She stood up slowly. The stoat curled himself around her neck, and his dark eyes never left Will’s face.
“But you’re alive,” she said, half-disbelievingly. “You en’t . . . You en’t been . . . ”
“My name’s Will Parry,” he said. “I don’t know what you mean about demons. In my world demon means . . . it means devil, something evil.”
“In your world? You mean this en’t your world?”
“No. I just found . . . a way in. Like your world, I suppose. It must be joined on.”
She relaxed a little, but she still watched him intently, and he stayed calm and quiet as if she were a strange cat he was making friends with.
“Have you seen anyone else in this city?” he went on.
“How long have you been here?”
“Dunno. A few days. I can’t remember.”
“So why did you come here?”
“I’m looking for Dust,” she said.
“Looking for dust? What, gold dust? What sort of dust?”
She narrowed her eyes and said nothing. He turned away to go downstairs.
“I’m hungry,” he said. “Is there any food in the kitchen?”
“I dunno,” she said, and followed, keeping her distance from him.
In the kitchen Will found the ingredients for a casserole of chicken and onions and peppers, but they hadn’t been cooked, and in the heat they were smelling bad. He swept them all into the dustbin.
“Haven’t you eaten anything?” he said, and opened the fridge.
Lyra came to look.
“I didn’t know this was here,” she said. “Oh! It’s cold.”
Her dæmon had changed again, and become a huge, brightly colored butterfly, which fluttered into the fridge briefly and out again at once to settle on her shoulder. The butterfly raised and lowered his wings slowly. Will felt he shouldn’t stare, though his head was ringing with the strangeness of it.
“Haven’t you seen a fridge before?” he said.
He found a can of cola and handed it to her before taking out a tray of eggs. She pressed the can between her palms with pleasure.
“Drink it, then,” he said.
She looked at it, frowning. She didn’t know how to open it. He snapped the lid for her, and the drink frothed out. She licked it suspiciously, and then her eyes opened wide.
“This is good?” she said, her voice half hoping and half fearful.
“Yeah. They have Coke in this world, obviously. Look, I’ll drink some to prove it isn’t poison.”
He opened another can. Once she saw him drink, she followed his example. She was obviously thirsty. She drank so quickly that the bubbles got up her nose, and she snorted and belched loudly, and scowled when he looked at her.
“I’m going to make an omelette,” he said. “D’you want some?”
“I don’t know what omelette is.”
“Well, watch and you’ll see. Or there’s a can of baked beans, if you’d like.”
“I don’t know baked beans.”
He showed her the can. She looked for the snap-open top like the one on the cola can.
“No, you have to use a can opener,” he said. “Don’t they have can openers in your world?”
“In my world servants do the cooking,” she said scornfully.
“Look in the drawer over there.”
She rummaged through the kitchen cutlery while he broke six eggs into a bowl and whisked them with a fork.
“That’s it,” he said, watching. “With the red handle. Bring it here.”
He pierced the lid and showed her how to open the can.
“Now get that little saucepan off the hook and tip them in,” he told her.
She sniffed the beans, and again an expression of pleasure and suspicion entered her eyes. She tipped the can into the saucepan and licked a finger, watching as Will shook salt and pepper into the eggs and cut a knob of butter from a package in the fridge into a cast-iron pan. He went into the bar to find some matches, and when he came back she was dipping her dirty finger in the bowl of beaten eggs and licking it greedily. Her dæmon, a cat again, was dipping his paw in it, too, but he backed away when Will came near.
“It’s not cooked yet,” Will said, taking it away. “When did you last have a meal?”
“At my father’s house on Svalbard,” she said. “Days and days ago. I don’t know. I found bread and stuff here and ate that.”
He lit the gas, melted the butter, poured in the eggs, and let them run all over the base of it. Her eyes followed everything greedily, watching him pull the eggs up into soft ridges in the center as they cooked and tilt the pan to let raw egg flow into the space. She watched him, too, looking at his face and his working hands and his bare shoulders and his feet.
When the omelette was cooked he folded it over and cut it in half with the spatula.
“Find a couple of plates,” he said, and Lyra obediently did so.
She seemed quite willing to take orders if she saw the sense of them, so he told her to go and clear a table in front of the café. He brought out the food and some knives and forks from a drawer, and they sat down together, a little awkwardly.
She ate hers in less than a minute, and then fidgeted, swinging back and forth on her chair and plucking at the plastic strips of the woven seat while he finished his. Her dæmon changed yet again, and became a goldfinch, pecking at invisible crumbs on the tabletop.
Will ate slowly. He’d given her most of the beans, but even so he took much longer than she did. The harbor in front of them, the lights along the empty boulevard, the stars in the dark sky above, all hung in the huge silence as if nothing else existed at all.
And all the time he was intensely aware of the girl. She was small and slight, but wiry, and she’d fought like a tiger; his fist had raised a bruise on her cheek, and she was ignoring it. Her expression was a mixture of the very young—when she first tasted the cola—and a kind of deep, sad wariness. Her eyes were pale blue, and her hair would be a darkish blond once it was washed; because she was filthy, and she smelled as if she hadn’t bathed for days.
“Laura? Lara?” Will said.
“Lyra . . . Silvertongue?”
“Where is your world? How did you get here?”
She shrugged. “I walked,” she said. “It was all foggy. I didn’t know where I was going. At least, I knew I was going out of my world. But I couldn’t see this one till the fog cleared. Then I found myself here.”
“What did you say about dust?”
“Dust, yeah. I’m going to find out about it. But this world seems to be empty. There’s no one here to ask. I’ve been here for . . . I dunno, three days, maybe four. And there’s no one here.”
“But why do you want to find out about dust?”
“Special Dust,” she said shortly. “Not ordinary dust, obviously.”
The dæmon changed again. He did so in the flick of an eye, and from a goldfinch he became a rat, a powerful pitch-black rat with red eyes. Will looked at him with wide wary eyes, and the girl saw his glance.
“You have got a dæmon,” she said decisively. “Inside you.”
He didn’t know what to say.
“You have,” she went on. “You wouldn’t be human else. You’d be . . . half dead. We seen a kid with his dæmon cut away. You en’t like that. Even if you don’t know you’ve got a dæmon, you have. We was scared at first when we saw you. Like you was a night-ghast or something. But then we saw you weren’t like that at all.”
“Me and Pantalaimon. Us. But you, your dæmon en’t separate from you. It’s you. A part of you. You’re part of each other. En’t there anyone in your world like us? Are they all like you, with their dæmons all hidden away?”
Will looked at the two of them, the skinny pale-eyed girl with her black rat dæmon now sitting in her arms, and felt profoundly alone.
“I’m tired. I’m going to bed,” he said. “Are you going to stay in this city?”
“Dunno. I’ve got to find out more about what I’m looking for. There must be some Scholars in this world. There must be someone who knows about it.”