The smell of gunpowder, blood and death seeps into the nostrils of the beautiful lady in red. Though her young, pretty face is covered in the wreckage of what was once a bomb designed to take her and her daughter's lives, nothing, not even the horrible fate that awaits her, would make Mrs. Coulter less attractive to anyone lay eyes on her.
She breathes slowly, trying to assimilate the pounding of her heart with the conversation taking place just a quarter away from her and her dæmon.
Asriel, her former love, talks to one of his generals about their daughter and the boy the girl has been traveling with all this time. Despite the immense happiness she felt at knowing that her daughter is alive, Marisa couldn't hold back the overwhelming concern to hear that Lyra and her daemon were separated, the woman shivered at the thought of the pain that the girl probably felt and how once more she wasn’t able to be by the child's side and thought to be her mother.
After a few minutes of internal panic, a question came to Marisa's mind.
After years of research, the intercision was never perfect. How had her daughter managed to survive this? Mrs. Coulter had no idea, but she could only add this feat to one of the incredible things her extraordinary daughter had done.
The woman wonders how many more times that little girl with blue eyes and dark blond hair can surprise her... Mrs. Coulter is sure the answer is "many more". Quickly, the brunette realizes that any small detail about Lyra fuels her adoration for the girl. For all that there is, she couldn't be more proud to have a majority stake in the girl's upbringing.
She can only imagine that in the future, she hopes, Lyra will be able to tell about all the adventures she had during this phase of her life, when everything has passed. In the scenario created by her head, they are both sitting together on the porch on a summer morning, far away from the cruel cold north. The adventures will turn into just that… stories, as if they were nothing more than tales out of books that Marisa would be sure to read to Lyra every night, in order to make up for lost time, and hopefully, heal the girl's imagination.
Her head throbs, but she's determined to eavesdrop on the conversation behind the thin wall. A few minutes later she hears footsteps, the footsteps are heavy and steady, like Lord Asriel's, though not as calm as his. Then the door opens.
When the brunette turns her head expecting to see her lover standing in the doorway, she is extremely surprised to see a young woman with blue eyes and blonde hair darker than Lyra's hair, it was curly and went down to below her shoulders. .
"Who are..." The question dies on her tongue as the girl puts a slender finger between her lips, asking for silence.
To her own surprise, the woman found herself obeying.
Marisa raised an eyebrow and sat up straight on the bed. She watches the woman slowly close the door and walk over to the brunette.
Before the blonde can take another step, the monkey gets between them, causing the younger one to walk backwards.
When Marisa makes a move to speak, the girl starts to talk.
"Calm down, Okay? I didn't come here to hurt you, just… relax." She raises her hands in defense and looks pleadingly at the brunette.
Marisa opens her mouth once more, but she’s one more time interrupted by the door opening.
"Marisa, how are you?" Lord Asriel suddenly appears, not even noticing the other person in the room.
He walks tired and with a very heavy heart, the end of this war is near and he’s almost certain that he won’t be here to celebrate it.
Before turning the doorknob to find the mother of his daughter, who lately has been more of a problem than a solution, he allows himself to think about the little girl. He may not be here in the future, but Lyra will be, she’ll thrive in a world without oppression. Since, he thinks to himself, is more than he's ever done for her.
When he finally opens the door to face his ex-lover, he is confused to notice the hard expression on the woman's face, she’s shooting sharp glances at whatever is on the other end of the room. Without waiting another second, the man follows the lady's gaze.
He had to look twice, because the first time, the only thing he saw was the familiarity of his daughter's face on the beautiful young stranger, it even looked like Lyra was beside him! The second time, startled by his perception, as it would be impossible for Lyra to be there, Asriel pulls the gun from his waist, takes two steps back and points it at the stranger's head. Stelmaria steps in front of him, snarling as she notices that there is no daemon beside the invader.
"Hey man! Can you put that down?!" She frowns and glares at Asriel, the man looks like he hasn't showered in days.
"No. Talk soon before I blow your brains out.” He holds the gun tightly.
"I didn't know you were so dramatic..." The woman rolls her eyes and then shakes her head "I'm disappointed"
"Who are you? Where are you from?" Asriel asks ignoring the blonde's latest comments.
She responds half a second later.
"My name is Melanie, I just came here to talk to you." She speaks with such conviction that she even lends some genuineness to the phrase.
Marisa, who was watching Asriel's interaction with the young woman from her bed, gets up and moves the golden monkey away from her so she can get closer to the other woman.
"Liar" Marisa whispers with narrowed eyes.
Now not only does Asriel keep the barrel of the gun pointed at the woman's face, but Mrs. Coulter also stares at her with a look that could burn her alive.
"Tell the truth! Who are you?!" Asriel screams for him, he would have already pulled the trigger, but some screaming force prevents him from committing such an act.
"Let's get with it..." Tired and with a severe headache attacking her right temple, Marisa takes a threatening step and grabs the girl's pale arm "Who the hell are you?!"
The young woman stands still and stares at the couple, her face split into two meaningful expressions, somewhere between despair and internal conflict. Honestly, this wasn't how she planned to make her 'grand entrance', she had imagined arriving, speaking a catchphrase and capturing them, like in the movies she watched with her mother when she was a child, but her 'plans' came out wrong and now she has mad woman who’s as volatile as the gun that is pointed at her head.
"I..." She even tried to speak, but the words disappeared from her tongue.
The girl just continues to stare at the two people with less than inviting faces.
"Don't worry, dear, I have much more conventional ways of making you talk." The brunette digs her nails into the girl's white skin even more, and before her fist reaches the blonde's neck, Asriel pushes the woman away and points the gun to the intruder's head.
“No more small talk” The explorer growls “I’ll solve the problem”
The blonde's eyes widen, her heart races, her lips dry up.
The cowardly part of her, which she affectionately calls Daemon, asks with everything it has to just run away or close her eyes and wait to feel the bullet hit her skull and sink into her brain. Then she would have failed, everything would’ve been thrown away, and her death would do nothing but cause harm. Her mom and dad would have something else to deal with.
A breath of hope sweeps through her body as half a second before Asriel fires the gun, her Daemon's voice emerges from within her conscious with something she stupidly hasn't thought of before.
“Xaphania, come, quickly!” The girl cries out for the angel's name.
Both Asriel and Marisa are startled as a shimmering white-gold flash fills the small, dimly lit room.
Conflicting feelings invade the man's heart when he sees Xaphania, one of his generals, a Celestial angel, hovering over him and Marisa.
A feeling of anger grows in his chest as he faces the angel, it means he was betrayed, whoever this woman is, his general is on her side and against Asriel. The celestial creature spread it’s wings in front of the girl just as the man's unsteady hand squeezed the gun's trigger. The Angels' divine body is so strong that’s able to ricochet the bullet.
The action is too short for the two women to notice, but Asriel, feeling the effect of his actions, realizes while staring into the creature's fierce face, that this being isn’t the same being Asriel had meet an hour ago.
This angel, despite having the same physical characteristics as Xaphania, presents an aura much more mature and calm than the fierce general who wanted the downfall of the Authority as much as Asriel himself, if possible.
Before the explorer can speak, the angel raises its upper limbs and then a flash fills the entire room, engulfing Marisa, Ariel, Stelmaria, the Golden Monkey and the young woman with no Daemon.
Mrs. Coulter opens her blue eyes slowly, her head feeling worse than before, as if someone has hit her with something very hard. She feels her body sway and hears the roar of an engine.
"Marisa, Marisa, wake up, get up, wake up!" The woman feels Asriel's strong hands grip her arms and gently shake her thin frame.
She lifts her head and looks into Asriel's worried face.
"Where... where are we?" Marisa feels as if she has swallowed sand.
Asriel looks around and then turns to face the woman.
"I, I don't know, I think we’re inside of a Zeppelin, but I don't know where it's taking us" The man hated not knowing things.
Marisa blinks and looks around, they seemed to be aboard a luxurious aircraft... but how? She has no idea.
"How did we get here?" she asks rubbing her head.
"I don't know" The taste of that word is turning sour on the scientist's lips.
The air smelled like rose perfume and expensive wine.
"I have this feeling, Asriel…" The woman's face creases as the feeling of familiarity begins to creep into her mind.
"What feeling?" The man leans over and puts a hand on her back "Don't worry, I'll get us out of here, the door might be locked but we can make a small opening in the window and..."
"And then die in a fall from more than 500 thousand meters high?! No, that's not the feeling I was talking about" She rolls her eyes at that incessant need for reckless adventure that runs through Asriel's veins. One of the reasons she finds it impossible to live with him in the long run.
"That's not what I was talking about"
"It doesn't matter. Have you ever tried to open the door?" She turns away from him and looks at Asriel skeptically.
"Of course I tried. It's locked inside and out, don't ask me how."
"I wouldn't. Any other genius plans besides killing us?" She gets up and starts pacing the room, the feeling of familiarity still there but hard to put into words.
"At least I thought of something and I wasn't just mumbling like you since you woke up! By the way, I should’ve let you sleep!"
"Whatever, Asriel, but I wasn't the one who sided with a traitorous angel!"
Rage fills his chest as he remembers the creature's face, even though a part of him didn't fully recognize it.
"And I wasn't the one who opened the door for a stranger!" Asriel counters.
"I didn't open the damn door! She just walked into the room!"
"Oh, sure, and you didn't do anything!"
"STOP YOU TWO!" A loud voice resounds from the threshold of the front door.
Both scientists move their heads to stare at the same blonde they saw minutes ago, now dressed differently, wearing a gray silk dress with spaghetti straps, carrying a small bag in her hand, wearing her hair up, jewelry and high heels.
"You look like children! How in your right mind did you manage to IN FACT make a kid?!" Asriel mentions answering "it was a rhetorical question".
She leaves the door behind her half open, letting the music into the room.
Marisa's eyes instantly widened.
"I've been here before!" she exclaims.
"Yes, you were" The younger one confirms "you both were" She watches Asriel's frown grow more confused.
"Who are you?" he asks as Stelmaria growls, his hand quickly reaches out to where his weapon should be, but he finds an empty scabbard.
"No weapons this time, no screaming, no tricks" The blonde closes the door behind her and walks a safe distance towards the two of them "I'll tell you what’s going on, but I need you both to sit down and keep quiet"
"Why should we trust you?" This time it's Marisa who asks.
"Because you don't have a choice. If you want to know what's happening and return to your apocalyptic reality, you’ll have to listen to me, do you understand?!" The blonde puts her hands on her hips and looks at them.
The explorers don't answer her verbally, they just remain with their hard, defiant gazes that rival those of their dæmons, and then Marisa and Asriel sit down, one in an armchair and the other on the couch.
"Start talking" Asriel orders, impatiently adjusting himself in the chair.
"Although I don't like your tone at all…what I have to say can't wait any longer." The young woman sighs, takes the chair from the dressing table and sits in a way that Marisa would consider anything but elegant.
"The future is in danger" The woman says with a very serious tone.
Asriel snorts and his dæmon, who is sitting alert at his feet, stares at the blonde with sarcastic eyes.
"And you need to bring us here to tell this?! Bullshit! I don't know if you looked around while kidnapping Asriel and me, but we were literally fighting the end of the world" Marisa says in exasperation. Her monkey copies the same look of the panther, but with its dark and evil eyes.
"We can't waste time with kid's play Tell us what you want and go!” Asriel stands up “Marisa is right" It hurt for him to say that.
The young blonde looks outraged by the man's words.
"I'm not a kid! I'm 23 years old!"
"Still learning to crawl" Asriel rolls his eyes. Marisa gives the man a meaningful look. "Come on girl, no kidding."
This time it's the blonde who stands up.
"Look, you brute, dirty and clueless man, I'm trying to help here! The future is really threatened, I say this because I came from it! Authority has been destroyed, the world has escaped the oppression of the Magisterium and lives based on rational principles" She barely breathes as she throws it all in the face of the puzzled explorer "And how am I the kid here if you're the only ones who act childish, fighting and mumbling like you're 3 years old!"
The couple remained silent throughout the woman's outburst.
She huffs in exasperation, crosses her arms and sits down in a nearby chair with a frown on her face.
Asriel and Marisa look at each other, both knowing exactly which part, amid the younger's insults, has captured their interest.
"What do you mean by 'Authority has been destroyed'" Asriel leans his body forward, a look of deep concentration shining on his face.
"Oh, now you wanna know, don't you?!" The frown on her face sinks, she’s still very angry at the couple, especially at the man dressed in thick fur.
"Girl, I don't have..."
"Could you tell us your story?" Marisa asks gently, giving Asriel a glare, as if she wants to say 'Shut up, I'll do it'.
The girl lifts her face and looks at Marisa, analyzing each part of her body, after all, she has heard before the exploits and tricks of each of the two involved, and knows that she has to be careful. For a moment the young woman has to stop herself from simply getting up, sitting on the sofa, hugging the pillow, lying on the woman’s lap and telling all her life to the blue eyed lady. But then she blinks twice, pushes the woman's charm away from her mind and comes to her senses.
"Okay" The girl nods, remembering why she's here and how she was probably wasting too much time on this pointless conversation.
"Okay, girl, what do you mean by you’re from future?" Asriel doesn't wait for Marisa to continue, the man is too restless.
"Exactly what I meant, I'm from the future, I traveled from the future to ask for your help and..."
"Time travel, kid? It doesn't exist, don't you think I've tried to do something like this?!" An eyebrow from Marisa raises upon after hearing her ex-lover's phrase.
"Okay Lord Arrogant, so tell me how I know it was you who took a fake head to Jordan College, just so they could fund your research?!" The blonde's temper was already starting to rise.
"It doesn’t matter, everything that happened in that room was leaked to the Magisterium, you might as well be someone sent by them!" The man accuses her.
"Are you stupid or what?! I came here exactly because I'm against them!"
"Then speak soon!"
"You don't let me!"
By this point, both of them have risen from their sits and are two noses apart, despite Asriel being taller.
Marisa also gets up from the couch, feeling strange for the slight concern for any human being other than Lyra, concern for the blonde girl who acts very similar to her daughter.
"I'm sorry but this story seems to be very hard to believe, Miss…" She pauses waiting for the girl to say her name but the blonde just keeps staring at Asriel "Right, you seem to know us somehow, there is something about us that it would be impossible for you to know?!"
The response was almost immediate.
"I know you killed Roger Parslow to open the window to another world" The young woman says still staring at the explorer, then turns to Marisa "I know Lyra was almost separated from her daemon because of you".
While Marisa seems to have been slapped in the face, Asriel breaks the posture and really looks the girl from head to toe.
She was thin, tall, curly dark blond hair, full lips, strong features and blue eyes like Marisa's.
If he hadn't been convinced Lyra is in the world of the death, Asriel would surely have thought the almost 13-year-old is the woman standing in front of him.
But still, for all her resemblance to his wayward daughter, that woman still can’t be Lyra. Can she?
"I…I prevented that from happening" The brunette forces the words down her throat.
"I know" The young woman looks at her with empathy.
The atmosphere is tense in the environment and each of the three people are with thoughts miles away.
"How is this possible?" Asriel was the first to speak, but his tone carries some sort of solitude "Who are you?"
The blonde holds her breath, both notice the young woman's discomfort. The brunette sits back on the couch and shakes her head in Asriel's direction, for the man to do the same.
"Why don't you start by telling us your name?" Marisa kindly offers "But this time it has to be the real one."
The blonde bites her lip and sits back in her chair. Cheeks slightly flushed from being caught in the lie.
"My name is Aurora" She speaks without facing them "I came from the future, there is a war about to start and I need you to help me"
"Help with what? We have our own war to fight!" It's Asriel's turn to object.
Marisa also didn't seem too happy with the direction this conversation is taking.
"Asriel is right, we have our own war… and if I may ask, whose side are you on?" The brunette's gaze is sharp and her words heartily calculated.
"Lyra’s side. She was the one who sent me here, she needs help"
As soon as their daughter's name is mentioned, both Asriel and Marisa froze.
A thick silence falls over their heads, Mrs. Coulter being the first to break it.
"Impossible" She allows a light laugh to escape her lips, although her eyes are full of concern "There's no way Lyra could’ve sent you here, it's impossible to communicate with her from where she is"
Marisa purses her lips and crosses her legs, leans against the sofa and puts her hand on her forehead.
'That’s crazy. Lyra’s in another world now, far from the living, far from me' The brunette thinks wistfully, her golden monkey climbs onto the sofa and puts a paw on the skirt of her red dress.
"I don't think she's talking about that Lyra, Marisa" Asriel lowers his head to find the woman's watery eyes staring at him, then turns to the blonde "That is, if you're really telling the truth"
Stelmaria walks slowly to the couch, heading towards the Golden Monkey to lick its soft fur, the Machiavellian creature just groans in sadness and reaches out a paw to caress the panther’s white fur.
For a moment the young woman, now named Aurora, is stuck staring at the two daemons. It’s fascinating and frightening at the same time to witness the feline's harshness and the monkey's helplessness.
She breaks out of her frown when she realizes that both Asriel and Marisa are waiting for an answer.
"She said you probably wouldn't believe me" Aurora opens her handbag and takes out a small object inside, the light from the chandelier in the airship's cabin makes it almost imperceptible to see.
A thin, golden, medium-sized necklace emerges from the young woman's purse, with a miniature compass as a pendant.
She holds the accessory between her fingers and hands it to Marisa, who quickly recognizes the jewel, as it is the same, or a very identical replica, of the one around her neck.
"How…how did you get that?" Mrs. Coulter asks in a shaky voice.
"She told me to give it to you if you needed it" The blonde gently places the necklace in the other woman's cold hands "She said it was yours."