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On the Wing

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The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter — and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.
-Omar Khayyam

When she is still, when she watches the Dust ebb and flow and fly between the worlds, Xaphania worries.

She has experienced many things since the beginning of her existence, but never this. She has known worry before, of course; she has known it and mastered it, the way all angels master their natures. But in the past, her worry was active; she had been able to channel it into glorifying the Authority, or fighting him when the time came. This... this is different. Idle worry is new to her. It is strange.

The war is over, for the near future. All those involved have returned to their own worlds, or to the world of the dead. There is nothing that needs to be done except for closing the gates between the worlds.

Xaphania flies to the nearest such opening -- one in the air, high above the tallest of mountains. The clouds pass through it like a breeze through a badly-constructed wall. Although the chill does not harm her, she feels it whip through her. And carefully, carefully, she touches the edge of the window, makes it smaller and smaller until she senses it disappear into the tiniest atom and float away.

She looks down at the world below and sees large bear tracks in the ice.

As an angel -- and especially as such a powerful one -- she can know the future as clearly as she can see the present. It is more difficult and less reliable, however: futures change as often as new worlds are created, and unlike the future, the past cannot be changed. She can know what is most probable, and can aid in making alternate futures happen, but she can never know anything with full certainty until it has already happened.

The bear-prints bring back her sense of worry, though, so she thinks about the ice bears of Lyra's world.

Iorek Byrnison and his bears have already returned to Svalbard; it is summer there, and they are hunting the fish and seals that are returning to the area as well. The bears will spend the summer as normally as possible given the disruption they have suffered, and when the snow returns to Svalbard they will celebrate.

Within a short time, the Magisterium will attempt to interfere again, and Iorek will roundly deny them. But despite the blow they have so recently suffered, the Magisterium will not take kindly to the king's refusal. They will continue making demands, and the bear-king will continue denying them, until a skirmish breaks out and the bears begin using force to drive away all human comers.

Xaphania cannot see who will win that battle, as battles have far too many tiny variables to reliably predict. Knowing what she does about both sides, she thinks the bears have sufficient firepower to keep humans away for a very long time. But the Magisterium has the technology of its whole world at its disposal, and that opens up too many possibilities to anticipate.

She will have to confer with her fellows; there may be need for them to intervene in the future. In the meantime, she keeps following the trail of Dust that leads to open windows.

The next window becomes apparent within a forest of cloud-pine, far to the northwest of the one Xaphania has just closed.

As Xaphania begins to close the window, she senses that she is being watched. She casts her awareness farther out, away from the window, and notices a lone witch in the air, from one of the clans that had not fought for Lord Asriel until very late indeed.

The witch stares at the angel. The angel stares at the witch. Neither of them moves any closer to the other. After a few moments, the witch nods and turns away.

Xaphania focuses on the window's edges again, but her attention is divided. She is thinking of the witches now, and of their future.

The alliance between all the witch-clans will not last forever. They will try to preserve it -- Serafina Pekkala and Ruta Skadi and a pair of clan queens from Belomor will argue fiercely on its behalf -- but some of the clans will set out on their own, either to pursue the Magisterium directly or to hide from it.

Serafina Pekkala herself will, through careful maneuvering, manage to preserve many of the alliances. The witches will be more powerful than before, even without unity, and Xaphania knows that under the joint rule of these queens, this particular union will stand for quite some time.

They too will be forced to move against the Magisterium; Xaphania can see that plainly enough. In Serafina Pekkala's case, it is not a matter of retribution, but of survival.

The Magisterium will grow desperate over the years. Their loss in Asriel's world seems small to them now, but as time passes they will find themselves losing more and more of their grip on the world. Eventually, they will need someone to blame, someone they can move against to demonstrate their power. And, unless something changes, they will choose the witches to be this enemy.

It will begin slowly: they will build railroads that cut slightly into witch territory. They will create factories and drill for oil and silently funnel money to the witches' more local enemies. But they will not drive the witches out of their ancestral homes without a fight. If events play out as Xaphania anticipates, the witches will all join together once again, with the gyptians as allies.

The outcomes of battles are always nearly impossible to predict -- so many variables, so many tiny events that make huge differences -- but she suspects the witches will win. She hopes they will. As with the bears, no large force is ever truly a match for a group of individuals who are willing to give up everything to preserve their way of life.

Xaphania closes the window and resolves to pay attention to this world's witches in the future. If she can provide any aid that the witches will take, she will, and the same holds true for many of her compatriots.

She focuses on the Magisterium itself while searching for the next window. She thinks of how it is slowly bleeding, losing its strength now that it has lost its heart. Each group will grow increasingly desperate to hold on to whatever it has left, and Xaphania senses that the fighting among the Magisterium's component groups will weaken it even further. If events continue to unfold the way they are, this world's greatest power has perhaps five hundred years of life left in it. And still, the fight will go on, as it always has done.

Even now, there is the Master of Jordan College. He will not live to see the fall of the Magisterium. No human in this world will. But he believes every word Lyra told him about her journey, and will act accordingly, as will the people he entrusts with this knowledge.

And Lyra herself -- once an instrument of change over all the universes at once -- Lyra will continue the fight. The angels have no more need of her as a tool. She will do great things, and all the worlds will benefit from them, but her debt is already paid. Xaphania has no more need to worry about a young woman so capable of taking care of herself.

Xaphania can see possible futures all around her, all changing with the slightest wind, but some futures are clearer than others. The angels will have to meet, and soon, so they can decide how to help ensure the Republic of Heaven asserts itself in this particular universe.

And for now, there is another window to close.