The Cloaca Maxima
by Rob Steiner
My new friend Vitulus poked through my spell components on the shelves of my workshop in 6
BC Rome. "How are you at locating fantasy animals, Natta Magus?" he asked.
"Depends on if it's a real fantasy animal," I said. "And don't touch that unless you want your
testicles to shrivel up."
Vitulus's hand hovered over the dried starfish leg he was about to pick up. He withdrew it
instead to the hilt of the gladius strapped to his leather belt. The starfish wouldn't have done
that, but it could have it imprinted itself with his aura by accident. And then I'd be out one
expensive starfish leg.
I grabbed the leg and put it in my spell component purse on my belt. He scowled at me, and I
"Are you asking," I said, "or is Prefect Salvius Aper?"
"Officially, the Praetorian Prefect has numerous duties and no time to chase children's stories,"
Vitulus said. He sat down at the stool on the other side of my worktable and got that
uncomfortable look he always had when discussing magical topics. "Unofficially . . . would be
most grateful for your expertise in another delicate matter."
"Delicate matter" sounded like sesterces clinking in my coin purse. A fire had wiped out all my
spell components and old workshop two months ago when I helped Salvius Aper with another
"delicate" matter. While I had turned down Aper's offer of patronage -- couldn't have an oath
tying me to this century -- he had still come to me with "delicate" jobs that had helped me rent a
new workshop and replenish some of my components. But I still had a long way to go before I
had everything I needed for the spell that would get me back home to twenty-first century
"What fantasy animal does your boss want me to find?" I asked.
"We don't know its name, but we know it lives in the sewers and can kill a man just by looking
at him. Do you know of such a beast?"
"In my timeline there are a number of 'fantasy' creatures that could live in a sewer or kill with a
glance. We need to narrow it down. Any witnesses?"
"A flamen of Neptune named Stolo. He says he and his fellow flamen, Paetus, were sitting in the
latrines when the head of the beast poked out of the latrine hole between them. Stolo said the
creature looked like a large, scaly rooster. It hissed at Paetus, and then he fell to the floor dead.
The beast then dropped back down the latrine hole. Stolo ran off screaming for the nearest
"And you believe Stolo?"