Author's Note: This story features numerous rapid jumps forward in chronology, leaping from plot point to plot point. The stories of the intermediary journeying is left as an exercise for the reader. This was for the painfully necessary sake of brevity--I unfortunately do not have the time to entirely rewrite a trilogy during exams week. As such, readers unfamiliar with His Dark Materials may find themselves rather lost. A familiarity with Keats' Hyperion would also help considerably. Also note that this does contain extensive spoilers for Pullman's trilogy--if you haven't read them, what the devil are you doing here!? Go read them! Now! Go on, shoo!
* * *
Asriel raised his eyes from the book he was reading. He had been reading for some time, deep in his preparations. The tome was one of the ones recovered from a great Northern expedition, full of reports of shamans and witches and the like. It contained no particular information that he had not garnered from other places, but nonetheless he found it engaging.
Thorold, his manservant, was standing by the door to the anteroom. "We have a visitor, m'lord." He gestured out the window. Sure enough, there was a figure visible in amongst the swirling motes of snow outside. The person was small, and barely visible in the thin light from the windows. A child. This was the child he had been waiting for, then.
Asriel smiled, a thin and cold smile, and closed his book. "Show them in, Thorold. They are expected. It seems the time has come to put a great many things into motion."
"Yes, sir." Thorold inclined his head, and stepped into the vestibule, letting the door shut behind him.
Stelmaria purred under his hand as Asriel shelved his book, and then they stood together by the fire, and waited for their delivery. They heard the front door open, and heard a muffled exclamation from Thorold. The manservant pushed open the door into the study, and the girl came into view.
Asriel stepped forward, eager to see this child would be the centerpiece of his grand experiment. Stelmaria saw her first, and growled low. Then Asriel took her in, with her pale golden hair, and her mousy features, and the fierce smile plastered across her snow-pinked face.
In that moment, they were as two perfect opposites. She, full of pride and satisfaction at having finally reached one of the goals she had set out to reach all that time ago. He, filled with dawning horror and dismay. The color faded from his face; his eyes widened, in horror, as he recognized his daughter.
He staggered back and clutched at the mantelpiece. Lyra stood still, the smile fading from her face.
"Get out!" Asriel cried. "Turn around, get out, go! I did not send for you!" This was wrong, this was wrong in every way. He had needed a child, some child, any child, but it should not have been her. Asriel was dimly aware that she was mumbling something, some explanation or defense, but he could not hear. He was trapped in his own thoughts.
He had needed a child, and they had sent him this child. Of all the millions of children in the world, the one he had been given was his own daughter.
Slowly, a creeping realization began to climb up from deep inside him. It began in his bowels, and then twisted its icy hand around his spine, and up through into his brain. The realization was this: he was being selfish. He was yet a man, and a mortal man at that, and men must make sacrifices for the greater good. In his case, this meant for the greatest good. The realization make him uncomfortable; for a moment it even made him doubt; but in the end it settled over him like a great cloak of stone, a weight that would drag him down inexorably but surely.
The experiment must continue.
He managed to bring his emotions into line next, and to still his shaking hands. He looked to Stelmaria, and found her looking up at him, her eyes sharp but firm. She understood too.
The girl was still in the doorway, on the verge of tears. She clung to the doorframe, knuckles white, her other hand tightly gripping the pouch she wore about her belt. Her dæmon was coiled about her neck in the form of some sort of ferret.
"Lyra," Asriel said slowly, careful to keep any of the creeping doubt he still felt out of his voice.
"Uncle Asriel," she said hesitantly. "I... I came to bring you the alethiometer from the Master of Jordan." She held up the pouch.
"Yes, of course you did." Asriel frowned. He had forgotten about the device. Perhaps it could be useful, if he could find a reader for it, but it did not matter now. He knew what he must do. "How did you get here?"
"Well... I came to find my friend Roger, but by the time I got to Bolvangar with all my friends, which is all the Gyptians, well he was already..." She trailed off for a moment, then continued. "But anyway, I still had to see you, so my friend, that's Iorek Byrnison, the one outside, he's brought me here. He came with me all the way from Trollesund, and we tricked Iofur--"
"Who's Iorek Byrnison?"
"An armored bear. He brought me here."
Asriel frowned. A bear would complicate things. He had to separate the bear from the child, and soon. There was nothing for it. He could not lie to the bear and succeed. The experiment would have to happen tonight.
"Thorold," he called, "go outside and bring the bear anything he requires, and tell him I will be out to speak with him shortly. I have final preparations to make."
Lyra frowned. "Preparations for what?"
He took a slow breath. "Something that has been in the works for a very long time, and something I very much need your help for. In fact, I think it is why you came to the North at all, whether you knew it or not."
Finally the color was returning to her face, and this brought her a proud smile, a smile that reminded him too much of the way her mother had smiled, all those years before. "I can help plenty! Whatever you need, I can do it!"
Asriel smiled, a smile that was at once proud and sad and determined. "I know, child. I know."
* * *
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 Lyra'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--
The sunlight fell full on Asriel's face, and he basked in it. It was the light of another world, another place, another time. It had worked! His grand experiment had worked!
Asriel heard a voice from behind him cry out, "Lyra!"
He turned to see Marisa running forward, stumbling in the snow, that monkey of hers hissing and spitting as it scampered. The woman and the monkey both reached where the girl lay in the snow, the wires still wrapped around her wrist. Marisa stared in horror at the child's body, then up at Asriel. "What have you done?"
"Changed everything. Don't you see?"
"No. No, no, no, I don't see, Asriel, I don't see anything." Tears were beginning to well up from her eyes.
Asriel stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. "This is it, Marisa. This will mean the end of the Church, 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!"
"But at what cost?"
"At any cost, Marisa. This is bigger than one small girl, now. Forget her. Forget yourself. Come with me, away and out of this world!"
"Just... Asriel, she was your daughter."
He shook his head slowly. "She never was. She was yours, but never mine."
"We made her together, Asriel. Yours and mine."
"You took her in; you tried to mold her. You wanted her then, and you let her go."
"And you killed her."
"She was the key I needed to open the door. What's done is done. The door is thrown wide. No looking back, Marisa."
She took a step back. "You're a monster. This was too much."
"This? This was what I have always intended to do. Now come with me."
"No. I... not with you. Not like this. I can't. Not after you..."
Asriel scowled, and turned his back on her. "Come with me, work with me, and you'll matter. You'll be part of something important. Stay here, and you lose my interest at once. Don't flatter yourself that I'd give you a second's thought."
"I don't. I know you, Asriel. I see what you are. You use people until there's nothing left to use, and then you discard their broken shells. Like Lyra. I won't follow you, Asriel."
He felt again that cold in his insides, that feeling that something in him was growing harder and darker and filling with ice. He held on to it, made it solid, let it be his bedrock. Then he turned his face to the door he had opened. "So be it, Marisa. Good-bye."
So Asriel and his dæmon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked toward the sun, and walked into the sky.
* * *
The witch Serafina Pekkala raised her hands, to speak to the assembled clans. To her right sat the queen Ruta Skadi, and to her left the aeronaut Lee Scoresby.
"Sisters! You know why we have come together: we must decide what to do about these new events. The universe is broken wide, and Lord Asriel has opened the way from this world to another. He has done so at the cost of a young life, the life of the girl Lyra Belacqua, once called Lyra Silvertongue by King Iorek Byrnison. Some say she was the child we had waited for, but now she is taken from us.
"We have two guests, who will tell us their thoughts." She gestured to Ruta Skadi, and the other queen stood.
Skadi told them what she had learned, of Lord Asriel's plan, and Serafina corroborated, adding what she had learned from Thorold and from the witch aboard the ship. When Skadi had finished explaining, she looked as though she wished to speak more, and perhaps she would have done so, perhaps she would have given a speech imploring the witches to join Asriel's cause, had it not been for a sharp glare from Mr. Lee Scoresby.
The Texan got to his feet, whiplash-lean and scowling. His hare dæmon, Hester, crouched beside him, her ears perked up, her golden eyes staring around the assembled witches.
"Ma'am," he said, "I have to thank you all first for the kindness you've shown me, and the help you extended to an aeronaut battered by winds that came from another world. I won't trespass long on your patience.
"I confess I'm a simple man, just an old Texan, and I don't know much about Gods and other worlds. But I have to say, the more I hear about this Asriel and his plans, the more I think he's a madman. Moreover, he's gone and killed Lyra, and that just don't sit right with me." He stood firm, and his voice remained level and courteous, as befitted a Texan standing on a stranger's hospitality, but his eyes took on a certain look, full of anger and passion. It was not a look that any of the witches particularly noticed or understood, but Hester knew, and her eyes mirrored Lee's. "I know most of you never had the chance to meet the girl, but I tell you she was powerful special. The girl had a gift, and a fire in her I ain't never met but once or twice before.
"Now I made some promises about protecting that girl, and promises like that I don't much like to break. So I mean to pay back some debts I think I owe now. Myself and my old friend Iorek are going to fly through into that city in the sky, and we're going to find Asriel, and we're going to make him answer for what he did to little Lyra. John Faa and the Gyptians say they're probably coming with us too, but I don't know what we're like to find out there, so any help you particularly feel like offering would be more than welcome."
Serafina looked to him. "How can we help you, Lee Scoresby?"
He sat back. "Well, there was a man named Stanislaus Grumman I was planning on looking for, before all this happened, and I think he might be able to help us in this."
"I know of this man. Tell me what you know of him, and I will find him myself."
* * *
"There. You see?" The shaman pointed towards the top of the tower, and Lee aimed the airship downwards, nodding.
The tower stood tall, looming over the red tile rooftops of the strange city. All throughout the streets of the city, more of those shades wandered, gliding about noiselessly. Looking at them made Lee uncomfortable, and Hester shared in his discomfort.
Iorek let out a low rumble from where he sat at the back of the ship. "Shaman. The beings seem to avoid the tower. Why?"
Grumman leaned back. "They fear Æsahættr, and they are right to. It is one of the few things that could harm them." He looked pale, but steadier than he had in days. The witch Serafina Pekkala had brought the shaman to Lee and Iorek several days earlier, and he had brought them here, seeking some weapon he claimed could help them find Lord Asriel. The witches and the Gyptians were still scouting further ahead, trying to find the path Lord Asriel had taken out of this strange world.
As they descended towards the tower, Lee caught sight of a figure. It looked like a boy, not older than twelve or thirteen, slumped against the wall on the highest balcony. Dark blood around one of his hands, staining the tiles with shadow. Lee frowned, at that. They had seen plenty of children in the city, though no adults, but this one looked in none too good shape.
Grumman's face pursed as well. "Bring us closer, Mr. Scoresby. I fear that that may be the child we seek."
"Now, pardon me if I'm mistaken, but I thought you said we were here looking for a weapon." As he spoke, Lee monitored the gas leaving the airship's envelope.
"Every weapon must have its wielder. Now then, we should be close enough to descend. Lower the ladder, if you please."
Lee did so, and then watched as the shaman climbed down. While he waited for Grumman to return, he looked Iorek. His old friend was sitting perfectly still, but his eyes were fixed on the top of the tower. "Iorek, what's got you staring?"
"There is a knife by the boy," the bear rumbled. "It is unlike any blade I have seen before."
"You think it's that weapon the shaman kept talking about?"
"I do, but I wish it were not. Even from here, I can see that there is something queer and wrong with that knife."
Iorek didn't say more, and Lee didn't push him. If the bear had things to say, they'd come out in due time. They watched as Grumman did something to the boy's hand, then hoisted him over his shoulder and climbed back up the rope ladder. The boy was small, but even so it was an impressive feat for the shaman, who had looked so pale the day before.
Grumman reached the top of the ladder, where Iorek reached down and took the unconscious child from him. The bear laid the boy down on the floor of the airship as Grumman climbed in next to him.
Lee looked at him, and saw that the shaman looked unsettled. "Did you find what you were looking for, Mr. Grumman?"
"I did, and something else besides. This is the knife," he said, and held it up. It was a short knife, and seemed plain enough, except for the odd way the light seemed to twist and curl around its edges. Iorek growled at it, and moved his rear paws back, as if bracing for a fight. Grumman continued speaking, though, as if the knife were an afterthought. "And this," here he gestured to the unconscious boy, and his face took on an expression Lee had not seen on him before: one of surprise. "This is my son."
* * *
In a single bound, Iorek crossed the stone chamber. His paw slammed into the man before him, shoving him roughly against the wall, and holding him there. The bear king had swung with barely a fraction of his strength, though it had taken great restraint. He did not want this man dead just yet. The man's snow leopard dæmon leapt up in defense, but Iorek casually swatted her aside. His arms bled from a dozen small cuts, where the man's guards had attacked him with swords, but they had been no match for a fully-armored panserbjørne.
Lee Scoresby, Serafina Pekkala, and John Faa hurried through the door behind him, closing it quickly. The witch turned to the Gyptian. "Do they still follow?"
John Faa nodded. "More guards will be here soon enough. We will hold them." He checked his rifle, then leveled it at where the snow leopard dæmon stood snarling by the bed.
Satisfied, they turned to the man against the wall. Lee Scoresby was the first to walk to him, and the first to speak to him. "Mr. Asriel," the Texan said, "you're not a particularly easy man to find."
Asriel's voice was calm, despite the enormous white paw holding him against the wall. "You're the aeronaut, Lee Scoresby. And you must be King Iorek Byrnison." The bear's response was a rumbling growl. Asriel continued. "Lady Serafina Pekkala, and John Faa of the Gyptians as well."
"We did not come here to talk," said John Faa. "We came here because you have done a great crime, and must be made to answer for it."
"I have done a great many things, Lord Faa," Asriel said slowly. "Many would be considered criminal, or heretical, or worse, in a great many worlds."
Lee shrugged his shoulders, and calmly refilled his revolver. "What my friend means to say is that you killed someone, and that's bad enough. But that weren't enough. You went and killed your own daughter, and that's... well, that's not something anyone should ever even consider. And your daughter was powerful dear to each of us, in turn."
Asriel frowned for a moment, then let out a curious noise that was almost a laugh. "This is about Lyra?"
Iorek snarled viciously at him. "Lyra Silvertongue was no ordinary girl. I owe her a great debt, and I mean to pay it to you in full."
The man shook his head. "I'm afraid I can't let you do that today, King Byrnison."
Lee made a small motion with his revolver. "I don't particularly see you as being in a position to be allowing or disallowing us from much, Mr. Asriel."
At that moment, there was a motion from one of the small high windows of the room. A bright blue hawk darted inside and flaw down, flying towards the assembled. The bird was fast, but Serafina was faster. Her arrow pierced it in a flash, and it tumbled out of the air.
Something moved away from it as it fell, though, and landed on Iorek's back. The bear let out a great roar as sudden pain seared through his back, spreading outwards from a tiny gap where two of the plates of his armor met each other.
Lee spun, looking for the source of the attack, and saw it standing on John Faa's shoulder. It was a tiny man, maybe a handspan tall, but with sharp barbs jutting from the backs of his feet. One of those barbs was pressed against the Gyptian's throat.
"I wouldn't move if I were you," said Lord Asriel calmly. In Iorek's moment of pain, he had slipped out of the bear's grasp, and now stood a few feet away, by his desk. "A Gallivespian's sting would only cause pain to a panserbjørne, but it's quite deadly by human standards. Thank you, Lord Roke."
The atmosphere in the room had changed considerably. Neither side was at the other's mercy any more, but nor could either attack again without considerable harm coming to one or the other.
"Now then," Lord Asriel said, "things are a great deal more complicated than you know. Lyra was important once, but she is gone now, and we must turn our attention to the problems at hand. As you can see, I have assembled a considerable force."
"Aye," Lee said, "we noticed your army as we were trying to get in here. They didn't make it easy."
"Know, then, that the force we face is larger still. The angel Metatron has a vast army, brought together from every world, all in the name of the Authority. He means to reign from on high for eternity, and usher in a new era of control. The Magisterium we know is nothing as compared to Metatron's plans. He cannot be allowed to succeed."
"I don't see why we have to leave the defense of the worlds to a monster like you," said John Faa, proud and defiant despite the small assassin on his shoulder. "Yes, the war must be fought, but I don't particularly want it to be won by the likes of you."
Serafina Pekkala, who had until this point been silent, spoke then. "John Faa, you have been a good friend and a loyal ally, but in this you are wrong. This is a battle that only Asriel can win.
Lee scowled. "You're gonna have to make that a mite bit clearer, Miss Serafina. Way I see it, an army is an army. Don't matter terribly much who's leading it, as long as they've got a good head on their shoulders."
Serafina shook her head. "These armies have been brought together by him single-handedly, under a single banner. Under any other circumstance, these are forces that would be pitted against each other, each desperately hoping for the other's destruction. But Asriel has convinced them to set aside their differences, in the name of self-preservation, and more greater than that. They trust him, as they do not trust each other. Though it gives me great pain to say, if we kill Asriel now, the alliance crumbles, and Metatron wins."
"Just so," Asriel said. "I have a proposal for you. You are all strong and capable warriors, and bring with you a great force. Lend your strength to mine long enough to defeat Metatron and preserve the safety of the worlds. Once that is done, though... you may have your price." The man turned to the bear. "When the worlds are safe, and the war is done, you may strike me once, King Byrnison. I promise I will make no attempt to turn or dodge the blow, and you are welcome to hit me with all the force you can muster." He held the bear's gaze. "You are a panserbjørne, and a king, and I am a man. You can see that there is no lie in my words."
The tension in the air held for a long moment, as Lord Asriel stared into Iorek's eyes, and Lee Scoresby watched with Hester close at hand, and John Faa felt Lord Roke's spur digging into his throat, and Serafina Pekkala listened to the chill wind. Then the bear king roared in Asriel's face, a great a might and terrifying roar that shook the very stones of the tower. Asriel did not flinch.
The great bear's roar turned into a low snarl, and the snarl turned into words. "My debt will be paid, for Lyra. You have until your war is done."
* * *
Across the worlds, a great many of those loyal to the Authority had fallen. Though Lord Asriel's battle had yet to begin in full, the war had been underway for years. Indeed, where once there had been a host of the highest angels, now only one remained tall. He was the strongest and proudest of them, though, and stood atop his clouded mountain.
Metatron stared down through the swirling clouds, letting his gaze pierce them, seeking down to the world below. He could see the army that the man called Asriel was building, a great force of men and bears and beasts from across the worlds, armed with guns and steel.
They meant to rise up against him. They had done so a thousand times before, across a thousand worlds, and a thousand times they had failed. He could feel that something was different now, though he could not tell what it was. The angel felt a sensation alien to him, one that any mortal man would recognize as doubt. The Authority before him was now weak and feeble with age and decrepitude, but surely the same could not happen to Metatron.
The strange shiver in his wings soon filled his mind with rage, and he stormed back in through the top of the mountain. He let out a roar of frustration and rage that shook the towers and hallways of the castle, letting all know of his wrath. By the time he had made his way down through the passages and stairs to the gates of his golden hall, the host was assembled. Lesser angels stood clustered in small groups, anxious soldiers waiting for their order to battle, and all looked up to see the entrance of their Lord Commander. The doors flew wide in a zephyrous gust, and Metatron stood tall in all his radiant glory.
He spoke to the host, in a great fury, telling them of the coming war. He told them how they would fight for their Authority, and fight against the foul rebels who came to overthrow them. He told them how they would never fall, and indeed, could never fall, as long as they flew for what was right in the worlds. Then he told them they would not be fighting alone.
As he spoke, a thin mist flowed into the room. From that fog came pale phantoms, bestirring themselves into motion horrible and cold. Even the angels shuddered to see their arrival, and though these dubious allies would bolster their forces, the angels could not be inspired by them. Despite proud Metatron's wrathful words of inspiration, no army at all could be proud to fight alongside the Spectres.
* * *
As the angel stepped solemnly into the room, it became lit with her fiery brilliance. She moved with purpose, seeking him out.
Asriel rose, and turned to meet her. "Xaphania," he said by way of greeting.
The rebel angel looked at him. "Asriel. You must stop this plan."
He smiled at her. "You well know that you cannot stop me now. The time for such is well past."
"The others will stop you, then. Or others will rise and stop you."
"Just as you rose against Metatron? Perhaps, in time. I will deal with them when they come."
"You are but a mortal man."
He laughed, a sharp barking noise, and turned to meet her stare. So fierce was the look in his eye that Xaphania felt herself transfixed, held fast by his gaze. She took a step back towards the door, and found it had shut behind her.
"And why is that, Xaphania? What is it that makes me a man, and you an angel? Where are my wings, I ask you? What twist of evolution gave them to you, and left me so cursed, earthbound? You are creatures of spirit, just as we are creatures of flesh. But we have transcended that. Science has brought us the sun and stars and moon, and we bring them down to us. With anbaric power and determination, I have torn the realms asunder, broken free of my tiny isle. Is that not spirit enough? So tell me, lonely angel, tell me what I need to do to take what is mine."
As he spoke, he was advancing on her, and now his face was inches from her own. His eyes had not left hers, and she still could not move, such was the intensity of his expression. He had spoken truly, and she was indeed a being of spirit, weaker of flesh than man, despite being of such high rank. Her spirit should have been far greater than his, though, but she felt herself being overwhelmed by this man, as if his eyes were bottomless wells of fire that she was drowning in.
Asriel smiled. "Your silence tells me everything I need to know. A beautiful lesson in your mute face." Then he stepped forward, and pressed his lips to hers.
In that moment, the fire of spirit that was everything that made her flickered. It flickered, guttered, and then swirled inwards, drawn in by this man who would be a god. Her thoughts, her memories, her ideas, they all became a part of him. Names, deeds, legends, rebellions, majesties, sovereign voices, agonies, creations, destruction, all that she had seen and felt since her birth near the dawning of the worlds. She felt herself draining away, and felt his power growing, and felt the melding of flesh and spirit, and then she felt nothing at all.
Asriel screamed as the fire poured into him. It was the fire of life and spirit and Dust and power; the same fire had forged the subtle knife; the same fire had torn wide the worlds at his command; the same fire had sparked the first suns; the same fire had burned hottest when the worlds came into being. His mortal flesh burned, and the great power of spirit threatened to overwhelm him for a time. He felt death calling to him, and felt himself nearly begin to fade from the world. The two natures within him warred, violently at odds with each other. For a moment he could see a man before him, and he knew this man was his Death, and that his Death was close at hand and ready.
Then he felt a pain, a sharp pain, a pain apart from the fire. It was Stelmaria, her teeth sunk deep into his thigh. The sensation brought him howling back into his body.
His body that could withstand any blow, from any bear, or any beast. His body that was now infused with fire and flesh and spirit, all made one. His body that now glowed. From all his limbs, from his arms, from his legs, and from his wings came a great celestial light.
* * *
Deep in the shady sadness of a vale, far sunken from the healthy air of the morning, far from the fiery noon, or the evening star, a pale figure lay. He was quiet as a stone, still as the silence around him. The world was in every way undisturbed, not even by the gentlest breeze. Nearby lay the host that had carried him. Each had an arrow through its heart, loosed by a flock of passing witches. They had been carrying him in his litter to safety, to some distant grove of paradise, but they had fallen in their defense, and he had, through some strange twist of fate, fallen through one of the growing cracks between the worlds, and had come to rest in this place.
He knew nothing of this, though. His old right hand lay nerveless, listless, dead, and his dreamless eyes were closed. His head lay on the dirt, as if listening for some song from the ground below him.
Then a touch came, a gentle pressing of hand against shoulder. The ancient of days turned his head slowly, and opened his eyes, looking on this woman as if she were a goddess come down to him. She was beautiful, though her face was contorted in great sorrow, and tears slid slowly down her face. The being on the sand reached out a single wizened hand towards her, and she took it gently, ever so gently.
She bent down and whispered words in his ear. "I am sorry," she said, "I have no comfort for you. You should rise, rise up, lead your angels, lead your host against him. I did what I could. I tried, I tried, oh how I tried." A curious creature huddled next to her, and the ancient looked on it. It was a monkey, with fur as gold as sunlight, and a face as dark as midnight. It too reached out a hand, and stroked the ancient's pale white hair.
The woman still spoke. "I took the intention craft. I went to the Magisterium, I went to Metatron, I met with the Churches of a hundred worlds. I rallied your allies. I brought together a council, of lesser titans, a council to fight for you." She paused, and one of her tears fell to land like a raindrop on the old one's shoulder. "No, I brought together a council to fight against him. It wasn't for you. He doesn't deserve it. He wants to make himself a new God. What kind of God is it who kills his own daughter, though? He took my Lyra from me."
The light in the old one's eyes began to fade, as the air stirred into motion. A gentle breeze drifted through the glen, whistling lightly as summer's breath. The ancient of days smiled, feeling it on his skin for the first time in a thousand thousand years.
Mrs. Coulter finally trailed off, realizing that the old one could not understand anything she said. He was too far gone into simplicity and age. The Authority had fallen, she understood at last, and the old was fading to make way for the new.
"None of this means anything to you any more, does it? I'm sorry, then," she said, voice low, "for disturbing your rest. Go back to sleep. Why should I be the one to open your eyes? Sleep, then, and let me cry." She began to sing, then, a quiet lullaby she had heard as a child, the same lullaby that she had always thought she might one day sing to her own daughter, but had never been given the chance to.
His form began to loose and dissolve as the breeze picked up. Only a few moments later he had vanished completely, and her last impression was of those eyes, blinking in wonder, and a sigh of the most profound and exhausted relief.
Then he was gone, and Marisa Coulter was alone in a glen of dead angels, while a new sun rose in the heavens behind her.
* * *
"Now, boy! Do it now!"
Will's fingers tightened around the knife, took a step forward, and hesitated. For just a moment, he stood perfectly still, at the heart of the maelstrom of chaos and violence around him. Lord Asriel wrestled with Metatron, standing on the balcony of the Clouded Mountain. Beyond, angels and witches fought furiously, clearly visible in the fading fog surrounding the floating castle. Behind him, King Ogunwe and Stelmaria were locked in combat with two of Metatron's angels.
Will could hear his father's voice, dimly, in the back of his mind. His father had told him that a moment was coming, when his actions would change anything. He had only known his father a few short weeks, but in those weeks he had learned so much. John Parry had died hours earlier, getting Will to the Clouded Mountain, but his words still hung thick in the air of the moment.
Metatron's back was to Will, his arms pinned by Lord Asriel's. The angel turned and looked over his shoulder, and Will could see them both, Metatron and Asriel, man and angel, old god and new, and all he could thing was how painfully beautiful Lord Asriel looked, with the sun shining gold around his face like a halo, his face shining with such pride and triumph and truth that it burned to look at him.
Asriel's vast and silvery wings beat furiously, sending pulses of wind swirling across the balcony. "What are you waiting for, boy? Your time is now!"
His father had told him he would have a choice, but he knew now that there was no choice, had never been a choice. He felt the pull of the moment drag his feet forward like the inexorable tide of gravity. Then his hand was in motion, raising the knife over his head, and bringing it down, once, twice. In two smooth and swift motions, he made the cuts, and the angel Metatron's wings fell away.
Metatron fell back against the tiles, collapsing at Will's feet. Lord Asriel stood resplendent over him, Stelmaria returned to his side, his victory at last complete. The reign of the old gods was done, and now would begin the era of the new, bought in blood and fire and steel and death.
Will looked down at the knife. Its face was stained with golden blood, and the ever-shifting patterns of color in its metal had faded. Reflected in the metal he could for a moment see a face, the face of a girl his own age, looking curiously back at him. She looked familiar, and right, and beautiful, and yet he knew he had never met her, and knew that he never would, and he knew that that was wrong.
* * *
The alethiometer's needle flashed wildly, tell all this and more. Moments of bears and aeronauts and gods and a poet's dying brother, all jumbled up in a strange answer to a simple question.
Lyra stared down at its face in confusion. She had asked the alethiometer if she and the Gyptians should be prepared for an attack. They were halfway to Bolvangar, and she was worried about running into Tartars. The needle continued to dart around, telling her more that made no sense, about a new church, and power, and...
Finally it settled, and gave her a simple answer. No. No, she should not prepare.
She nodded, more satisfied with that, and settled down to sleep, with Pantalaimon curled around her neck.
And so it was that Lyra and the Gyptians were unprepared for the attack, and Lyra was brought to Bolvangar early, and rescued Roger, and a great many things happened that might not have otherwise, in another universe, in another world, in another story.
* * * * *
Some notes on the writing...
This piece came from a curious idea: what if Philip Pullman had based His Dark Materials on Keats' poem Hyperion instead of Milton's Paradise Lost? This changes a great many things. No longer is the story one of an Edenic Fall. Instead it becomes a Titanomachian tale, of new gods overthrowing old ones. I decided to make the story be an alternate universe branching off from the original tale at a recognizable point, to keep it within the established mythology.
From there, parallels to scenes in Hyperion were easy to construct. Metatron was an obvious Hyperion, with the Authority as his fallen Saturn. The scenes came together smoothly and easily, and quite enjoyably. Much of the inspiration for where the story would go came from Hyperion. I did not realize that Lord Asriel would combine flesh and spirit until I thought of him as Apollo, taking divinity by force from the mind of Xaphania, his Mnemosyne. I also enjoyed working in a moment of Gawain, in his deal with Iorek. That was a tricky scene to write, as I needed a way to keep Asriel alive, and Iorek and Lee are tough negotiators. Gawain proved quite helpful there.
The one scene I wanted to include but wound up leaving out was the council of the old gods. I tried a few versions of it, none of which quite felt right, and eventually settled on having Mrs. Coulter describe it to the dying Authority, as Thea does to Saturn in the original.
I think the main takeaway from this experience is that Lee Scoresby's dialogue is incredibly fun to write. I must say, I feel I learned quite a bit on a personal level from rewriting both Keats and Pullman, and think my own prose will be greatly improved by the experience. Their words and turns of phrases flowed together elegantly and smoothly, and I hope that someday I can bring that same level of craft to my own stories.