"Arthur Elwyn. We come to ask you questions about your brother's expedition to the North Pole."
"My brother? You must have mistaken me for someone else, I don't have a brother."
"John Elwyn doesn't sound familiar to you?"
"No, I'm sorry."
"Mr. Elwyn, it would do you good not lying."
"Come in? Now, John Elwyn you said?"
"The expeditionary that travelled to the North Pole to investigate the magne—"
"The magnetic field, yes. I am familiar with that."
"Well we want to hear all you know.”
"I'm sorry, gentlemen, but John was the expert. I wouldn't be able to explain even if I tried. I'm a college drop-out."
"Quit being funny."
"I'm being honest."
"We know John Elwyn wrote to you regularly and that he spoke about the expedition on his letters.”
"Those letters.. yeah. I think I lost them. I move around a lot, you see, and John sent those letters before I dropped out of Oxford. That was years ago."
"Where are the letters?"
"I told you I don't have them."
"The truth, Mr. Elwyn."
"What reason would I have to lie to you?"
“We shouldn't kill him, they’d want him alive. He knows something."
"And dead men don't talk.”
"Then I suggest you start talking now. I can still shoot you somewhere that wouldn't kill you."
"My brother was a lunatic. He joined an archaeological expedition to the North Pole to look for a mythical legend, something in the likes of the Abominable Snowman or the Loch Ness monster. He believed the magnetic field had something to do with it."
"And that's it, that's all I know."
"Is that all you know, Mr. Elwyn?"
"No more, no less."
"Forgive me if I don't believe you, Mr. Elwyn. We're gonna have to resort to violent measures."
"Torture? That's below you, my good man."
"I won't do the torturing. You are coming with us and the boss will decide how to get the full information out of you."
"Now, Mr. Elwyn, college drop-out or not, you're a clever man. Put the gun down."
"I will when you do, or when you leave my flat and close the door behind you."
"You can't shoot both of us, Mr. Elwyn. It's either me or Johannes, and the other will just shoot in retaliation."
"Johannes? Interesting name. And you? We should've done formal presentations when I opened the door. You already knew my name, of course, but how impolite is it that I don't know yours."
"See? Much better. Well Frank and Johannes, it's been my pleasure… Ah, Frank, I wouldn't come any closer."
"I'm done humouring you, Mr. Elwyn. If I have to shoot your knees and drag you out then so be it. I didn't want to do this that hard way but you're not being cooperative."
"Alright, gentlemen, first to shoot wins. So who is gonna be?"
"You can't win this one, Mr. Elwyn. If you shoot me Johannes shoots you, if you shoot Johannes I shoot you. I think the upper hand is clear in this situation."
[ Caught on the surveillance camera of a studio apartments building, 2:58am. A silver rental van is parked on a curb, two men lean against it, smoking. A young man runs out the front door, stops, the two men smoking lower their cigarettes. The young man takes off running. The men throw their cigarettes and from the van exit two others. They run after the young man. ]
[ Caught on the surveillance camera of a pub with a neon sign that says DOROTHY’S, 3:01am. A group of girls walks out, most holding high heels on their hands, one has her arms thrown over the shoulders of two other, barely able to stay on her feet. The young man of the studio apartment pushes through their tight group and keeps running. The four men after him crash with the group of girls. ]
[ Caught on the surveillance camera on the corner of a suburban street, lined with similar houses and rows of hornbeam trees on both sides, 3:10am. The same young man jumps from the frontyard of one of the houses to the left. The four men are nowhere to be seen. He touches one of the hornbeam trees, then falls sitting, putting his backpack on his lap. He looks inside, the camera can’t capture an image of what. He closes the backpack again. 3:12am, the young man suddenly leans forward. 3:13am, he stands up and crouches with his back to the street, facing the hornbeams, he extends his hand. 3:15am, the young man crawls between two hornbeams and disappears. From out of frame appear two of the four men that were chasing him. They look around and keep walking deeper into the suburbia ]
"Surveillance" by George Ogilvie
As far as hideouts went, Arthur had never considered a different world.
Where Oxford's air was sharp, cold, fine, this one was round and heavy, damp. To left and right he saw a queue of palm trees arranged just like the hornbeam trees. He saw cafés and small shops around the boulevard, it was nighttime like in Oxford, and each individual wall was painted in vibrant colours. He could smell sand and the ocean.
A beach-side town.
The air, other than saltwater and sand, smelled of flowers. They were on the windowsills of some shops and cafés.
Arthur waited but heard no signs of the men walking down the hornbeam lined street. No sound from his world filtered to this one. Just him and the crickets. From this side, the window looked just as it did from Oxford: a square-esque shaped frame cut in the air, he could see the grass showered by the lamp posts of the hornbeam trees, every bit like the grass showered by the orange light of this world’s lamp posts.
Yet it was different, this wasn't Oxford.
It was another world, here, cropped in the fabric of reality.
What was so important about John's expedition?
An entrance to the spiritual world, to another world.
The landscape, picturesque and imperfect, didn't strike him as spiritual.
Arthur memorised the layout of the opening that would lead him back to Oxford so he didn't forget. The palm trees of either side of it curved like wanting to form an arch, that should be easy enough to remember.
Tucking his gun behind him against his belt, Arthur turned his back away from Oxford. He swung his backpack from his shoulders, along with his jacket, and put the former on a table of the closest café. A striped parasol above him.
Mimi, his calico molly, popper her head out when he opened the flap.
She mewled, the noise carried down the empty boulevard.
“We got out, girl.” Arthur scratched under her chin, he then picked her up.
Inside he carried spare clothes, two knives, a casing of bullets, another gun (this one smaller than the one on his belt). He stuffed the jacket inside too.
John’s letters. Yellowing papers tied together with a black string of leather.
An entrance to the spirit world.
John had gone looking in the wrong place, the window to another world was in Oxford.
Arthur wished he could tell him. He didn't know why he held onto the letters. Maybe, because, despite being angry at his brother for leaving to chase fantasies, they were all he had left of him.
Monaco, that was what this place reminded him of. Except the buildings were more colourful, each one of a different one: blue, red, yellow, pink, purple, green, white. The streets were narrow, cobbled, and the lamp posts had that old fashioned iron shape about them. Most of the shops and pubs and restaurants appeared open (neon signs announced it in red and blue and pink) but there was no one inside.
There was no one.
Only the rumour of the ocean and the crickets, Arthur's steps and his bullets.
Mimi found a comfortable place on his shoulders.
Arthur rubbed the petals of some flowers he had never seen between his fingers. Real.
He had been to Monaco for a job. He shot a man on the forehead from a balcony in the Casino Montecarlo.
The sound of the ocean was getting louder.
The cobbled street he was following opened towards the beach. The ocean was pitch black, buoys and the moon reflecting on it. High above the ground in the distance lights were peppered, houses on a cliff. Sailboats, yachts, fisherman boats, and the likes were anchored on the harbour. Hotels the colour of peaches, lilacs, cherry blossoms, and aquamarine faced the coast. Fountains with statues of putti on the centre (they believed in angels). Grand gardens, lights hanging from oleander and boj trees.
Arthur halted when he saw movement in one of the sailboats, a beautiful piece of work of stark white. If he listened carefully enough he could hear a voice— two voices.
(He grabbed Mimi so she didn’t run away spooked, held her against his chest).
If he had to guess, he would say they were the voices of two kids.
One of them suddenly hissed, "Lyra!"
Arthur scanned the sailboat until he spotted the eyes fixated on him.
The figure, mostly in shadows, was small. Obviously a child. Arthur couldn't tell any details from this far, just that this child was staring at him, unmoving.
So, Arthur moved. He walked closer to the sailboat until he was right in front of it.
The child stepped back, never taking her eyes off him. She held something protectively in her arms, as if trying to shield whatever it was from him.
"Hey," said Arthur. "What are you doing out here alone?"
The girl didn't answer.
"It's okay, I'm not going to hurt you."
She still didn't move or speak. In her arms, something moved but she just pressed whatever it was closer to her chest, keeping it from escaping.
"I'm sure your parents told you not to trust strangers."
She whispered, "Is that his dæmon?" It wasn't meant for Arthur. She ducked her head to speak with whatever she held. Then, “He’s not dead, Pan.”
If there was an answer to her words, Arthur didn't hear it.
"What is your name?" Arthur tried this time.
"Hello, Lyra. My name is Arthur Elwyn."
"Do your parents know you're out this late?"
"My parents aren't here, they're in my world."
"This isn't your world either?"
"No." Pause. Then, "Is your dæmon hiding?"
"My demon? What do you mean by that?"
"You're not dead or half-dead. Where's your dæmon?"
"Dæmon," Arthur echoed in a slight murmur. "I don't know how to answer that, Lyra."
Still wary, she came closer and then pulled herself out of the sailboat. To do this she needed both hands which meant she had to uncover and let go of whatever she had been hiding. A little bird, a swallow maybe judging by the shape of the tail, flew to avoid hitting the ground when Lyra let it go. But the swallow was almost instantly replaced by a wildcat that stepped away from Arthur and pressed its flank to Lyra's legs when she stood before Arthur.
They stared at each other in silence.
Arthur crouched. Mimi dug her claws on his shoulder.
"You said this wasn't your world," Lyra finally said.
"Did you cross a bridge in the sky and walk through fog too?"
"No, there was a window, it brought me here. How long have you been here?"
"And you're alone?"
"No, I have my dæmon."
The wildcat had a spark in its eyes, almost human.
"This is your dæmon?"
"Yes, his name is Pantalaimon."
Arthur nodded at the wildcat. "Hello, Pantalaimon."
The wildcat didn't respond but his posture relaxed a little.
Arthur looked back at Lyra. She seemed calmer now — shoulders no longer tense and her arms hung limp on her sides — yet her hands were still closed in fists. Like if she was ready to hit him if necessary.
"Why did you leave your world, Lyra?"
"I'm looking for Dust."
"A special kind of dust?"
"So Dust with a capital D?"
"Yes, I suppose."
Arthur straightened. Pantalaimon, the wildcat-dæmon, arched his back but when Arthur made no abrupt movement he relaxed once more.
Mimi's hackles were raised.
"You shouldn't be wandering alone late at night."
"I have Pan, and there's no one here. I haven't seen anyone."
"What about your parents? Aren't they worried about you?"
"I was following my father but he disappeared in the fog, and I don't want to go back to my mother."
Arthur rubbed his eyes behind his glasses. "How old are you, Lyra?"
"And what were you doing in that sailboat?"
"I sleep there, I lived in a boat once."
Arthur looked around, up and down the street and at the buildings facing the ocean. He couldn't walk away now that he'd found this twelve years old girl. That she'd been alone for days worried him. She didn't look well. She was filthy and sickly thin.
"Would you mind if I stayed with you, Lyra?"
Her brows creased in confusion, but she said nothing.
"I think it'd be more pleasant if we kept each other company. I don't have a dæmon as you do."
Those words didn't seem to rub Lyra and Pantalaimon the right way but they said nothing towards that either.
After a long second of silence, Lyra said, "Alright."
Arthur offered her a smile. "Alright. Mind if we found someplace with actual beds to sleep? And I'm a little hungry, any recommendations?"
"I've only had bread and stuff, there is no one to make food."
"Lucky for you I am a decent cook. How about that café right there?"
"Surveillance" by George Ogilvie
Chapter 3: there's someone that i could hold onto
Holy shit, is this an update? Weeeell, not exactly. I am splitting what I already wrote and turning into more vignette chapters. So, they will be smaller and resemble the format I use in my Lion King AU: The Influence Stars Have. This will help me actually update, because it is so much less stressful than eleven or thirteen pages.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“There’s a gun in here, Pan,” Lyra whispered.
“You shouldn’t snoop, Lyra,” came Pantalaimon’s voice, whispering too. “He’s being nice to us, don’t be rude.”
“I don’t trust him,” said Lyra.
“Well, I do,” said Pantalaimon.
Lyra stopped rummaging inside Arthur’s bag, that he left on one of the tables inside the café. He couldn’t see Pantalaimon from inside the kitchen, but it seemed he was on the table beside Lyra.
“Why?” she asked.
“I just do,” said Pantalaimon.
Mimi had taken her usual place as close as she could to Arthur while he cooked without burning herself. The opening between the kitchen area and the floor compromised. She’d gone looking and sniffing around when he dropped her on the same table he did his backpack, and, satisfied with what she did or didn’t find she watched him and watched Lyra and Pantalaimon almost bored. Arthur envied her calm.
Lyra pulled the string of the backpack and closed the flap.
Arthur finished the omelettes.
“Found anything interesting?” he asked casually, sliding into the chair opposite Lyra’s once the plates and the soda he found had been set on a table for two.
Pantalaimon, now a tawny weasel, scampered onto Lyra's shoulders and gave her a pointed look: I told you so. She glared at him.
"Sorry," she muttered.
"If you wanted to know what was inside you could've just asked."
Lyra nodded, not looking up to meet his gaze. She took the fork and after that there wasn't much talking. Lyra ate the omelette with vigor. She tried once she saw Arthur take a drink from it. Pantalaimon chirped a laugh when Lyra made a face, the bubbles sure to have gone up her nose.
Mimi tried to jump to the table. Arthur rejected her, shoving her to the floor, but feeding her some of the ham from the omelettes either way.
Lyra was done eating first. She stared at Arthur for a moment before asking, "Why is there a gun in your bag?"
Arthur looked up at her. She didn't seem bothered it, she was just curious.
"Protection," he said.
She nodded, satisfied with that answer. "Why did you come to this world?"
"I was running from some people," Arthur said.
"The ones you need protection from?"
Pantalaimon sniffed the remains of the omelette on her plate, snapping up the biggest pieces. Arthur found it fascinating Pantalaimon ate food just like him and Lyra.
"Do you plan to stay here?" Lyra asked.
Arthur shrugged. "I don't know, maybe just for a few days. At least until it is safe for me to go back."
"Where are you from?" Lyra sat on calves so she was taller. Her soda was more than halfway gone.
"England, I’d been living in Oxford for the past month. I don't know if you—"
"Oxford!" Lyra squealed. "I'm from Oxford!"
Arthur lowered his fork. "An Oxford in another world?"
"I might be able to find answers on Dust in your Oxford!" Pantalaimon was a butterfly, fluttering around Lyra's head as happy as her. "You have to take me to your Oxford!"
"I can't go back just yet, Lyra. They might still be looking for me."
Pantalaimon landed on Lyra's shoulder. Her eyes kept their glimmer but she slouched a little in disappointment. "What was your name?"
"You will show me the window to your Oxford when you don't have to hide anymore?"
"I promise, Lyra."
That made her happy and she gave Arthur a big smile. He returned it. Lyra asked no more questions or said anything else after that. Arthur finished his food in silence.
The plates were picked up and washed in the same silence, the frypan left to soak. In a better mood now that he had eaten and the heavy warmth of the air had diminished, Arthur stuffed his jacket inside his backpack and then slung it on his shoulders. Lyra was already waiting outside.
Well, not waiting. She was picking her things from the sailboat and pulled herself out to meet him on the cobbled street.
“Ran Away” by Hollow Coves
Since this is an alternative universe I have decided to take quite a few creative liberties regarding details and some plot points. I will get rid of the dead weight of the trilogy (you will see what I mean later on) and actually fire the Chekhov's guns Pullman set up but never addressed or executed well. Hopefully, you won't hate me for dismembering and repatching your favourite trilogy by the end of it.
Chapter 4: always something more behind unopened doors
“Why are people looking for you? Is it because you hurt them?”
Arthur pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “They want something I have.”
Lyra pulled the alethiometer from her bag. Bedside lamp on so she could look at the surface, even though she had already memorised all of the symbols. Pantalaimon turned into a dormouse to see too without blocking the sight from Lyra.
They — she and Arthur — chose a cabin shy from the beach to settle for the night. Lyra had considered finding a place with a bed when she arrived, but that sailboat in the harbour was what felt most familiar so she chose it instead. It was a blue cabin out of seven, painted like the rainbow, decorated in seashells and bamboo. Above the bed hung a canopy made of lace. Arthur told her to take the bed, seeing as there was only one when they looked around the small cabin. Said he was sure the sofa in the main room was a pull-out. It was a big bed, kind of like the one Lyra had in Mrs. Coulter’s suite. Though not as comfortable and the comforter was thin and scratchy, there were bedside tables with lamps on either side of it. The molly who came with Arthur slep at the foot of the bed.
Looking between the door and Pantalaimon, Lyra wondered again what Arthur’s dæmon would look like. What she would be able to tell her about him. Lyra trusted the alethiometer to give her an answer, but would it really be better than seeing his dæmon?
"She has to be something powerful," said Pantalaimon in his small dormouse voice. "I can feel it."
"A lioness," said Lyra. "Or a wolf."
"Doesn't have to be big, just... powerful."
“Maybe.” Pantalaimon tousled his whiskers. “But she also feels kind.”
“A lioness, they are motherly."
The finest of the needles circled the surface of the alethiometer without purpose, waiting for her to formulate the question. So she did. The question she had wanted to ask when she met Arthur, but hadn't dared take the alethiometer out for him to see it: What is he? A friend or an enemy?
The alethiometer answered: He is a murderer.
Lyra sighed, relieved.
"His dæmon might be a bear, Pan."
She was ready to trust him now.
“Who did you kill?”
Arthur blinked against the sunlight pouring through the windows. He hadn’t thought about closing the bamboo blinds before going to sleep.
Lyra was standing next to the sofa (no pull-out) with butterfly-Pantalaimon on her shoulder. She was filthy, bruised, and sickly in this light.
“Who did you kill?”
Pushing himself to a sitting position, Arthur involuntarily reached for the gun he put on the floor within reach. Lyra didn’t move or comment as he checked the cartridge, the safety, and left it on the cushion next to him. He picked his glasses and put them on.
“You don’t really have the gun for protection, do you?” Lyra asked. “You are a murderer.”
She was calm, the question out of curiosity and not concern.
"I— Yes." Something told Arthur that Pantalaimon would be able to tell if he lied. "Though I use it for protection as well."
"Who did you kill?"
"I have… I have killed quite a few people."
“Is that why you came here?”
“Some people want something I have, like I told you.”
“What is it that you have that they want?”
Arthur looked at her for a second and then said, "Something."
Lyra pursed her lips but didn't push it. Instead she asked, “Do you know what your dæmon looks like?”
“No, I don’t.”
“I think she would be a bear.”
“And why is that?”
“You remind me of my friend Iorek Byrnison, he’s the king of the Armoured Bears in Svalbard.”
It sounded like the invention of a little girl, but she said it with such conviction. Such… truth. A bear kingdom in Svalbard. What kind of world was Lyra from?
“I remind you of a king?” Arthur asked, forearms on his knees.
“Did you kill someone important and that’s why you’re running away? Were you exiled?”
She asked as though that would answer his question.
“I’ve killed people,” he repeated, carefully, aware this topic wasn’t to be treated lightly. “Some of them have been important, but I’m always hiding.”
“Are you royalty?”
Arthur huffed a laugh. “No, far from it. My father was a marine and my mother was a teacher. Lived in East Bergholt until I started college.”
Pantalaimon was a stark white ermine now, with black eyes, nose and tail tip. He wrapped around the back of Lyra’s neck like a living fur scarf. His gaze was as intense as Lyra’s.
“And your dæmon doesn’t have a name either?”
“No. I’m still not entirely sure what a dæmon is, or if I have one.”
“You have to.” Lyra’s tone was borderline scared. Arthur remembered how she had whispered to Pantalaimon about him not being dead, how she had said the same thing to him when they spoke. “You have to or you would be—”
Pantalaimon slid from her shoulder to Lyra’s waiting arms. They moved in perfect sync, Lyra didn’t even have to look at Pantalaimon to know what his next movement would be, she was just ready. It was mesmerizing to look at and Arthur suddenly felt very alone. The hand opposite to the gun clenched and unclenched, as if it looking for the comfort of soft fur.
“What are dæmons exactly, Lyra?”
“A dæmon is you.”
She had said that for the lack of a better explanation from a twelve-year-old. Pantalaimon sniffed the air, leaning from Lyra’s grasp and towards Arthur. Was he trying to smell Arthur’s dæmon?
“Your dæmon is inside you, not like mine. I can hold mine. I can hold Pan.” Lyra hugged Pantalaimon to her chest. He grew and now he was a wildcat. “You can’t hold yours but you’re together like me and Pan are together, but not exactly. You are actually together.”
Arthur put his free hand to his chest but only felt one heartbeat: his. Did Lyra’s heart beat in time with Pantalaimon’s?
“I see,” Arthur said, even though he didn’t. “And you think mine would be a bear? But wouldn’t it just change shape like Pantalaimon?”
“She, and no, adult dæmons can’t change shape. Only kids can.”
“Well, if bears are the animals of kings I don’t think she would be a bear.”
Lyra shrugged. “You would agree if you met Iorek Byrnison.”
Arthur stood up, forcing Lyra to lift her head to look at him. He smiled. “Well, want to go get breakfast?”
“100 Foxes” by Cinders