AN: Maybe this isn't a good idea, but I'm going to do it anyway. There should be a sequel to HDM. And if Mr. Pullman isn't going to write it, well then, who's left but little old me? Of course, I can't promise regular updates; I haven't even gotten the story entirely worked out yet. But in the next three or four chapters I know pretty much what's going on, so those shouldn't take terribly long to get written.
This first chapter is only a slightly modified version of my "Knife" fic, except it's not a stand-alone anymore. It's a longish chapter, but the next one's shorter, so deal with it. The format is going to be sort of American Gods-y, with random interlude chapters not directly related to the plot. Also quotes at the beginning of each chapter. When I realized that two quotes I really like were perfect for the first two chapters, I was happy for a very long time. Such a nerd.
I would greatly, greatly appreciate any and all reviews. Tell me what I'm doing right. Tell me what I'm doing wrong. Tell me what you'd like to see. If you're really lucky, I might even listen.
Disclaimer: All characters belong to the wonderful genius talented brilliant Mr. Pullman. Except for Ethan, but he won't be appearing until chapter three at least. All plot points carried over from HDM also belong to Mr. Pullman. I even stole the writing style from him. Or at least, I tried to.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
–T. S. Eliot
John Burns sat behind the counter of the metalworks shop on East Street. The small room was, as usual, empty of patrons; not because it was an unsuccessful business, but because most of the orders were placed specially and sightseers in Southampton were not often interested. But the occasional customer did appear, and so the cash register was kept manned.
A shimmery-sounding bell rang as the door swung open and a boy stepped in. He seemed tense and nervous as he glanced around at the metal figurines, sculptures, and carvings on display, and he hesitated before entering fully. The boy examined several objects near him, and watching him John had the feeling that their craftsmanship was being judged. The boy was of average height, sturdy, dark-haired, about fourteen.
"Were you looking for anything in particular?" asked John.
"No," said the boy awkwardly, looking up. He paused. "Are you one of the Burns'? A—a smith?"
"Yes. John Burns. We call ourselves metalworkers, 'smith' is a bit old-fashioned."
The boy approached the counter and spoke hastily. "My name's Will Parry. I have something that I wondered if you could fix." He pulled up the bottom of his shirt and unbuckled a heavy leather sheath from his belt. John started in surprise as the boy, Will, very carefully poured several dull silvery shards and a wood-and-metal hilt onto the countertop.
"Knife…" murmured John to himself, and he leaned forward to finger the pieces.
"Be careful," said Will quickly, and then added, more reserved: "They're sharp."
John pushed the pieces around carefully into their knife shape. He began speaking softly, scrutinizing the metal. "It's very strange…the edges…but what is this?" He looked up at Will and asked, indicating the subtle silver edge, "What sort of metal is this? I've never seen it before."
"Some kind of alloy I think," said Will.
The man nodded and peered at it again. "Yes, that could be…titanium, I think, and something else…strange design on the hilt…" His fingers traced the yellow wiring. "Is it gold? Yes, remarkable…and burned… This knife has been broken before?"
"Yes," said Will.
"And it was mended then?"
"Very well," said John, straightening. "We should be able to fix it, if it has been done before. But I must warn you, the more times it is re-melded the weaker it will be. You see it has broken again on the same lines as before." His forefinger traced the silver rivers marking the places where the knife had been rejoined the first time. "But I don't understand…how did it break? Knives don't break like this, all these pieces…"
"It broke," said Will evenly.
John raised his eyebrows and studied Will more closely. The boy's jaw jutted resolutely; his dark eyes stared out from beneath very straight, very black brows. He looked fierce and old and strong, and there hung about him an air of savage wistfulness. John was curious now. Who was this boy, who looked so much older than anyone of his age had a right to? Who was this boy, who crackled so with knowledge and power and mystery?
Suddenly the man blinked, and stared again. Strange. How had he thought the boy powerful? This boy was ordinary, commonplace. John dismissed him immediately and cared only about the knife, and how to mend it.
"Well," he said, business-like, "we shall fix it if it can be done. We're at a busy time and you shan't be able to pick it up for three weeks at least. And it won't be cheap. You can pay, I suppose?" He looked sternly at the boy, this child taking up his time.
"You have to fix it now," Will said. "I'm leaving town later today, and I can't come back. And I—I'd like to be there when you do it. I can pay whatever you like."
The man frowned, but his spark of interest flared down almost as soon as it was kindled. "Well," he said again, doubtfully, "we could, I suppose, at highest priority. At significant extra cost, to bypass the order queue, but… Hold on a moment." He stepped through a door behind the counter, and Will could just see him picking up a phone, dialing, and speaking quietly to someone on the other end for a few moments before returning. "Can you come back at three? I can drive you up to the forge, and the process shouldn't take long."
Will nodded. "I'm taking the knife with me now," he said, sliding the pieces carefully back into the sheath, "and I'll bring it back then."
He left the shop, and the shimmering bells followed him out.
Will hadn't known how tense he was until he was halfway down the street, and his shoulders sagged down from where he had held them several centimeters higher than normal. He had no reason to be so anxious, really, how could anyone tell that the knife was anything but what it seemed? But still, in over two years he had shown it to no one, and he didn't even know John Burns, or his family…
It doesn't matter, he told himself, I'm not hiding from anyone anymore. I don't have anything to be afraid of, not from this, not from fixing the knife.
He shuddered involuntarily. When the knife was fixed, if it could indeed be fixed, what then? He was spending most of a two years' savings on that, and still he tread carefully around the edges of afterwards, sniffing and prodding at it like a hyena not quite sure that its prey was dead. It was a foolish thing to do, repairing the knife, and quite possibly dangerous; and he didn't want to think about what it would mean. Or the consequences. He especially didn't want to think about those.
"But it's what you wanted to do all along," said Kirjava abruptly from the pavement, looking up at him with disconcertingly wide eyes. "Even from when you picked up the pieces at the Garden, you were thinking about it…you knew it could be done."
"I didn't know it," he said. "Maybe Iorek was the only one who could do it, and there aren't any armored bears here."
"But you wondered. It's like the angel said. She said if you thought any windows between the worlds were left, you'd spend your life looking. Now you wonder if the knife can be fixed, and you'll spend your whole life trying. We should have thrown it away long ago."
"I know," he said quietly, and they both were silent.
Will returned at three anyway. There was an aspect of academic curiosity to him now: He had to know if it was possible to fix the knife. His stomach was twisted with nerves and his heartbeat thudded so strongly that he almost believed it was banging out of his chest like a cartoon character's. But John Burns was waiting for him just inside the door, and he took care to appear as dull and ordinary as possible. That trick still worked, anyway. He might not be hiding, but he didn't need any awkward questions.
"Ready, then?" said John Burns. "Got your knife? Good. My car's around back, it's about a twenty-minute drive out of town to our where we do the work—at our house actually. Got a little forge, an outbuilding sort of thing, like a garage. Do it all by hand—'individually crafted,' that's our thing, y'see? People want real things, with a personality, like, not this mass-production, factories, everything the same." He was leading Will towards the rear of the shop, where a small back door led out into an alleyway connecting to the main road. "We've got all the machines and things, of course, furnaces and the like, can't be too archaic or the business'd fall apart…" He chattered on as they got in the car and began driving, and Will got the impression that this was a speech most customers heard.
"But we've never had anyone want to come and watch," John Burns went on. "Fond of the knife, are you?"
"Yes," said Will, and went on impulsively: "It was a present, from my father, before he died."
"Ah." And the man fell silent, as Will had known he would. People didn't like to be reminded of reality. It wasn't a bad thing. It was just how people were.
Kirjava stared at him accusingly from where she was crouched on the edge of his seat. You're people too.
The Burns' home was large without having a mansion's foreboding air, but Will noticed little else about it as he left the car. His heart was beating strangely, in short pauses and rushes, and it was difficult for him to breathe properly. His hands were sweaty in the late summer air, he felt lightheaded, and everything seemed much brighter than usual. It reminded him vividly of being on the verge of fainting.
His dæmon butted her head against the back of his knees, and he understood: This is a stupid thing we're doing but we've got to finish it now, so keep together, concentrate, it will only work if you concentrate… And he knew she was right, and he steadied himself against the side of the car and looked down and remembered how to breathe.
"Are you all right?" asked John suddenly. He had come around the side of the car and stopped, staring at the boy with the suddenly drawn, pale face.
"Yes," said Will, pushing himself upright. He offered no further explanation. John dismissed the episode completely and said, "Our forge is over there, just beyond the house. Mark and Elijah—that's my brothers—they're here, they'll be the ones doing the work with me. Not that it should take three of us, or even two, I shouldn't think…"
Will nodded but said nothing, and they walked to the long, whitewashed building that looked more like a miniature barn than any sort of forge.
But a forge it certainly was, he saw as they walked inside and felt the dramatically warmer air. A memory struck him suddenly, a memory of thinking that only the best tools possible could fix the knife: These were the tools he would have pictured had he known what kinds of things to think of. The room was dominated by a large, squat furnace, roaring hot and with a door in its side. Clustered around were other pieces of equipment whose purposes he couldn't guess at but which all looked immensely impressive.
Two men, both wearing face masks and thick leather aprons and gloves, came towards them. Will couldn't see their faces clearly, but he knew they must be Mark and Elijah Burns. They nodded to him, introduced themselves, and handed John his own set of apron, gloves, and mask. Before putting them on, John turned to Will and said, "Can you get the knife out? We'll need to take another look at it before beginning. There's a place over there," he added, nodding towards the wall where a long, scarred wooden block rested at chest height. Will walked over and the three men followed.
For the second time that day, he found himself removing the sheath and carefully placing the knife shards on a counter for strangers to see. It felt very odd, and odder still when he found himself off to one side while the men examined the knife. It was almost enough to send him into a panic of nerves again, but Kirjava leaned against his legs and he wondered, not for the first time, how he had ever lived without a dæmon.
The men were conferring in low voices: "It's very strong." "We shall have to heat the furnace considerably more." "Yes, and a vacuum…" "What's this metal, here?" "An alloy…titanium I think, but it is strange, isn't it?" "Titanium, yes, and, mmm…" "How did it break like this?" "Where did it come from?"
This was the question Will had been dreading. Could they have some way of telling it was from another world? They knew metals, and they didn't seem able to identify the second element in the alloy. But he was being ridiculous. The elements were the same here as in the Cittágazze world and Lyra's world, weren't they?
"It was a present," he said as they all turned to gaze at him for an answer. "From my father. I don't know where he got it from." He concentrated hard, harder than he ever had, on being so unremarkable that their minds simply passed over him. But further questions were deflected by an exclamation from John.
"Ah! It's manganese, I'm sure of it," he said, and Mark and Elijah left off looking at Will to return to the knife.
"I think you're right," said Elijah. "Manganese and titanium, what an unusual combination. But it seems to have gone well, doesn't it…"
Will suddenly felt sick and dizzy. He hadn't thought of this. There were so many things he hadn't thought of, and he was only now realizing that in avoiding thinking about the consequences of repairing the knife, he had unwittingly overlooked the consequences he wasn't already aware of. What if these men reproduced the titanium alloy, which had, so far as he knew, never been formed in his world? They could create things to sunder the fabric of the universe, create another subtle knife even. His world would become like Cittágazze, Specter-ridden, creating nothing, stealing everything. And Dust would leak out again, and he would have left Lyra for nothing.
"It doesn't really do anything," he put in carelessly, "that edge. It doesn't cut things, or anything. I think it was a sort of joke."
"Yes…" said Mark, "that's probably right. Their properties don't mesh, in any case, and I can't imagine how they were ever combined successfully. And then if they don't even do anything useful…it's just a waste of time and material." He shrugged, and John and Elijah nodded.
Will relaxed slightly, but he didn't put the incident out of his mind. He could feel Kirjava's reproachful look, and he knew he deserved it: This whole thing had been a mistake, and he would have to be far more careful and think about things no matter how he wanted to avoid them.
John, Mark, and Elijah had finished their examination of the knife and decided how best to go about its repair. John put on his apron and gloves, and said to Will, "You'll have to stand well back. It will be hot." He pulled the face mask on, gathered the knife pieces carefully, and conveyed them to the surface of a metal block near the furnace. Mark and Elijah were behind the furnace somewhere, and Will could feel the temperature of the room increasing. He licked his lips against the heat, and moved forward as close as he could manage. He could see the knife, and feel it within him, and that was what mattered.
And John, taking up a pair of tongs, put the first pieces through the door into the white-hot heat.
It had all started idly enough, the searching for someone to repair the knife. He had not meant to go anywhere with it. He had not meant, for example, to actually seek out the people. And yet he had. He had noticed, somewhere, an obscure mention of a family of professional metalcrafters, and he had found out more. They were not widely advertized; he had gotten the impression that they catered mostly to rich people in America. And there had come a day in mid August, before school began, when Mary was at a conference in London and had taken his mother with her. And he had gotten on a bus to Southampton. And he had come with the knife in its sheath at his belt.
Now he had done it all again, the joining of the pieces. And it had been hard, harder than before. But he had done it, and he held the knife. It was dull and only about six inches long, but he knew it was just the same. Tired though he was, every nerve in his body trembled with the feeling of holding it again, and the raised gold fit his grip perfectly.
John had driven him back to East Street from the forge, and now Will stammered out a thanks and left the car. Where? Where should he go now, to cut a window? He cast around him, but the street was full of people coming in and out of the shops. But there were parks here, extensive ones, and certainly he could find a secluded area…
"What about thinking things through?" said Kirjava softly.
"I've thought about it," he replied, his breathing ragged and reckless. "And I've decided. I decided a long time ago, I think."
Kirjava said nothing, and Will could feel her confliction. She wanted another window, of course she did, but…
Will ignored her and concentrated on walking, walking down the street and to the left, and down more streets until he came to the parks, the large, beautiful parks of Southampton. He couldn't remember how long it took him to get there. All he could remember was starting to walk, and then arriving instantaneously. Time was behaving strangely for him now, and before he could take in any of the park at all he was walking through it, and he arrived at a wide, slow-moving river at the edge of the city.
It was perfect, of course. There were no people, and the river was surrounded with trees to make a sort of green tunnel with sunlight illuminating the center of the water like it was a path to heaven. Will stood among the trees on the riverbank, in a small patch of green-gold grass, and a narrow trail led back the way he had come.
His heart was thudding painfully fast and hard, and his hand shook so violently he could barely keep hold of the knife. He breathed deeply to calm himself, and thought about Lyra. In her world he would come out something like forty miles from Oxford; he could only hope she was still living there. But he could find Jordan College, and at the very least someone there would know where she had gone.
He had left a note for his mother and Mary, saying only that he would be back. Even while writing the words he had felt uneasy, because he didn't know if they were true.
"When you find Lyra, what then?" asked Kirjava, knowing what he was thinking. "Will you stay there with her, ten years and then die?"
"I wouldn't have to stay," he whispered. "I could just see her and then come back."
Kirjava laughed softly. "Do you really think we could do that again? Leave when we had just found them?"
Will shook his head miserably. Of course they couldn't. "I could leave a window open, and come back through sometimes. The window for the dead, that's open, just one more window couldn't let too much Dust out."
Kirjava knew this wasn't true and knew also that he knew it himself, so she said nothing.
"Or I could…the angel said she was going to get rid of the Specters, and if I just kept making windows quickly whenever I needed to, it wouldn't matter, she could get rid of the Specters I'd create," he said desperately.
But Kirjava was shaking her head. "Do you think she'd clean up after you like that? She wouldn't. It was a bargain, remember, and if she knew you were using the knife she'd close the window from the world of the dead, and everyone would be stuck down there forever."
Will was grasping at straws now, and he said without thinking, "If dæmons can only live in their own world, you could—" And he stopped.
She looked up at him sadly. "Would you leave me, Will? Would you have me stay here lonely forever while you lived happily with Lyra?"
He gasped at the thought and at the pain on her small, feline face. He knelt quickly on the grass and scooped her up in his left arm and held her close to his chest. "I couldn't be happy without you, not ever," he said, muffled, into her fur. And Kirjava knew it was true.
Without Lyra he wasn't unhappy, not exactly. In some ways he was the happiest he'd ever been. He had Mary, a good friend and someone to care for him; his mother was better, getting better, was nearly well; finally he could live and let someone else worry. But he knew there was something missing, and he knew what it was. It haunted him, lurked on the edges of his mind, made him cry in his sleep. He could lead a normal enough life, but there was a constant ache in the back of his heart that would never quite let him rest. Like a rock stuck in his shoe. It wasn't debilitating and it didn't impede his movement and occasionally he could forget it was there, but it was always nagging at him and rubbing raw places.
There were dozens of reasons not to cut another window, and there was only one to support it. But that reason meant more to him than all the rest combined.
He gently put Kirjava down and stood up. The knife was steady now in his hand; he extended it into the air and his mind ran swiftly down the handle and toward the tip of the blade, faster than he remembered. Almost immediately, he felt the stitch in the air that he recognized as Lyra's world.
It was almost as if the knife wanted to be used. And he remembered, reluctantly: Sometimes in doing what you intend, you also do what the knife intends…
And he hesitated.
Memories flashed through his head so quickly he barely had time to recognize them: Lyra, offering him the red fruit in their gold-and-silver grove. Lyra, lying beside him on the beach. Kirjava, his newly discovered dæmon, telling him what the subtle knife did. Xaphania, commanding him to break the knife. Lyra, again, that final glimpse of her tear-stained face as he closed the last window.
It didn't have to be the last window. He had the knife, he was poised to use it, what was stopping him?
But Lyra. Lyra…
Then suddenly, abruptly, everything came together. He wouldn't cut through. He would keep the knife. He would go back home and pretend he'd never left. He would have the knife and he could still use it if he decided that he should. And otherwise, he could break it again. And this time he would throw away the pieces.
He slid the knife into its sheath, picked up Kirjava, and strode from the riverbank.