فصل 20-03 بخش 02

مجموعه: نیروی اهریمنی اش / کتاب: قطب نمای طلایی / فصل 16

فصل 20-03 بخش 02

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It was a long tale, and when she finished it she said, “So there’s one thing I want to know, and I reckon I’ve got the right to know it, like I had the right to know who I really was. And if you didn’t tell me that, you’ve got to tell me this, in recompense. So: what’s Dust? And why’s everyone so afraid of it?” He looked at her as if trying to guess whether she would understand what he was about to say. He had never looked at her seriously before, she thought; until now he had always been like an adult indulging a child in a pretty trick. But he seemed to think she was ready.

“Dust is what makes the alethiometer work,” he said.

“Ah … I thought it might! But what else? How did they find out about it?”

“In one way, the Church has always been aware of it. They’ve been preaching about Dust for centuries, only they didn’t call it by that name.

“But some years ago a Muscovite called Boris Mikhailovitch Rusakov discovered a new kind of elementary particle. You’ve heard of electrons, photons, neutrinos, and the rest? They’re called elementary particles because you can’t break them down any further: there’s nothing inside them but themselves. Well, this new kind of particle was elementary all right, but it was very hard to measure because it didn’t react in any of the usual ways. The hardest thing for Rusakov to understand was why the new particle seemed to cluster where human beings were, as if it were attracted to us. And especially to adults. Children too, but not nearly so much until their dæmons have taken a fixed form. During the years of puberty they begin to attract Dust more strongly, and it settles on them as it settles on adults.

“Now all discoveries of this sort, because they have a bearing on the doctrines of the Church, have to be announced through the Magisterium in Geneva. And this discovery of Rusakov’s was so unlikely and strange that the inspector from the Consistorial Court of Discipline suspected Rusakov of diabolic possession. He performed an exorcism in the laboratory, he interrogated Rusakov under the rules of the Inquisition, but finally they had to accept the fact that Rusakov wasn’t lying or deceiving them: Dust really existed.

“That left them with the problem of deciding what it was. And given the Church’s nature, there was only one thing they could have chosen. The Magisterium decided that Dust was the physical evidence for original sin. Do you know what original sin is?” She twisted her lips. It was like being back at Jordan, being quizzed on something she’d been half-taught. “Sort of,” she said.

“No, you don’t. Go to the shelf beside the desk and bring me the Bible.”

Lyra did so, and handed the big black book to her father.

“You do remember the story of Adam and Eve?”

“ ’Course,” she said. “She wasn’t supposed to eat the fruit and the serpent tempted her, and she did.”

“And what happened then?”

“Umm … They were thrown out. God threw them out of the garden.”

“God had told them not to eat the fruit, because they would die. Remember, they were naked in the garden, they were like children, their dæmons took on any form they desired. But this is what happened.” He turned to Chapter Three of Genesis, and read:

“And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

“But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

“And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and your dæmons shall assume their true forms, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to reveal the true form of one’s dæmon, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they saw the true form of their dæmons, and spoke with them.

“But when the man and the woman knew their own dæmons, they knew that a great change had come upon them, for until that moment it had seemed that they were at one with all the creatures of the earth and the air, and there was no difference between them: “And they saw the difference, and they knew good and evil; and they were ashamed, and they sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness.…”

He closed the book.

“And that was how sin came into the world,” he said, “sin and shame and death. It came the moment their dæmons became fixed.”

“But …” Lyra struggled to find the words she wanted: “but it en’t true, is it? Not true like chemistry or engineering, not that kind of true? There wasn’t really an Adam and Eve? The Cassington Scholar told me it was just a kind of fairy tale.” “The Cassington Scholarship is traditionally given to a freethinker; it’s his function to challenge the faith of the Scholars. Naturally he’d say that. But think of Adam and Eve like an imaginary number, like the square root of minus one: you can never see any concrete proof that it exists, but if you include it in your equations, you can calculate all manner of things that couldn’t be imagined without it.

“Anyway, it’s what the Church has taught for thousands of years. And when Rusakov discovered Dust, at last there was a physical proof that something happened when innocence changed into experience.

“Incidentally, the Bible gave us the name Dust as well. At first they were called Rusakov Particles, but soon someone pointed out a curious verse toward the end of the Third Chapter of Genesis, where God’s cursing Adam for eating the fruit.” He opened the Bible again and pointed it out to Lyra. She read:

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.…” Lord Asriel said, “Church scholars have always puzzled over the translation of that verse. Some say it should read not ‘unto dust shalt thou return’ but ‘thou shalt be subject to dust,’ and others say the whole verse is a kind of pun on the words ‘ground’ and ‘dust,’ and it really means that God’s admitting his own nature to be partly sinful. No one agrees. No one can, because the text is corrupt. But it was too good a word to waste, and that’s why the particles became known as Dust.” “And what about the Gobblers?” Lyra said.

“The General Oblation Board … Your mother’s gang. Clever of her to spot the chance of setting up her own power base, but she’s a clever woman, as I dare say you’ve noticed. It suits the Magisterium to allow all kinds of different agencies to flourish. They can play them off against one another; if one succeeds, they can pretend to have been supporting it all along, and if it fails, they can pretend it was a renegade outfit which had never been properly licensed.

“You see, your mother’s always been ambitious for power. At first she tried to get it in the normal way, through marriage, but that didn’t work, as I think you’ve heard. So she had to turn to the Church. Naturally she couldn’t take the route a man could have taken—priesthood and so on—it had to be unorthodox; she had to set up her own order, her own channels of influence, and work through that. It was a good move to specialize in Dust. Everyone was frightened of it; no one knew what to do; and when she offered to direct an investigation, the Magisterium was so relieved that they backed her with money and resources of all kinds.” “But they were cutting—” Lyra couldn’t bring herself to say it; the words choked in her mouth. “You know what they were doing! Why did the Church let them do anything like that?” “There was a precedent. Something like it had happened before. Do you know what the word castration means? It means removing the sexual organs of a boy so that he never develops the characteristics of a man. A castrato keeps his high treble voice all his life, which is why the Church allowed it: so useful in Church music. Some castrati became great singers, wonderful artists. Many just became fat spoiled half-men. Some died from the effects of the operation. But the Church wouldn’t flinch at the idea of a little cut, you see. There was a precedent. And this would be so much more hygienic than the old methods, when they didn’t have anesthetics or sterile bandages or proper nursing care. It would be gentle by comparison.” “It isn’t!” Lyra said fiercely. “It isn’t!”

“No. Of course not. That’s why they had to hide away in the far North, in darkness and obscurity. And why the Church was glad to have someone like your mother in charge. Who could doubt someone so charming, so well-connected, so sweet and reasonable? But because it was an obscure and unofficial kind of operation, she was someone the Magisterium could deny if they needed to, as well.” “But whose idea was it to do that cutting in the first place?”

“It was hers. She guessed that the two things that happen at adolescence might be connected: the change in one’s dæmon and the fact that Dust began to settle. Perhaps if the dæmon were separated from the body, we might never be subject to Dust—to original sin. The question was whether it was possible to separate dæmon and body without killing the person. But she’s traveled in many places, and seen all kinds of things. She’s traveled in Africa, for instance. The Africans have a way of making a slave called a zombi. It has no will of its own; it will work day and night without ever running away or complaining. It looks like a corpse.…” “It’s a person without their dæmon!”

“Exactly. So she found out that it was possible to separate them.”

“And … Tony Costa told me about the horrible phantoms they have in the northern forests. I suppose they might be the same kind of thing.”

“That’s right. Anyway, the General Oblation Board grew out of ideas like that, and out of the Church’s obsession with original sin.”

Lord Asriel’s dæmon twitched her ears, and he laid his hand on her beautiful head.

“There was something else that happened when they made the cut,” he went on. “And they didn’t see it. The energy that links body and dæmon is immensely powerful. When the cut is made, all that energy dissipates in a fraction of a second. They didn’t notice, because they mistook it for shock, or disgust, or moral outrage, and they trained themselves to feel numb towards it. So they missed what it could do, and they never thought of harnessing it.…” Lyra couldn’t sit still. She got up and walked to the window, and stared over the wide bleak darkness with unseeing eyes. They were too cruel. No matter how important it was to find out about original sin, it was too cruel to do what they’d done to Tony Makarios and all the others. Nothing justified that.

“And what were you doing?” she said. “Did you do any of that cutting?”

“I’m interested in something quite different. I don’t think the Oblation Board goes far enough. I want to go to the source of Dust itself.”

“The source? Where’s it come from, then?”

“From the other universe we can see through the Aurora.”

Lyra turned around again. Her father was lying back in his chair, lazy and powerful, his eyes as fierce as his dæmon’s. She didn’t love him, she couldn’t trust him, but she had to admire him, and the extravagant luxury he’d assembled in this desolate wasteland, and the power of his ambition.

“What is that other universe?” she said.

“One of uncountable billions of parallel worlds. The witches have known about them for centuries, but the first theologians to prove their existence mathematically were excommunicated fifty or more years ago. However, it’s true; there’s no possible way of denying it.

“But no one thought it would ever be possible to cross from one universe to another. That would violate fundamental laws, we thought. Well, we were wrong; we learned to see the world up there. If light can cross, so can we. And we had to learn to see it, Lyra, just as you learned to use the alethiometer.

“Now that world, and every other universe, came about as a result of possibility. Take the example of tossing a coin: it can come down heads or tails, and we don’t know before it lands which way it’s going to fall. If it comes down heads, that means that the possibility of its coming down tails has collapsed. Until that moment the two possibilities were equal.

“But on another world, it does come down tails. And when that happens, the two worlds split apart. I’m using the example of tossing a coin to make it clearer. In fact, these possibility collapses happen at the level of elementary particles, but they happen in just the same way: one moment several things are possible, the next moment only one happens, and the rest don’t exist. Except that other worlds have sprung into being, on which they did happen.

“And I’m going to that world beyond the Aurora,” he said, “because I think that’s where all the Dust in this universe comes from. You saw those slides I showed the Scholars in the retiring room. You saw Dust pouring into this world from the Aurora. You’ve seen that city yourself. If light can cross the barrier between the universes, if Dust can, if we can see that city, then we can build a bridge and cross. It needs a phenomenal burst of energy. But I can do it. Somewhere out there is the origin of all the Dust, all the death, the sin, the misery, the destructiveness in the world. Human beings can’t see anything without wanting to destroy it, Lyra. That’s original sin. And I’m going to destroy it. Death is going to die.” “Is that why they put you here?”

“Yes. They are terrified. And with good reason.”

He stood up, and so did his dæmon, proud and beautiful and deadly. Lyra sat still. She was afraid of her father, and she admired him profoundly, and she thought he was stark mad; but who was she to judge?

“Go to bed,” he said. “Thorold will show you where to sleep.”

He turned to go.

“You’ve left the alethiometer,” she said.

“Ah, yes; I don’t actually need that now,” he said. “It would be no use to me without the books anyway. D’you know, I think the Master of Jordan was giving it to you. Did he actually ask you to bring it to me?” “Well, yes!” she said. But then she thought again, and realized that in fact the Master never had asked her to do that; she had assumed it all the time, because why else would he have given it to her? “No,” she said. “I don’t know. I thought—” “Well, I don’t want it. It’s yours, Lyra.”

“But—”

“Goodnight, child.”

Speechless, too bewildered by this to voice any of the dozen urgent questions that pressed at her mind, she sat by the fire and watched him leave the room.

22

BETRAYAL

She woke to find a stranger shaking her arm, and then as Pantalaimon sprang awake and growled, she recognized Thorold. He was holding a naphtha lamp, and his hand was trembling.

“Miss—miss—get up quickly. I don’t know what to do. He’s left no orders. I think he’s mad, miss.”

“What? What’s happening?”

“Lord Asriel, miss. He’s been almost in a delirium since you went to bed. I’ve never seen him so wild. He packed a lot of instruments and batteries in a sledge and he harnessed up the dogs and left. But he’s got the boy, miss!” “Roger? He’s taken Roger?”

“He told me to wake him and dress him, and I didn’t think to argue—I never have—the boy kept on asking for you, miss—but Lord Asriel wanted him alone—you know when you first came to the door, miss? And he saw you and couldn’t believe his eyes, and wanted you gone?” Lyra’s head was in such a whirl of weariness and fear that she could hardly think, but “Yes? Yes?” she said.

“It was because he needed a child to finish his experiment, miss! And Lord Asriel has a way special to himself of bringing about what he wants, he just has to call for something and—” Now Lyra’s head was full of a roar, as if she were trying to stifle some knowledge from her own consciousness.

She had got out of bed, and was reaching for her clothes, and then she suddenly collapsed, and a fierce cry of despair enveloped her. She was uttering it, but it was bigger than she was; it felt as if the despair were uttering her. For she remembered his words: the energy that links body and dæmon is immensely powerful; and to bridge the gap between worlds needed a phenomenal burst of energy.… She had just realized what she’d done.

She had struggled all this way to bring something to Lord Asriel, thinking she knew what he wanted; and it wasn’t the alethiometer at all. What he wanted was a child.

She had brought him Roger.

That was why he’d cried out, “I did not send for you!” when he saw her; he had sent for a child, and the fates had brought him his own daughter. Or so he’d thought, until she’d stepped aside and shown him Roger.

Oh, the bitter anguish! She had thought she was saving Roger, and all the time she’d been diligently working to betray him.…

Lyra shook and sobbed in a frenzy of emotion. It couldn’t be true.

Thorold tried to comfort her, but he didn’t know the reason for her extremity of grief, and could only pat her shoulder nervously.

“Iorek—” she sobbed, pushing the servant aside. “Where’s Iorek Byrnison? The bear? Is he still outside?”

The old man shrugged helplessly.

“Help me!” she said, trembling all over with weakness and fear. “Help me dress. I got to go. Now! Do it quick!”

He put the lamp down and did as she told him. When she commanded, in that imperious way, she was very like her father, for all that her face was wet with tears and her lips trembling. While Pantalaimon paced the floor lashing his tail, his fur almost sparking, Thorold hastened to bring her stiff, reeking furs and help her into them. As soon as all the buttons were done up and all the flaps secured, she made for the door, and felt the cold strike her throat like a sword and freeze the tears at once on her cheeks.

“Iorek!” she called. “Iorek Byrnison! Come, because I need you!”

There was a shake of snow, a clank of metal, and the bear was there. He had been sleeping calmly under the falling snow. In the light spilling from the lamp Thorold was holding at the window, Lyra saw the long faceless head, the narrow eye slits, the gleam of white fur below red-black metal, and wanted to embrace him and seek some comfort from his iron helmet, his ice-tipped fur.

“Well?” he said.

“We got to catch Lord Asriel. He’s taken Roger and he’s a going to—I daren’t think—oh, Iorek, I beg you, go quick, my dear!”

“Come then,” he said, and she leaped on his back.

There was no need to ask which way to go: the tracks of the sledge led straight out from the courtyard and over the plain, and Iorek leaped forward to follow them. His motion was now so much a part of Lyra’s being that to sit balanced was entirely automatic. He ran over the thick snowy mantle on the rocky ground faster than he’d ever done, and the armor plates shifted under her in a regular swinging rhythm.

Behind them, the other bears paced easily, pulling the fire hurler with them. The way was clear, for the moon was high and the light it cast over the snowbound world was as bright as it had been in the balloon: a world of bright silver and profound black. The tracks of Lord Asriel’s sledge ran straight toward a range of jagged hills, strange stark pointed shapes jutting up into a sky as black as the alethiometer’s velvet cloth. There was no sign of the sledge itself—or was there a feather touch of movement on the flank of the highest peak? Lyra peered ahead, straining her eyes, and Pantalaimon flew as high as he could and looked with an owl’s clear vision.

“Yes,” he said, on her wrist a moment later; “it’s Lord Asriel, and he’s lashing his dogs on furiously, and there’s a boy in the back.…”

Lyra felt Iorek Byrnison change pace. Something had caught his attention. He was slowing and lifting his head to cast left and right.

“What is it?” Lyra said.

He didn’t say. He was listening intently, but she could hear nothing. Then she did hear something: a mysterious, vastly distant rustling and crackling. It was a sound she had heard before: the sound of the Aurora. Out of nowhere a veil of radiance had fallen to hang shimmering in the northern sky. All those unseen billions and trillions of charged particles, and possibly, she thought, of Dust, conjured a radiating glow out of the upper atmosphere. This was going to be a display more brilliant and extraordinary than any Lyra had yet seen, as if the Aurora knew the drama that was taking place below, and wanted to light it with the most awe-inspiring effects.

But none of the bears were looking up: their attention was all on the earth. It wasn’t the Aurora, after all, that had caught Iorek’s attention. He was standing stock-still now, and Lyra slipped off his back, knowing that his senses needed to cast around freely. Something was troubling him.

Lyra looked around, back across the vast open plain leading to Lord Asriel’s house, back toward the tumbled mountains they’d crossed earlier, and saw nothing. The Aurora grew more intense. The first veils trembled and raced to one side, and jagged curtains folded and unfolded above, increasing in size and brilliance every minute; arcs and loops swirled across from horizon to horizon, and touched the very zenith with bows of radiance. She could hear more clearly than ever the immense singing hiss and swish of vast intangible forces.

“Witches!” came a cry in a bear voice, and Lyra turned in joy and relief.

But a heavy muzzle knocked her forward, and with no breath left to gasp she could only pant and shudder, for there in the place where she had been standing was the plume of a green-feathered arrow. The head and the shaft were buried in the snow.

Impossible! she thought weakly, but it was true, for another arrow clattered off the armor of Iorek, standing above her. These were not Serafina Pekkala’s witches; they were from another clan. They circled above, a dozen of them or more, swooping down to shoot and soaring up again, and Lyra swore with every word she knew.

Iorek Byrnison gave swift orders. It was clear that the bears were practiced at witch fighting, for they had moved at once into a defensive formation, and the witches moved just as smoothly into attack. They could only shoot accurately from close range, and in order not to waste arrows they would swoop down, fire at the lowest part of their dive, and turn upward at once. But when they reached the lowest point, and their hands were busy with bow and arrow, they were vulnerable, and the bears would explode upward with raking paws to drag them down. More than one fell, and was quickly dispatched.

Lyra crouched low beside a rock, watching for a witch dive. A few shot at her, but the arrows fell wide; and then Lyra, looking up at the sky, saw the greater part of the witch flight peel off and turn back.

If she was relieved by that, her relief didn’t last more than a few moments. Because from the direction in which they’d flown, she saw many others coming to join them; and in midair with them there was a group of gleaming lights; and across the broad expanse of the Svalbard plain, under the radiance of the Aurora, she heard a sound she dreaded. It was the harsh throb of a gas engine. The zeppelin, with Mrs. Coulter and her troops on board, was catching up.

Iorek growled an order and the bears moved at once into another formation. In the lurid flicker from the sky Lyra watched as they swiftly unloaded their fire hurler. The advance guard of the witch flight had seen them too, and began to swoop downward and rain arrows on them, but for the most part the bears trusted to their armor and worked swiftly to erect the apparatus: a long arm extending upward at an angle, a cup or bowl a yard across, and a great iron tank wreathed in smoke and steam.

As she watched, a bright flame gushed out, and a team of bears swung into practiced action. Two of them hauled the long arm of the fire thrower down, another scooped shovelfuls of fire into the bowl, and at an order they released it, to hurl the flaming sulfur high into the dark sky.

The witches were swooping so thickly above them that three fell in flames at the first shot alone, but it was soon clear that the real target was the zeppelin. The pilot either had never seen a fire hurler before, or was underestimating its power, for he flew straight on toward the bears without climbing or turning a fraction to either side.

Then it became clear that they had a powerful weapon in the zeppelin too: a machine rifle mounted on the nose of the gondola. Lyra saw sparks flying up from some of the bears’ armor, and saw them huddle over beneath its protection, before she heard the rattle of the bullets. She cried out in fear.

“They’re safe,” said Iorek Byrnison. “Can’t pierce armor with little bullets.”

The fire thrower worked again: this time a mass of blazing sulfur hurtled directly upward to strike the gondola and burst in a cascade of flaming fragments on all sides. The zeppelin banked to the left, and roared away in a wide arc before making again for the group of bears working swiftly beside the apparatus. As it neared, the arm of the fire thrower creaked downward; the machine rifle coughed and spat, and two bears fell, to a low growl from Iorek Byrnison; and when the aircraft was nearly overhead, a bear shouted an order, and the spring-loaded arm shot upward again.

This time the sulfur hurtled against the envelope of the zeppelin’s gas bag. The rigid frame held a skin of oiled silk in place to contain the hydrogen, and although this was tough enough to withstand minor scratches, a hundredweight of blazing rock was too much for it. The silk ripped straight through, and sulfur and hydrogen leaped to meet each other in a catastrophe of flame.

At once the silk became transparent; the entire skeleton of the zeppelin was visible, dark against an inferno of orange and red and yellow, hanging in the air for what seemed like an impossibly long time before drifting to the ground almost reluctantly. Little figures black against the snow and the fire came tottering or running from it, and witches flew down to help drag them away from the flames. Within a minute of the zeppelin’s hitting the ground it was a mass of twisted metal, a pall of smoke, and a few scraps of fluttering fire.

But the soldiers on board, and the others too (though Lyra was too far away by now to spot Mrs. Coulter, she knew she was there), wasted no time. With the help of the witches they dragged the machine gun out and set it up, and began to fight in earnest on the ground.

“On,” said Iorek. “They will hold out for a long time.”

He roared, and a group of bears peeled away from the main group and attacked the Tartars’ right flank. Lyra could feel his desire to be there among them, but all the time her nerves were screaming: On! On! and her mind was filled with pictures of Roger and Lord Asriel; and Iorek Byrnison knew, and turned up the mountain and away from the fight, leaving his bears to hold back the Tartars.

On they climbed. Lyra strained her eyes to look ahead, but not even Pantalaimon’s owl eyes could see any movement on the flank of the mountain they were climbing. Lord Asriel’s sledge tracks were clear, however, and Iorek followed them swiftly, loping through the snow and kicking it high behind them as he ran. Whatever happened behind now was simply that: behind. Lyra had left it. She felt she was leaving the world altogether, so remote and intent she was, so high they were climbing, so strange and uncanny was the light that bathed them.

“Iorek,” she said, “will you find Lee Scoresby?”

“Alive or dead, I will find him.”

“And if you see Serafina Pekkala …”

“I will tell her what you did.”

“Thank you, Iorek,” she said.

They spoke no more for some time. Lyra felt herself moving into a kind of trance beyond sleep and waking: a state of conscious dreaming, almost, in which she was dreaming that she was being carried by bears to a city in the stars.

She was going to say something about it to Iorek Byrnison, when he slowed down and came to a halt.

“The tracks go on,” said Iorek Byrnison. “But I cannot.”

Lyra jumped down and stood beside him to look. He was standing at the edge of a chasm. Whether it was a crevasse in the ice or a fissure in the rock was hard to say, and made little difference in any case; all that mattered was that it plunged downward into unfathomable gloom.

And the tracks of Lord Asriel’s sledge ran to the brink … and on, across a bridge of compacted snow.

This bridge had clearly felt the strain of the sledge’s weight, for a crack ran across it close to the other edge of the chasm, and the surface on the near side of the crack had settled down a foot or so. It might support the weight of a child: it would certainly not stand under the weight of an armored bear.

And Lord Asriel’s tracks ran on beyond the bridge and further up the mountain. If she went on, it would have to be by herself.

Lyra turned to Iorek Byrnison.

“I got to go across,” she said. “Thank you for all you done. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I get to him. We might all die, whether I get to him or not. But if I come back, I’ll come and see you to thank you properly, King Iorek Byrnison.” She laid a hand on his head. He let it lie there and nodded gently.

“Goodbye, Lyra Silvertongue,” he said.

Her heart thumping painfully with love, she turned away and set her foot on the bridge. The snow creaked under her, and Pantalaimon flew up and over the bridge, to settle in the snow on the far side and encourage her onward. Step after step she took, and wondered with every step whether it would be better to run swiftly and leap for the other side, or go slowly as she was doing and tread as lightly as possible. Halfway across there came another loud creak from the snow; a piece fell off near her feet and tumbled into the abyss, and the bridge settled down another few inches against the crack.

She stood perfectly still. Pantalaimon was crouched, leopard-formed, ready to leap down and reach for her.

The bridge held. She took another step, then another, and then she felt something settling down below her feet and leaped for the far side with all her strength. She landed belly-down in the snow as the entire length of the bridge fell into the crevasse with a soft whoosh behind her.

Pantalaimon’s claws were in her furs, holding tight.

After a minute she opened her eyes and crawled up away from the edge. There was no way back. She stood and raised her hand to the watching bear. Iorek Byrnison stood on his hind legs to acknowledge her, and then turned and made off down the mountain in a swift run to help his subjects in the battle with Mrs. Coulter and the soldiers from the zeppelin.

Lyra was alone.

23

THE BRIDGE TO THE STARS

Once Iorek Byrnison was out of sight, Lyra felt a great weakness coming over her, and she turned blindly and felt for Pantalaimon.

“Oh, Pan, dear, I can’t go on! I’m so frightened—and so tired—all this way, and I’m scared to death! I wish it was someone else instead of me, I do honestly!” Her dæmon nuzzled at her neck in his cat form, warm and comforting.

“I just don’t know what we got to do,” Lyra sobbed. “It’s too much for us, Pan, we can’t …”

She clung to him blindly, rocking back and forth and letting the sobs cry out wildly over the bare snow.

“And even if—if Mrs. Coulter got to Roger first, there’d be no saving him, because she’d take him back to Bolvangar, or worse, and they’d kill me out of vengeance.… Why do they do these things to children, Pan? Do they all hate children so much, that they want to tear them apart like this? Why do they do it?” But Pantalaimon had no answer; all he could do was hug her close. Little by little, as the storm of fear subsided, she came to a sense of herself again. She was Lyra, cold and frightened by all means, but herself.

“I wish …” she said, and stopped. There was nothing that could be gained by wishing for it. A final deep shaky breath, and she was ready to go on.

The moon had set by now, and the sky to the south was profoundly dark, though the billions of stars lay on it like diamonds on velvet. They were outshone, though, by the Aurora, outshone a hundred times. Never had Lyra seen it so brilliant and dramatic; with every twitch and shiver, new miracles of light danced across the sky. And behind the ever-changing gauze of light, that other world, that sunlit city, was clear and solid.

The higher they climbed, the more the bleak land spread out below them. To the north lay the frozen sea, compacted here and there into ridges where two sheets of ice had pressed together, but otherwise flat and white and endless, reaching to the Pole itself and far beyond, featureless, lifeless, colorless, and bleak beyond Lyra’s imagination. To the east and west were more mountains, great jagged peaks thrusting sharply upward, their scarps piled high with snow and raked by the wind into bladelike edges as sharp as scimitars. To the south lay the way they had come, and Lyra looked most longingly back, to see if she could spy her dear friend Iorek Byrnison and his troops; but nothing stirred on the wide plain. She was not even sure if she could see the burned wreckage of the zeppelin, or the crimson-stained snow around the corpses of the warriors.

Pantalaimon flew high, and swooped back to her wrist in his owl form.

“They’re just beyond the peak!” he said. “Lord Asriel’s laid out all his instruments, and Roger can’t get away—”

And as he said that, the Aurora flickered and dimmed, like an anbaric bulb at the end of its life, and then went out altogether. In the gloom, though, Lyra sensed the presence of the Dust, for the air seemed to be full of dark intentions, like the forms of thoughts not yet born.

In the enfolding dark she heard a cry:

“Lyra! Lyra!”

“I’m coming!” she cried back, and stumbled upward, clambering, sprawling, struggling, at the end of her strength; but hauling herself on and further on through the ghostly-gleaming snow.

“Lyra! Lyra!”

“I’m nearly there,” she gasped. “Nearly there, Roger!”

Pantalaimon was changing rapidly, in his agitation: lion, ermine, eagle, wildcat, hare, salamander, owl, leopard, every form he’d ever taken, a kaleidoscope of forms among the Dust— “Lyra!”

Then she reached the summit, and saw what was happening.

Fifty yards away in the starlight Lord Asriel was twisting together two wires that led to his upturned sledge, on which stood a row of batteries and jars and pieces of apparatus, already frosted with crystals of cold. He was dressed in heavy furs, his face illuminated by the flame of a naphtha lamp. Crouching like the Sphinx beside him was his dæmon, her beautiful spotted coat glossy with power, her tail moving lazily in the snow.

In her mouth she held Roger’s dæmon.

The little creature was struggling, flapping, fighting, one moment a bird, the next a dog, then a cat, a rat, a bird again, and calling every moment to Roger himself, who was a few yards off, straining, trying to pull away against the heart-deep tug, and crying out with the pain and the cold. He was calling his dæmon’s name, and calling Lyra; he ran to Lord Asriel and plucked his arm, and Lord Asriel brushed him aside. He tried again, crying and pleading, begging, sobbing, and Lord Asriel took no notice except to knock him to the ground.

They were on the edge of a cliff. Beyond them was nothing but a huge illimitable dark. They were a thousand feet or more above the frozen sea.

All this Lyra saw by starlight alone; but then, as Lord Asriel connected his wires, the Aurora blazed all of a sudden into brilliant life. Like the long finger of blinding power that plays between two terminals, except that this was a thousand miles high and ten thousand miles long: dipping, soaring, undulating, glowing, a cataract of glory.

He was controlling it …

Or leading power down from it; for there was a wire running off a huge reel on the sledge, a wire that ran directly upward to the sky. Down from the dark swooped a raven, and Lyra knew it for a witch dæmon. A witch was helping Lord Asriel, and she had flown that wire into the heights.

And the Aurora was blazing again.

He was nearly ready.

He turned to Roger and beckoned, and Roger helplessly came, shaking his head, begging, crying, but helplessly going forward.

“No! Run!” Lyra cried, and hurled herself down the slope at him.

Pantalaimon leaped at the snow leopard and snatched Roger’s dæmon from her jaws. In a moment the snow leopard had leaped after him, and Pantalaimon let the other dæmon go, and both young dæmons, changing flick-flick-flick, turned and battled with the great spotted beast.

She slashed left-right with needle-filled paws, and her snarling roar drowned even Lyra’s cries. Both children were fighting her, too; or fighting the forms in the turbid air, those dark intentions, that came thick and crowding down the streams of Dust— And the Aurora swayed above, its continual surging flicker picking out now this building, now that lake, now that row of palm trees, so close you’d think that you could step from this world to that.

Lyra leaped up and seized Roger’s hand.

She pulled hard, and then they tore away from Lord Asriel and ran, hand in hand, but Roger cried and twisted, because his dæmon was caught again, held fast in the snow leopard’s jaws, and Lord Asriel himself was reaching down toward her with a wire; and Lyra knew the heart-convulsing pain of separation, and tried to stop— But they couldn’t stop.

The cliff was sliding away beneath them.

An entire shelf of snow, sliding inexorably down—

The frozen sea, a thousand feet below—

“LYRA!”

Her heartbeats, leaping in anguish with Roger’s—

Tight-clutching hands—

His body, suddenly limp in hers; and high above, the greatest wonder.

At the moment he fell still, the vault of heaven, star-studded, profound, was pierced as if by a spear.

A jet of light, a jet of pure energy released like an arrow from a great bow, shot upward from the spot where Lord Asriel had joined the wire to Roger’s dæmon. The sheets of light and color that were the Aurora tore apart; a great rending, grinding, crunching, tearing sound reached from one end of the universe to the other; there was dry land in the sky— Sunlight!

Sunlight shining on the fur of a golden monkey.…

For the fall of the snow shelf had halted; perhaps an unseen ledge had broken its fall; and Lyra could see, over the trampled snow of the summit, the golden monkey spring out of the air to the side of the leopard, and she saw the two dæmons bristle, wary and powerful. The monkey’s tail was erect, the snow leopard’s swept powerfully from side to side. Then the monkey reached out a tentative paw, the leopard lowered her head with a graceful sensual acknowledgment, they touched— And when Lyra looked up from them, Mrs. Coulter herself stood there, clasped in Lord Asriel’s arms. Light played around them like sparks and beams of intense anbaric power. Lyra, helpless, could only imagine what had happened: somehow Mrs. Coulter must have crossed that chasm, and followed her up here.… Her own parents, together!

And embracing so passionately: an undreamed-of thing.

Her eyes were wide. Roger’s body lay in her arms, still, quiet, at rest. She heard her parents talking:

Her mother said, “They’ll never allow it—”

Her father said, “Allow it? We’ve gone beyond being allowed, as if we were children. I’ve made it possible for anyone to cross, if they wish.”

“They’ll forbid it! They’ll seal it off and excommunicate anyone who tries!”

“Too many people will want to. They won’t be able to prevent them. This will mean the end of the Church, Marisa, the end of the Magisterium, the end of all those centuries of darkness! Look at that light up there: that’s the sun of another world! Feel the warmth of it on your skin, now!” “They are stronger than anyone, Asriel! You don’t know—”

“I don’t know? I? No one in the world knows better than I how strong the Church is! But it isn’t strong enough for this. The Dust will change everything, anyway. There’s no stopping it now.” “Is that what you wanted? To choke us and kill us all with sin and darkness?”

“I wanted to break out, Marisa! And I have. Look, look at the palm trees waving on the shore! Can you feel that wind? A wind from another world! Feel it on your hair, on your face.…” Lord Asriel pushed back Mrs. Coulter’s hood and turned her head to the sky, running his hands through her hair. Lyra watched breathless, not daring to move a muscle.

The woman clung to Lord Asriel as if she were dizzy, and shook her head, distressed.

“No—no—they’re coming, Asriel—they know where I’ve gone—”

“Then come with me, away and out of this world!”

“I daren’t—”

“You? Dare not? Your child would come. Your child would dare anything, and shame her mother.”

“Then take her and welcome. She’s more yours than mine, Asriel.”

“Not so. You took her in; you tried to mold her. You wanted her then.”

“She was too coarse, too stubborn. I’d left it too late.… But where is she now? I followed her footsteps up.…”

“You want her, still? Twice you’ve tried to hold her, and twice she’s got away. If I were her, I’d run, and keep on running, sooner than give you a third chance.” His hands, still clasping her head, tensed suddenly and drew her toward him in a passionate kiss. Lyra thought it seemed more like cruelty than love, and looked at their dæmons, to see a strange sight: the snow leopard tense, crouching with her claws just pressing in the golden monkey’s flesh, and the monkey relaxed, blissful, swooning on the snow.

Mrs. Coulter pulled fiercely back from the kiss and said, “No, Asriel—my place is in this world, not that—”

“Come with me!” he said, urgent, powerful. “Come and work with me!”

“We couldn’t work together, you and I.”

“No? You and I could take the universe to pieces and put it together again, Marisa! We could find the source of Dust and stifle it forever! And you’d like to be part of that great work; don’t lie to me about it. Lie about everything else, lie about the Oblation Board, lie about your lovers—yes, I know about Boreal, and I care nothing—lie about the Church, lie about the child, even, but don’t lie about what you truly want.…” And their mouths were fastened together with a powerful greed. Their dæmons were playing fiercely; the snow leopard rolled over on her back, and the monkey raked his claws in the soft fur of her neck, and she growled a deep rumble of pleasure.

“If I don’t come, you’ll try and destroy me,” said Mrs. Coulter, breaking away.

“Why should I want to destroy you?” he said, laughing, with the light of the other world shining around his head. “Come with me, work with me, and I’ll care whether you live or die. Stay here, and you lose my interest at once. Don’t flatter yourself that I’d give you a second’s thought. Now stay and work your mischief in this world, or come with me.” Mrs. Coulter hesitated; her eyes closed, she seemed to sway as if she were fainting; but she kept her balance and opened her eyes again, with an infinite beautiful sadness in them.

“No,” she said. “No.”

Their dæmons were apart again. Lord Asriel reached down and curled his strong fingers into the snow leopard’s fur. Then he turned his back and walked away without another word. The golden monkey leaped into Mrs. Coulter’s arms, making little sounds of distress, reaching out to the snow leopard as she paced away, and Mrs. Coulter’s face was a mask of tears. Lyra could see them glinting; they were real.

Then her mother turned, shaking with silent sobs, and moved down the mountain and out of Lyra’s sight.

Lyra watched her coldly, and then looked up toward the sky.

Such a vault of wonders she had never seen.

The city hanging there so empty and silent looked new-made, waiting to be occupied; or asleep, waiting to be woken. The sun of that world was shining into this, making Lyra’s hands golden, melting the ice on Roger’s wolfskin hood, making his pale cheeks transparent, glistening in his open sightless eyes.

She felt wrenched apart with unhappiness. And with anger, too; she could have killed her father; if she could have torn out his heart, she would have done so there and then, for what he’d done to Roger. And to her: tricking her: how dare he?

She was still holding Roger’s body. Pantalaimon was saying something, but her mind was ablaze, and she didn’t hear until he pressed his wildcat claws into the back of her hand to make her. She blinked.

“What? What?”

“Dust!” he said.

“What are you talking about?”

“Dust. He’s going to find the source of Dust and destroy it, isn’t he?”

“That’s what he said.”

“And the Oblation Board and the Church and Bolvangar and Mrs. Coulter and all, they want to destroy it too, don’t they?”

“Yeah … Or stop it affecting people … Why?”

“Because if they all think Dust is bad, it must be good.”

She didn’t speak. A little hiccup of excitement leaped in her chest.

Pantalaimon went on:

“We’ve heard them all talk about Dust, and they’re so afraid of it, and you know what? We believed them, even though we could see that what they were doing was wicked and evil and wrong.… We thought Dust must be bad too, because they were grown up and they said so. But what if it isn’t? What if it’s—” She said breathlessly, “Yeah! What if it’s really good …”

She looked at him and saw his green wildcat eyes ablaze with her own excitement. She felt dizzy, as if the whole world were turning beneath her.

If Dust were a good thing … If it were to be sought and welcomed and cherished …

“We could look for it too, Pan!” she said.

That was what he wanted to hear.

“We could get to it before he does,” he went on, “and.…”

The enormousness of the task silenced them. Lyra looked up at the blazing sky. She was aware of how small they were, she and her dæmon, in comparison with the majesty and vastness of the universe; and of how little they knew, in comparison with the profound mysteries above them.

“We could,” Pantalaimon insisted. “We came all this way, didn’t we? We could do it.”

“We got it wrong, though, Pan. We got it all wrong about Roger. We thought we were helping him.…” She choked, and kissed Roger’s still face clumsily, several times. “We got it wrong,” she said.

“Next time we’ll check everything and ask all the questions we can think of, then. We’ll do better next time.”

“And we’d be alone. Iorek Byrnison couldn’t follow us and help. Nor could Farder Coram or Serafina Pekkala, or Lee Scoresby or no one.”

“Just us, then. Don’t matter. We’re not alone, anyway; not like.…”

She knew he meant not like Tony Makarios; not like those poor lost dæmons at Bolvangar; we’re still one being; both of us are one.

“And we’ve got the alethiometer,” she said. “Yeah. I reckon we’ve got to do it, Pan. We’ll go up there and we’ll search for Dust, and when we’ve found it we’ll know what to do.” Roger’s body lay still in her arms. She let him down gently.

“And we’ll do it,” she said.

She turned away. Behind them lay pain and death and fear; ahead of them lay doubt, and danger, and fathomless mysteries. But they weren’t alone.

So Lyra and her dæmon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked toward the sun, and walked into the sky.

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