A/N: Hello, everybody! What? A brand new story? That's right. This idea has been driving me crazy for a good while, and I finally sat down to write it.
This will be a multi-chapter fic chronicling what happens when you poke your nose where it doesn't belong. Or when our four favorite soldiers do.
I feel it fair to warn readers, this story will have very little to do with the actual show besides the characters, the setting, and their habits. This isn't a situation that they would normally get themselves into on the show. I wanted to make a story where the Inseparables got lost in some caves, and so I did. It's set after the finale of Season 1, but before Season 2 begins.
Straight-up horror, you guys. Seriously, I'm not kidding. I've never written a story with an M rating before, but I'm cautiously attaching one here just because of the graphic descriptions and violence in later chapters. If you're not of age or you frighten easily, please please go read something else. I don't want to give anyone nightmares who wasn't actively seeking out this kind of writing.
That being said, if anyone enjoys this, please leave a review :)
I'm a long-time fan of horror writing but I've never had the courage to try my hand at it. Until now.
Disclaimer: By now, it must come as a shock to all of you that I don't own this. Crazy, right? The title of this story was taken from a song with the same name by Finnish rock band Poets of the Fall. They are also awesome. And I don't own that either.
"Oh, but you must travel through those woods again and again…" said a shadow at the window. "…And you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time."
But the wolf…the wolf only needs enough luck to find you once…"
-Emily Carroll, Through the Woods.
The night was still and calm. Silvery moonlight played along the edges of the cave, highlighting the yawning abyss of the entrance.
An owl hooted somewhere in the distance, and the crickets chirped peacefully.
The night progressed, and a dark cloud obscured the moon. The clearing was plunged into total darkness. The long grass rustled in urgent whispers, spurred by the wind.
The shadows deepened, and the void within the cave seemed to increase.
Suddenly, an unearthly shriek was heard from the farthest depths of the cavern. The lamenting howl rent the air and broke the silence of the night. It echoed throughout the hollow space and magnified itself. The wail seemed to go on and on forever, an inhuman cry torn from the throat of an unknown beast.
It was the voice of a demon, escaped from unimaginable torment and heat of flaming sepulcher of the heretics, or perhaps broken free of an eternity locked in the frozen circle of Judecca's ice.
Just as suddenly as it had begun, the cry stopped. The innocent creatures of the night resumed their nocturnal activities slowly and cautiously. And yet the night was changed, more ominous and somehow tainted. The cold wind blew over the land with ill-tidings carried on its wings.
The Inseparables were riding on the outskirts of Paris, near the countryside. The day was calm and the break from duty would have been peaceful, if not for the incessant jabbering of a newer recruit.
D'Artagnan rolled his eyes.
"You've got to be joking."
"I'm not!" his companion protested. The man was tall and lanky, although with wiry muscles and a shock of fiery red hair.
"Pierre, I've heard many things come out of your mouth that I wouldn't exactly deem as highly knowledgeable. However, this surpasses everything," Athos replied from on horseback by his side.
"No, it's true!" Pierre protested. "The cave really is haunted! The villagers won't even go near it around sunset. They say it's the spirit of a man who got lost inside and wandered in the darkness until he died."
"And you believe that?" Aramis asked incredulously. "Really, Pierre. I thought you had more sense than that.
The red-headed man opened his mouth to protest again when Porthos interrupted him with a look.
"Listen, it's not that we don't believe you. Well, actually it is," he said, frowning while Aramis smirked by his side.
Pierre's eyes flashed with anger. "Fine. Don't believe me. The locals will say it's true. Why not go ask them?"
"Absolutely not," Athos intoned flatly. "We're not traveling out of our way to go chase a fairy tale."
"And why not?" Pierre shot back. "It's not as though we've anything more pressing to get on with. Let's go ask the locals and explore the cave ourselves. Unless," he continued slyly, "you're afraid that I'm right and there may be something down there."
Porthos snorted. "You're dumber than you look if you think we're going to fall for that one, lad."
The redhead swelled with fury.
"You're just scared," he snapped, ears red with embarrassment. "Four of the greatest soldiers in the musketeers, afraid of shadows and a challenge. Perhaps the legends surrounding all of you are just as insubstantial as your courage."
"What did you say?" d'Artagnan asked in a dark, angry tone, wheeling his horse around.
"D'Artagnan," Athos said calmly.
"No, I'd like to hear this," the Gascon said, blocking Pierre's way.
"What will you lose?" Pierre asked sneeringly. "A few hours of your time only. And perhaps your dignity," he added.
Porthos started to dismount, but Aramis put a restraining hand on his brother's arm.
"I'd like to see how this young man reacts in the face of his so-called danger," the handsome medic said calmly enough.
"We really don't have time for this," Athos said with a sigh, knowing he had already lost.
"Well, when there's nothing to this tall tale, we'll be able to ridicule this insolent pup mercilessly for a good week," Porthos said easily, waving a large hand through the air.
"And if there is something in the cave after all, we'll just feed him to it," d'Artagnan added.
Pierre looked mildly uncomfortable at this.
"Only joking," d'Artagnan added, in a tone that said the opposite. "Let's go see."
The others looked at Athos expectantly, who only sighed again. "This is a terrible idea."
The soldiers rode up to the village, noting the poor region. The houses were little more than dirty hovels. Most of the roofs were badly patched with dark mud and moldy straw, giving them an oddly diseased appearance. Peasants scuttled left and right, giving the men on horseback wide berths.
Aramis noted more than a few women shooing their children back inside with anxious glances toward them. The men looked up and stood in the streets. Almost all of them were holding weapons of some sort and cast unfriendly gazes toward the outsiders.
D'Artagnan slouched lower in his saddle as the looks that were thrown his way ranged from unwelcoming to downright hostile.
Pierre alone looked untroubled by the atmosphere and confidently led the group towards the edge of the village.
Reaching the last of the houses and structures, they dismounted and tethered their horses to a nearby fence post.
Pierre glanced around, then pointed towards a clearing visible through a slight curtain of foliage and trees beyond the farthest house.
"There it is. The cave is on the other side of the clearing. At least, that's what I've heard."
Athos glanced around at the houses with a resigned look. A group of poor farmers approached the soldiers, holding pitchforks. A few carried ancient rust-covered muskets.
"Gentlemen," the former comte greeted easily, showing no outward sign of unease.
"Who are you?" the leader of the villagers asked.
"We are some of the king's musketeers," Aramis said.
"And so what?" the leader returned rudely. "What is your business here? Come to collect more taxes in the name of that great prig of a king?"
"You should choose your words more carefully," Pierre said, moving towards the men.
"For what?" the farmer demanded. "So that we can watch our friends and family starve around us while Louis the Just has servants devote themselves to fulfilling his every whim and those of his Spanish wife?"
Porthos had to hold a restraining arm against Aramis, who strode purposefully forward with fury blazing in his gaze at the mention of Anne.
"I think His Majesty would be most interested to hear what his loyal subjects were saying of him," d'Artagnan said, voice dripping with menace.
Almost all the farmers jolted visibly at this, and a few crossed themselves.
The leader looked on the verge of strangling the Gascon when Athos stepped between the two groups.
"Enough," he said in a tone that brooked no argument. "We shouldn't dwell on our differences, and on a subject where we all go too far. We haven't come here to impose a new tax or edict on you; we'd appreciate being able to pass peaceably through your settlement. We'll leave now," the musketeer finished, shooting a warning glare in Pierre's direction as he opened his mouth to protest.
"If you're not here on the King's business, why have you come?" another voice from the crowd of farmers piped up.
"We were told that there were some strange occurrences in the area," Athos said smoothly. "These rumors came from an extremely questionable source and the individual responsible for the disreputable information will be reproached soundly, I assure you."
Pierre's look soured and he slouched where he stood.
"Are you here about the disappearances?" another voice came from within the group, this time a feminine one, querulous and feeble with age.
A withered old woman pushed her way through the crowd of men to stand in front of the soldiers.
"Ah, go on, Aggie," the leader said, looking uncomfortable. "This is none of your business."
The crone turned on the man, who visibly flinched and seemed to shrink away from her glare.
"It was my grandson that was spirited away, young man. It is my business, more than it is any of yours!"
"A child was taken?" Aramis asked, stepping towards the bent frame of the woman.
"Yes," she answered, voice uncharacteristically soft. "My grandson, Emil, disappeared two days ago. Last year before him, twins, two girls. Their mother still isn't well," the old woman said fretfully, pulling on the buttonhole of her coat in an absent sort of way.
"Now, look, Aggie," one of the men said carefully, not wanting to rouse her anger. "You know that those kids were just playing too close to the forest edge. They may have been taken by bandits or killed by animals. Begging your pardon, sirs," he added, seeing the musketeers grimace at the thought.
"They weren't spirited away by ghosts or specters of any kind. What happened to them was a horrible tragedy, but nothing unexplainable."
Other men in the group were nodding in agreement, and some even lowered their weapons slightly.
Aggie pulled herself as far upright as her bent figure would allow and looked at the men with all the venom she could summon.
"Blind, all of you," she hissed. "You refuse to see what's right in front of you. Well, these men will find the truth," she said, gesturing towards the musketeers with a gnarled finger.
"Now, wait a moment—" Porthos began. Aggie turned the full force of her furious scowl on him, and he immediately stopped talking.
"Show us where it happened," Athos said with resignation.
Aggie shuffled forward, leading the group of men. Despite her age, she moved with a spry grace.
She led the musketeers towards the edge of the town, then climbed into the thick foliage of the underbrush and trees without a glance back.
D'Artagnan raised an eyebrow at Aramis, who shrugged and followed her. The others did likewise.
After about a hundred paces, they stepped into the edge of a clearing.
It was stunning. Wildflowers rose defiantly from the ground in crowds of flaming oranges and yellows to meet the azure sky.
The wind teased gentle fingers through the rippling waves of grass that competed with toadstools for space as gentle sunlight streamed onto everything.
Butterflies flitted to and fro while honeybees hummed tranquilly near the ground.
The achingly beautiful scene was in such contrast with the poverty-ridden village mere yards away that it made Athos blink.
"The children went into there," the old woman said softly, pointing.
On the opposite side of the clearing, about four hundred yards from where they stood, a dark cave waited ominously.
Imposing, it provided a stark disparity with its lovely surroundings. The meadow was full of light, the cave was darkness itself.
The clearing was full of fresh air; that which drifted from the mouth of the cave carried a mephitic odor from the very bowels of the earth.
"And they haven't since returned?" Aramis asked, confused.
Aggie shook her head. "They never return," she said in a trembling voice as her eyes turned watery with tears.
"Some five years ago, a man named Cuvelier went into those caves and disappeared. Search parties were sent, of course, although they never found anything. Weeks passed, and all the scouts would say that there were miles and miles of tunnel."
"There are other exits, throughout the countryside here, hidden in the labyrinth of whatever is down there, but they never found hide nor hair of him. A man might lose his way and wander around for days or even weeks without ever finding his way back out."
"All the children in the village are warned not to go near the caves, but some just get curious, I guess. We've all done things we oughtn't to when we're curious," Aggies said, sniffing into a filthy handkerchief she pulled from the folds of her skirt.
"They all wandered into the cave, and well. They got lost, surely. Some of the people in the village think Cuvelier's spirit is still haunting the tunnels, looking for the way out."
"A ghost?" Porthos asked uneasily. "They can't have been taken by a ghost."
"Aye, sir," Aggie said unhappily, fidgeting again. "I would have said so myself, if not for the unearthly shrieks and howls we hear, from time to time.
As the old woman spoke, a cloud passed over the sun, and the wind picked up slightly as if in deference to the dark events she spoke of.
"The wailing drifts over the clearing, through the forest, and into the village. Always in the dead of night carried on the coldest wind. No one is outside after dark here, and few will come even this close to the cave. The children didn't know any better, but many of the villagers think the earth inside is cursed. It's unclean, somehow."
The old woman shuddered and crossed herself without seeming to be aware of the action.
Pierre raised his eyebrows at Athos in a manner that portrayed his satisfaction at being correct in his rumors, although he looked mistrustfully at the gaping void of darkness across the clearing.
"Is there any way the villagers could lend us supplies to make torches?" Athos asked the old woman.
Aggie's mouth fell open, revealing blackened, mossy teeth.
"You're not going in there," she cried, mercifully obscuring the distasteful sight.
"I'm afraid we are," Aramis said mildly, looking at her. "We've got to follow through with a sort of wager we made. I should be very displeased if the other man should best us for want of a little exploratory action."
Pierre rolled his eyes and took a few steps away with a little huff of frustration.
"I…I can go and ask them," she said reluctantly. "But don't expect them to be too obliged to help you lot. Nothing personal, sirs, just the uniforms," she said respectfully.
"Anything you can offer us would be wonderful," Athos said smoothly, turning to accompany the old woman back to the village.
Twenty minutes later, enough firewood, fabric, and pitch had been surrendered grudgingly to the musketeers and they returned to the clearing.
Aramis struck flint and steel, causing his torch to alight in a brilliant flame. He touched it the other's and soon they were all ablaze.
By now, the midafternoon sun was starting to give way to the clouds. It would be dark in a few hours.
Aggie had bowed to them but steadfastly refused to go any farther than the edge of the clearing. Athos had thanked her for her help, and she had scurried back to the village as fast as her decrepit legs would carry her.
As the soldier's approached the cavern's entrance, d'Artagnan felt a tendril of unease creep up his back.
There was nothing to be afraid of. And yet…
As the Gascon stared into the cave, it seemed that the cave was staring back at him with a dark, unblinking eye.
Aramis looked similarly disquieted. Porthos was trying to hide his anxiety. Pierre crept forward with unabashed cautiousness.
Athos alone looked unperturbed as he stared into the depths of the cavernous space. At the entrance, the noxious odor of stagnant air was stronger. The darkness seemed more complete, and a deep sense of cold rose from the earth and into the bones of the soldiers.
They looked at one another, then Pierre snickered.
"If you want to stop—" he began.
"Enough," Porthos said, irritated by the man's constant sallies. "We said we would go."
"Well, fine then," Pierre said waspishly. "No need to get tetchy."
Stepping forward into the darkness, they disappeared from the view of the world and went into the gaping void.