How we think the fight will go
Lyra held the alethiometer close to her face, watching the images swirl. She was lost, cold, and Pantalaimon, in his form as a silver ermine, curled inside her parka, softly purring. Snowflakes caught in her eyelashes as she followed the symbols, her mind deep in the trance necessary to interpret the cascade of pictures—a green tree, a broom, a pot of tea, and the green eye of a cat. The pattern coalesced.
“Pan, there’s a home of a witch ahead. Through those trees. Maybe it’s a friend of Serafina Pekkala.”
Pantalaimon stuck his nose through an opening in her coat and sniffed. In an instant, he was a small, grey-brown mouse. He scurried up to her shoulder and perched there, his whiskers tickling her neck.
Lyra stepped through the snow, which was now up to her knees, through a grove of dead, creaking trees. Ahead, against the blinding whiteness, stood a small but quaint house. Smoke rose from the chimney. Lyra moved faster, and Pan clung tightly. “We can stop here for a while and warm up. And then find our way back to Lee.”
Pan squeaked. He seemed nervous, but he was usually wary of strangers.
“Hello?” Lyra knocked on the door. The wind whipped icy snow into her face as she waited. Surely someone was home.
“Who is it?” Came a voice from inside. A woman’s voice.
“Please help us. We are lost.”
The sound of bolts and latches, and then the door opened a crack.
Pan squeaked again. Lyra shushed him.
The woman was a witch, that was quite apparent. But unlike Serafina Pekkala and her sisters, this woman was green. As green as the needles of a Cloud pine. She smiled, a warm, sweet, welcoming smile. “Come in, come in! You must be frozen to your bones. I’m Elphaba.”
The house was quiet and dark, and the warmth from the fireplace made Lyra’s face flush. The witch offered to take her coat but stopped when she saw Pantalaimon perched on Lyra’s shoulder. “Oh, a little mouse! How adorable. I love animals.” She held out her hand, but Pan scurried to Lyra’s other shoulder.
“Pan, it’s all right,” Lyra said. The little daemon was trembling. Then Lyra saw why—out of the shadows had crept a sleek black cat. It let out a slow meow as it wound itself around the witch’s legs. “My name is Lyra. And this—“ she reached up and stroked Pan—“is Pantalaimon. Pan, for short.”
Elphaba smiled and Lyra couldn’t help but smile back. She really was beautiful, despite being the color of someone who had eaten spoiled food. Pan hopped on Lyra’s head, his little claws digging into her scalp. Lyra took off her heavy, sodden coat and plopped down in a chair by the fire. Elphaba went to her kitchen to fetch tea, her cat following close behind. Lyra lifted her daemon from her head and cupped him in her hands. “It’s okay,” she whispered. “She seems nice. Just stay away from that cat. We’ll rest here for a while and find our way back to Lee.” But the mouse stared ahead, his black pebble eyes full of uncertainty, and crawled up her arm back to the top of her head.
Elphaba returned with an iron teapot and put it over the fire. “Dear little Lyra, we’ll have you warmed up in no time.” She sat. “You’re lost, child, and I can’t imagine how you found your way here. Where were you going? It’s a wonder you managed to find me.”
“I was with my friend, Lee Scoresby,” Lyra explained. “We were on our way to Svalbard to see my friend Iorek. But Lee’s balloon went down in a terrible storm—a swirling dark sky full of black clouds—and I got lost in the snowstorm.”
Elphaba shook her head. “You poor dear. I’ve heard of such storms before.” The cat jumped up in her lap. “But I have never heard of this . . . Svalbard. Where are you from?”
“Oxford,” Lyra said. “Surely, you’ve heard of Oxford?”
Elphaba looked at her, perplexed. “My girl, you are very lost. You are in Oz.”
Lyra stared. Pan’s claws dug deeper into her scalp and she jumped. He was chittering in his strange mouse-ish way. Something was alarming him. “Ouch, Pan. Will you please—”
That’s when Lyra saw the eyes from the darkened doorway.
Elphaba’s eyes followed Lyra’s. From inside a doorway a small figure emerged. Lyra’s breath caught in her throat. A monkey.
Elphaba laughed. “Oh, no need to be afraid. That’s Chistery. He’s a darling. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Lyra blinked. It was nothing like Mrs. Coulter’s vile golden monkey, but it was no normal monkey, either. This monkey had wings.
And then a series of unfortunate things happened, all very quickly.
The black cat, sensing Pantalaimon’s distraction, leapt from Elphaba’s lap directly onto Lyra, its claws extended, scrambling to get the mouse on her head. Lyra screamed, which caused Elphaba to screech in the way of witches—high pitched, shrill, and piercing.
Chistery the flying monkey lifted from his feet and flew to his mistress. Lyra felt the rush of air from his wings as the cat, now in her lap, dugs its claws into her face as its jaws snapped at Pan.
But Pan was no longer a mouse. He was in his ermine form, heavy on her head, and he jumped on the cat, knocking it to the floor. Pan and the cat were a shifting mass of fur, twisting and rolling, hissing and snarling. “Pan!” Lyra screamed.
Elphaba’s eyes were wide. “Get that monster off my cat!”
The ermine and the cat rolled across the floor. Lyra could barely make out who was who as the cloud of fur and teeth and claws grew closer to the fireplace. Lyra smelled burnt hair. Her poor Pan was going to burn alive! “Get your cat off my Pan!”
And then the monkey took flight, wings flapping, and landed atop the fighting cat and ermine. Lyra ran to pull her daemon away from the witch’s pets, but slammed into Elphaba. The witch’s green fingers held her tightly. “Let me go!” Lyra screamed.
“You brought that thing in here,” Elphaba hissed. “This is your fault, little girl!”
The monkey screeched and jumped in place, its fangs bared. Its tail was on fire. It leapt between Lyra and Elphaba, tail twitching like a fiery rope. Elphaba’s grip loosened. Lyra pushed the witch away, but tripped over the twisting ball of ermine and cat beneath her feet. Her head smacked the stone hearth. She tried to sit up, but the room tilted at a terrible angle and she felt sick to her stomach. The smell of burning hair filled her nose. Was her hair on fire, too? Lyra felt pain in her own flesh as the cat bit and tore into her daemon. His pain was hers.
The cat let out a terrible cry, but it abruptly changed to a wet gurgling. Lyra turned her head to see Pan, his mouth red and dripping with blood, silver fur splattered with crimson splashes, lifting his head from the twitching cat. Oh, dear Pan, you’re alive!
Pan growled. Lyra turned and Elphaba stood over her. Her right hand held the poker from the fireplace. The monkey, clinging to her shoulder, seemed to be laughing as it sucked on its burnt tail. “I should have left you outside to die in the cold, you filthy little monster!” Elphaba raised the poker.
“Pan, help me!” Lyra cried.
Pan leapt, but Chistery the monkey saw him and jumped, too, slamming into the ermine in midair. Lyra tried to move, but the witch stepped on her neck. Lyra’s hands scrabbled at the Elphaba’s legs, but the witch was wearing heavy black boots, and her fingernails scraped uselessly against the leather.
Elphaba let out a terrible laugh, and the room lit up with a terrible, sickly greenish light. Everything started shaking, as if the entire house was going to explode as the witch’s rage hit a violent crescendo. With both hands holding the poker Elphaba raised it high over her head. Lyra tried to scream but the boot on her neck was crushing all the air out of her.
Pan yelped, and Lyra felt a stab of his pain in her own side. From the corner of her eye, she saw the monkey straddling Pantalaimon, its wings flapping madly, ripping at her beloved daemon as chunks of blood-flecked silver hair drifted in the air.
As her vision turned to white, and before the poker reached its apogee and came swinging down at her head, Lyra reached behind her. Her hand found something heavy and hot, and despite the searing of her flesh she grabbed the object and hurled it at the witch’s face.
Elphaba screamed. The poker clattered next to Lyra’s ear.
Lyra felt the witch’s foot pull away from her neck. She coughed, her lungs aching as air flooded into them.
Above her, the witch was . . . melting. That was the only way to describe the green face as it bubbled and oozed and slipped off her skull like wax. Elphaba screamed, her fingers trying to push the dripping skin back into place. The monkey jumped away from her, and the witch stumbled on the steaming, upturned iron teapot, and fell onto her table, then crashed to the floor.
So that’s what I hit her with, Lyra thought.
Pan caught the monkey by surprise, vaulting onto its back, digging in deep with his claws. The creatures’s wings flapped uselessly as Pan’s razor-sharp teeth bit down into the back of its neck.
Lyra struggled to her feet. Elphaba was on her back, her hands stuck in the mess of her melting face. Lyra picked up the teapot by it handle and held it over the dying witch.
“How about some more tea?” she asked, in her most polite Oxford voice.
After tending to Pan’s wounds, Lyra cleaned up the gruesome mess (the witch had turned into a greasy puddle and was easy to mop up, but she had to bury the remains of the unfortunate monkey in the snow). She opened the windows to let in some fresh air and threw a heavy log on the fire. She sat down on a comfortable, fur-blanketed chair and Pan, back to his mouse form, cuddled against her. They’d been through a lot together, her and her daemon, but at least they were warm, and safe.
“Let’s figure out how to get out of this Oz place,” she whispered.
Predicted Winner: Lyra
NOTE: THIS MATCH ENDS ON Thursday, March 5, 2015, AT 11:59 PM, EST
Cage Match fans: We’re looking forward to hearing your responses! If possible, please abstain from including potential spoilers about the books in your comments (and if you need spoilers to make your case, start your comments with: “SPOILER ALERT!”)