Author's Note: Aha! I'm alive! Seriously, I apologise for the long wait. Believe me, I know what you are going through. I hope this chapter is to your liking, and that it lives up to your expectations.
To be honest, I had forgotten how much I liked this story. It's wonderful to be able to write something with a working and (best of all) working plot!
I also edited Chapter 5 and added a new quote at the top, since I liked it better then the old one and thought it better reflected what I wanted make of Tirfing. Still Beowulf, though.
Disclaimer: I have no idea who wrote "The Waterford Boys", but is sure wasn't me.
Chapter VII: Within the House
"I walk the maze of moments
but everywhere I turn to
begins a new beginning
but never finds a finish
I walk to the horizon
and there I find another
it all seems so surprising
and then I find that I know
You go there you're gone forever
I go there I'll lose my way
If we stay here we're not together
- Enya, " Anywhere is"
"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea?" Lyra said.
After entering The House, Lyra had made an unsettling discovery. The term "House of a Thousand Doors" seemed to be short for "House of a Thousand Thousand Thousand Doors". She had never been in such a breathtakingly huge place in her life. Atleast while still being indoors, if that term was even applicable in this case.
The actual House was made up of allot of enormous corridors. Emphasis on "enormous". Lyra had seen cathedrals that were less spatial. The gigantic arches and pillars made her feel like one of the Gallvespians, the small people who had flown on dragonflies and served as spies for Lord Asriel, her now lost father. At first she had thought the structure, if one could even call it that, to be made up of some sort of polished grey rock, dark and smooth like steel. After examining the walls and pillars more closely, though, she had decided that it seemed more like smoky glass. The dark tone actually came from the other side of the walls. Though she couldn't see through, she knew in her heart what it was; an endless, bottomless abyss, just like the one she had seen on the way out of the land of death. A cold and never-ending emptiness. She shuddered when she though of it.
As for the doors, there were plenty of them. Both walls had an infinite line of portals, twice as high as she was tall and black as polished onyx. Each of them had a strange, complex symbol carved into it, not one of them exactly the same, but that was all. No handles, no hinges, no keyholes. As far a Lyra could tell, there wasn't any way of opening them. So Lyra and Pantalaimon had simply begun walking down the corridors, hoping that something would turn up.
"I don't like this," Lyra continued.
"This is what you wanted, wasn't it?" Pan asked. "Don't worry! We'll be alright. We have enough food, and sooner or later we're bound to find a way out of this. We have been in worse situations before, you know." Even though the dæmon put up a brave face, Lyra could tell he wasn't so confident as he wanted her to believe.
"It's not that," she said. "This place gives me the creeps. Can't you hear the echoes?"
"No," the marten said. "What echoes?"
"Exactly," Lyra said. "There are non. In a place this big there should be allot of echoes, but there aren't. It's like every sound we make is… dampened, somehow. Muffled."
"Yes, now that you mention it…" Pan began.
"And another thing," Lyra said. "How long have we been walking now?"
"I don't know," Pan responded. "I haven't thought of it."
"My wristwatch stopped the minute we stepped into this place," Lyra said. "And even if I try really hard, I can't seem to keep track of the time. We could have been going on for only a half an hour or the whole day."
Pantalaimon didn't answer this time, but he could see why Lyra was worried. If he was to be honest to himself, he started feeling the same way.
The corridors didn't all go straight forward. Some of them bent, went upwards or downhills, connected in crossings or turned into huge staircases for no apparent reason. Here and there they came upon giant plazas, decorated with statues made out of the same smoky glass as everything else in the House. They saw creatures that looked like crosses between roosters and cats, creatures with snake tails and antlers of a deer and other strange beings they had never dreamt of.
Finally, Lyra thankfully sat down on a uncomfortable bench in one of the plazas. Even though she wasn't cold, she wrapped Serafina's cloak around her. "I'm beat!" she said. "Pan, this isn't heading anywhere. Even if we could open the doors there are millions of them. We could search for centuries without finding Will's world."
"Didn't Renska say anything about a guide?" Pan asked.
"I think so," Lyra said and pondered. "Weren't we supposed to find him or her in here?"
"Something like that," Pan said. "She did seem a little hazy at the time and she never got around to explaining what she meant."
"Well, I don't see any guide around here," Lyra said. "As a matter of fact, I don't see anyone around here. It's like this place is… dead."
There, she had said it. That was what had been troubling her about the House. It seemed to be completely lifeless. She remembered what Dora had said about the House, about how her mother had entered never to come back. She shuddered.
"Maybe we…" she began, but grew silent. She could hear something. It sounded as a voice, and it was singing.
"For fun and diversion we have met together,
I tell you from Waterford hither we came,
We crossed the big ocean in dark, stormy weather,
Our pockets were light and our hearts were the same…"
It sounded like a man's voice. Lyra listened and tried to determine from where the singer was coming from, but the strange acoustics of the House played tricks on her hearing and made it quite difficult to tell. He seemed to be getting closer, though.
"… Sad at leaving our island we're once more on dry land,
by the roadside a tavern I chanced for to spy,
And as I was melting my pockets I felt in,
For the price of a drink I was mortally dry!"
The voice came closer and suddenly a second, somewhat darker voice joined if for the refrain:
"Fo-ooor we are the boys of such fun and such eloquence,
Drinking and dancing and all other joys!
For ructions, destructions, diversions an' devilment,
Who's to compare with the Waterford Boys?"
Finally, the two singers appeared from behind a corner. When they noticed her they stopped their singing and observed her closely.
The first of them, the man she had heard singing first, was of average height and rather thin. He was dressed in sturdy boots made out of crocodile skin, black trousers and a old, torn pilot's jacket. His face was thin and gave the impression of a weasel. A grey bandanna kept his unwiry hair out of his eyes, hair that had an unusually deep red colour, almost like blood. The small goatee on his chin had the same colour and his eyes were emerald-green. From his belt a revolver hung in a holster on his right hip, and on his left he carried an old cavalry saber.
The other man was almost the opposite. He stood almost a whole head taller then his companion and was built like a professional body-builder. He wore a brown leather coat with fringes, dark pants and boots matching the coat. His face was all other then weaselish, with a strong chin decorated with a sparse, blond beard. His hair was cut short and his blue eyes were strangely friendly for someone giving such a powerful impression. He carried a backpack and a Winchester rifle on his on his back. The hilts of what Lyra presumed to be either short swords or long knives also stuck out from underneath the backpack.
What really caught Lyra's attention, however, was the fact that both of them had dæmons. A large fox followed close behind the thin man, and a sparrowhawk rested on the larger man's shoulder.
The thin man with the goatee spoke. "Well, what have we here?"
"Looks like a girl," the body-builder said.
"All alone in the House?" Thin Goatee said. "Do I detect a story to be heard?"
"I believe you do," Body-Builder replied and smiled.
"Who… who are you?" Lyra asked. She really didn't like the look on them, especially not the thin man. He had a way of talking that lead ones mind towards velvet, shadows and the sharpening of knives.
"Oh! Excuse my rudeness, young lady!" he exclaimed and bowed deeply. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Saran, and this is my trusted dæmon Thiazi. My mighty companion here goes by the name of Slock, and his dæmon is called Disiian. Who might you be?"
"Lyra," Lyra said. "Lyra Belaqua Silvertongue. This is Pantalaimon."
"An honour," Slock said as he and Saran took a seat on the bench next to hers. They kept a respectful distance, but Lyra still kept her hand on the bone-dagger underneath the cape. It made her feel a bit safer, at least. "And what does a girl like you do in a place like this?"
"I'm looking for another world," Lyra said.
"Aren't we all," Saran smiled. "Is this your first time in the House?"
"Yes," Lyra said after a moment of hesitation. She didn't want to give away too much information to these strangers.
"I can tell, you know?" Saran said. "Slock and I have been here a while now. You develop a certain knack for telling people's character, especially in our profession."
"Your profession?" Lyra asked. "What is that?"
"Professional soldiers of fortune, at your service," Saran said and dazzled another smile, making him look very much like his fox-dæmon. "Sometimes we do other jobs, though. Gladiator-business or bounty hunting, for example. But most the time we're just two honest mercenaries."
"I see," Lyra said, carefully judging her words. "And you have been doing this for a long time, you say?"
"Oh, yes," Slock said. "Ever since we fell into this place."
"Yeah," Saran said. "One of the three only ways to get into the House of Doors. Either you are born with the gift to open Doors, or you are using some serious magic or technology, or you simply had the bad luck to fall through the small cracks in reality and end up here. It's rare, once in a billion or so, but it happens. Take us two for example. One day we were out hunting food for our tribe. Wham! Next thing we knew, we're here! We thought we had died and come to the afterlife! Almost starved to death before a bunch of bohemian-revolutionary mages showed up and helped us out."
"I see," Lyra said. She was beginning to see the pattern now. Saran was obviously the talker of the duo, while Slock kept quiet and studied his surroundings. She had often seen the same tactic used by two of her old teachers at St. Sophia. "And how long ago was that?"
"Oh, about 1100 years, I'd say," Saran said.
"One thousand one hundred?" Lyra almost shouted. "Are you really that old?"
"No, not really," Slock said. "It's hard to explain, but apparently time doesn't function in the House, and add to that that time goes at different speeds depending on which world you are visiting. The result is that someone's "age" is always relative in a place such as this."
"Or to put it short; time flies when you're having fun," Saran said.
"And you haven't returned to your own world in all this time?" Lyra asked doubtfully.
"We gave it a try about fifty standard years ago," Saran said. "For old times sake, you know? But there wasn't much left. Nuclear holocaust, you see. Cold as hell, radiation everywhere, no food and these ugly mutant-people who wanted to eat you wandering around."
"How awful!" Lyra said.
"Well, it didn't feel like home to us anyway, and there's always another world to go to," Slock shrugged.
"And the funny thing is, this place is growing all the time!" Saran said. "There is a whole bunch of old geezers in the outskirts trying to map the movements of the doors. Once every three hundred years there are some thousand doors suddenly disappearing without a trace. Then, fifty years later, a thousand new ones show up. Most of them are stable, though." He leaned forward. "But enough talking about us. Let's talk about you. Did you fall in here as well or did you use some other method?"
"A girl opened a Door for me," Lyra said. "She wouldn't go with me, though."
"So you don't have the gift, nor are you a magician or scientist?" Slock asked. "Poor girl, you don't really know what you are doing here, are you?"
"Someone said that I had to find a guide of some sort," Lyra said. "I don't suppose the two of you can show me where I should go?"
"Sorry," Saran said dryly. "But we aren't any bloody tourist-agency. We kill things for money, plain and simple."
"Oh, but Saran," Slock said, smiling wryly. "Can't we make an exception? After all, they won't survive for long all alone here."
"No way, Slock!" Saran said. "And even if we did, there is no way she'll be able to pay our fee. And we are not doing this for free!"
"Come on, Saran, where is your good will?" Slock coaxed.
"I don't know, but I have a feeling it is making hell allot more money then we are right now," his partner replied sharply, but then he sighed. "Oh, what the heck. We'll help her."
"Thank you," Lyra said and smiled, though mostly to Slock. He seemed like a nice person, even though his partner still gave her the creeps.
"But I am expecting some sort of payment," Saran said grumpily.
"Well, I am afraid I don't have much money right now," Lyra said. She doubted she would be able to pay them even with the little she had back in her own world, but she was pretty much desperate at this point.
"Oh, we might be able to work out another sort of agreement," Saran said and grinned as he placed his hand on hers. "After all, it gets so lonely in this place."
He's not thinking… Oh, dear God!Lyra quickly pulled her hand out of his. She wasn't that desperate, after all.
"Stop it, Saran. You're scaring her," Slock said, suddenly looking serious. "We agreed to charge currency only, remember?"
"Sorry, just a little joke," Saran said and gave Lyra a friendly nod. "Don't worry, little one, you're too young for my taste anyway."
Lyra was just about to express her disapproval of such "jokes" when Slock continued; "We usually prefer precious metals, such as silver, gold and platinum, since they are usually rare and valued in most worlds."
"I don't suppose you have allot of gold back home?" Saran asked with a dull voice, as if he had already given up on the matter completely.
Subconsciously, Lyra put her hand over the velvet bag containing her altheiomether. Saran's eyes snapped toward her and all his dullness was gone. He casually leaned forward, his fluent movements only barely concealing an almost explosive excitement.
He's not a fox or a weasel at all,Lyra thought. He's a viper snake!
"What have you got there?" he asked gently. "Come on, show us."
Lyra felt very uncomfortable, but Slock gave her a reassuring nod. "Go on. We are many things, but not thieves and robbers."
Slowly, Lyra opened the bag and pulled the Altheiomether out.
Saran's hand became a blur and suddenly he was holding the truthteller. Lyra stared at her empty hand. The movement had been to quick for her to see.
"Hey, give it back!" she cried.
Saran ignored her, closely studying the gleaming object. "Ah, an altheiomether, no? Long time since I saw one. This is worth allot to the right people."
"Please," Lyra said. "It's very dear to me!"
"Saran, where are your manners?" Slock asked. "Give it back to her."
"Ah, but if this trinket is worth so much to her, it would make a perfect pledge until she can pay for our services," Saran said, still playing with the Altheiomether. "So what say I hold on to it until our mission is completed? As a token of our mutual co-operation, if nothing else?"
"But…" Lyra began.
"It does sound like a good compromise," Slock said and scratched his beard. "Saran tends to be rather untrusting, I'm afraid, and a guarantee of this kind would help keep his nerves calm."
"I can be very unpleasant when I am nervous," Saran added.
Lyra's inner was torn by warring emotions. These people, however untrustworthy and dangerous they seemed, might be her only chance to navigate through the House. Her only chance of finding Will. But her altheiomether was her most treasured possession. The mere thought of being separated from it was painful.
"But, if I am to be realistic about it, it's pretty much useless to me now, since I can't read it,"she admitted to herself. But what if they would not give it back? What if she was unable to pay them after they found Will?
"Well?" Saran asked. "Either let me keep it for a while and we can get on with business, or you get it back and we'll be on our separate ways. Your choice, kid."
Lyra nodded. Even if it frightened her to admit it, she probably wouldn't survive without their help. "V-very well, we have a deal."
"Excellent!" Saran exclaimed and let the golden compass slip into one of the inner pockets of his jacket. "Let's get going then. We have work in front of us!"
"Work?" Lyra said.
"Yes," Slock said. "There is a civil war going on in a nearby world. Saran and I were just heading there to offer our services."
"Hey! I thought you were working for me now!"
"We are," Saran said. "But we are only contracted to show you the way and considering you have yet to tell us where you want to go, this world is a start as good as any. No point in ignoring the opportunities that comes along, after all."
"This is very unprofessional," Lyra said and frowned as Saran positioned himself in front of one of the doors.
"Oh, don't complain so much," he said. "You're lucky we take you along at all. Embrace the adventure, kid."
He reached out and touched the ornamented door. The symbol immediately dispersed as rings formed on the black surface, as it was made from an oil-like liquid rather then solid matter. A moment later it turned into the same shadowy doorway as the one Dora had created back in Lyra's world. Dark shapes swirled within.
Saran flashed her another toothy grin. "You coming?" he asked before diving into the darkness, closely followed by Slock.
Lyra glared at the Door for a moment, and then tightened her fists with a determined expression.
"Pan," she said as she stepped forward. "I think I really hate that man."
Well, that's wrap! Care to take a guess exactly which world they are going to? That's right, things are starting to get fun! Now I just have to add the other main-characters (Iofur! Can't have a HDM-fic without Iofur! Mwahaha!) and let things have it's natural course! My muses rock!
Reading through my old synopsis, I concluded that some changes must be made to the plot, but it's nothing big. However, I can't really say when the next chapter will be up. It may take a while, though. Please, be patient, and thanks for the support!