Sometime after, they arrived at the town’s plaza. Evening was fast approaching as Evalieh and Hanali worked their way through the food merchants. Scents of smoked fish, chicken, beef, and other animals filled the air. Evalieh’s nose tingled with excitement when he smelled the fruit-glazed meat and the tangy sauces and soups. While people came and went from stall to stall, gathering whatever they pleased, Evalieh took a step back. He stepped to the side, feeling a chill run down his body. This moment reminded him of his life back home, where people are ordered to eat at certain times of the day. Different colored pills appear on conveyer belts in each person’s home and one by one they ingest their daily nutrients. A snapping sound appeared as Evalieh began to take his pill.
“Hey, are you alright?” Hanali snapped his fingers and waved his hands around.
Evalieh snapped out of his daze and took a deep breath. He stared into Hanali’s hazel eyes and then at the others around them. His body relaxed, making him feel at ease. He gave a slight smile and chomped on a cluster of tart grapes, reassuring Hanali that he was okay.
Afterwards, Hanali spent a great deal of time talking about all the landmarks of the Sun Clan and how much he admires his mother’s strength. He went on to mention how this clan connects to the other regions through a series of paths and fields. Being so close to the other clans allows the sun members to help others or travel freely between regions. When asked about the Shaman Clan, Hanali took a great pause and had nothing good to say. He told Evalieh that shadow and light are two sides of the same coin, but they can never share the same side. To Hanali, the shamans want to hinder everything the Sun Clan holds dear, their values and belief in the gods.
Later, that evening, when the sun ticked across the sky and stars appeared, Hanali led Evalieh along a jungle path. A wood sign called it the Lantern Way. Together, they followed the cobblestone path past houses and rows of crops that grew potatoes, tomatoes, and corn. Hanali didn’t leave Evalieh much time to admire the strange new plants before the jungle palms and bushes started to arch overtop the path like a tunnel. Most of the lamplight and torches were blotted out making the path feel cool.
Evalieh swatted at the bugs that buzzed in his face. Some paradise, he thought. Every now and then, he’d look around to make sure Hanali was nearby, hoping he hadn’t gotten lost. When Hanali would get a few steps away, Evalieh would pick up his pace.
They eventually approached a large clearing where a massive jade colosseum stood in the back of an alleyway. The entire path and lamp posts was made of glistening jade stones.
“This is the Jade Path,” Hanali said.
“Oh, really? I’d have never guessed that one.”
Others from the Sun Clan gathered around the stalls and colorful stucco buildings trying to get some of the goodies on sale. Freshly baked breads, warm smoked meats filled the air alongside sweets and pulled candies. The other buildings housed some of the other clan’s facilities. To the right was the Warrior Clan’s training facility where people fought in duels or challenged wood statues. To the left, sat the Earth Clan’s large garden which had lush colorful flowers that grew larger than Evalieh. Beside the garden was the Moon Clan’s house of faith, where people paid tribute to the moon. The Water Clan’s fountain show illuminated the jade colosseum as lines formed at its entryways.
Evalieh’s was impressed, his eyes widened with awe and a little smirk crept across his face. He turned his head and covered his mouth, hoping his expression didn’t catch Hanali’s attention. He felt like he had no time for this kind of idling or celebration and that he was in a hurry to play his part and return home. Along the way, he spotted a large square building standing near the colosseum. It was a castle with many turrets and ringing bells branching out into its pointed roofs. Marble and metal adorned the exterior while a labyrinth of crisscrossing pipes formed an armored shell around it. The windows were pointed into arches and angles, making the building look angry. Clan members passed through iron doors and clouds of steam escaped into the air.
Evalieh stepped back and hid behind Hanali. “Wh-what is that place?” Evalieh asked.
Hanali said, “That is the Moon Clan’s bank. They devised a monetary system for the whole island. They believe peace is achieved through wealth and good faith. From the serenity of their snowbound lands, time stops, and money rolls.”
“What does that even mean?”
Hanali grabbed Evalieh by the arm and led him away from the bank. He explained that the flames of the clans are kept within this bank, far below the surface, in the gold mines. Evalieh assumed the people’s money was stored below, but Hanali corrected him. For every turret on the bank, stands a vault for individuals. Hanali laughed when he described the many stairs and elevators it took to climb to his mother’s vault. It was a trial every time she wanted to change her rings for something different.
Soon, Evalieh and Hanali passed beneath the arches of the jade coliseum and were shuffled into the stands of the Sun Clan. Six areas were painted and decorated with tapestries and symbols: gold for the Sun Clan, white for the Moon Clan, teal for the Earth and Water Clan, purple for the Shaman Clan, red for the Warrior clan, and green for the Sky Clan. At the center of the structure 6 pillars with tiny gates spewed water into a moat where a round island sat.
Without needing to ask, Hanali was ready to explain. “Those pillars are the six gods. Mother and the other clan leaders will approach the island where they will conduct newcomers to choose their flame.”
Evalieh narrowed his eyes and observed each pillar. To the north, stood a diamond crane for the Moon Clan. Next, to the northeast, stood a jade turtle for the Earth and Water Clan. Then, to the southeast, stood a broken pearl dragon for the sun Clan. To the southwest, a ruby wolf stood for the Warrior Clan. Lastly, to the northwest, for the Shaman Clan, a shrouded figure bound in chains and onyx stood hunched over. To Evalieh’s surprise, the onyx structure oozed a goopy black substance from a hole in its heart. The urge to stare back at the statue rose and tingled across his skin, startling him, until he looked away. Feeling a sweaty chill wash over him, Evalieh took a deep breath and looked around. “Wh-where is the sky Clan’s god?” he asked.
Hanali said, “The sky clan doesn’t have a representing god. ‘The inner-self,’ as they put it, is the god—or if you want to be literal—it’s an eyeball.”
Evalieh winced with disgust. “Ew! Who wants a floaty drippy bloody eye as a god?!”
Hanali laughed and bumped Evalieh on the nose with his fist. “Never said it was a floating eyeball.”
Evalieh rolled his eyes and slumped back in his seat. He perked up and tilted his head when the Moon Clan came walking through their icy gate dressed all in black lace. Intrigued, Evalieh stumbled over the seats and drew closer to the edge, hearing the Moon Clan sing a serenade about moonlight. Their angelic voices echoed across the colosseum, causing him to hum along.
Hanali came up behind. “Do you enjoy that?” he asked.
Evalieh nodded. “This is song—right? Music—you would say, yes?”
“Are you saying you don’t know what music is?”
Evalieh shook his head and looked down with a frown.
“Awe, that’s okay!” Hanali patted Evalieh on the back. “Don’t be afraid to sing along, even if you’re not a moon member. This ceremony is our chance to enjoy the moment.”
Evalieh scoffed and looked back at the young man. His eyes became glassy, and he took a deep breath. “How can I enjoy something that’s forbidden?” He rubbed his eyes and looked at the moon members. “Only a select few are allowed to sing and chant for the ADAM corporation. If we sing about anything else, it may weaken ADAM and our prosperity will dwindle—sending us back into the days of decay,” he said.
Hanali tilted his head, looking perplexed. “Is this Adam—your god?”
Evalieh shrugged and closed his eyes.
“Oh hi!” someone said.
When Evalieh opened his eyes, he flinched and stumbled backwards, nearly falling over the seats and into Hanali’s arms.