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Meridion sat in the darkness, lost in thought. The instrument panel of the Time Editor was dark as well; the great machine stood silent for the moment, the gleaming threads of diaphanous film hanging idle on their spools, each reel carefully labeled Past or Furute. The Present, as ever, hung evanescent like silver mist in the air under the Editor's lamp, twisting and changing moment by moment in the half-light.
Draped across his knees was an ancient piece of thread, a lore strand from the Past. It was a film fragment of immeasurable importance, burnst and broken beyond repair on one end. Meridion picked it up gingerly, then turned it over in his hands and sighed.
Time was a fragile thing, especially when manipulated mechanially. He had tried to be gentle with the dry film, but it had cracked and ignited in the press of the Time Editor's gears, burning the image he had needed to see. Now it was too late; the moment was gone forever, along with the information it held. The identity of the demon he was seeking would remain hidden. There was no going back, at least not this way.
Meridion rubbed his eyes and leaned back against the translucent aurelay, the gleaming field of energy tied to his life essence that he had shaped for the moment into a chairlike seat, resting his head within its hum. The prickling melody that surrounded him was invigorating, clearing his thoughts and helping him to concentrate. It was his namesong, his life's own innate tune. A vibration unique in all the world, tied to his true name.
The demon he was seeking had great power over names, too. Meridion had gone back into the Past itself to find it, looking for a way to avert the path of devastation it had carefully constructed over Time, but the demon had eluded him. F'dor were the masters of lies, the fathers of deception. They were without corporeal form, binding themselves to innocent hosts and living throuh them or using them to do their will, then moving on to another more powerful host when the opportunity presented itself. Even far away, from his vantage point in the Future, there was no real way to see them.
For this reason Meridion had manipulated Time, had sliced and moved around pieces of the Past to bring a Namer of great potential together with those that might help her in the task of finding and destroying the demon. It had been his hope that these three would be able to accomplish this feat on their side of Time before it was too late to prevent what the demon had wrought, the devastation that was now consuming lands on both sides of the world. But the strategy had been a risky one. Just bringing lives together did not guarantee how they would be put to use.
Already he had seen the unfortunate consequences of his actions. The Time Editor had run heatedly with the unspooling of the time strands, fragments of film rending apart and swirling into the air above the machine as the Past destroyed itself in favor of the new. The stench of the burning timefilm was rank and bitter, searing Meridion's nostrils and his lungs, leaving him trembling at the thought of what damage he might inadvertently be doing to the Future by meddling in the Past. But it was too late now.
Meridion waved his hand over the instrument panel of the Time Editor. The enormous machine roared to life, the intricate lenses illuminated by its ferocious internal light source. A warm glow spilled onto the tall panes of glass that formed the walls of the circular room and ascended to the clear ceiling above. The glimmering stars that had been visible from every angle above and below him in the darkness a moment before disappeared in the blaze of reflected brilliance. Meridion held the broken fragment of film up to the light.
The images were still there, but hard to make out. He could see the small, slender woman because of her shining hair, golden and reflecting the sunrise, bound back with a black ribbon, standing on the brink of morning in the vast panorama of the mountains where he had last sighted the two of them. Meridion blew gently on the lore-strand to clear it of dust and smiled as the tiny woman in the frame drew her cloak closer about herself. She stared off into the valley that stretched below her, prickled with spring frost and the patchy light of dawn.
Her traveling companion was harder to find. Had Meridion not known he was there prior to examining the film he never would have seen him, hidden in the shadows cast by the sun. It took him several long moments to find the outline of the man's cloak, designed as it was to hide him from the eyes of the world. A faint trace of mist rose from the cloak and blended with the rising dew burning off in the sunlight.
As he suspected, the lore-strand had burnt at precisely the wrong moment, obliterating the Namer's chance to catch a glimpse of the F'dor's ambassador before he or she reached Ylorc. Meridion had been watching through her eyes, waiting for the moment when she first beheld the henchman, as the Seer had advised. He could make out a thin dark line in the distance; that must have been the ambassadorial caravan. She had already seen it. The opportunity had passed. And he had missed it.
He dimmed the lamp on the Time Editor again and sat back in the dark sphere of his room to think, suspended within his glass globe amid the stars, surrounded by them. There must be another window, another way to get back into her eyes.
Meridion glanced at the endless wall of glass next to him and down at the surface of the Earth miles below. Black molten fire was crawling slowly across the darkened face of the world, withering the continents in its path, burning without smoke in the lifeless atmosphere. At the rim of the horizon another glow was beginning; soon the fire sources would meet and consume what little was left. It took all of Meridion's strength to keep from succumbing to the urge to scream. In his darkest dreams he could never have imagined this.
In his darkest dreams. Meridion sat upright with the thought. The Namer was prescient, she could see the Past and Future in her dreams, or sometimes just by reading the vibrations that events had left behind, hovering in the air or clinging to an object. Dreams gave off vibrational energy; if he could find a trace of one of them, like the dust that hovered in afternoon light, he could follow it back to her, anchor himself behind her eyes again, in the Past. Meridion eyed the spool which had held the brittle lore-strand he had spliced together, hanging listlessly on the Editor's main pinion.
He seized the ancient reel and spun out the film, carefully drawing the edge where it had broken cleanly back under the Time Editor's lens. He adjusted the eyepiece and looked. The film in frame was dark, and at first it was hard to make out anything within the image. Then after a few moments his eyes adjusted, and he caught a flash of gold as the Namer sighed in the darkness of her chamber and rolled over in her sleep. Meridion smiled.
He had found the record of the night before she and Ashe had left on their journey. Meridion had no doubt she had been in the throes of dreaming then.
After a moment's consideration he selected two silver instruments, a gathering tool with a hair-thin point and a tiny sieve basket soldered onto a long slender handle. The mesh of the thumbnail-sized basket was fine enough to hold even the slightest particle of dust. With the greatest of care Meridion blew on the frame of film, and watched under the lens for a reaction. He saw nothing. He blew again, and this time a tiny white spark rose from the strand, too small to be seen without magnification even by his extraordinarily sensitive eyes.
Skillfully Meridion caught the speck with the gathering tool and transferred it to the basket. Then, watching intently, he waited until the lamp of the Time Editor illuminated the whisper-thin thread that connected it to the film. He turned his head and exhaled. He had caught a dream-thread.
Working carefully he drew it out more until it was long enough to position under the most powerful lens. He never averted his eyes as he gestured to one of the cabinets floating in the air above the Editor. The doors opened, and a tiny bottle of oily liquid skittered to the front of the shelf, then leapt into the air, wafting gently down until it came to rest on the gleaming prismatic disc hovering in the air beside him. Keeping his eyes fixed on the thread lest he lose sight of it, Meridion uncorked the bottle with one hand and carefully removed the dropper. Then he held it over the thread and squeezed.
The glass below the lens swirled in a pink-yellow haze, then cleared. Meridion reached over and turned the viewing screen onto the wall. It would take a moment for him to get his bearings, but it was always that way when one was watching from inside someone else's dreams.
Copyright © 2000 by Elizabeth Haydon