freedom four times.  He’s the most remarkable gladiator in over a generation.”

Listening to Vitulus rattle off Celsus’s kills reminded me how I’d rattle off the stats of my favorite Wolverine ball players.  It was kind of disgusting and once again illustrated the huge cultural gulf between my friend and I.

“Yeah, well, a good sword arm is no match against a well-formed sleeper spell,” I said.

We rounded the corner and almost ran into a wedding party.  The bride’s father, dressed in a brilliant white toga, led the procession.  Female slaves marched behind him and in front of the bride, throwing multi-colored flower petals at her feet.  A deep-yellow veil covered her head, and she wore a white robe bound at the waist with a woolen belt.  Her attendants and family marched behind her, likely on their way to the groom’s house and the next stage of their ceremony.

These processions were common in Roman streets, and my heart cracked a little each time I saw one.  I had missed my own wedding in the twenty-first century two months ago.  I’m trying, Brianna, I thought.  All my will and focus is bent on getting home to you.  I missed her so much that I saw her reflection in every pool of water I passed.  Her long brown hair always pulled back in a pony-tail; her circular, wire-framed spectacles perched on the end of her nose; sparkling green eyes; mischievous grin; the goose flesh on her soft skin when I touched—

Focus, I had to focus.  Daydreaming about Brianna had almost killed me during my recent jobs with Vitulus.

We passed the procession and stepped onto the brick-layered Via Ostiensis, where I felt like I could breathe again.  For an empire renowned for its efficient roads and imperial administration, the Mother City was a maze of meandering, claustrophobic alleys and haphazardly built wood and brick tenements.  Even native Romans got lost if they tried navigating the unlit streets at night.

“Have you given more thought to my invitation?” Vitulus asked as we continued jogging.

I winced, expecting this after passing the wedding.  “Still thinking about it.”

“What’s there to think about?  It’s my wedding.  I’m meeting Claudia’s family tomorrow to negotiate guests, so I want to add your name to that list.  I don’t know about your Detroit, but here in Rome it’s considered an insult to refuse a wedding invitation, especially from a friend.”

Oh, it’s insulting in my time, too, I thought.  But how could I explain to him that passing a stranger’s wedding procession made me want to sit in my shop all day writing sad poetry and sighing.  Watching a friend get married would be a figurative gladius shoved into my heart.

“I know, and you deserve an answer,” I said.  I licked my lips.  “I have to decline.  You know I can’t make any oaths that would tie me to this century or it’ll be all the more difficult for me to get back home.  Accepting a wedding invitation is an implied oath that I will be at a certain place at a certain time.  What happens if I discover a way to get home tomorrow?”

Vitulus gave an exasperated laugh.  “Then I’ll release you from your ‘oath’!”

“Yes, but what if you’re not around to do that?  I can’t take that chance.  I’m sorry.”

Vitulus continued jogging in silence, his teeth clenched.

Accepting a wedding invitation wasn’t considered an Oath with a capital “O” in any magus class I’d ever passed.  Only strong Oaths, like marriage vows might keep me here longer than I wanted.  I’d even turned down Salvius Aper’s clientela offer, essentially giving me a full-time job in the Praetorian Guard, because I’d have to swear oaths to serve him that might conflict with my Oaths.  Swearing an Oath is like putting a tattoo on your soul.  It’s there for life.  Sure there are ways to remove it without fulfilling it, but they hurt like hell.  So if you even think you might not follow through with an Oath, it was best not to swear it in the first place.  If I went back to the twenty-first century without fulfilling it, my aura would be forever tarnished, and then good luck finding a job or making another friend again.

So even I knew my excuse was lame.

We exited the Porta Ostiensis on the south side of Rome and jogged another half-mile before stopping.  Vitulus pointed to a hilltop with a small circular building on top.  It was a few hundred yards away and surrounded by plowed grain fields.  The building had a red-tiled roof and square windows that ran along the entire circumference.  It looked more like a tool shed than a temple.

“The Temple of Sterquilinus,” he said, “the god of fertilization.  Most people go to the Temple of Ceres these days, so it’s fallen into disrepair.”

“So he’s the god of manure?”

Vitulus shrugged, and then said, “I still think it’s foolish for you to go alone.”

“Probably,” I said.  I mentally checked the enchantments that held my ball cap to my head and my components belt around my waist were set.  The familiar tingle in my hairline and my hips said they were.  “But the letter said he’d kill Celsus if I didn’t come alone.  And William couldn’t have chosen a better spot to ensure my loneliness.”

Vitulus’s hand tightened on the pearl hilt of his sheathed gladius as he studied the temple.  “If you think this is a trap, then why are you going?  Why risk your life for a gladiator you’ve never met?”

“Because this is the best lead I’ve had on William in months.”  I put a hand on his shoulder, and he turned his eyes back to me.  “And I want to go home.”

He nodded reluctantly.

“Besides,” I said, “William has had plenty of chances to kill me over the last year and a half.  If he wanted me dead, I’d be dead.  He wants something else from me.”

“Then may Fortuna walk with you,” Vitulus said.

I nodded to him, turned my black Wolverines ball cap around so the bill was pointed backwards, and started toward the temple.  This prepared my body to cast a spell at a moment’s notice.

The Temple of Sterquilinus may have been forgotten, but the manure he represented sure wasn’t.  It was planting season, so the stench and crunch of desiccated dung beneath my sandaled feet made my nervous walk toward the temple all the more unpleasant.  When I arrived at the base of the temple hill, I noticed the walking path that I could’ve taken from the Via Ostiensis to the temple door.

“Son of a…” I muttered, and then kicked the manure and dirt off my sandals and bare feet.  Only a bath later would get them clean.  William would just have to deal with my smells.

I walked to the top of the hill, glancing to the west as I did so.  A sliver of orange sun still shone above the hilly horizon.  I had made it here before sundown.  I hoped I wasn’t too late for Celsus.

The entry into the temple had no door and was dark.  Nothing like an abandoned, spooky temple to raise the hairs on your neck.  My Wolverines baseball cap would block my presence from any lurking spirits that might try to feed on my magic, so I wasn’t worried about them.  It was the living that concerned me, and William in particular.  What I said earlier about my belief that he didn’t bring me here to kill me was well reasoned…until my lizard brain threw spark grenades at that logic.

Maybe he’s tired of you stopping his plots and wants to kill you now in the middle of a manure-sown field.  Maybe he’s finally lost what’s left of his mind.  He admitted in our last meeting months ago that he wanted to erase the knowledge of magic from twenty-first century humanity.  In my future, magic was ubiquitous and powered the world; erasing it would plunge the world into a dark age that I couldn’t imagine.  For someone who wanted to do that, murdering a former student wasn’t too far-fetched.

Well I wouldn’t get any answers by standing outside soaking up manure reek.  I marched through the open entry and into the dark temple.

The meager light from the windows and a second open entry across from me helped me see a dozen wood benches surrounding a stone altar in the middle.  A large man with a shaved head wearing a brown tunica stood before the altar with his back to me.  That was not William, unless he’d grown three inches and put on fifty pounds since I last saw him.

“Celsus Maximus?” I asked, my eyes scanning the rest of the empty room.

A throaty chuckle came from the large man.  I shifted my eyes to him and every cell in my body seemed to ice over.  There was something terribly wrong with him.

“That is not my name,” the man said in a Germanic accent.  “The Romans gave me that name when they enslaved me.”

He turned around.  I first noticed the small body he held in his massive arms.  It was a dark-haired girl, no more than thirteen.  Her face looked serene, but the left side of her neck was a jagged mess of dark red flesh, muscle, and exposed white bone.  A second girl lay near the man’s feet.  She was younger than the first and her eyes were closed, but I saw no wounds and she was still breathing.

My eyes fled from the two girls to the man’s face.  His entire mouth and chin were bright red, and his teeth were impossibly large, gray, and jagged.

“My name is Octric,” he said, “and I no longer kill for the pleasure of a Roman mob.”  Blood oozed from between his teeth when he grinned.  “Now I kill for my own pleasure.”

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Kindle Scout campaign for CITIZEN MAGUS

citizen_magus_final_20150920_1000hI’m really excited to announce a Kindle Scout campaign for my new novel, CITIZEN MAGUS.

The campaign works like this: Readers can nominate my book for a publishing deal with Kindle Press. If Kindle Press picks up my book, your nomination will earn you a free copy once they publish it. The more nominations I get, the better my chances for a deal and a free ebook for you.

Nominating is easy, quick, and a great way to support new authors (check out the other campaigns on the Scout site, too). Please see my campaign page for more details and an excerpt from the book.

Thanks in advance for your support!

From the book description:

Remington Blakes, a magus from a 21st century where magic powers the world, has a big problem. His former mentor, William Ford, stranded him in ancient Rome without a memory as to how or why. Well a guy has to eat, so he’s forced to eke out a living as a magus-for-hire among Rome’s plebeians. But when Ford conjures daemons to kidnap a senator’s young daughter, Remi tracks him to the Germanic frontier to not only rescue the child, but learn the terrible secret behind why he left Remi in Rome.