Authors: Stuart Gibbs
“What's our priority when we get to the city?” Porthos asked. “Do we try to track down Dinicoeur first? Or Milady? Or find the other half of this Devil's Stone?”
“I'd say we find Milady,” Athos suggested. “She's the biggest threat right now. She's had the biggest head start on us, and unlike Dinicoeur and Richelieu, the king doesn't know not to trust her. He has no idea she's in league with CondÃ©. As long as she's around, Louis is in grave danger.”
“I agree,” Aramis said. “Plus, Dinicoeur will be looking for Milady himself. She has half the Devil's Stoneâand he needs it to get the second half.”
Plus, she has my phone,
“So if we find Milady, we'll probably find Dinicoeur close by?” Catherine asked.
“I'd assume so,” Aramis said. “There's not much he can do without the stone.”
“Is that right, D'Artagnan?” Porthos asked.
“I suppose,” Greg replied. “I don't really know any more about him than Aramis does.”
“Really?” Athos asked. “I thought he was your direct ancestor. Your great-great-great-great-grandfather or something like that.”
“Yes, but I didn't know that until recently,” Greg admitted. “You have to go a long way back in my family until you get to him.”
“Oh my.” Porthos stopped so suddenly that Greg slammed into him. “I just realized something. I'd been thinking that the best way to defeat Dinicoeur is to kill Richelieu.Â .Â .Â .”
,” Athos said. “If we kill Richelieu before he becomes immortal, then that negates Dinicoeur's existence, right? Dinicoeur can't exist if Richelieu doesn't exist to become him.”
“I think that's how it works,” Aramis agreed.
“But if we do that, won't we negate D'Artagnan's existence, too?” Porthos asked. “If Richelieu dies before he has a child, then no one in D'Artagnan's family will ever exist.”
There was a moment of chilling silence in the darkness. “I'd never thought of that,” Athos said.
“That might not be an issue,” Catherine told the others. “Richelieu already has a son.”
“He does?” Porthos asked.
“It's not common knowledge,” Catherine said. “Richelieu tries to keep it a secret. I rarely heard him mention the boy in all the time I worked in his quarters. He's not married to the mother, and I don't think he sees the child very often.”
“How old is the boy?” Porthos asked.
“Only a few months,” Catherine replied.
“Is his name Stefan?” Greg asked.
“Yes,” Catherine told him. “Is that your ancestor?”
“Yes,” Greg said. That was the name his great-great-grandfather had given in the diary Greg had found. And yet he didn't feel any relief from this discovery. Instead, he felt even more unsettled. Now that he knew how devious and desperate Michel Dinicoeur was, he had a horrifying idea about what the man might be plotting now.
“Ah,” Porthos said cheerily. “Well, that's settled then. Your ancestor exists, D'Artagnan. Sorry if I got you all worked up. There's nothing to worry about.”
,” Greg said. “What would happen if Stefan died before
There was another silence, even more chilling than the first. “Oh no,” Catherine said. “Dinicoeur would continue to existâbut
“And if D'Artagnan didn't exist, that would alter
history,” Aramis said. “We're only together now because he brought us together. Without him, there might not even be any Musketeers.Â .Â .Â .”
“Which means there'd be no one to stop Dinicoeur,” Athos finished.
“Do you think he could be so diabolical?” Catherine asked. “To do something to his own son just to protect himselfÂ .Â .Â .”
“Nothing is too diabolical for Dinicoeur,” Greg told her. “Do you have any idea where his son lives?”
“Not exactly,” Catherine admitted. “But I know the part of town and the mother's name.”
“Then take us there,” Athos said. “Milady is no longer our priority. Protecting that child is. We must move faster. There is no time to waste!”
ICHELIEU FOLLOWED HIS FUTURE SELF QUICKLY
through the streets of Paris.
Michel was moving with surprising speed, given that he had seemed to be at death's door a few days earlier. He hadn't healed completely, of course; his skin was still cracked and burnt, and there wasn't a hair left on his body. This was all easy to hide, however. Michel wore a shawl draped over his head and wrapped around his arms, hiding every bit of skin. He looked no different from the hundreds of poor beggars who lurked in the alleys of Paris. No one gave him a second glanceâalthough with the city under siege, everybody was distracted more than usual. Michel had a leather bag slung around his neck, in which he carried several diabolical things he'd made with his knowledge from the future: some poisons, chloroform, and a cluster of grenades. Though heavy, it didn't slow him down. Michel just lurched along through the crowds, driven by his new plan, moving so fast that Dominic had trouble keeping up.
In truth, Dominic found Michel's amazing recovery unsettlingâbut then, virtually everything about Michel was unsettling. Dominic now realized that in some way, he'd been in a state of shock ever since meeting the man who claimed to be his four-hundred-year-old self from the future. Who wouldn't have felt that way? Since Michel's arrival a few months before, much of Dominic's life had seemed a bizarre dream.
And yet the last week had been the most bizarre of all. After his defeat on the Pont du Gard, Michel had changed. Up until that point, Dominic had gotten along famously with his older self. Perhaps that shouldn't have been a surprise, as they were technically the same personâbut as far as Dominic was concerned, they weren't the same at all. Michel had lived a tremendously long life, learned a staggering number of things, and experienced a horrible amount of suffering. Those things all changed a man. To Dominic, Michel was more like a wise and distant ancestor. All they really had in common was their looksâand their desire for power.
Thus, Dominic had been happy to listen to Michel's plans for how to obtain that power. After all, the whole reason Michel had come back was to help
. If everything went well, he would get the eternal life of wealth and privilege that Michel had long ago dreamed of for himself. And when that happened, Michel would most likely vanish like a dream.
But things hadn't worked out as Michel had planned.
The first time they'd been defeated by the Musketeers, he'd weathered things well. He'd been angry, of course, but he'd quickly hatched a plan that would have given them even more power than he'd originally thought possible: complete control of France.
Once the Musketeers had defeated them the second time, however, leaving Michel burnt and broken, things had changed. Ever since, Michel had been consumed with fury. He had been curt and testy with Dominicâas if
was somehow responsible for everything going wrong at the aqueduct. And now, for the first time, Dominic knew Michel was keeping something from him. Before, Michel had always been completely open about what his plans wereâin fact, he had gleefully discussed every detail with Dominic. But now he was keeping much to himself. Dominic had repeatedly pressed him for more information during their ride north to Paris, but Michel had remained stubbornly silent the entire way.
“Could you at least tell me where we are going?” Dominic asked now.
“Now? Surrounded by all these people? Are you an idiot?” Michel snapped. “You'll find out soon enough. If you spent more time following orders and less time questioning them, we'd be there already.”
“I'm not some subordinate you can just boss around,” Dominic shot back. “We're in this together, you and I.”
“I'm well aware of that,” Michel replied. “Everything I'm doing nowâeverything I've
doneâhas been done for you. So why don't you just trust me and do as I say?”
Dominic felt like snapping back, saying that he'd trusted Michel plenty and it hadn't ever worked out as well as promisedâbut he held his tongue. There was no point to arguing. It would only draw attention. And if anyone took a real hard look at Michel, they'd be terrified by what they saw. The people of Paris were on edge as it was. If they suddenly found a walking corpse in their midst, they'd probably try to stone him to death.
Suddenly something whistled through the air. Dominic spun toward the sound and saw all the Parisians either pointing toward the city wall or running away from it. A huge stone, launched from one of CondÃ©'s catapults, sailed into the city and smashed into the steeple of a small church. The rock took a massive bite out of the steeple and crashed to earth, the steeple toppling in its wake.
While the townspeople cried in despair and alarm, Michel barely gave the damage a glance. He just kept on going, headed for the Seine, focused only on his plan.
Dominic thought. That was something else Michel hadn't seen coming. When Dominic had been scouring the countryside around the Pont du Gard for food and horses, he had pieced together the story of what had happened. How Miladyâwhom Michel had always dismissed as a mere strumpetâhad teamed up with CondÃ©, betrayed the Musketeers, and sent them to their deaths in Les Baux. Even that news hadn't made a dent in Michel's anger, however.
“I won't believe they're dead until I kill them all myself” was how he'd responded.
They turned onto the Pont Neuf to cross to the north side of the Seine, but once they reached the point where the bridge intersected with the Ãle de la CitÃ©, Michel turned off and headed east across the island.
“We're not heading to the palace?” Dominic asked.
“Not yet,” Michel replied.
“But I thought you said Milady would return to the palace. And she has one half of the Devil's Stone.”
“Which we will get in due time.”
“Are we going for the other half then? The one that is hiddenâ”
“The stone is not our major concern at this moment.”
“But if it is the key to making me immortal againâ”
“Just stop asking questions and do as I tell you,” Michel barked. “Everything will work out soon enough.”
Dominic sullenly fell silent again. But then Michel turned north onto another bridge. One that Dominic knew very well. “Michel, this is whereâ”
Michel suddenly stopped and swung around to face him. His eyes blazed from beneath the folds of his cloak, boring into Dominic's. They were so close, Dominic got a strong whiff of his future self, and the odor took him aback. Michel still smelled a bit like burnt fleshâbut there was something worse mixed in there. Death. He reeked of death.
“Stay here,” Michel ordered. “Find a place where you won't stand out. I'll be back soon.”
“And what am I supposed to do?”
“Keep an eye out. If any of the Musketeers comes along”âMichel tapped the sword tucked into Dominic's beltâ“take care of them.”
“The Musketeers?” Dominic laughed. “They're probably swinging from the gallows in Les Baux by now.”
“I have underestimated the Musketeers one time too many,” Michel growled. “I do not intend to take any more chances where they are concerned. Not until I have taken care of them once and for all.”
“What do you mean?”
“You'll understand soon enough. Just stay here and do as I said.” Michel started toward the bridge, then stopped and turned back once more. “But do not do anything foolish, either. If only one Musketeer comes along, kill him. If, somehow, all of them have survived, stand down and come find me. I'd hate to go through all this trouble to make you immortal, only to have you die now.”
Dominic nodded, understanding, and Michel turned away again. He fell in with the flow of people passing over the bridge. No one noticed the burnt and scarred immortal man in their midst.
Dominic found a spot across the road from the bridge. There was a narrow alley, and he melted into the shadow of it. His mission seemed ridiculous. Even if the Musketeers had survived everything, how could they possibly end up here? Dominic himself hadn't even known they would be coming this way. And yet Michel had a point. Time and time again, the Musketeers had surprised them.
So Dominic readied his sword and kept an eye out, all the while wondering what Michel was up to.
HE TUNNEL SEEMED TO GO ON FOREVER
through the long, dank, claustrophobic shaft would have been terrible under normal circumstances, but now, knowing that every second counted, the trip was agonizing. Just when Greg thought he might go mad from being in the darkness, a shaft of light appeared ahead. It peeked around the frame of a door at the end of the tunnel.
Athos pushed it open, and the Musketeers emerged to find themselves in the crypt of a small cathedral. Ahead, an eerie narrow passage was lined with walls of ancient human bones that had been stacked like firewood and studded with skulls in intricate patterns.
“What's the point of all this?” Greg gasped.
“This isn't done in the future?” Aramis asked. “What happens to your dead?”
“We bury them,” Greg replied.
“Oh,” Aramis said, sounding disappointed that the answer wasn't something more amazing. “We do that, tooâoutside the city. But within the walls, the cemeteries ran out of space long agoâand most of the poor can't afford a burial anyhow. So the bones end up here, in these abandoned mines.”
“I kind of like it,” Catherine said. “I'd rather end up as part of a piece of art than merely rotting in a box in the earth somewhere.”
Greg saw her point, although it didn't make the passage through the tunnel of bones any less disquieting. Still, he had to admit that it was infinitely better than the claustrophobic old mine had been.
“Look!” Porthos knelt on the floor. There were two sets of footprints, wet from the damp in the tunnel. “The water hasn't even had time to evaporate yet. That means Dinicoeur and Richelieu must be only a few minutes ahead of us.”
The boys and Catherine hurried up the stairs and into the cathedral. It was much smaller than Notre Dame, but it was still a beautiful edifice; the stone for it had come directly from its own basement. The church bell clanged once, high above their heads. One p.m.
“I know this place!” Aramis cried. “It is Saint John the Divine! We're on the south side of the city, near the garment district.”
“Richelieu's son lives close by,” Catherine said. “Near Saint-Germain.”
Everyone raced out the door and into Paris. Greg was instantly aware that the city had changed greatly in his absence; the siege had already taken its toll. And yet he was in such a hurry, he couldn't even take the time to look around. He only caught glimpses as he ran: streets that seemed far more crowded than before, now that the rural families from the surrounding area had been forced to take refuge within the city; heavily armed soldiers posted all along the ramparts; a church steeple that lay in ruins, shattered by a massive rock that had been catapulted over the wall.
Greg's parents were somewhere out there. He desperately wanted to find them, to hug them tightly and tell them how much he'd missed them, but there was no time. If he didn't act quickly, theyâand he himselfâwould cease to exist at all.
The team arrived in a poor neighborhood wedged between the wall of the Saint-Germain monastery and the Seine River, full of ramshackle homes and narrow, twisting alleys. “This is the place,” Catherine announced.
“How do we find the right home in all this?” Greg asked desperately.
“How else?” Aramis replied. To answer his own question, he pointed at the local church. It was a modest building, not much bigger than some of the nearby homes. Aramis pushed through the door.
A young priest looked up from the altar, surprised at the intrusion. “May I help you?”
“We're looking for a woman who lives in this neighborhood,” Aramis told him. “Her life is in grave danger.”
“Her name is Teresa,” Catherine added. “She is unwed, but she has a young son named Stefan.”
The priest's eyes lit up. “Ah, yes! I know Teresa well. She used to live just down the street. But sadly, she couldn't pay her rent and was evicted. What sort of trouble is she in? Is it something I can help with?”
“Hopefully, we can get to her before she needs you,” Athos replied. “Do you know where she moved to?”
“She has a sister,” the priest said. “She and her husband live on the Bridge of Saint Denis, by the Place de GrÃ¨ve. They have a cheese shop on the first floor. I believe Teresa has gone to live there.Â .Â .Â .”
The Musketeers were out the door before he could finish. As they ran toward the bridge, however, Greg saw the others were beginning to flag. Athos, normally the fastest, had already put far too much strain on his wounded leg. He was pushing himself as hard as he could, but he just couldn't go as quickly as usual. Meanwhile, the others were simply falling behind, winded from the exertion. Greg knew he should be exhausted himself, but he didn't feel it. The knowledge that his own fateâand that of everyone in his entire familyâhung in the balance drove him onward. He didn't want to face Dinicoeur and Richelieu alone, but he couldn't wait for the others, either. Right now, every second counted.
He pushed ahead, although the others implored him not to.
“D'Artagnan, wait!” Catherine cried.
“You're no match for the two of them by yourself!” Athos warned.
“I'll be all right!” Greg yelled back to them. “Just get to Teresa's as fast as you can!”
Although Paris was one of the largest cities in Europe in 1615, it was still surprisingly small compared to any major city in the twenty-first century. Greg knew from experience that he could run from one side to the other in a little more than ten minutes.
He had learned the city well during his time there; Athos had taught him the fastest ways to get from place to place. The city was split by the Seine, with the Ãle de la CitÃ©âthe island that Notre Dame sat onâat the very center. The Louvre palace sat on the northern bank of the Seine at the western edge of the city, while the Bastille fortress mirrored it on the east. Between them was a maze of narrow alleys and twisting streets, lined with hovels, shops, churches, and the occasional mansion.
Greg raced from southern Paris over the first bridge across the Seine, then across the Ãle de la CitÃ©, until he arrived at the Bridge of Saint Denis. It was one of several bridges in Paris that had homes built along the sides, as if it were merely another road. (There was little space within the city walls, and homes were built wherever anyone could find space.) As the bridge was close to the city's central market, Place de GrÃ¨ve, most homes had a shop on the first floor and living quarters above. Unfortunately, many of these shops sold cheese; there seemed to be at least a dozen. Greg stood in the middle of the bridge for a moment, glancing from one to the other, wondering whichâif anyâwas the one where Teresa now lived.
And then he noticed that only one shop had no one working at the counter. He rushed over. Behind the small wooden rack where freshly made cheeses were displayed, a stout woman lay sprawled on the floor. Behind her, in the shadows, her husband was laid out beside an overturned churn.
Greg feared they were dead, but then saw a rag lying close to the woman's head. It gave off a faint chemical smell.
Only one person in 1615 knew how to make chloroform. Michel Dinicoeur was already here.
Greg unsheathed his sword and nervously glanced around the cheese shop. In the far corner, he spotted the narrow staircase that led upstairs.
There was a small window next to it, allowing a view of the Seine River. Greg caught a glimpse of his reflection in itâand saw something moving quickly behind him.
He leaped to the side just as the sword sliced through the air. It barely missed Greg and slammed down so hard, it cleaved an entire wheel of cheese in two.
Greg spun around and saw that his attacker was none other than Dominic Richelieu. He raised his own sword as Richelieu attacked again, and parried.
A scream rang out from the room above.
Greg raced for the staircase, knowing that there would be no other way out from upstairsâthat he was racing into a dead endâand yet there was nothing else he could do. He was sure that he had only seconds, if that, to act.
Richelieu came after him.
Greg pounded up the stairs and burst into the living quarters. There was only one room, which served as kitchen, dining room, bedroom, and nursery. Dinicoeur was there, although his back was to Greg, so the person Greg really noticed was Teresa.
She was very young and beautiful, and Greg instantly knew she had to be related to him. Despite the fact that there were a dozen generations between them, he could see she had his mother's eyes. And yet there was something more, a strange sense of connection he could feel. Teresa was wailing, partly in fear and partly in despair, reaching toward Dinicoeur, who now spun toward Greg.
Greg staggered back at the sight of him.
The man was now a monster. His face was a mask of charred flesh. His hair was gone, and his burnt lips were twisted into a horrible sneer. He'd have been unrecognizable if it hadn't been for his eyes. They were still the same, blazing with anger and hate.
A baby, less than a year old, was wailing in his arms.
Greg was so stunned by the sight of Dinicoeur and Stefan, he nearly forgot about Richelieu. He sprang away from the top of the stairs at the last instant as Richelieu charged through, swinging his blade.
“Dominic!” Teresa called, actually relieved to see him, as though he could only be here to save her. “Help us!”
Dominic froze, his sword in the air, and spun toward her. Greg saw his face fill with several emotions at once. He seemed excited to see his son again, but startled to see the infant in Michel's hands. More than anything, however, he appeared confused, and Greg instantly understood.
He doesn't know what Michel is doing,
Michel hasn't told him.
Dinicoeur's plan was so diabolical he hadn't even revealed it to his own younger self. Now, Richelieu merely stared, trying to make sense of what he was seeing.
“Get him!” Dinicoeur yelled, and Richelieu snapped out of his daze and obediently slashed at Greg again.
Greg met Richelieu's sword with his own. “Dominic!” he yelled. “Michel is killing your son!”
Dominic continued to attackâbut he now seemed somewhat hesitant about it.
Greg realized what the problem was: There was more Dinicoeur hadn't told his younger self. “I'm your descendant!” he yelled, ducking as Dominic slashed at him. “Michel is trying to make sure I never existed!”
Richelieu froze in mid-attack as understanding broke through. Then he wheeled back toward Dinicoeur. “No!!!” he roared. “Give the boy to me!”
Dinicoeur backed away, raising his sword to his younger self. “I'm doing this for
, you fool!” he snarled.
“You're doing it for
!” Richelieu cried. “I would
have agreed to this!”
Now that Dinicoeur was distracted by his younger self, Teresa grabbed the fireplace poker and clobbered him so hard that he staggered into the wall. Stefan tumbled from his grasp, but Teresa snatched the infant before he hit the ground.
Dinicoeur bellowed in rage and backhanded Teresa across the face. She tumbled backward, clutching Stefan. Greg caught both of them, and they all crashed to the floor.
Stefan was safe, however. The infant howled, and as he did, Dinicoeur advanced on them, his sword glinting in the lamplight. However, Richelieu caught his arm and held him back. “No!” he said. “There must be another way!”
Greg snatched his sword off the floor, ready to defend Stefan with his life.
“D'Artagnan!” A cry came from the street below. Athos. “Where are you?”
“Up here!” Greg yelled back. “Hurry!”
More voices carried from the street. The other Musketeers.
“Hold on!” Aramis yelled.
“We're coming!” Porthos cried.
Dinicoeur hissed in anger, then allowed Richelieu to pull him away. They ducked down the staircase, fleeing before the Musketeers could arrive.
Greg heaved a sigh of relief. He looked down at the wailing baby in his arms. It was bizarre: He was holding his own ancestor. And yet there was also something rejuvenating about it. Holding Stefan seemed to fill him with life and energy.
He felt the same sensation coming from Teresa as well. He turned to face her, to explain everything, but she wasn't looking at him. Her eyes were riveted on something else just beyond him. “What is
?” she gasped.
Greg spun around and saw something the size and shape of an orange. Two curved metal pieces had been welded together to make a ball, from which a wick protruded. The wick was lit, sparking with fire.
“It's a grenade!” Greg exclaimed.
Dinicoeur might have left with Richelieu, but he hadn't listened to the pleas from his younger self to let Stefan live. The grenade sat between Greg and the stairs. The wick had almost burned up. Greg figured he had only a few seconds left at best.