The differences between the nation’s two religions are clearer than ever when one considers their traditions; for example, The Path of Shadows and the Way of Seven both believe that when a young person reaches the age of fifteen, they must prove they are ready to become an adult by spending the night in a forest. A Seven follower must take a stroll through the Peridot Woods, on the west side of the River Tourmaline; whilst many people believe that these woods teem with fairies, pixies and elves, many others dismiss the stories as myths. By contrast to this beautiful idea, a Shadows follower must spend the night trying not to cry in the Serpentine Forest, which, naturally, is allegedly the home of monstrous mutant wolves, bears, tigers and even demons. Whilst the ultimate wish of a fifteen-year-old Rainbow child is to have a supernatural experience, a Shadow child should just be satisfied to survive until the first light of dawn breaks. And that, as many of the island’s philosophers have theorised, is why so few followers of the Path of Shadows exist in the present day. Then again, you don’t exactly have to be a philosopher to figure that one out.
On the subject of creatures and monsters, the island of Jemstone is rumoured to be full of them. As well as the lovely elvin folk of the Peridot Woods and the demon predators of the Serpentine Forest, massive sea-snakes have been spotted in the Aventurine Ocean; the Captain’s Log of one ship that became wrecked and sank off the coast of Opal told a rather dramatic story of how the vessel met its doom:
Suddenly, an enormous writhing tail, which was the colour of a fresh bruise and shone slick in the moonlight, surfaced off the port-side of the boat and came down on the deck, smashing half of the ship to smithereens. Then, the creature’s head appeared, with jaws like a crushed bouquet of jagged needles, and plucked my first mate right out of the ocean. I barely had time to scream before he was gone, taken below the turquoise waves in a flowering pool of scarlet.
Many people have pointed out the obvious holes in this story; how, for example, did the captain have time to write in his diary before the ship sank? And why would he sit down to write when he could be trying to save himself? Anybody who raises an issue whilst the tale is being told over a pint of beer in the tavern is silenced by something along the lines of “Shut up. It’s a fun story.”
What is more, many more sailors have told tales of vast Krakens in the Lazulite Ocean: gigantic squid with a hundred wriggling tentacles poised with suckers, dragging unsuspecting vessels to a watery grave. Citizens of the communities surrounding the city of Ivory have also claimed that the active volcano Mount Carnelian is home to fire-breathing dragons, and that gigantic spiders as strong as ten men live under the surface of Feldspar Marsh. Whilst tumultuous tales of danger, doom and death are incredibly popular among the average seafarer, the occasional mermaid story will also break the surface. In fact, the first ever mermaid was supposedly sighted in the Variscite Lagoon, by one of the earliest settlers:
I was sitting on the sands at the edge of Feldspar Marsh when I heard the most wonderful sound that would ever grace my ears; it was the sound of a woman’s voice, singing a hypnotically beautiful song. I turned ‘round at once, and what should I see? A turquoise-blue tail, so bright it shimmered in the sunlight, splashing into the water and disappearing from view. And I thought to myself, ‘Could it be?’ My room-mate, later that night, told me I was an idiot and I had seen but a fish, but I knew he was wrong, and that Variscite Lagoon really is inhabited by mermaids.
Nowadays, the general consensus is that it was probably just a fish. Yes, the inhabitants of Jemstone may be ignorant, but they are happy and peaceful people, and surely that’s what a perfect world is all about.