Silence, broken by the awkward ticks of grandfather clock filling the small, austere room.

Finally, “Oh, for heaven’s sake. This is going too far.”

A replying sniff. “Nevertheless, I have spoken only of incontestable fact.”

Lady Jaida crossed her arms. Leather creaked, loudly.

“And you needn’t cross your arms at me like that,” Valentina said.

“Convince me,” Jaida said. She irritably flicked a lock of black hair over her shoulder.

Valentina heaved a sigh. “Very well.” The fair-haired young woman, with a petulant expression that rather spoiled her cherubic countenance, turned and lifted a small iron-bound casket from the bare shelf behind her. “I was instructed to reveal this only in the event that our presentation, irrefutable though it may be, was insufficient in your sharp, though lovely, eyes.”

“Keep flirting with me like that and you’ll be in imminent danger of breaking your order’s vows,” Jaida said dryly, with a twist to her red lacquered lips. “Get on with it, please?”

Valentina snickered. “As my lady wishes.” She produced a key and unlocked the casket. The interior was of faded velvet and the contents resembled nothing so much as brown, dry leaves. Jaida lifted an eyebrow as Valentina pulled a pair of silk gloves from her novice’s habit and handled the parchment scraps as if they were the crown jewels of England.

The eyebrow came down as soon as she realized what was written on the leaves. “No,” she breathed.

“Oh, yes,” Valentina said, only a trifle smug.

“The Claudius Codex,” Jaida said. “May I–” Valentina slapped her eager hands away. Jaida rolled her eyes and pulled on her own gloves. She examined the leaves.

“Oh,” she said.

“Incredible,” she muttered.

“I must set out at once,” she exclaimed, and would have whirled around to leave the convent post-haste if Valentina had not laid a restraining hand on her shoulder.

“What requirements do you need now?” Jaida said, her body falling into defensive lines. The novice clucked in her best Mother Matron style, but could not hide the eager sparkle in her eyes from the other woman.

“Only this,” Valentina said. “I’m coming with you.”

–36 hours and one costume change later–

“Tell me,” Jaida said, landing in the sewer with a squelching splash that didn’t bear thinking of. “Why exactly did you want to come along again?” She whirled as best as she could in the ankle-deep mud, giving thanks to the makers of sturdy boots, and fired warning shots at the shouting minions charging around the corner.

“Oh, nothing much. Adventure,” Valentina said, hefting the Burleigh & Smith Mk. II Flamethrower (“Dispatching your enemies in Biblical style!”) with worrying ease. It spat fire at the minions charging around the opposite corner. “The chance to recover a priceless relic for history.” The minions shot back. They ducked. “Glory for the order and St. Valentine.” She put her back to Jaida’s and the between the two of them, they made short work of the insane, murderous resurrected Roman Emperor’s footsoldiers. At least for five minutes.

In the ensuing quiet, their frantic reloading sounded loud in the stone tunnelway. Jaida felt for the purloined heartstone, tucked safely in its makeshift bag. It pulsed, disturbingly, and she made a face.

Then she looked up.

Valentina’s grin was wild. “And you.” She licked her lips. Jaida opened her mouth to say…something, she didn’t know–

”IBI SUNT!” More Latin-screaming minions charged around the corner. “OCCIDITE EOS!”

Jaida sighed. “Hold that thought.”

By unspoken agreement, they practiced the better part of valor and ran like hell.

–23 minutes later–

“Well, that’s that, I suppose.”

“Yes,” Jaida said. The Basilica of Santa Maria would never be the same, but on the other hand, the insane, murderous resurrected Roman Emperor had failed to get his hands on the priceless Amoris Potestate, which had been safely returned to Valentina’s order, and the aforementioned Emperor had been sent back to his unquiet rest at the bottom of the river. “I don’t envy your people the clean-up.”

Valentina groaned. “Please, refrain from reminding me, I beg you.”

“If I recall correctly, you were ready to beg for something quite different,” Jaida said, and caught her breath at the flood of heat in Valentina’s eyes. “But,” she added, suddenly self-conscious, “I wouldn’t want to tempt you to break your vows–”

“The vows.” Valentina smiled and set the flamethrower down on a ruined pew. “My Mother Superior always likes to say, ‘she who abides by the rules too often and too long, is one who is plainly no fun to be around.’”

“Oh,” Jaida said, absently.

“Yes.” Valentina wrapped her hands around Jaida’s hips. “What are you thinking so hard about, my lady?”

“I was thinking perhaps the proprietor of the St. Regis Grand could be bribed to overlook particular goings-on in my hotel room tonight.”

For all her air of confident seduction, Valentina couldn’t hide the catch in her breath. “Then what are we waiting for?”

“Nothing.” Jaida said, and smiled. “I suppose it is Valentine’s Day, after all.”

About the Author

Lady Jade Summers is a person and a character in the real and fictional Airship Vindus. She writes occasionally, produces short films occasionally, and spends too much time on the Internet.