The Plateau

Chapter 2 - A Beauty Like No Other

I can only remember the sudden paralysis that I felt when I first laid eyes upon him. My eyes fixated upon his shockingly graceful looks. Hair...a bright color that looked almost white, but delicately tinted with shades of gold that shimmered in the morning sun. Skin, pale with a purity that I had never seen before. Smooth. Free from blemish or scar of any kind. The flesh of an infant, it seemed. And eyes that energized the spirit within you, whether they were pointed in your direction or not. I wanted to regain a comfortable sense of self control, but I don't think I've ever been more distracted.

"The meat market seems to be cooking up something extra special today." Tionna said, sniffing the air. "Smells delicious. We should start over there, before anyone else takes the best cuts from us."

It was difficult for me to take my eyes off of him. Even a momentary blink made me feel as though I was missing something important. A smile. A wink. A flare of his blond locks as they were lifted by a gentle breeze. I didn't know anything about him at all...and yet, he filled me with such a sense of awe and wonder that his very presence felt familiar to me. The embodiment of boyish joy.

"Hey look! What do you think?" Tionna attempted to pull my attention away from the dreamy appearance of the most beautiful boy that I had ever laid eyes on. It was a touch of aggravation that I'd rather do without. I turned my head, and she had a handmade shawl covering her head and shoulders from one of the merchants nearby. "Do you think it makes me look pretty?"

"What?" I asked, confused.

"Do you think it makes me look pretty?" She repeated.

"Since when have you ever worried about looking ‘pretty'?" I asked. Maybe I sneered a bit, but I didn't mean to sound so rude.

"I beg your pardon!" She said, folding her arms in a huff.

"It's just...don't you usually shop for blades and weapons or something? What is all this about?"

"Well, excuse me for trying to make myself appealing in a different way."

"I didn't mean it, like..." Before I dug myself any deeper, I simply caved in and said, "Yeah. It's fine. Very pretty." I casually turned my head back to continue wallowing in my instant infatuation. He was looking at books on one of the tables, thumbing through a few pages to see what was in them. I liked his fingers. Long and thin. He could make something as mundane as the turning of a page a moment of true beauty. My oh my...he was absolutely fascinating.

"What are you looking at?" Tionna asked.

"Huh? Nothing." I snapped back, hiding my actions. "Are you going to buy the shawl or not? What do you want?"

"I want to see what you're looking at." She said, peeking over my shoulder. I was hoping that she would simply let it go...but she didn't. She scanned the whole area, and I did all I could to look in the opposite direction to keep her from seeing. But who was I fooling? A boy that amazing is going to definitely stand out in a crowd. "Oh..." She said quietly. "It's him, isn't it?"

"What? No..." Then changing my mind to say, "Him who? Who's him? I don't know what you're talking about. Hey, look over here...these bracelets look well-made, don't they?" My voice became weak, but despite my attempts to shift her attention, Tionna was clearly able to see who had captivated me so completely in such a short amount of time. His beauty was so striking that it almost didn't fit in with the rest of reality. He stood out. Like a burning torch in a dark cave.

Tionna seemed to sulk, her shoulders lowering themselves as she sighed until her lungs nearly collapsed from a lack of air. She peeked over at me out of the corner of her eye, and softly said, "I see. So...you still think you may be a boy lover?"

Shocked by her speaking the words out loud in an open market, I gasped and pulled her over to the side of the street. "I NEVER said that, Tionna!"

"You certainly were worried about it before. I remember. You've been trying to guess about this since your 12th ring..."

"That was just talk. And it's just between you and me. I never said that I...that I was a..." But as I glanced over her shoulder, the boy in the marketplace made a very brief eye contact with me from a distance...and I felt as though my stomach had been tied into a series of impossible knots. My legs got weak, and my very heart felt as if it had been savagely bruised from the inside. Why couldn't I look away from him? What kind of sorcery is this?

"I suppose you've chosen a side now..." Tionna said with a somber tone. "...Haven't you?"

"No! And who says I have to choose a side at all?" I said, attempting to deflect the accusation.

She looked at me directly, and said, "Your eyes are pink..."

"They are NOT pink!" I grumbled under my breath, making sure to look away from her before she examined them too closely. "They're…they're rose colored."

"No...you're cheeks are rose colored, because you're blushing. Your eyes are pink." She scoffed. Ferrans have a habit of being more upfront than what is typically considered socially acceptable. "Bad luck of the draw for me, I guess. I finally find someone I really like and care for...and he turns out to be a boy lover."

"Will you STOP saying ‘boy lover' out loud???" I snarled with a whisper. "What is the matter with you?"

"Well, it's true, isn't it?" She said. "Don't think that I've never caught you looking before. I just thought you were taking your time to decide."

"This isn't a decision, Tionna. And...and I wasn't looking."

"Go ahead. Look. I don't care anymore." She pouted. "I'll bet you don't think he has any worries about being pretty."

I don't think there was a way to minimize the damage my infatuations had done to her pride at that point. I wasn't trying to hurt her feelings, it's just...that boy...that amazing creature...he was such a shock to me. I never could have prepared for such a delightful assault on my senses. I really couldn't contain myself.

A silence passed between Tionna and I. She looked away from me, but peeked back to see if I was still watching. And I was. My vision gravitated towards him in a way that it never had with anybody else. The very sight of him was an unbearable addiction. A total loss of impulse control that caused me to stare to the point of being rude.

That's when Tionna said, "You really have made up your mind then?"

Slightly defeated, but aware of the fact that she wasn't about to leave it alone, I sighed, "I think my heart made it up for me."

Tionna's tail drooped a little, but she put on a brave face. "Well...you'll just have to go talk to him then..."

"WHAT?!?! NO!!!" I whispered aggressively, grabbing her by the wrist before she ould start walking over there on her own. "That's not how this works."

"Well, how does it work then?"

I stammered for a moment, "I don't know. But not like this!"

"What are you going to do? Just stand here all day, drooling over him until he inevitably walks away and you never see him again?"

"That was my best plan so far, yes."

"Well, that's no strategy at all. You're terrible at loving boys." She said. "Don't you want to find out if he's a boy lover too? They always seem to find each other. I think they have a sixth sense about it or something. Hey, maybe your senses have kicked in. Maybe that's what is waiting for you in your fifteenth ring. That's whenmy parents met. He could be the one to match you."

"Now you're just being silly." I told her. Some of these feelings were hard enough to figure out on my own, but now that Tionna has butted her way into the situation, it feels even more confusing than ever before. At least, up until a few minutes ago, I could feel my way around these emotions in private.

Tionna kept staring at the boy. Openly. Brazenly, even. Ugh...does she not know how to be sneaky about this? "He certainly is very attractive. I can see why he would catch your eye."

I looked back over at him, and felt my heart begin to pick up in its already erratic pace. I couldn't have dreamed of a boy more lovely. "You think he's attractive too?" I asked.

"Well, of course I do, I'm not BLIND! Look at his face. He's practically stealing the Sun's rays from everybody else around him. He's hard not to notice."

Never having really spoken about anything like this out loud, I was surprised to hear myself whisper, "He is a beauty, isn't he?" I felt myself getting increasingly nervous as I realized that my closest companion was now joining me on my journey to discover more about my deepest secret. But I could also feel an unraveling within me. A tight knot that I didn't even know was there in the center of my heart until it began to come loose. I found myself breathing so much easier without it. "His hair is like silk. His lips are so fair. I feel inspired to drink in a simple kiss from them, just to be dismissive of every moment that I had to spend doing anything else." Now I was staring just as hard as she was, watching him take a sample of sweet bread from a nearby merchant and slowly taking a bit. I sighed as I watched him gently lick the extra crumbs from his lips, and nearly fell over from weakness. I had to look away, sliding down to the ground to lean up against a barrel as I tried to catch my breath. "And he has ‘Tanzian' ears. Tanzian ears are so cute to me!"

Tionna shrugged. "I don't see what's so great about them. Too pointy. Then again, elvish breeds don't necessarily do it for me." She looked closer, and said, "Ahhh...he appears to be a minister's child."

"A what?" I got up on my knees to peek over again. "How can you tell?"

"He has a golden medallion and markings on his neck. They represent the Temple of Kalo from the mountain ranges to the East. You'd know that if you stayed in your classes for any length of time."

I studied him more closely, and I saw the markings she was talking about. Elaborately done. Tribal, but with a regal design. "A minister's child, huh?" I asked, "Does...does the Temple of Kalo allow...boys loving boys?"

"Some factions do. Some don't. I suppose it depends on how strict their rituals and training are."

"Meaning what?"

She shrugged again, "Meaning that some believers in Kalo have no issues with it whatsoever. And others...well, let's just say that you'd be considered lucky to simply be cast out for the rest of your days. Which is better than being murdered outright, I suppose."

"Murdered???" I gasped. Suddenly, the boy glanced up, and our eyes met again. Feeling a sudden panic, I ducked down behind the barrel and tried to remain out of sight.

So nonsensical. It's not like he doesn't know that I'm here. He was looking right AT me! Now he thinks I'm hiding from hm deliberately. What am I supposed to donow? I should probably just stay behind this barrel until dark so I can be sure that he's gone. I'd rather have the memory of a beautiful boy in the marketplace, than the furious heartbreak of a ridicule and rejection.

"What are you doing?" Tionna asked me with a perplexing look.

"Get down!"

"Why?"

"Just get down here!" I said through gritted teeth.

She curled her tail around her waist and squatted before me. "Who are we hiding from?"

"Just...stay out of a sight for a while, ok?" I said. It was hard for me to explain, but remaining in the shadow of that one barrel made me feel safe. At least safe enough to get my breathing back to normal.

Tionna shook her head. "You really are terrible at boy loving."

"STOP saying that!"

"It's true. Look at your eyes. You're terrified right now..."

"Stop looking at my eyes. Busy yourself with something else. I'm trying to think."

There seems to be no limit to how much one can punish himself with shame when it comes to the strong fondness for a stranger, and the silly things you do when it takes you over. While the desire is swift and involuntary, everything that comes after the initial blow is so much more terrifying. The fixation keeps pushing you to do something, but it refuses to tell you what that ‘something' is. Pushing and pushing and pushing. It's no different than throwing a child into the center of the lake and forcing it to learn how to swim at a moment's notice.

I can't believe that I'm actually hiding from another boy. One who meant me no harm. His only crime being the fact that he was stunning beyond words. Beyond thought and emotion. He's not the direct cause of the turbulent storm brewing within me...but he was most definitely at the center of it.

I heard some music coming from a small traveling band that had turned a nearby corner and was strutting their way down the street, passing out invitations to their next showing, just before sundown. A festive tune that caused consumers to smile and laugh at some of their clownish antics. Cartwheels and sparklers, ribbons and hand made instruments. I peeked from behind the barrel, hoping the travelers would provide me enough of a distraction to escape the lovely boy's presence without being seen.

Sure enough, he was watching the musicians and no longer looking in my direction. I felt as though I only had a few moments to make my move, but...as someone handed him an invitation...he smiled. Such a glorious smile. I began to perspire from the sight of it. As if struck by some manic illness and in need of rest. He is so unspeakably gorgeous...

Getting my head together, I finally found my courage and got to my feet, hurrying off to the end of the street and turning the next corner. I didn't say anything directly to Tionna, but I knew I wouldn't be able to get far without her quickly following right behind me. Again, I felt as though I was in a safe place. I could remain level headed as long as that boy and I had some sort of distance between us. Maybe I made a mistake, and maybe I'll never see him again...but I'll thank the stars every night before sleep for bringing him into my life for those few brief moments. If for no other reason than to give me something graceful to dream about before dawn.

"You are such a coward." Tionna giggled. "Running from a delicate boy like that as if he were some untamed beast from the outlands. You are, without a doubt..."

"I know, I know. I'm terrible at loving boys. But don't judge so harshly. I can't say that I've ever done it before." I said, trying to walk forward and get further away from the threat to my sense of comfort.

"Does Terion know?" She asked. "About how you feel?"

"Of course my father doesn't know. Nor does anybody else. You wouldn't know if you hadn't bullied your way into my emotions."

"I didn't bully you, I just asked you a question and you answered me with the truth. How am I a bully?" She replied. "It's no big deal, you know? There are boy lovers all over the realm. Every race and culture has them. I don't see what you have to be so fearful of."

"It's just...it makes me different, ok?" I told her. "And people don't understand ‘different'. The moment they find out about this, they'll start to ask questions. Personal questions. Questions that I haven't even figured out for myself yet. How am I supposed to explain myself when I don't even know myself?" With a sigh and a heavy heart, I almost regretted running away from the one boy who I could only wish had the power to help me figure out what it was that I desired most. "I'll tell him. But I need time to find out what it is that I'm going to say. I need to find out what it means, what impact it will have, what will change, and what will stay the same." Slightly frustrated, I groaned, "I don't need this clouding my mind right now. I JUST want to focus on passing the trials to get to my 15th ring so I can go out into the realm and discover more of what I'm missing. That's all."

With a smirk, Tionna said, "Seems to me that realm has brought everything you need to discover right to your doorstep. You wouldn't have to travel very far at all to find what you're looking for."

"Somehow, I doubt that." I said, suddenly becoming aware of a certain ‘shift' in the air around us.

You could always tell when ‘they' were around. You see their shadows on the ground as they pass in front of the sun. You could almost taste their stench, their dark presence souring the aura of everyone beneath them. I was used to seeing them fly over from time to time...but not like this.

"Sentinels..." I mumbled. Looking up into the sky, I could see the black cloud swerving and swirling around, coming to circle the Dermian marketplace and survey all that was going on here. "...Look at how many there are. It's rare that we see a swarm this big."

Tionna said, "Looks like King Versis is on the prowl for somebody important. I can't even remember the last time he sent out this many sentinels at once. That means somebody's life has been made forfeit. I'd hate to be their target right now."

Sentinels are ghastly creatures. Skin as black as burnt wood. Twisted claws on both their hands and their feet, two rows of razor sharp teeth, and a wide jaw that opens to the point where they look as if they could swallow a child whole if needed. They had misshapen and tattered wings, full of holes and tears...it's a miracle that they are able to fly at all, much less with the speed and precision that they do. Sentinels move in swarms, their bloodcurdling shrieks streaming across the sky whenever they pass over. Whenever our king in Solomon's Grove has a grievance, or when some order of justice is meant to be served...he sends his demonic minions out to find the culprit and return them to his courtyard for judgement...and often...their execution.

Everyone was used to these displays, of course. I think King Versis Attilus uses them as a fear tactic more than anything else. But today? This seems like overkill. I'm liable to believe that there is actually something wrong this time.

"My word...there's got to be at least one hundred of them. They're practically blackening the entire sky." I said.

"As long as they're not here for either one of us, I couldn't really care less. That's the king's problem, not ours." Tionna said. "Come on. Let's get something to EAT already. I'm famished. Just let the sentinels do what they do and forget about it."

Watching the swarm fly overhead, scanning the streets, screaming unintelligible orders at one another as they swooped down lower and circled the market, I couldn't help but to wonder...

...Who or what could they possibly be searching for?