With shaking fingertips, Will pressed together the ripped edges hanging in the sky.
There was an urgency tingling in the rent fabric that divided the worlds, as if the very particles were eager to be reunited.
With a final pinch in the air, Cittagazze disappeared.
He and Lyra were sundered.
* * *
The grief ebbed away so slowly that Will thought he would die of it.
He had promised Lyra he would be strong, would keep living for her, a long, full, happy life. But it was one thing to make a pledge with her warm fingers woven into his own, gripping fiercely, painfully. It was another thing entirely to uphold the promise once he was alone, the bruises quickly fading where her fingertips had pressed into his hands.
It was infuriating that she was just particles away, separated from him by a membrane so strong only the sharpest blade had been able to pierce it – a blade that had been willfully shattered by his own hand. Between them, a million Oxfords nestled together like the skins of an onion.
It was Kirjava’s constant, soothing presence that kept Will grounded. Miserable, yes, but not jumping in front of lorries. The world was dim. He was filled with a crushing ache and an all-consuming rage at a universe that would use them as a sacrifice to reset the balance of the worlds. But his daemon reminded him, relentlessly, her voice silky steel, that they could not waste their life, their one precious life, just because they could not have a life with Lyra and Pan.
He needed Lyra, but he slowly became aware that he needed others. And they needed him.
Mary had no other person to remind her of the wonders they had experienced. She had Astos, her black chough-formed daemon, but even Will had not learned the knack of seeing him. There were times when Mary needed Will to remind her she wasn’t mad. She needed Will to be her friend. And as much as her company constantly reminded him of what he had lost, without Mary, he knew he and his mother would have been adrift. Mary kept them off the radar. She had been a whirlwind when they returned, sorting out the police, settling his mother into an excellent facility, securing Will’s place as her charge and flatmate, pushing him back into school. She was the only person in all his world who really understood him.
Kirjava needed him, because she was him, the best and most beautiful and wisest part of him he had only just discovered. He spent long hours of those early, miserable weeks stroking her fur and talking, feeling the contrary sensations that he had just met her, and had also known her all his life.
Most of all, his mother needed him. Though she was fragile, often like a child, she recognized Will, knew him as her son, and that had made him weep with joy. All that summer and into the autumn, they took walks during his visits. At first, they had just strolled around the manicured grounds of her rehabilitation facility. The walks became longer as her strength returned, even reaching the botanical garden, which made her feel peaceful and cry out with delight when she saw the bright blooms.
During the sunlit times, as he thought of them, when his mother knew him and seemed so herself, he told her his story – a fumbling version of it she could understand, anyway, as if he had been away on a journey in their own world. While he had not been able to tell her all of his tale, she knew he had suffered. Fragile as she was, she understood what it was like to lose your love forever, and could be candid with Will where Mary was sometimes too placating. His mother understood the awful truth that with great love came pain in equal measure.
“Will, my love, it hurts. It will always hurt,” she’d said one afternoon, resting her arm lightly on his back, her fingers warm. “But you will be amazed that life can continue – and astonish you – in the midst of your pain. You’ll find that you can bear it, even thrive. If I had given up, I wouldn’t have known you. And here you are, helping me heal and recover my strength. I will see the other side of this sickness, I’ll get strong, and see you grown, even with the pain I carry.”
His mother’s confidence in him, and her total understanding of his struggle, had changed something in his heart, shifted the way he saw his grief. He wondered who was relying on the other more.
He and Lyra had won the respect of armored bears, traveled through Death, torn away from their daemons, fought alongside angels. He would learn to carry this pain.
One afternoon in October, he and his mother had walked to the botanical garden, Kirjava invisible to her at his feet. They passed the bench, Lyra’s bench, under the spreading tree, now leafless. And Will knew with iron certainty that he would live to sit there in midsummer. He would be okay. Better than okay, because he carried Lyra’s love inside him, a precious glowing coal that did not grow cold.
All that winter, he worked. Being immersed left little time for brooding. He studied his world’s history, equally fascinated and horrified by what humans were capable of. He joined the school debate team and quickly became one of their most nimble thinkers. Despite feeling like an outcast who had seen too much to understand other kids, he made a friend - first one, then a handful who thought him odd, but seemed to like him more for it.
Gradually, he changed. It was like a seed planted deep in the earth pushing at miles of clay. Slow, stubborn, wriggling toward the light it could only sense. It was so slow that Will remained unaware of it for a very long time. And then it had been a week since he’d felt the crushing weight of his sadness, and then a month. He was laughing more – Mary mentioned it. And when he dreamed of Lyra, when they dreamed of them, he woke with a wistful happiness, not the feeling of drowning. It was as if his very atoms were slowly forgetting his fierce need of her, which pained him, but also allowed him to remember her with fondness, not despair.
And then it was summer again. At noon on midsummer’s day, Will was sprawled on the wooden bench of the botanical garden, Kirjava crouched on his chest. That spring, he had felt strong enough to join Mary in her diligent study of the trance that allowed her to see other daemons and glimpse between the worlds.
Despite weeks of waking early to meditate before school, Will was no closer to sinking between the veils of the worlds himself. It was work. Such hard work, but he imagined how proud his father would have been of his effort. Mary gleefully shared what she had glimpsed during her own meditations, encouraging him to try harder.
But Will knew why he was not advancing. Last week, while meditating at the flat, he'd seen a dark shadow fluttering near Mary’s head, which must have been her daemon, Astos. The flicker had opened a dam and a surge of memory had bowled him over. The shadow had disappeared away as he’d crumpled beneath a wave of newfound grief.
He and Kir had been at the garden since early that morning. Before leaving for work, Mary had packed him a cooler of food with a large bottle of lemonade, her only acknowledgement of the important day. It comforted him – he was loved, here. Cared for. Lyra would want that.
Hours early for their improbable appointment, Will had hoped that if they arrived at the bench first, they might notice some change when Lyra and Pan joined them. He stretched out on the bench, nervous, knee jumping, trying to sink into meditation, trying to reach, trying not to try too hard. He felt the trance flee from his need like a rabbit from a fox and pounded the bench in his frustration. Kir purred and kneaded his chest lightly, always his soothing counterpart.
“Maybe we don’t need to know how to use the trance thing,” Kir reasoned. “Maybe we’ll just know. Like feeling a magnetic tug.”
“Maybe,” he said quietly. Her twitching tail-tip betrayed her agitation. “Shh, it’s hard to focus when you fret.” She’d sunk her claws into his chest, ever so lightly, to let him know what she thought about that.
The hot air buzzed with crickets and cicadas. No one was wandering the cedar chip paths. The bushes around them grew so thick that he felt pleasantly isolated from the city. The heat and insect buzz lulled Will and Kirjava into a relaxed, sleepy stupor.
And then it happened. It was sharp and sudden, like the flick of a bird’s shadow passing over his face. A flash of... something . It hadn’t had a temperature or a texture.
There – again.
Kirjava was sitting up, alert, sniffing the air, whiskers trembling.
“They’re here now,” she whispered. Will knew it.
He was afraid to speak or move lest he break the spell. Lyra and Pan were here. He just knew, like he knew his legs ended in his feet.
For a long time Will just sat, tense, aware of her so close through the thin, impenetrable veil of their worlds. He was shaking. He made himself take deep breaths, remembering each part of her, what she felt like, what she smelled like. Her voice was clear in his head. How had she changed? Could she and Pan sense them, too?
“I miss you,” he said in a rush of breath. The words began tumbling out, his voice hoarse after long silence. “It was awful – so awful. I never thought it could hurt so much. But we got through it. We’re okay, Kirjava and Mary and me. My mother, too. She’s getting a little better all the time. I broke the knife, I know you must know I did. And it wasn’t thinking of my mother that broke the blade, it was thinking of you. Oh, Lyra...”
The words faded on his lips and he grew still. Was she talking to him? He sat so still he barely breathed, trying to sense her words, trying to hold her every detail in his mind. Was it hot and sunny in her Oxford, or was she sitting in the rain with damp curls?
“Mary’s teaching me something she learned from the witches. I don’t know – it’s so difficult. A trance, one my father learned, to send his mind to other worlds, though I hope I don’t need to drill my skull…” He paused. “But Lyra, it’s such hard work to sink into the void. I’m afraid, too. I’m afraid that if I see you... “ his voice choked and he felt the tears fall fresh and hot from his eyes.
He did not wipe them away.
“I’m afraid that if I see you, I’ll be lost again. And I’ve worked so hard to be okay – for my mum, and Mary, and Kir. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to see you, but not touch you.” He cleared his throat. “I’m a coward, Lyra. Not a warrior.” And he grew quiet, the sounds of the insects and Kir’s steady purr filling the silence. If Lyra was speaking, he wanted to leave space for her words, even if he couldn’t hear them.
“Mary said it could take a lifetime to learn. It might, Lyra, but even if I’m a coward, I won’t stop trying.”
He talked about his new life, and gradually the tears ceased. He told Lyra about his mum’s returning laugh and Mary’s newfound love of writing, that he was rubbish at calculus, but couldn’t stop reading history.
He thought of Lyra, his fierce, passionate darling, the words bubbling out of her as they always did.
He went still, after a time, his mouth dry and at a loss for anything else to say. His fingertips prickled then, like a wave of static electricity washing over his skin. She would have called it anbaric. And then he and Kir felt a shift, the shadow moving away.
“They’ve gone,” announced Kirjava, her voice a mournful cat’s yowl, and he knew in the pit of his stomach that she was right.
* * *
Twenty years swept by. Will was thirty-five. His mother had died the week before and her empty presence ached raw inside him. She had lived fifteen years in her own cottage, fit of mind and body – all but her heart, which had surprised them so suddenly.
He’d sat vigil at her bedside and told her everything, the whole story, and she had marveled at it. The last day of her life, she had held his hand and smiled while he watched her blearily through his tears.
“My darling,” she’d said weakly, “I’m not afraid of this. You and your Lyra made it safe, made it right. I’ll have such stories to tell the harpies. I may even find my John in the stars. I do hope so.”
Later that week, after the exhausting bustle of the funeral and settling her estate, he found himself back at Mary’s flat in his old room, always ready for him and his family when they were in town, though his children had already returned home with their mother.
That night, he had the Dream.
He’d always had dreams, of course. But they were little dreams, memories of Lyra rubbed smooth by his mind; stressful dreams about exams, about losing his girlfriend Georgina, of missing his wedding. In his dreams he could never properly drive a car, frequently careened off bridges and woke with a gasp. He’d dreamed about his upcoming election, and later, when he’d won, he dreamed of letting them all down. He’d had a father’s fretful dreams when his two sons were away at camp, and later, visiting their mother and her new husband.
This night it was different. He’d stretched out in his childhood bed, too exhausted from the day’s grief to sleep. Insomnia was an old friend. He tried tricking himself into sleep as he often did, by meditating his way toward the void Mary could now slip through so effortlessly. Halfway through his meditation, he fell promptly asleep, Kirjava curled up on the blankets by his head. She dreamed, too.
He was in a sunlit garden watching a woman pouring over a huge book, her back to him, chestnut hair falling in soft curls. A glossy, red-brown pine marten was curled around her shoulders, studying a familiar gold-and-crystal instrument she held in her hands. They spoke together quietly.
She looked up suddenly, right at him, and laughed. He couldn't hear it, but he saw the laughter light up her face. She smiled wistfully and blew him a kiss. Then she turned away as a tiny version of herself with flopping pigtails ran out of the bushes to playfully crash into her arms, a finch darting after to be caught and caressed by the pine marten’s gentle paws. The dream ended as Lyra – his Lyra – bent to kiss her child’s head.
The dream had struck him like a gong.
They’d done it. They’d connected between the worlds. His blood singing, Will had thrown the blankets aside and rushed into Mary’s room to tell her, Kirjava racing after him with her tail puffed like a bottlebrush. Mary awoke at once and her overjoyed grin had crinkled around her eyes, silver hair flying as she launched out of bed – spry and energetic as always – striding into the kitchen to boil water for tea, eager to hear the tale that brought them both closer to the mysteries of the other worlds.
And as Will followed her, shocked and trembling a bit, he suddenly saw Astos circling his head, as clearly as if a blackbird had simply found its way into the flat. His dark eye flashed at Will and his wings brushed Kir’s fur before alighting on Mary’s shoulder and whispering in her ear. Will had flopped into his old chair and buried his head in his hands, laughing with delirious relief. He was nearly forty, but he’d finally done it.
Once his children were grown, Will traveled a great deal for his work, meeting secretly with warring heads of state, forging peace treaties, leaving a trail of freedom workers, schools and clean water systems in his wake.
He was renowned for his skill as an eloquent statesman and peerless peacekeeper. The secret to his success, known only to Kir, Mary and Astos, was that the most important aspect of his negotiations were made invisibly, between Kirjava and the secret daemons only they could see.
There was no end to the work, and sometimes the horrors humanity was capable of threatened to overwhelm him. But Kirjava was there, always there, to help him through.
No matter how far afield he roamed, Will was always very careful to be back in Oxford at the botanical garden for their midsummer’s day ritual. As the years passed, the electric sensations had become more acute. He had made a sizable donation ensuring the garden prospered – the one caveat being that the bench could not be removed.
Today, midsummer's day, at the age of 57, they could tell Lyra and Pan were close. All of the hairs on his arms suddenly stood at attention and Kir's fur puffed, as if a cold arctic wind had blown over them, not the humid Oxford air rumbling into an afternoon thundershower.
It was insane work, part of him told himself, to keep trying to connect with another person in another dimension, one who, like him, had married and had children, had her own work and obligations. But the simple fact that they both kept coming year after year told him it was important work.
Sometimes, the effervescent electricity washed over him when they were thousands of miles away from the garden, installing a well in Azerbaijan, or meditating in a temple in the mountains of Japan. At those moments, Will wondered if they were living parallel lives, doing similar work in their separate worlds. Perhaps he was crazy, but still it comforted him.
He dreamed of Lyra regularly now. The vivid dreams. New visions of Lyra as she aged. The first time they had touched, Will had been so startled he had woken with an anguished cry. But it became easier. Usually they just walked, holding hands, pressing close. He couldn’t hear her voice, but he could read her face. He knew from the ring on her hand that she was married, and though he wanted to, very much, he did not kiss her in their dreams.
When asked, Will told friends and family that he did not re-marry because his work took too much of his time. It would simply be unfair to another person. Kirjava knew better.
Will was eighty-seven when he died, mentally fit and passionate and loved by millions as a radical peace maker. Walls had crumbled under his steady pressure. Schools and farms and strong communities had grown up under his watchful care. Countries that had known decades of violence had been at peace for over half his lifetime. In the end, he decided perhaps he was a warrior, but what he fought to vanquish was the chaos and pain of war itself.
He had spent the day with his grandson on the young man’s humble little sailboat. They had been talking about the 27-year-old’s plans to take up his grandfather’s leadership of TRUE, Will’s organization for international peace and economic sustainability. Papers had been signed and Will had felt a great burden lifted from his shoulders – one he hadn’t realized had been weighing on him.
Back home, Will had settled down in the window seat of the flat he had always kept even after Mary had died. He had been reading one of her stories – she had gone on to write beautiful books, familiar stories of their adventures spun together with visions from her astral travels in the trance state. Will had always appreciated that in her tales, the young lovers remained together to set right in one world, the effects of their work radiating into all of the other worlds through the power of their bond.
He missed his friend and her chough daemon, but it made Will feel peaceful to think of her sitting for ages on the wall of the dead, telling her stories to the harpy, Gracious Wings, then sailing off into the sky as filaments of pure consciousness over the sacred wheel trees of her beloved Mulefa.
The Oxford flat was home. He could have bought an expensive townhouse or a country villa, but he never kept much of the money he earned. It was within walking distance of the botanical garden, which he visited more often in his autumn years. He and Kir felt effervescent tingles on their skin during their frequent strolls along the winding paths, so perhaps Lyra and Pan sought comfort from the garden walks, as well.
Will ran his gnarled, arthritic fingers through Kirjava’s thick, shadowy fur. While he had aged, she was as lithe and youthful as the moment he had first seen her. She purred and he breathed a contented sigh, still feeling the roll and plunge of the boat in his muscles and blood, the way the ocean sticks with you for hours after you’ve returned to land.
It had been a good day. He had made the right choice. He had told his grandson a little of his story in the way he’d learned how, twisting the details so as not to alarm. The young man had listened eagerly, his dark, stern brow so much like his father’s, so much like his grandfather’s when he had been young.
Will could see that his grandson was a warrior, but he did not tell him, as his own dying father had done. His grandson had a right to find out for himself what he would spend his life sacrificing to protect. Will was happy just to spend time with him. He’d never known his own grandfathers, after all.
A sharp stab of pain in his chest quickly brought him back to the present. He gasped for breath and Kir jumped up, her paws on his chest, her velvet nose pressing against his own. The pains had been happening more often, but he hadn’t been concerned. He knew from his excellent doctors that he had inherited his mother’s heart and had gone through the procedure they suggested. He’d been living on borrowed time for nearly a decade.
When the pain passed and he’d caught his breath, Kir settled close. Without a word, they began to practice their descent into the void. Today it was remarkably easy. He slipped down quickly, leaving behind the comfortable, cluttered room and the birdsong and traffic outside the window. The misty darkness around him was lit by countless filaments of Dust. He followed it, aware suddenly that his joints did not ache and Kirjava was not with him. But he could sense her, much farther off, and did not panic. He knew where he was.
The way became lighter, reminding him of sunlight filtering through dense tropical forest. He smelled vegetation and the pleasant scent of decomposing leaves. The mists parted. He was staring at the tumbled mossy wall of the land of the Dead, but it was radically different. Around the wall had bloomed a forest. The wall looked like a mossy ruin nearly consumed by tall bracken and vines. Pale flowers bloomed in the twilight.
Stepping closer, he saw that the stones were etched with words – names, messages, poems in uncountable languages. It squeezed something in his chest and his eyes prickled with emotion. Where once the shades of the dead had passed through this wall nameless and forgetful, in a bleak and barren land, the stones now bore the marks of those who knew themselves, as he realized, of course, that he continued to know himself.
Grinning, Will crouched near the stones without pain and scratched he and Kir’s names onto a granite slab with a bit of flint. As he etched, he noticed that his hands were smooth and strong, the hands of a much younger man.
Will felt waves of effervescence cross his skin. He sensed a rightness, a steady, familiar rhythm he knew he’d always been following, but had not heard until now.
He heard the thunder of giant wings and looked up. Standing in the gap of the tumbled, lichen-covered wall was the harpy, Gracious Wings, who had also changed from a withered, winged crone to a lithe creature with a smooth, ageless face and golden eyes, her wings shimmering like hammered copper.
As Will watched, awestruck at the feral beauty of the harpy transformed by Lyra’s love, the golden feathers of her wings parted and a woman strode toward him, not an old woman, as he had last seen her in their dreams, but the strong woman of perhaps thirty, her eyes fierce and her smile bright as she saw him.
She held her hand out to him, and for a moment Will was paralyzed with fear. What if it had all been in his mind – what if he had been so desperate for their connection that he’d imagined it all? What if she had moved on from their young love, stored it away as a dear, but childish thing, grown over by an entire lifetime?
And then Will felt Kir, a warm glow in his mind. He felt her shyness as she found Pantalaimon, and then her joy as she rolled and tumbled with Pan through tall grass. Her delight shivered through him. And Will’s fear vanished. He ran to Lyra through the wall. He ran, and she ran, crushing him into a fierce embrace that knocked startled cries from their throats. He could smell her, feel her – and it was just the same, as if 70 years had melted away.
Will felt every atom in his body thrill and sing to be reunited with his true, beloved Lyra.
They stood there, gripping one another for an age. Or perhaps it was only a few moments. Time was not reliable here. What he knew was that eventually she pulled back slightly, her arms still tightly wound around his back, and met his eyes. They stared at one another with wonder.
Though she appeared young, like him, he saw in her eyes all the years she had lived – babies she had mothered, pain she had weathered, knowledge she had gained, and work – such difficult work – she had persevered through. Will’s heart felt bruised with pride and tenderness for the life she had lived. He wanted to hear everything.
Lyra wove their fingers together tightly and led him, dazed, through the unfamiliar forest that filled the land of the dead. They had once crossed this place as children, as living beings, and it had terrified them. No more. Gracious Wings crouched on her taloned feet among tall fronds and enormous moon-colored lilies. The harpy turned her golden eyes upon them and waited.
Lyra went first. In her sonorous alto, Lyra told Gracious Wings her story. The beginning was familiar – the half-wild Queen of the Urchins who ran through the tangled streets of Oxford and climbed sure-footed over the roof of Jordan College. How she had hid in a wardrobe and saved her Uncle Asriel from poisoned wine, and the remarkable journey that followed, full of Gyptians and armored bears, terrifying pursuit, witches, crossing dimensions, a beloved aeronaut...
And then there came the day when she and Pan had wandered through Cittagazze and found a fierce, dark-haired boy from another world who, despite having no daemon, had become her dearest companion, the greatest love of her life. She told Gracious Wings that the hardest thing she had ever done was give him back to his world, though she knew she had never truly lost him.
She squeezed his hand, erasing the last dregs of his worry. They had never been completely sundered, just… out of reach.
Will listened, rapt, to the rest of her story, which he had only glimpsed through his dreams. Her years of difficult, painstaking study to reconnect with the Alethiometer she had once read so effortlessly. Though it was never as easy and intuitive as during her childhood, Lyra had become her world’s greatest Alethiometrist, traveling far to deepen her understanding and guide her world’s scholars and leaders. Her wisdom, guided by the knowledge of Dust, defused wars and spared countless lives and senseless destruction.
Where once Dust had been feared, loathed, the hidden study of experimental theologians, Lyra’s work was the spark that set alight the tinder of an explosive age of enlightenment. Scholars of the Physics of Dust studied the trance with religious dedication, their particles of consciousness moving between the worlds, crossing unfathomable distances of space and time and uncovering great universal laws.
Lyra’s work uncovered that the power of travel was amplified in communal meditation. She began to establish a network of Dust Travel epicenters where travelers could converge around the world and join their minds together, mentally traveling farther through space and time than they had as individuals.
Lyra had been a diligent student of Dust Travel, had met the man who would become her husband while founding meditation epicenters in Asia. But with the birth of her children – her daughter Mayvea and son Willhahn (Will caught his breath), Lyra had turned her focus away from inter-dimensional exploration to raise her children and deepen her understanding of the Alethiometer.
Lyra vividly remembered the day she been sitting in her garden, consulting the Alethiometer in trance. She had been working through a theorem concerning inter-dimensional travel and dream-states. She and Pan had been puzzling over the device’s meaning, and had looked up to see the answer before them: the translucent form of a familiar man standing hesitantly in her garden.
Will caught her eyes and said warmly, “I should have known you met me halfway. I never could have gone through without your help.”
“You didn’t have the scholars to teach you properly,” she soothed. “Of course I helped you.”
Lyra’s story unfolded around him, concluding with the peaceful passage of her Dust into the afterlife, surrounded by her grown children and grandchildren, Pantalaimon curled about her throat.
Will sat with shining eyes, knowing it was his turn, but reluctant to begin. When he came to the end, he knew they would walk through the last knife-cut window in all the worlds and follow the dust through the grove of wheel trees and into the sky. His joy was shadowed. Perhaps they would still be themselves in their form as particles of consciousness, still know one another in some way, but he was reluctant to part from this form of Lyra after so short a time.
Lyra seemed to sense his thoughts, and squeezed his hands.
“Gracious Wings,” Lyra said, her voice full of the power of a wise, strong woman. “Will and I, Pan and Kir, we will be staying on in the grove.” This startled Will. But he trusted Lyra to know more about the cycles and laws of Dust.
“As you wish, Lyra Silvertongue,” the harpy said, her deep voice boomed. “You are free to keep these forms as long as you desire.”
“And when we do, what happens then?” Will asked, hating the tremor in his voice.
Gracious Wings smiled at them with such tenderness that Will’s fears evaporated. “When your child self grows into an adult, Will Parry, some parts of you are lost, while some are gained. A core of self is retained as you metamorphose throughout the maturation of your Dust.”
Metamorphosis? So this… wasn’t an ending at all, but another era entirely. As himself.
“Your daemons are waiting for you in the grove, in their familiar forms. When you have had your fill of these bodies, you will simply change them, as a caterpillar sheds its skin. You will be different, and you will still be you.”
“We’ll just… dissolve into golden Dust and drift into the sky?” Will asked, Lyra’s hand gripping his fiercely and giving him a smug little smile that said she knew so much more than he did, but found his ignorance endearing.
“I cannot say exactly what happens next,” Gracious Wings said gently. “My place is here, as the gatekeeper and story collector. It is the next stage of your journey. You will know when it is time.”
“I’m not afraid, Will,” Lyra said softly, close now, so close that her breath was on his lips. “But I want to stay, for a great long time. I want to know you, to live a grown life with you.”
“Yes,” he breathed, and kissed her gently, knowing with a certainty in his heart, in Kir’s heart, that whether they were spirits, or brilliant particles of consciousness, they would never be parted again.