“What did he ever do that you needed to kill him?” he cried. “Tell me that, if you can!”

And she looked at the dead man. Then she looked back at Will and shook her head sadly.

“No, I can’t explain,” she said. “You’re too young. It wouldn’t make sense to you. I loved him. That’s all. That’s enough.”

And before Will could stop her, she fell softly sideways, her hand on the hilt of the knife she had just taken from her own belt and pushed between her ribs.

Will felt no horror, only desolation and bafflement.

He stood up slowly and looked down at the dead witch, at her rich black hair, her flushed cheeks, her smooth pale limbs wet with rain, her lips parted like a lover’s.

“I don’t understand,” he said aloud. “It’s too strange.”

Will turned back to the dead man, his father.

A thousand things jostled at his throat, and only the dashing rain cooled the hotness in his eyes. The little lantern still flickered and flared as the draft through the ill-fitting window licked around the flame, and by its light Will knelt and put his hands on the man’s body, touching his face, his shoulders, his chest, closing his eyes, pushing the wet gray hair off his forehead, pressing his hands to the rough cheeks, closing his father’s mouth, squeezing his hands.

“Father,” he said, “Dad, Daddy . . . Father . . . I don’t understand why she did that. It’s too strange for me. But whatever you wanted me to do, I promise, I swear I’ll do it. I’ll fight. I’ll be a warrior. I will. This knife, I’ll take it to Lord Asriel, wherever he is, and I’ll help him fight that enemy. I’ll do it. You can rest now. It’s all right. You can sleep now.”

Beside the dead man lay his deerskin pack with the oilskin and the lantern and the little horn box of bloodmoss ointment. Will picked them up, and then he noticed his father’s feather-trimmed cloak trailing behind his body on the ground, heavy and sodden but warm. His father had no more use for it, and Will was shaking with cold. He unfastened the bronze buckle at the dead man’s throat and swung the canvas pack over his shoulder before wrapping the cloak around himself.

He blew out the lantern and looked back at the dim shapes of his father, of the witch, of his father again before turning to go down the mountain.

The stormy air was electric with whispers, and in the tearing of the wind Will could hear other sounds, too: confused echoes of cries and chanting, the clash of metal on metal, pounding wingbeats that one moment sounded so close they might actually be inside his head, and the next so far away they might have been on another planet. The rocks underfoot were slippery and loose, and it was much harder going down than it had been climbing up; but he didn’t falter.

And as he turned down the last little gully before the place where he’d left Lyra sleeping, he stopped suddenly. He could see two figures simply standing there, in the dark, waiting. Will put his hand on the knife.

Then one of the figures spoke.

“You’re the boy with the knife?” he said, and his voice had the strange quality of those wingbeats. Whoever he was, he wasn’t a human being.

“Who are you?” Will said. “Are you men, or—”

“Not men, no. We are Watchers. Bene elim. In your language, angels.”

Will was silent. The speaker went on: “Other angels have other functions, and other powers. Our task is simple: We need you. We have been following the shaman every inch of his way, hoping he would lead us to you, and so he has. And now we have come to guide you in turn to Lord Asriel.”

“You were with my father all the time?”

“Every moment.”

“Did he know?”

“He had no idea.”

“Why didn’t you stop the witch, then? Why did you let her kill him?”

“We would have done, earlier. But his task was over once he’d led us to you.”

Will said nothing. His head was ringing; this was no less difficult to understand than anything else.

“All right,” he said finally. “I’ll come with you. But first I must wake Lyra.”

They stood aside to let him pass, and he felt a tingle in the air as he went close to them, but he ignored it and concentrated on getting down the slope toward the little shelter where Lyra was sleeping.

But something made him stop.

In the dimness, he could see the witches who had been guarding Lyra all sitting or standing still. They looked like statues, except that they were breathing, but they were scarcely alive. There were several black-silk-clad bodies on the ground, too, and as he gazed in horror from one to another of them, Will saw what must have happened: they had been attacked in midair by the Specters, and had fallen to their deaths, indifferently.

But—

“Where’s Lyra?” he cried aloud.

The hollow under the rock was empty. Lyra was gone.

There was something under the overhang where she’d been lying. It was Lyra’s little canvas rucksack, and from the weight of it he knew without looking that the alethiometer was still inside it.

Will was shaking his head. It couldn’t be true, but it was: Lyra was gone, Lyra was captured, Lyra was lost.

The two dark figures of the bene elim had not moved. But they spoke: “You must come with us now. Lord Asriel needs you at once. The enemy’s power is growing every minute. The shaman has told you what your task is. Follow us and help us win. Come with us. Come this way. Come now.”

And Will looked from them to Lyra’s rucksack and back again, and he didn’t hear a word they said.

END OF BOOK TWO

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