The trees shook. Gray-streaked goshawks snapped into flight, swooping into the gelid air, painting elaborate figure eights in the sky, shrieking, squealing like roused, inane swine while Rame busily barked orders in Olc, the language of the Shadow. They were mad birds, steered by their poisoned minds, yapping loudly to alert their master, the Shadow, of Toruk Tal’s location. Rame, the largest of the hawks, with his uniquely copper-colored chest and elaborate six-foot wingspan, glided confidently as if he owned the sky, commanding his soldiers to continue their boisterous banter.
“Tekherak caokle!” Rame cried. “That daft boy’s in the Forest! Now past the field! He’s crossing the ridge! Keep it going, soldiers! We must alert the Shadow! Remember, we must not let that blind boy find the Sacred Waterstone!”
Around they went in the frosty air, squawking, circling high above the young Lijian, keeping a watchful eye on his westward trek through Satqin Forest, hoping the Shadow would soon hear their siren and give Toruk chase.
But then, suddenly from on high, the mysterious Voice Upon the Mountain stabbed the dense cold air with his booming baritone, effectively drowning out the hawks’ calls.
“Toruk!” the Voice said in Lijian, his words slicing through the trees, echoing across the Forest, vibrating with omniscient authority and absolute power, rolling like cogent thunder upon a sliver of the Yuli Wind. “Continue to my Peak. Ignore those birds. They are ignorant of the truth. I have the Sacred Waterstone!”
Toruk stopped at where he was, where he had come to in his haste, where the glistening white meadow’s edge kissed a gently sloping ridge. The young Lijian looked up as if peering through the rose twilight, far across the wintered meadow toward Matla Mountain Peak. He first thought to question the Voice on how such an unfortunate typhlotic young man like himself could possibly scale Matla, and in the dead of a winter night at that, but instead, Toruk quietly placed his newly formed trust in the mysterious Voice, figuring the Voice, who had called him just days ago, would help him somehow. Besides, there was no other way. The young man knew he had to save his land, his brother, himself. And he had already begun the journey for the Sacred Waterstone; he could not turn back now.
“I know,” Toruk whispered back, believing the Voice Upon the Mountain could hear. “I’m coming.”
Since morning, the young man had been rushing through Satqin Forest, a tidy patch of nature unfolding west of the land of Ceto, seated east of the Chena River which divided the Forest from Matla Mountain. Though spectacularly plump in summer, Satqin was now stripped bare as an ousted king, with mounds of dead leaves and dry underbrush scattered across its landscape, with miserably thinned spruce and pine trees, with frosted brown hills and snowy meadows, with somber frozen brooks.
Unbeknownst to Toruk, the Voice Upon the Mountain knew this Forest intimately. The Voice had perambulated through the land hundreds of thousands of years ago when it was just a collection of Satqin saplings yearning to grow tall and spread their leaves, when the detritus had yet to form above the soil, when the sun rays blanketed the viridescent void with its golden glory, filling the entire wilderness with blinding, unfiltered light. He had passed through its entirety, surveying its every detail, breathing deep the purest of air. Only winged creatures and minuscule creeping things were inhabitants at the time, ants, beetles, grasshoppers and the like, ravens, robins, songbirds.
The Voice had tailored the Forest with his finger, encoding within its seeds his objectives, his aspirations, the very purpose for which he intended, its destiny. He had lingered upon the soft, new turf, plotting and planning what the Forest should become, watching the newly germinated flowers grow, their intoxicating sweet scents perfuming the air, chronicling the birth of every living thing and the new arrival of animals seeking refuge, marking the milestones at which the Forest crossed from plain, uncharacteristic land dotted with barely-there saplings to dense clusters of mature trees entwined within hills and plains surrounded by natural lagoons and pools, brimming with rich vegetation and a panoply of inhabited animals.
Satqin was supposed to belong to the Voice Upon the Mountain, enchanted with his power, his authority, his essence. The Voice had devised it to be clean, unvarnished, untouched by evil, innocent. He had drafted rules of which the Forest had sworn to obey, rules dictating the comings and goings of every regular Forest animal, guaranteeing that all living things would cling to their kind and never once wander from their instincts, rules governing the schedules of seasons, of natural laundering fires and of natural replenishing floods, rules underlying the renewal of life, warranting that each and every living thing found sufficient food to eat and water to drink, and rules concerning wickedness, explicitly prohibiting the admission of evil of any sort.
At first, the Forest obliged and followed suit, executing the Voice’s rules with perfect obedience. Over time, it flourished with breath-taking beauty. In the warm seasons, Satqin became a common destination visited by Lijian lovers seeking a secluded place to trade heartfelt secrets, Ulan hunting groups eager to score the next great prize, or young Cetan families camping for the first time, building fires by a brook while their children splashed in the water and danced among the fireflies. Ceto city dwellers had deemed the beautiful Forest an escape, the closest place to feel lost and away while ingesting the fresh air and gasping at the panoramic views of Matla Mountain Peak in the distance.
Yet, at some point after such bliss, the Forest betrayed the Voice Upon the Mountain. It fell prey to the Shadow, who had tricked the Forest one night into opening its arboreal doors for him. And after his monstrous body had waltzed in, the Shadow’s very presence poisoned the Forest. His death-breath instantly contaminated the air, annihilating vulnerable trees and vegetation. His beastly feet trampled the sod, killing it. His foolish, wicked nature infiltrated the bigger animals, teaching them his violent ways, driving them into a spiraling, demented frenzy, causing them to viciously fight each other for no apparent reason, to ignobly destroy their habitats, and to kill their mates for sport.
The Shadow had taken refuge in Satqin without the Voice’s permission and turned it into his dwelling, hiding within the shadows that he created, slipping in and out of darkness at will, seizing control of the goshawks and Rame, the principal of the hawks, using them as his pinions, teaching them his language all the while smugly shaking his fist at Matla Mountain Peak, particularly at the Voice Upon the Mountain.
But there was no refuge in his wickedness. The Shadow’s evil was like hot, bubbling oil snapping, popping, and spitting, indiscriminately burning anything who touched it or dared to venture near. His spirit was like that of a person sleeping on a bed of jagged rock with sandpaper for a blanket, for in his evil there was no comfort. His wickedness was like wading through thick, sinking sludge, or like looking at a once-desirable painting only to discover that the image was hopelessly distorted.
The Shadow’s evil was a mysterious sphinx, for he could be everything yet nothing all the same. He was like an air-filled balloon, an expansive void, an empty treasure box. He healed nothing. He loved nothing. He made nothing beautiful. Instead, the Shadow had polluted the Forest, the trees, the soil, and the air with his poison, causing nearby Ceto residents tragic bodily harm, distorting their vision, and even taking their very lives, all to prevent someone from eventually finding the Sacred Waterstone which, according to an old Lijian legend, was hidden somewhere in the wilderness.
Yet there was Toruk, confidently running through Satqin, refusing to seek refuge in it, for he also knew the Forest well. Some time ago, when Toruk was hiking with his father, Tofer Tal, when the young Lijian’s eyes were still seeing, when his mind was open to his father’s wisdom, feeding upon his father’s words like a babe to its mother’s milk, Toruk had learned about Satqin.
“Listen, sijn,” Tofer had said in his native Lijian tongue one glorious summer morning as they hiked, “this Forest is not what it seems. Keep your eyes open and watch.”
“Watch for what?” was Toruk’s likewise reply, looking at his father while shading his eyes from the pounding sun.
“For the Shadow,” Tofer replied, sighing, wiping his sweaty brow. “It’s a mean beast. It’s the reason why we’re looking for the Waterstone. That Shadow is the reason for the poison, son. He’s the reason for it all.”
“Rijto,” Tofer said, smiling, quietly hoping the old Lijian legend would prove true. “We’ll use it to heal not just Mama, but everybody who’s suffering in Ceto.”
“Jijpi,” Toruk said after some time, “what if we don’t find the Waterstone?”
“We will,” was Tofer’s quick reply. “No matter what, we keep looking everywhere. If something happens to me, then you keep looking. Just remember, don’t trust anything in this Forest, sijn, nothing.”
Indeed, Toruk had learned of the Forest’s waywardness and its propensity for evil. He had found Satqin to be both hospitable and inhospitable, a place of contradictions where life not only ran from death, but engulfed and transformed it all the same, as when sweet springs melted into oppressive summers or weeping willows sashaying in autumn flailed wildly like hairy phantoms in the harrows of winter. Animals of both predator and prey, their minds poisoned by the Shadow, roamed arrogantly, killing and being killed, unwittingly blending into the wild terrain no matter the season, white-tailed deer, brown and black bears, stark white hares, red-breasted cardinals, orange-brown coyotes, gray wolves.
Toruk had seen it all in those early days, witnessing the sweet stills of nature as the moment when a sparrow chick hatched from its egg or when foxes played hide and seek amongst their pups. Yet darkness and death were just as plain in Satqin, and even now he could barely stomach it. Toruk longed to complete this leg of his journey as fast as he could lest he succumb to his fears of the Forest’s dark scenes, the sinking of a wolf’s teeth into a fawn’s neck, viciously locking upon the babe until it stopped moving and breathed its last, the failed first flight of a young finch, its lifeless body snapped up and swallowed by a waiting black snake, the sudden shaking of the trees. It unsettled him.
“Left foot, right foot, left foot,” Toruk mumbled as he rushed through.
Though he could not see, he was listening to everything, to the thuds of his booted feet striking the frozen Forest floor, to the cacophony of the hawks far above him, to the tossing of crisp leaves fluttering in the periodic blasts of cold wind, to the scurrying of small animals out of his way. He had covered this very road before as a child, memorizing every inch of landscape towards the Chena River. He knew the way in every season, in spring with the fresh spray of new tulips clustered in a corner just beyond the second ridge to his right, in summer with the shifting of those small bushes full of sparrows behind him to his left, in autumn with the swish of the weeping willows beyond the meadow to his right, in winter with the whispered shifting of the thin naked branches of the birch trees he was just now passing.
Those whispers reminded Toruk of the night the Voice Upon the Mountain had first called him, months after his father had fatally succumbed to the Shadow’s poison. The young Lijian had been languishing on his bed on that mysterious night, sweating, tossing from side to side, unable to drift to sleep on account of his worries of solely caring for his little brother, Tame. Work had been hard to come by for a blind fellow like himself and the charity from his Ceto neighbors was quickly running dry.
Toruk had been thinking of his blindness that night, remembering that it had not been such a great burden at first. It had occurred gradually over the course of several months where his once 20/20 vision diminished to 20/100, then to 20/1000, then to nothing. His father had speculated that Toruk contracted the Shadow’s poison from their excursions in Satqin Forest when they began searching for the Waterstone to save Toruk’s mother, Matyp Tal. She was bedridden, for the poison had infiltrated her blood and organs, destroying her ability to walk, talk, and see. She had cried when she learned that her eldest child’s vision troubles had gradually worsened and refused to be consoled, for she feared that Toruk would diminish as rapidly as she had.
But he had not. Since he lived in Ceto, the land his father, mother, and himself immigrated to years ago from Liji, he already knew the roads, the streets, the neighborhoods, and the downtown buildings, thus was not particularly perturbed when he could no longer see where he was going. Toruk simply relied on his memory and his other senses, that of smell, touch, taste, and hearing to direct him. In all respects, he was the same young man as he was before contracting the Shadow’s poison, at least during his parents’ lifetime.
Yet after his parents’ demise, everything had changed. He despised the pity he heard in the local grocer’s voice who had turned Toruk down for the inventory job, citing the young man’s crippling blindness, his apparent lack of support, and his poor Lijian ethnicity. Toruk cringed when the local elderly Cetan women who were gathered at the park abruptly stopped talking when they saw him, then waited for him to pass by before plunging into pitiful gossip about his “unfortunate situation.” He even avoided Rona at times, for he could no longer stomach his best friend’s constant questioning whether he was “alright.” The nothingness his eyes saw was like his hope, darkening over time, threatening to slip away. And worst of all, Toruk had feared for Tame, for he had heard his little brother bump into the wall the other day, remarking to Toruk that he “didn’t see it.”
Toruk had found his blindness to be much more than a disability but a full impediment to sustaining his own independence. Before, his father had assisted Toruk with that which he could no longer do. And before that, his mother had taken the role. But without his parents, Toruk was suddenly faced with the dilemma of supporting himself and Tame on his own.
Though he had kept his childhood home, he could not manage it. Toruk had known every crook and cranny of the small one-story wooden structure built by his father just outside of downtown Ceto, yet he could barely care for it. He had been oblivious to the thick dust that accumulated over the fireplace mantle or piled atop the old picture frames of their Lijian relatives or collected in the corners of the kitchen floor until he or Tame succumbed to nasty fits of sneezing and wheezing. He hadn’t ‘noticed’ the chipped, peeling paint in Tame’s bedroom until after he heard the young child chewing on something one day, and after demanding that Tame give him what he was eating, gasped as he felt the dangerous lead paint chips in his hand. Toruk had been ignorant of the state of their hopelessly rotted wooden furniture until it surprisingly gave way beneath a guest’s weight. He had been unaware of the weakness in the roof until water began leaking into his room after a stormy night. In the winter, he had not realized the front stoop was iced over until little Tame slipped and painfully fell when stepping on it.
Such were the worrying thoughts coursing through Toruk’s mind on that night when the Voice first whispered to him.
“Toruk, come to the Peak,” the Voice had whispered, his tone like a soft kiss to the young Lijian’s soul, startling him, nonetheless.
Toruk had shot up in his bed and turned his ear to the sound as if it had emanated from somewhere outside his room.
“Toruk,” the Voice repeated, “Ij lemi. Come to me. I will give it to you.”
“Who’s there?” Toruk whispered, wondering if it was Tame playing tricks on him as he was fond of doing in the middle of the night.
“Come to the Peak,” the Voice said once again.
Toruk sat quietly, pondering the sound, confused as to how he could hear the Voice both with his ears and in his heart.
“What’s going on?” Toruk asked, wondering if this strange phenomenon was indeed a figment of his imagination or perhaps a consequence of his troubled mind.
“Get up, Toruk,” the Voice said, “and come to me.”
Toruk moved to the edge of his bed, his feet touching the floor, his hands on his lap, his head tilted up, for he realized the sound was coming from above.
“Come to the Peak where I am,” the Voice repeated. “I love you.”
Toruk quietly contemplated the sound. It was an older man’s voice speaking in perfect Lijian, a bass booming and full, reverberating across Toruk’s soul with a peculiar echo like that of a bucket tumbling down an endless well.
“Who are you?” Toruk asked.
“Who are you?” Toruk repeated.
“I am the Voice Upon the Mountain,” replied the Voice.
“The Voice Upon the Mountain?”
“Come to the Peak where I am, Toruk.”
“Toruk, get up and come to me. I love you. I have found you worthy. I will give it to you.”
“Worthy? Worthy of what? Give me what?”
“Give me what?” Toruk repeated.
And just as Toruk expected, Tame suddenly burst into his room, giggling. He ran to Toruk and hugged him, then jumped on the bed, laughing, singing silly songs as five-year-olds do, completely oblivious to Toruk’s somber mood.
Tame was the spitting image of their mother. He had Matyp’s rich brown eyes, wide smile, and dimpled cheeks. And he shared her personality, light, airy, happy, full of love and joy. Rarely did Tame ever cry or dissolve into angry fits. He lived each day as if it were an exciting adventure, as if Ceto was not plagued by the Shadow’s poison, as if his parents, Tofer and Matyp, were simply on a long trip and were due to return soon, as if food and drink were free and unending, as if all was aright with the world in every aspect.
“Tame Tal!” Toruk cried in annoyance as he stood up then felt around the bed for his little brother who was playfully evading capture. “Get out of my room! Go back to bed!”
“But who were you talking to?” Tame asked, his soft voice innocent and sweet.
“No one,” Toruk replied, unable to sustain any anger toward his sweet brother. “Just go back to bed, Tame.”
Tame bounced off the bed and onto the wooden floor. He hugged his big brother once again then obediently left, closing the door behind him with an emphatic giggle.
Toruk sighed and sat down on his bed again, wondering if the Voice was still there.
“Hello?” Toruk whispered to the air.
“Just come to me,” the Voice replied after some time. “Come to the Peak. I will give it to you.”
“But give me what exactly?”
“The Scared Waterstone.”
“You mean, what my father and I had been searching for?”
“I love you. I am calling you. Come to the Peak, Toruk. I will test you along the way to confirm that you are worthy.”
“I will give you three tests.”
“You will learn to repeat what I say exactly as I say it. That is the first requirement of a soul worthy to distribute the Waterstone.”
“You will learn to distribute it to all people without judgment or division, to both friend and foe. That is the second requirement.”
“But I don’t understand.”
“And you will learn to defeat him, Toruk. That will be the final test, the last requirement.”
“Tell no one of my call to you except for your uncle, Quinn Tal. Go to him before you come to me. He will advise you,” said the Voice.
“Uncle Quinn? He’s going to advise me? Of what?” asked Toruk.
“But I thought the Waterstone was in Satqin near the Chena River?” said Toruk.
“But why did you call me worthy?”
“And why the Mountain Peak?”
Toruk had pondered the Voice’s cryptic words that entire night and the days after, wondering what had happened, wondering if what he had heard was indeed true. The Voice’s words stubbornly echoed within his soul like a song playing in his mind day and night, beckoning him to come to the Peak, urging him to hurry. And despite the negative counsel he had later received from Rona and the mayor, Toruk chose to believe Uncle Quinn who had warned him not to dillydally but to immediately accept the Voice’s call. The young Lijian eventually found himself packing as he had done with his father many times before, preparing for one last hike, this time to Matla Mountain Peak.
And he was almost there. With the bag of Uncle Quinn’s climbing tools slung across Toruk’s body, he rushed forward, listening to the restless, whispering trees, waiting for the Voice Upon the Mountain to speak again and encourage him that he was on the right track, that the westward road he and Uncle Quinn had mapped to the Peak was correct, through Satqin Forest, across the Chena River, into Matla Valley, then to the base of Matla Mountain.
The hawks followed Toruk, circling high above in the dark blue night, squawking incessantly, keeping a watchful eye on his every move. Some winter clouds temporarily moved, revealing the bright winter moon and its surrounding stars though Toruk could not marvel at their brilliance. He blindly continued westward instead, his youthful frame moving in quick determined strides, keenly feeling for the terrain where it dipped and climbed, where it rolled and bended, where it lay flat then rugged.
“Left foot, right foot, left foot,” Toruk mumbled to himself as he hurried, breathing heavily, winter smoke puffing from his mouth, for he was sincerely intent on reaching the Chena River within the hour. He could smell it; the River’s purity and freshness softly permeated the air as he advanced.
Meadow of Memory
Toruk stopped. Though he was just yards away from the River, he abruptly stopped when he heard a strange sound like that of glass popping and crushing beneath someone’s feet.
“Hello?” Toruk said, turning his ear in the direction of the noise which was behind him to his left.
The sound briefly stopped then resumed, growing louder with each strike as if someone was angrily stomping upon glass.
“Hello?” Toruk repeated, his voice quivering.
The sound was coming from the Shadow though Toruk did not yet know it. The creature had been watching Toruk since morning, hiding behind the rustling trees, tracking him through Rame and the hawks while quietly calculating how to permanently sever Toruk from his journey to find the Waterstone.
Though the Shadow was a horrid, despicable creature, he possessed many unique powers, one of which was the ability to elicit awful, maddening sounds through the air designed to startle, confuse then eventually capture his unsuspecting prey. It was a peculiar power, for only the Shadow could mimic nearly every sound and voice in existence, copying the tone and tenor from the gentlest of whispers to the piercing of haunting shrills. He simply opened wide his expansive mouth filled with filthy lion sharp teeth and a snake-like black tongue, and expressed various nefarious sounds throughout Satqin, confounding and disturbing its inhabitants while boldly threatening newcomers.
The Shadow, salivating with delight, mercilessly increased the glass-crushing sound’s decibel, intentionally torturing Toruk with it, causing the young Lijian to cover his ears in agony while backing away from the direction of the River. In his delirium, Toruk inadvertently stumbled off the chosen path and began wandering in the Forest, desperate to get away from the sound, his head pounding with ache, his stomach turning with nausea, his teeth grinding in agony.
Toruk was not relying on his senses as he used to, as Uncle Quinn had warned him to. Instead, he mindlessly traveled east, first through a dense cluster of wintered trees, then turned slightly north, stumbling up and down a gentle hill as the unbearable sound intensified in his ears. He did not hear the little Forest animals scurry out of his way nor did he notice the smell of the pure Chena River fade away. He was likewise oblivious to the sudden silence of the hawks, for they had abandoned their overhead surveillance, satisfied that their job of alerting the Shadow to Toruk’s location was successful. Toruk was focused only on the sound and the excruciating pain it was causing to his head.
“Awww!” the young Lijian cried, cringing in pain, not realizing he was now over four miles from the River, unknowingly standing at the edge of the Meadow of Memory.
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the Voice Upon the Mountain had set aside nearly 20 acres of pristine land within Satqin, planting seeds of herbs, flowers, vegetation, and wild grass to primarily serve as a place for animals to graze. As the grassy lands appeared, the Meadow of Memory bloomed with layers upon layers of rich, natural color. Its floor had been bright green most seasons. Littered throughout the vibrant Meadow floor were herbs such as wild translucent dandelions, white and black mushrooms, green sage, dark brown clovers, purple bergamot, bright red bee balm, creamy white beargrass, and even white garlic bulbs clustered near beds of wild flowers such as yellow sunflowers, white and pink trillium, soft purple rhododendron, dark purple alfalfa, golden tickseeds, forest green liverwort, creeping blue phlox, white lilies, and spectacular blue irises all sharing the Meadow’s lush vegetation of orange butterfly weeds, evergreen boxwoods, lilac shrubs, and light blue snowbelles.
Animals of every kind used to frolic as happy babes within the colorful Meadow, grazing upon the bright green grass, sniffing the wildflowers, or feeding on the wild mushrooms. Butterflies of every species used to flutter here and there in the Meadow, their beautiful wings adding to the dizzying colorful array. During the day, the rainbow Meadow had been lit with magnificent golden glory from the sun, its hazy golden hues dappling across the landscape, hovering over the vegetation like an angelic halo. At night, the Meadow had turned silver beneath the moon, its plants softly swaying to the moonlit breezes whether in summer, spring, fall, or winter.
It was the artistry of the Voice’s finger that had designed the Meadow of Memory. In those early days, he had often visited it, strolling across, gasping at the Meadow’s burgeoning beauty, his toes sinking into the soft grass, his nose enjoying the delicate fragrances of the wildflowers, his hair tussling within the breezes.
And it was then when the Voice Upon the Mountain enchanted the Meadow, filling it with the power to evoke beautiful, loving memories in the minds of anyone passing through. He began by whispering out into the Meadow of Memory’s air some of his own fond memories, that of the day the Chena Sea sacrificed himself to become the Chena River in order to save the people of Ceto, or that of the moment the Yuli Wind was born, a little sputtering torrent at the time, spinning and churning with the great love the Voice and the Chena had expressed to each other as a benevolent father and son duo, sitting on the same side, working together, locked in solidarity and heartfelt fidelity, or that of the day, flanked by the Yuli Wind and the Chena on either side, the Voice looked into the future and happily finalized his great plan to eventually lead all people to the Peak and live with him there.
The Voice had ordered the Meadow to allow such good memories and more to swim within its essence, to penetrate its atmosphere, to cling to the flowers and plants.
“Ba shlua a opvi,” he had commanded the Meadow in Vana, the language of the Voice Upon the Mountain, the language of love. “Let them enjoy abundant peace and security of mind.”
Bowing in obedience to the Voice Upon the Mountain, the Meadow had initially agreed. Thus, when a person had later entered the Meadow and breathed deep the delicious air or touched the flowers or shrubs, beautiful, truthful memories of that person’s life would miraculously flood their mind, uplift their mood, and heal their heart.
Cetan singers had sung many songs about the spectacular Meadow. Books were written about its unseen powers. Even Cetan counselors had recommended excursions to the Meadow of Memory to couples struggling in their relationships, for all knew that once in the Meadow, memories of love, joy, and happiness would swiftly return, filling human hearts with compassionate, healing sentiments.
The Meadow was steadfast in keeping its agreement with the Voice, vowing to never stray from his commands. Likewise, the Voice was overjoyed with the Meadow, for the grassy space provided a beautiful place for a person to heal their troubled minds and renew broken relationships. And it was to one day serve as a hopeful catalyst to journeying to the Peak, a place where healed souls would look to the Mountain Peak in the distance and wonder if it was just as beautiful and healing as the Meadow. The Voice had hoped such souls would then venture to Matla Mountain seeking to reach the Peak where he was, seeking to encounter a life filled with joy, happiness and love, a life of never-ending beauty, a life instilled in the richness of wisdom, wealth and good company. Such was part of the Voice Upon the Mountain’s great plan.
But the Meadow of Memory later broke its vow. It was corrupted by the corrupting Shadow who, after entering Satqin, found the Meadow’s grassy plain and set his monstrous, wayward feet upon it, instantly killing the grass, most of the herbs, and some of the flowers and other vegetation. Only a sliver of the Meadow’s beauty had survived the Shadow’s presence. Yet instead of the Meadow calling upon the Voice for help, it sadly learned the Shadow’s Olc language before making a deleterious deal with him, offering the creature its power to infiltrate and influence human minds so long as the Shadow did not destroy the scant remnant of the Meadow’s beauty.
Little did the Meadow know that nothing good nor beautiful could ever survive the Shadow’s presence for long, for soon after the Shadow had agreed, the remainder of the Meadow’s beauty swiftly died, resulting in brown, withered flower stems, brown bushes rotted to their roots, and the ugly brown refuse of once-green grass. The Shadow had laughed at the Meadow’s misfortune, smugly shaking his fist at the Mountain Peak in the distance while he poisoned the Meadow’s air with his own dark memories.
He commanded the Meadow to influence people’s mind with darkness should they dare to venture through. The Meadow had no choice but to agree. When unsuspecting souls later stepped into the Meadow, thinking it was still imbued with the Voice’s benevolent power, their minds were swiftly overpowered by the Meadow’s now dark power which attacked them by filling their minds with fake, troubling dark memories. Many victims had afterward sunk into depression and sadness, or gone mad with mental disease, unable to care for themselves. They were filled with self-loathing and hateful suspicion of others, returning to their homes after mindlessly wandering in the Forest for days, months, even years.
“Whatever you do, sijn,” Tofer had warned Toruk one day when they were hiking through Satqin, “stay out of the Meadow of Memory. It’ll distort your own memories and turn them against you. And then you’ll get lost.”
“Where is it?” Toruk had asked him.
“Where the Forest dips and turns into a big plain. The grass used to be soft there, but now it’s dead brown. Everything’s dead in the Meadow, son. Everything.”
“Do you think the Waterstone would be there, jijpi? Hiding where we least expect it?”
“No, son, I don’t. Nothing good comes out of the Meadow anymore, only madness.”
“But jijpi, maybe we should look just in case. We haven’t found anything and-”
“Toruk Tal!” growled Tofer. “Listen to me. Despite whatever you may possess in life: love, food, shelter, money or friends, none of that matters if you’ve gone mad. Your mind is what steers the heart, son. It’s what tells your feet where to go and not go. It’s what tells your hands what to do and not do. Without a clear mind, you are lost, son. You are lost in the past, lost in the lies filling up your mind, lost in darkness. You can’t think straight. You can’t live right. You’re just lost. Do you understand me? Lost!”
Yet there Toruk was, unknowingly standing in the middle of the Meadow, his hands pressed against his ears, his eyes squeezed shut, his body doubled over in agony at the unrelenting glass-crushing sound permeating the Forest.
Rame and the hawks began squealing with excitement, wildly flapping their wings, waiting for the Shadow to finally pounce upon Toruk. But once the demented creature was satisfied that he had successfully pushed Toruk off his path, he abruptly ceased the glass-crushing sound, then hid behind a tree to watch for a time, certain that the young man would swiftly crumble beneath the Meadow’s cognitive-inducing madness.
“Who’s there?” Toruk asked after the glass-crushing sound suddenly stopped.
He paused to gauge where he was, listening, feeling, smelling. He sensed the frozen ground beneath his boots were crisper than he expected. Toruk slowly realized he was standing atop snow-covered dead grass. He could not hear the usual whisk of icy wind tunneling through and around the dense Forest trees, convincing him that he was somewhere in an open plain. And as he thought about the entirety of Satqin Forest’s landscape, its fields, its hills, its open and closed spaces, every inch of the land he had traversed with his father, Toruk finally realized he had wandered into the Meadow of Memory.
“I need to get out of here,” he mumbled to himself as he quickly turned around, hoping to catch a whiff of the fresh clean air of the Chena River in order to guide him back in the direction he should go.
But the Meadow was alive, filled with its corrupt air hovering just above the ground. Its brown expanse was void of vegetation, rebellious to the Voice, fully bent to the Shadow’s whims. The Meadow had quietly watched Toruk wander into its territory, his steps uncertain and sloppy. Then it waited for the Shadow’s signal, a prearranged secret call the Shadow had vowed to make once Toruk was where he wanted him. The Meadow allowed Toruk to move deeper, step by step, unwittingly coming closer to its most concentrated darkest part where the Shadow had initially entered long ago, pouring out his wickedness, fouling the Meadow’s air. And once Toruk reached it, the Shadow, bellowing in Olc, swiftly sent a silent call outside of Toruk’s hearing to the Meadow.
“Gik ke!” ordered the Shadow. “Destroy his mind!”
Suddenly, Toruk felt a puff of foul air burst through his nose and mouth. He gagged at first, coughing, wiping his nose, sneezing, thinking a winter breeze had blown by carrying some mild Forest debris that perhaps had come too close to his face. It was not a breeze but the Meadow who had done it, channeling its most concentrated, poisonous aerosol up and in Toruk’s orifices, giving him no choice but to ingest it. He tried to fight it, first coughing and sneezing it out, waving away what he believed was Forest debris, then turning around in hopes of giving his back to what he believed was a wayward breeze.
Yet his efforts proved useless. Toruk could not help but to breathe in the Meadow’s air. Almost immediately he became confused, unsure of what he was doing and why. Scents and sounds began swirling around him, disorienting him, causing him to stagger like a drunken man. He attempted to feel around his surroundings for something to lean against, a tree, a bush, a rock, but found nothing. He inadvertently dropped his bag. His stomach tossed with queasiness. His headache fiercely pounded. His heart began beating wildly as he struggled to breathe. He felt the air turning colder, icier, stiffening his fingers, and stinging his exposed ears and nose. Toruk tried to speak but felt his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth. He could not say what he wanted to say. He could not move where he wanted to move. Then when the Meadow of Memory finally succeeded in suppressing Toruk’s consciousness, his subconsciousness mysteriously awakened, involuntarily turning him inward as both real and unreal memories suddenly began to play in his mind.
 Olc: Tekherak caokle! English: There he is!
 Lijian: sijn. English: son.
 Lijian: Mijpi. English: mother, mama.
 Lijian: rijto. English: right.
 Lijian: Jijpi. English: father, papa.
 Lijian: sijn. English: son
 Lijian: Ij lemi. English: I love you.
 Vana: Ba shlua a opvi. English: Bringhealingto the people.
 Lijian: sijn. English: son.
 Lijian: jijpi. English: father, papa.
 Olc: Gik ke! English: Get him!