Love on Gaia: A London Valentine

A tale of Agápē by Pinkhair
(Also a sequel to my story from the Romantic Cake contest, though it should stand alone!)

image Familiars who have survived for centuries often edge from simply well-trained to genuinely sapient. Or, in the case of those trapped in a catacomb beneath the City of the Trinovantes, genuinely insane.

The sight of such a creature cavorting with a destroyed camera is a new one, though. The memory card is damaged, but not damaged enough that you can’t recover some files…

“-mplicated question. Do you know who Nennius was?” Stone ground on stone, dust raining down from the low ceiling of the tunnel. His companion thought for a moment, stooping to brush debris from her leg.

“The centaur? I thought these were supposed to be Roman ruins.” With a groan, the man you had identified as Marcus Nealle from the police reports set down his tools and straightened as best he could in the confined space to look at her.

“That’s Nessus. Not that there are no parallels in the poisoned gift, but… No. For one thing, he was real. Real British folk hero type. Stole Julius Caesar’s sword, chased the Romans out of Britain. Happily ever after, other than him dying a few days later.”

“So he was a thief?”

“Well, not exactly. Old Caesar was busy using the sword on him at the time.” Marcus chuckles. “You could say he had rendered unto him the things that were… eh? Eh? No?” Letting out an overly dramatic sigh, he got back to work. The look on her face made it pretty clear that she’d gotten the joke. She just hadn’t thought it was very good.

“That’s not the important thing. The important thing is Saint Valentine.”

“As in Valentine’s day, right? Or is this some other saint?”

“Both!” he answered cheerfully. The video jerks, whoever had been recording jumping at the tunnel shakes faintly. “You see, there were a lot of Saint Valentines, it turns out. Twelve to fourteen, depending on how you count. A variety of Roman priests in early Christianity. Variety of miracles.The one we’re looking for was martyred in Rome after getting buddied up with the Emperor Claudius - the second one of those - about two hundred years after Caesar. He seriously misjudged that friendship, let me tell you…”

The woman scoffed. “So that’s what you were digging up in Italy?”

"Dead end. Just a skull and some flowers. Turns out the real thing was in Dublin the whole time. Those Carmelites got it from the Pope back in 1836. Well, from a fellow named Spratt, who had impressed the Pope by… "

“Right. So, relic, British folk hero. Soggy tunnel under a bakery. What’s the connection?”

“Artifacts of a forgotten age. And True Love, of course.”

The video ends, but the excavation is clearly visible- easily compared to the now fully exposed door. Wolf and Goat symbols. Fantasms lurking in the long, dusty shadows cast by ancient cobwebs as you progress, both down the tunnel and to the next video.

“Light in the shadows of the Unconquered Sun,” Marcus said, apparently doing the recording himself this time. A closeup of a wall-spanning mosaic- you’re looking at it now, and can see details that he missed. How the eyes of that deity burn not with light but with darkness. No easy way to tell what these idiots had made of that. The video certainly isn’t very enlightening; the move on to talking about lunch, presumably with whoever it was who had been filming before. Now he’s holding a flashlight, so all the camera can pick up of him is a lens flare and a hint of a tattoo on his hand.

Finally, the video reaches the first real riddle- two basins. Goat and Wolf. A lot different in the video from how it is now- cleaner. The video ends without showing how they solved it, but instead, is human drama. The unseen third man ends up vanishing into the gloom of the corridor to the right, while the camera follows Marcus and the woman to the left.

The cake must have ended up here later. It is easy to forget that that’s what started all of this.

Both are dead ends, of course- you already know that, since here in the present you can see the dried blood, the spoiled milk. Sacrifices to an ancient rite. Two doors opened. So they got through there.

Another video. The hall of statues.The third man was filming again, it seems, while Marcus carried some sort of whip down the passage, examining each sculpture. Old man, young woman, athlete… motion. Not them. It must have shown up better in camera, since none of them seem to react to it.

A faint noise, recognizable to anyone who has spent enough time in places like this. Now, they noticed. The woman looked around, wildly, and the sound of a gun cocking is audible as the camera fell to the floor, bounced.

They survived that fight, obviously. The shell casings and the perforated homunculi tell a pretty clear picture of what happened.

Backtrack. Not a dead end, exactly- they had retrieved something here, taken it back with them.

Down the other path is a dead man- you smell him before you see him. An arm with a purple tattoo protrudes from a pile of fallen rubble. Accident, or trap? The arm is pointed back to the entrance, the hand clutching something round, golden.


Not Latin- despite all that talk of Caesar, not a cipher either. Hard to read the scrawl of blood across the floor, though. Fresher than the rest.

One final video file. A view of the floor, blood running down to spatter and pool.

“It won’t work… Not like this,” came Marcus’ voice, strained. “You can’t force-”

“Of course I can, you can, we can. You say you love her. What could be purer than that? Now, open the door.” The third man. An accent you’d heard before, across the globe from here. A gun cocking.

You find the two excavators together. A bullet in her gut, one in his head. His arms are around her, to the last, but their love was not the answer to this riddle- the door is firmly shut.

What could be purer, indeed?