A tale of haunted houses and court houses
A rich landlord finds tenants are abandoning his apartment buildings, spouting tales of horrific events and whispering that the old gods – the numina – came alive and cursed the buildings.
Enter Felix, a professional fox. Dressed in a toga and armed with a dagger, Felix is neither a traditional detective nor a traditional magician – but something in between. Whenever there is a foul business of bad magic, Felix is hired to sniff out the truth. Now he must separate fact from superstition – a hard task in a world where the old gods still roam the earth.
In Numina continues to explore the fantasy world of Egretia. It borrows elements from a thousand years of ancient Roman culture, from the founding of Rome to the late empire, mixed with a judicious amount of magic. This is a story of a cynical, hardboiled detective dealing with anything from daily life to the old forces roaming the world.
This is the second Story of Togas, daggers, and Magic – for lovers of Ancient Rome, Murder Mysteries, and Urban Fantasy.
Here are some of the early review quotes:
In Numina provides readers a bit of everything — chills, thrills, mystery, and romance. Highly recommend for readers of alternate history, mystery, action-adventure, and similar genres.
— N.B. Willilams, author of Salt in the Blood
Felix the Fox. Investigator, magician, lover, compulsive payer of debts. Highly recommended.
— Jane Jago, author of Dai and Julia alternate Roman history
In Numina is going to be one of those books I read again and again.
— Anais Chartschenko, author of Bright Needles
Rich scenery, interesting plot twists, and enough danger to keep turning the pages. This story should be enjoyed by candlelight and with a glass of red wine.
— CC Dowling, author of The Dharkstar Dragon Saga
You can also meet Aemilia, Felix’s main counter-point, for yourself in this interview. Once you’ve encountered her exuberant joy, you’ll never feel the same about Felix. Then come back to enjoy the following excerpts from In Numina.
Excerpt 1 – Dealing with the occult
The following excerpt (just under 900 words) is from a scene near the middle of In Numina. Felix is investigating unnatural events in an insula – a large tenement buildings. He narrowed it down to curses that have been cast on the buildings but needs to defuse them. To achieve that, he must resort to some mind-altering substances…
We began like we had the night before. The building’s rectangular courtyard had a classic layout. There was a fountain in the centre with a cheap statue of a dolphin spraying waters that collected in a shallow pool. Around the pool were beds of earth for tenants to grow plants, which were now dried and dead. A shrine to the house’s guardian spirit stood behind the fountain and across from public fire-pits where tenants could cook their meals. These were built of brick and placed well away from the walls to reduce the chance of fire — a hazard in any city.
With Borax keeping watch, I set up my pan and other necessities in one of these fire-pits, prepared the psilocybe in eggs and intoned the right words. I took one bite, then a second. It didn’t take long for their effects to take hold.
A silvery, slimy trail like that of a slug led me to the apartment where the painting’s snakes had eaten a baby alive in his crib. The place was abandoned, everything gone except for the crib and the picture still hanging on the wall above it. I have only vague recollection of my baby sister. When she died of the ague during her second month of life, my mother had completely removed every trace of her from our home. Standing in that room, I was overwhelmed by the indescribable loss, a feeling I hope never to feel first hand.
The walls shimmered, acquiring a liquid, multi-coloured quality, like the faint rainbow of oils floating on a river downstream from where the washerwomen do their chores. The painting attained a depth, grew larger, took on a life beyond what could have been accommodated by a recess in the wall. I looked at the forest glade where the baby Hercules had been painted, and now showed only a grassy patch fringed with ominously dark trees. One could almost hear the rustling of leaves against an absence of bird noises that was somehow alarming. It stood as a window unto another world, yet I was not in the slightest tempted to reach into it, expecting the snakes would come biting me soon enough.
After a while of moving between the crib, the mural, and other apartments where atrocities happened, I located the silvery spiderweb of power that led me back towards its centre.
I explored the hall, stumbling occasionally but carrying on. . I ventured down the steps, carefully balancing myself with a hand on the wooden bannister which felt rough, scaly. Down and down, the tread of my feet on the stone steps echoed in the dark hallway, the stone walls closing in on me as I descended.
Stepping through one of the ground floor apartments, my eyes darted from side to side to catch the apparitions hovering at the edge of my vision. The snaking silver webs of power were multiplying, coming from all directions, passing through family shrines to the lares and di penates, and climbing the walls like suffocating vines, to converge on a potted tree in the corner.
Borax was standing at the ready, his pose the relaxed posture of a fighter about to pounce, but his fingers drummed lightly around on the iron cooking pan in his hands. He looked askance at any statue or bas-relief that might suddenly come alive. It says something about my life when the gladiator I employ to guard it prefers a heavy iron skillet as his weapon of choice.
The tree that sprouted from the clay pot was a leafy bay, its roots packed tightly in the knee-high container. I searched the base of the tree, thinking to unearth something from the dirt, but I should have looked at the tree. As my fingers dug into the earth, a branch snapped down with the head of a snake, biting my arm. I jumped back, staring at a tree that was now a coiling mass of snakes, snapping at me, like the head of Medusa the Gorgon.
Without thinking, I grabbed a discarded folding chair and threw it at the branches-snakes, then jumped into the opening and hacked at the snakes with my dagger. Borax joined me with a yell, stabbing at the tree trunk with his sword and swatting the snake-heads away with his pan. The heads made satisfying crunching sounds when he managed to smash them.
After a particularly big swipe with the pan cleared an opening, Borax aimed a mighty kick at the terracotta pot. He managed to tip it over and it cracked on impact, spilling the earth from inside it. Something metallic shone in the dirt and I kicked the object, moving it away from the snakes.
While Borax kicked and stomped with his heavy boots, the snakes appeared less fearsome as their tails remained connected to the fallen tree trunk. I took out another specially prepared leather purse from the sack of supplies and dropped the tabula defixionis into it. This device wasn’t enough to completely block the strong magia of the curse but dampened the enchantment sufficiently to turn the snakes’ scales back to bark. As they slowed, Borax took pleasure smashing them to bits. I tied the cords of the purse in a ritualistic knot, mumbling a few words of power and a supplication to the gods.
Excerpt 2 – Dealing with a foul mood
The following excerpt (around 600 words) occurs a bit later on in the plot. Felix is hobbled by a broken leg, and both the case and his past haunt him. He deals with his foul mood in his inimical fashion, scrounging some pocket money for wine on the way.
As if to reinforce my resolve to protect Aemilia, in a grim reminder of my past, the next morning I found Araxus knocking on my door. He was bedraggled, stooped, unwashed, unshaven, but his green right eye was looking at me openly and the mad black one seemingly under his control.
“Do you have a pig?” he asked before I could say anything.
“Never mind, you will. It’s about the tabulae defixiones that we disposed of the other day. Do you still have them?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Why?”
“I wanted to check something.”
My hackles rose. “Do you think they are not inert? I thought we disposed of their magia safely.”
“We did, we did. They are nothing but plumber’s supplies now. Could I see them, please?”
“Did you think of some new aspect?” I asked, motioning for him to follow me to my study. I dug out the curse tablets and handed them over.
He unfolded one carefully and examined the engraved signs. As he read, his green right eye clouded, darkened, became as black as his mad left eye. Clouds drifted past my window and the room acquired a chill.
“Well?” I asked. “What is it?”
He turned both black eyes on me, his gaze boring into my soul. Shivers ran up my spine and my broken ankle began to ache and throb.
“It’s as I feared,” he said, voice rasping. “There is more baaa to this than a baaa curse. It’s not a mere supplication to the major baaa gods, it’s almost a love sonnet baaa to invite them to procreate. Do you realise what this baaa means?”
“It means you are insane.”
“No! It means that the black sheep has three bags of wool! Baaa!” And with this he broke into a mad little jig, reciting a silly children’s ditty about lambs. After a while I gave up trying to restore his reason, and — somewhat fearful that in his mad state he might reactivate the curse tablets — escorted him out of my house.
After Araxus left, I needed some time away from everyone and decided I would not be getting it at home.
Given my impaired mobility, I could not take on another case. I was in no condition to walk far, but I limped down to the docks between the grain and fish markets, found a good corner, and left a honey-cake in the shrine of the nearest crossroad lar. I chalked ‘FORTUNES TOLD, CURSES IDENTIFIED’ on the wall, sat down on a folding stool under it, put on airs, and busied myself with a scroll by Thrasyllus on star-gazing which looked impressive with all its strange and foreign symbols.
People being what they are, especially sailors and dock-workers, I scraped enough quadrans and semis that day to cover a night of drinking. Calculating people’s horoscopes is tedious, but at least cleaner than haruspicy. One sailor wanted me to write a curse against his fellow, whom he swore stole his lucky fascinum when they were asleep. I scribbled a supplication to Hygieia — about as magical as a bucket of piss — to withdraw her protection from the thief’s health. I also sold him a mild laxative in the guise of ‘special medicine’ and told him to slip it in the evening meal whilst at sea to reveal the guilty party to all. On the off-chance he was wrong about the culprit, the laxative was to go into the main pot and the supplication into the fire. I taught him meaningless doggerel to repeat, so I could claim it was his fault for botching it. Thoughts of future winds generated below decks by an overly flatulent crew cheered me up.
It also kept my mind away from Aemilia and what I needed to do with her.
On the way home, I could feel my ankle getting stronger. Whatever charms Petreius had weaved into the cast were working their magic. Still, limping on a plastered leg, a crutch in one hand and my folding stool and scrolls in the other, was hard enough without impairing my balance further. So despite a strong desire to forget Aemilia, my better judgement prevailed and I only had one drink on the way home. I sat in a tavern, ordered some fried and stuffed bread, and sipped a half-decent vintage that required just a pinch of cloves and sugar of lead to make it palatable.
I was about to leave for home when Araxus walked in and, with a heavy sigh, sat at my table. Without looking at me or any acknowledgement, he took my cup and poured the dregs of wine from the jug into it. There was barely a quarter-cup left. He dipped his finger in the little saucer of sugar, then swirled the wine with it. As he did, the wine rose, filling the cup. I was still in shocked silence when he lifted it up to his lips and drank deeply. While that spoke volumes about his table manners, it gave me little clue about his mental state.
“And hello to you, too,” I finally said. “What brings you into the town?”
“I need to find my friend Felix,” he said. “He needs my help.”
“Oh? Do tell. What trouble has ‘Felix’ gotten himself into this time?”
“He needs a priest.”
“You are no priest,” I said.
“And neither is he. You see,” he leaned close to me, his reek overwhelming, “we could never worship the Magna Mater — we love our testicles too much!” At this he erupted into inane giggles which turned into hiccoughs.
Still, he could be prophetic at times. Not for nothing is the power of prophecy linked to curses and madness. “Why does he need a priest?”
“How should I know?” he said.
“So how do you know he needs one?” I asked through gritted teeth.
“Felix! You said he needs a priest!”
“Felix, what are you talking about? Who needs a priest?”
I took a deep breath. “You just walked in here, said you were looking for me because I need a priest.”
“Did I? No one in your family left to die, so perhaps you’re getting married soon?”
I had enough of him, and stood up to leave, dropping a few coins on the table. Araxus’ hand shot out and grabbed my wrist. His green eye was still looking at the wine cup, but his black one looked straight at me, through me.
“I will be there when you need me,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “I still have much of my debt to repay you.”