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."
I'd never seen a vampire before, since they'd gone extinct eighty years before I was born. The Aether in my time line had ensured their extinction, among a host of other Dark-conjured monsters.
If you're reading this journal and you're not from my home time, the Aether was a magical gas that the victorious Allies pumped into the world's atmosphere after the Dark Wars in the early twentieth century. Without going into the nitty-gritty, the Aether stopped Dark curses from materializing; they just turn into gray vapor as soon as a Dark magus casts them. Oh, my home had plenty of rebellious teens and wannabes who pretended to be Dark, dabbling in minor curses that put boils on your nose. But the Aether prevented anyone from casting horrors like the true Dark magi that had almost destroyed my world.
Vampires shouldn't exist in ancient Rome either. They wouldn't evolve until after the Great Awakening three hundred years from now. But the fact that one stood before me with fresh victims proved me wrong. This was William's work, and his depravity had hit a new low.
"Okay...Octric," I said, "let's talk about this."
The Germanic gladiator stared at me with black eyes, still as a marble statue. Unnaturally still.
"You hate Romans," I said. "I get that. But killing their daughters won't make them listen to you."
I walked slowly to his right, keeping a wooden bench between him and me. I couldn't tell if his all-black eyes followed me. Hell, I could barely see anything in the temple anymore.
He didn't move as I arrived behind the bench. I moved my right hand down to my components belt.
"How did you turn into...this? Did you have—?"
"William says salve," Octric said.
"Yeah. I figured he would."
Octric cocked his head like a predator who heard the scurrying of small prey. He grinned. "I would love to feed on you too, magus. But my master's orders were clear. He is calling me home."
Octric threw the dead girl's body at me as if it were a sack of grain. I brought my hands up and caught the girl, but I fell backward over another bench and onto my back, the girl's body on top of me. My head slammed on the stone floor, producing starbursts before my eyes. The breath was knocked out of me, but I kept Octric in my sight while I gasped for air.
He blurred like shimmering metal on a hot day. I felt magical energies gather—a deep rattling in my teeth along with that ache you get when eating something cold—and then his body began to shrink. His outstretched arms grew feathers, as did his shaved head, face, and neck. His eyes grew wider, and his mouth turned into a beak. His body disappeared into his crumpled tunica on the ground. Then a huge owl with gray and black feathers burst from the tunica with a cringe-inducing screech. It grabbed the second dark-haired girl's leg in its talons and somehow lifted her into the air with powerful flapping wings. As she hung upside down, a small pendant fell from her neck to the floor. With supernatural strength, the owl flew her out the temple's second entry and into the night sky.
My Dark ecology courses had taught me that vampires could turn into bats or wolves or mist. The owl was new to me, which made me wonder if I was dealing with a vampire after all.
The dead teenaged girl still lay over me from where I fell. I gently put her body on a bench and sat down next to her. She was so frail and light. Because he drained all her blood, I thought with growing anger.
When I worked up the courage to inspect her wound, I saw indeed that no blood oozed from it. Her skin was alabaster pale, and her clothing, bejeweled necklaces, and bracelets indicated she came from a wealthy family.
The sound of horses came through the entry behind me. I tried to stand, but vertigo from my head injury made me stagger forward, placing my hands on the bench to keep from falling onto the girl. I guess I hit my head harder than I thought. A knot throbbed and swelled on the back of my head.
I was still leaning over the girl when men with torches appeared in the entry.
"I need help," I said. "She's—"
"What in Jupiter's name have you done?" snarled the leader with a gravelly voice.
I looked down at the dead girl and then back at the men.
"I didn't do this!" I cried. "There was another man— Er, not a man, but he—"
All four men drew their swords and advanced toward me.
"Get away from her," the leader ordered.
I backed away from the bench where I had placed the girl. "I did not do this! She was dead when I found her!"
A teen with terrible acne stepped forward and raised his torch high. "Gods," he breathed, staring at the girl's ruined neck. "You ripped Lucia's throat out!"
"No!" I protested again. "I don't even know who she is!"
The leader joined Acne Boy. He was in his fifties with about a quarter-inch of gray-black scruff on his mostly bald head. The abject anguish on his bristly face made me wonder if Lucia was his daughter.
"You damn well know who she is," the man whispered, staring at the girl. "Otherwise you wouldn't have kidnapped her."
"I swear, I don't know—"
"She's the first daughter of Senator Numicius Priscus!" the man suddenly yelled in my face. "Where's Aula?"
"If you mean the younger girl, then the man who killed Lucia took her."
"Where did he take her?" he asked through clenched teeth. The pain on the leader's face had turned to rage, and I knew I was in real trouble. There would be no arrest or trial for me. Only torture and execution, right here and now.
A voice from the entry startled the men. Vitulus's shadow blocked the door, and he cut an imposing figure—stocky, back straight, one hand on the pearl gladius hilt at his belt. His tone was commanding, without a hint of the fear that was turning my knees to jelly.
"I'm a centurion in the Praetorian Guard," he said. "What's happening here?"
"Fine timing, centurion," the leader said, his eyes never leaving mine. "You're about to witness some justice."
"Stay your hand, sir," Vitulus said, as if soothing a dog crouched to attack. "And you men put away your weapons. I would know what happened."
"Vitulus, this is William's doing," I said past the angry man. "He turned Celsus Maximus into a...a monster that killed the girl. He escaped with another little girl just before these guys showed up."
"The gladiator?" Acne Boy said. "No one left as we approached. What did he do, fly away with Aula?"
"Yes!" I said.
"Wait," growled the leader. His eyes shifted between Vitulus and me. "You two know each other?"
Vitulus's lips thinned, which usually indicated his annoyance with me.
Damnation, I just blew his attempt to bluff these guys.
Vitulus turned to the leader again using the same soothing tone. "I want to find out what happened, so we can bring the murderer to justice. What is your name, sir?"
"Duilius Strabo," he said. "I guard the Senator's kids. And I don't give one cac spot whether you're a Praetorian or not." He pointed his gladius at Vitulus. "You both will answer for this."
Vitulus drew his gladius and assumed a defensive stance: his body perpendicular to the men, left leg advanced, his gladius held near his side and pointed at Strabo. Strabo's three comrades raised their swords, looking from Vitulus to their leader, waiting for someone to make the first move.
Which meant everyone ignored me.
I took a bag from my belt and opened the cinched top. As everyone stared at each other, I tossed the dust from the bag into the air above Strabo and his men. The sleeper dust sparkled as I pushed my cell magic into it—a rush of ice and heat that burst from my body's cells—and I yelled in my arcane, bastardized Dutch,"Niet bewegen!"
They had time to look at me but not enough to do anything about it before the dust settled on them. All four men collapsed to the stone floor, their swords clanging loudly in the small temple.
I hurried to the altar where I'd seen the pendant fall off Aula's neck and tucked it into one of my component bags. I'd need it later if I ever hoped to find her again.
I ran past Vitulus toward the entry. "We need to leave before they awaken."
Vitulus grabbed my arm in an iron grip before I could get outside. "What. Happened."
"I put them to sleep. They'll have a headache when they wake up, but they'll be fine."
"No." He turned his eyes to Lucia's body and then fixed me with a cold stare.
"Vitulus," I said, "I did not do this. It was Celsus."
"The kid was right," Vitulus said, nodding to the unconscious Acne Boy. His grip on my arm had not loosened. "Nobody walked out of this temple."
"I'm telling you, Celsus turned into an owl and flew out the back door with Aula. If you were really watching the temple, you would've seen it!"
There was more acid in my voice than I had intended, but the fact that Vitulus seemed to suspect me of ripping out this girl's throat was the topping on an already awful night.
His eyes narrowed as he thought for a few seconds. "I didn't see that, but it was getting dark...and I did hear an owl screech. I thought it came from the trees near the road."
"Vitulus. You know I could never do this. After all the things we've seen, is it so hard to believe me now?"
Over the last year, Vitulus had watched me use my magic to find items or people who were lost for good; we'd fought crypt daemons and even a sewer basilisk. He'd seen things he never believed in before meeting me. I watched him think about those things, and then he released my arm.
"This was your mentor's doing?"
"Yeah." I looked at the dead girl again but then had to turn away. "His crimes are growing more vile. He lured me out here to frame me for Lucia's murder and Aula's kidnapping. He has to be stopped, and we have to find Aula."
"Why would he do this?"
I glanced nervously at the sleeping men. "Do we really have to talk about this now?"
Vitulus frowned at Strabo and his men. "Senator Numicius leads the Princeps' faction in the Senate," he said. "He's powerful and can have you tried and executed within a day. He must not know we were here."
Vitulus raised his gladius above the sleeping Strabo's heart.
"Wait!" I yelled and grabbed his sword arm. "What are you doing?"
He gave me an incredulous look. "Saving your life, fool. When these men wake up, they'll track you down and kill you."
"I never told them my name."
He snorted. "How many real magi are there in Rome? Your reputation has grown. It won't take them long to find you."
"But you can't just kill them!"
He stared at me as if I'd just said the sun was green. "I can. It's easy."
"Well it shouldn't be," I said. "Besides I used my magic to subdue them. If you kill them, I'll be an accomplice to murder and in violation of the Oaths I took to never use my magic to harm a human being."
Strabo grunted and began to stir. Even his sleep mumbling sounded dangerous.
"Let's go." I tried pulling Vitulus toward the door, but it was like pulling a tree.
He pulled his muscled arm from my grip. "You would let these men live, even though they will hunt you down and kill you once they find you?"
"Yes. There's another way."
"What other way?"
"I have some ideas. First, I need to stop at my shop, then we need a safe place to hide. Suggestions?"
He looked from me to the wakening Strabo. I hoped that my question would get him thinking of something other than killing defenseless men. For a moment I thought he'd do it anyway. But he cursed once and followed me out the door.
"Yes," Vitulus said as we hurried into the night, "but he won't be happy when he hears our story."
Rome's overcrowded and winding alleys made it almost impossible to get anywhere during daylight hours. In an effort to relieve the congestion, Augustus recently made it illegal for wagons to deliver their goods within the city between sunup and sundown. So now when the sun sets, the crowds virtually disappear...but then wagons and carts of all sizes clog the streets. Combine that with no system of street torches to light our various detours, and it was midnight by the time Vitulus and I reached my shop on Rome's Aventine Hill.
My shop was in an old garden-level flat that had been a perfume boutique before I moved in. We descended the five stone steps to the plain wood door. I flicked a bit of cell magic at the door to release its wards and then opened it to let Vitulus in. I didn't want to waste time fumbling for a candle, so I cast a spark globe, tuned the glow to a dull red, and let it hang in the air in the center of the shop. Flowery and musky scents from the former boutique permeated the walls, which I doubted would ever dissipate.
Kind of like my house spirit, Lares, who greeted me as soon as I shut the door and reignited its wards.
"My fig cake has returned to me!" cried a disembodied female voice. On the small table to my right, an ethereal white glow surrounded a six-inch statue of a cherubic young woman. The bowl in front of it still had a few drops of wine left from my offering yesterday, along with some shriveled green olives. "I was so worried, my sweet! The hours have been absolute torture awaiting your return! Did you find the man who took you away from me for so long?"
"Yeah, we found him," I said, "and I was only gone a few hours."
"Excuse me?" Vitulus said.
"Sorry, Lares asked me about Celsus."
Vitulus nodded. He was used to me talking to thin air by now. He couldn't hear Lares due to his lack of magical talents, nor could he see the white glow around her statue. So he stationed himself at the door and watched through the cracks as wagons rumbled by on the street. We were taking a huge risk coming here, but if I was going into hiding, I wanted to make sure I had plenty of spell components with me.
"What took you so long, my pudding?"
"There were complications," I said. I pulled Aula's pendant from my component belt and set it on the table. It was an old, worn coin attached to a simple leather strap with the two ends tied in a not. Unlike the fancy jewelry that most patricians wore, the coin looked more like a family heirloom generations old. It had meaning.
Which would make it easier for me to find her.
"What complications, sweet?" Lares asked. "Did he hurt you?" Her statue flickered between orange and yellow. "Say the word and I shall go to the house spirit of where he lives. He shall have pustules all over his manhood by morning!"
"William turned the man into something really bad. It killed one girl and kidnapped another. I'm going to cast a finder spell now, so I need to concentrate."
"Absolutely, darling," she said, "though the moments without your voice will feel like centuries."
I'm competent in all the major schools of magic, but finder spells are my specialty. I was working on my Finder Arcanum doctorate at Detroit's Wayne State University before William abandoned me in ancient Rome. Finder jobs had been my bread and butter since I arrived, though they were hardly glamorous: I've located drunk husbands, cheating wives, murder victims, and even Salvius Aper's stolen breastplate. Of course I'd also found missing children, which always made the icky jobs worth it. I was basically doing the same things here that I would've been doing had I completed my doctorate back in Detroit. Albeit under far more primitive and life threatening conditions.
I turned my ball cap around so the bill faced backward. I took the coin in my right hand and cupped my left hand over it. I gathered the cell magic that resided in every cell of my body, let its icy heat rise to the top of my skin, and then I released it with the words: "Vinden Aula."
Faces, emotions, and locations exploded before my mind's eye. The coin's previous owners had left their own unique spiritual imprints. This was common when casting a finder on an heirloom, but my experience helped me navigate the imprints and locate Aula's. Her imprint was the brightest since she was currently the coin's undisputed owner. It also meant Aula was still alive. I gave an internal sigh of relief. If she were dead, her imprint would've been a weak shadow like all the others.
But I noticed something curious about her imprint: yellow and purple aural colors sparked around it like fireflies. Whoa, I thought, she has magical talent. Very few people in the ancient world could wield magic before the Great Awakening. Was Aula one of them?
Whether she could or not didn't matter at the moment. She was a child in terrible danger and I had to find her. I focused on her imprint and said once again: