The book begins with Lyra and her dæmon Pantalaimon watching a flock of birds attacking another bird which they rescue. He turns out to be Ragi, the dæmon of a witch named Yelena Pazhets. He claims that his mistress is ill, and to be searching for the alchemist Sebastian Makepeace to find a cure. Lyra helps Ragi, but it turns out to be a trap laid by the witch, who wants to kill Lyra in revenge for the death of her son, who died in the war against The Authority, and frame Makepeace, the boy's father, for the crime.
As well as the short story, the book includes a few extras:
- A map of Oxford, published by Globetrotter, with catalogues on the reverse.
- Two pages from Jericho, a book about this neighbourhood in Oxford.
- A postcard sent by Mary Malone to Angela Gorman.
- A leaflet about a cruise on the S.S. Zenobia, with a handwritten note reading 'Café Antalya, Süleiman Square, 11a.m.'.