Despite growing up in the castle, Rian found that he never fully came to enjoy the nighttime. He preferred it when the Brothers were high in the sky and the view from the Crystal Castle allowed him to see practically all of Thra. He could see the rolling green hills, the Dark Wood, and the mountains if he looked to the edge of the horizon. When it was nighttime, Rian got no such luxury. The world outside the castle was pitch black and it felt as though they were floating amidst nothingless. It always gave him a shiver to not know what was out there, hiding in that endless void.
The only positive thing Rian could recall was that he wasn't tasked with the night's watch very often. Some of his fellow guards took evening shifts in exchange for late hours in the morning. Every so often, however, he would be sent out to patrol the castle at night. Rian never enjoyed wandering the balconies of the castle by himself. Thankfully, this time he wasn't alone.
"I don't think we're supposed to be watching the ground, Rian," Gurjin commented from beside him. His tone was teasing and light, but Gurjin still laughed when Rian overcorrected to nearly look up at the ceiling in response. The Drenchen gelfling never failed to notice when Rian was acting off, nor did he miss a chance to tease him about it.
"I know, shut up," Rian snapped, but with the way his eyes were flickering and the waver in his voice, he didn't sound harsh in the slightest.
Gurjin chuckled again and looked out towards the balcony as they walked side by side. When they were paired with any other guard, neither of the two gelfling men were particularly mischievous. There was an air of seriousness when they were apart, but it rarely fooled anyone. Once the two of them were given the same task, it was near impossible to keep a straight face. The roommates who had rapidly become best friends couldn't be held back by rules or paladin etiquette- they would talk as they pleased and there was nothing any creature of Thra could do about it.
"Let me know how many cracks are in the floor once you're done- I'm curious," Gurjin added. He was unable to hold back another jab at Rian, and lightly bumped his shoulder for good measure. Rian only frowned, stammering as he tried to respond but was unsure how. "I'm just teasing you, Rian," Gurjin offered, sensing that his friend was starting to get irritated and decided to ease off.
"I hate being on the night watch," Rian clarified in resentment, sighing and playing with the straps of his leather bracer.
Gurjin hummed, nodding his head and looking out towards the barely-lit horizon to their right. "It's a bit quiet, eh?" he guessed.
"You can't see anything," Rian clarified, huffing as he tightened one of the knots on his armor. "I don't like not being able to see what's in front of me."
"Would you rather we just sit and wait until whatever is trying to get into the castle is on top of us, then?" Gurjin prodded, amber eyes looking out towards the outside world before settling back on Rian. Rian made a face at Gurjin's subtle chide and looked away, his answer obvious but remained stubborn. "You get used to it," he offered after a moment, having done more watches than Rian at this hour. "Besides, it could be worse."
Rian's blue eyes narrowed, skeptical. "How so?" he asked, glancing upwards to meet Gurjin's gaze with a doubtful scowl.
Gurjin chuckled. "Well, for starters, you could be stuck with Tolyn," he replied. There was a slight grin to his words and when Rian worked out what Gurjin meant, his bad mood disappeared soon after. The Stonewood gelfling tried to hide a huff of laughter, biting his lip, and Gurjin's smile only widened.
"Point taken," Rian said after a moment, returning to a pace that matched Gurjin's footfall. "If I have to do this, then I'm glad it's with you."
Gurjin put his free hand over his heart, playfully swooning. "Oh, Rian, I'm touched. Who knew you had a sentimental side?"
Rian rolled his eyes. "Oh, stuff it," he retorted with a smile, shoving Gurjin's arm as the latter chuckled. "I said that because you don't make me want to hit you. Don't push your luck."
"Bold of you to assume that you could reach me from down there," Gurjin shot back, his response nearly immediate. Rian tensed and he shot Gurjin a look, earning another laugh. "I didn't realize how much all the other guards piss you off."
"They don't," Rian argued, quick to shut that idea down before it started. "You just do it the least." He looked out towards the view outside as they walked, but immediately regretted it. The Sisters were shrouded in the clouds tonight, which in turn made everything beyond the Crystal Castle disappear into darkness. A shiver went up his spine and Rian sighed to himself, not pleased with the reminder of why he disliked the night's watch.
The sudden shift in mood wasn't lost on Gurjin. He softened and gave Rian a gentle bump with his shoulder. "It's a good thing you have a Drenchen with you, then. We've got better hearing," he teased. There was an underlying note of warmth in his voice, as if to silently reassure Rian that he had nothing to fear.
"You can't be the biggest, strongest, breathe underwater, and have the best hearing." Rian crossed his arms, attention successfully taken away from the view outside the castle. "You can't be good at everything, Gurjin."
"Oh? Says who?"
"I say that." Rian smiled up at him as they continued to walk. "Otherwise you'd make us look like Nebrie fodder in comparison."
Gurjin chuckled and continued leading their patrol of the outer walls. "Well, if I wasn't the best, would I offer to share this with you?" He reached for his belt and took out a familiar flask that was hanging at his hip. Gurjin extended his arm outward, offering it to Rian.
Rian was torn between pleasant surprise and shock. "You brought nectar wine on patrol?" he spoke, blown back at Gurjin's reckless behavior. "Gurjin, are you trying to get demoted to armor-polishing?"
"You worry too much," he said with a chuckle. "When have I ever gotten in trouble for this?" In his head, Rian countered that it was only because Gurjin hadn't been caught before, but he kept that thought to himself. The flask was still in Gurjin's hand and he gave it a playful shake as it hovered by Rian's head. ""There's enough for two gelflings to share, is all I'm saying." With a smooth motion, Gurjin tipped his head back and took a swig.
Rian rolled his eyes and settled his hand on his hip, resting over his sword. "You're going to get us both in trouble," he remarked, only mildly amused. He focused his gaze on the walls of the Castle, then the moonlight peeking through the clouds high above their heads.
Gurjin shrugged and nodded. "I just thought I'd offer," he explained, tilting his head to the side as he capped the flask once more. "Since it makes it easier to be brave when there's a bit of drink in you, and you don't like the night watch- but my mistake. Surely you don't need this." He made to pocket the flask again, but kept his movements slow while his amber eyes were watching Rian in their peripheral.
It had taken until the end of Gurjin's spiel for Rian to second guess himself. Before the flask vanished back into his cloak, Rian snatched it out of his hands. The speed had even caught Gurjin off guard, but he returned to amusement as Rian tried to down an ambitious amount of wine in one swallow (partially to get as much as possible and partially to impress Gurjin). It was a bit too much to have at once and he nearly choked on it, hacking as he keeled over a bit to catch himself. Gurjin was belting out laughter after Rian had righted himself, but he still attempted to act casual off while fighting down the burning sensation on his face.
"There you go," Rian said, trying to keep his voice as suave as possible as he handed the flask back to Gurjin. He coughed under his breath, but didn't acknowledge it.
Gurjin hung the flask back on his belt and chuckled. "I need to take you to a real tavern sometime, Rian," he commented idly, still amused. "You take any drink like a podling takes to having a bath."
Rian spluttered. "I do not," he defended. Gurjin cocked a brow as he looked at Rian, then mimicked his coughing fit from a moment prior with a wide grin. Rian felt his face heat up and he looked away in mild embarrassment. "I was choking. There's a difference."
"Sure." Gurjin went back to his watch, but not before giving Rian a friendly clap on the shoulder. No matter how much they egged each other on, Gurjin would never back out of a conversation without telling Rian that there was never any malicious intent. Even if the indication was non-verbal, the two had developed an unspoken language between one another. It was a small act that very rarely needed to be said, but the fact that Gurjin was persistent with it, regardless of the light-heartedness of the exchange, was one of the reasons Rian considered him his best friend.
The next hour continued on in a similar manner. Large swathes of comfortable silence were divided by shorter bouts of good-natured badgering or jokes. Nobody else was around to hear Gurjin's laughter echo through the Castle's hallways, and nobody was around to witness Rian's playful side come out on full display. When there wasn't another creature to enforce rules, the two always managed to bring out the best in one another- even if it was considered the worst for some. Perhaps that was what had drawn the two to become fast friends in the first place.
The flask was quickly emptied, but it wasn't until the end of the hour that the two were showing signs of drinking. Gurjin, hearty as ever, was holding his own with barely any effort. Rian was more clumsy and it was clear that half a flask had done enough to make him more than a bit tipsy. His anxieties of taking watch in a pitch-black night were gone, for which Gurjin was internally relieved. The Drenchen had never been particularly fond of seeing his friend genuinely upset. There was a playful skip in his step and it took all of his willpower not to laugh at how bad Rian was at hiding even the tiniest amount of drunkenness.
"Next time we get grog from Sami Thicket, we're training," Gurjin muttered under his breath, amused. "For the love of Thra, Rian, you're horrible at this."
"I'm not that bad," Rian countered quickly, walking along the balcony as they talked, hand running over the banister.
Gurjin gave him a look. "You're wobbling," he said bluntly.
"It's fine, Gurjin. Really." Rian gave him a little smirk before continuing to walk, peering out into the dark for any sign of intruders making their way towards the castle.
"If you ever want to take someone out for a drink, you'll need to get better at it. That's all I'm saying," Gurjin teased lightly, holding up his hand in a surrendering motion.
Rian's face flushed. "Take them out for a- where did that come from, Gurjin?" His blue eyes looked back towards Gurjin, who only shrugged.
"Don't play the fool, lover boy," Gurjin teased. The nickname made the tips of Rian's ears burn as he went silent. "Drinks make the night interesting, and nobody likes a gelfling who can't figure out where to put their hands."
Rian's face flushed. "I appreciate the advice, Gurjin, but I'd rather not know the details of your love life experiences," Rian said firmly, shutting him down. His voice wavered as his mind was already wandering to deeper places, and he was now flustered. Gurjin chuckled behind him as they kept walking. Rian bit his lip, knowing that Gurjin did have a point about his weaker constitution. "We'll go get that drink sometime, but not because of that! Only so you'll finally shut up about it."
Gurjin huffed another laugh and went back to surveying the area. "Whatever you say, Rian," he replied warmly, letting the subject drop as they went back to a short bout of silence.
Rian turned away from Gurjin as they took a moment to inspect the area. The shadows outside the Castle made scouting obscenely difficult, but he did his best. The dim glow from the Three Sisters brought a flicker of reflection to the thin line that was the Black River, far off in the distance. Even after letting his eyes adjust, there was little Rian could make out. The shadows seemed to go on forever, but he strained his gaze to see what lay before him. He was about to turn back so the pair could move to the next post, but a faint sound behind Rian caught his attention.
It was tiny and far away, but amidst the silence it was loud and clear. Rian's head whipped around, hair flying as he tried to see which direction the noise came from. "Did you hear that?" he asked aloud, eyes searching. He approached the edge of the balcony and gripped the edges of the banister with his fingers, squeezing the carved rock tightly. The rainfall from earlier that day had soaked the stone, making it cold and slippery under his grip.
"Hear what?" Gurjin inquired, turning back to face Rian. He wasn't as on edge as Rian was, but he moved his hand to the hilt of his sword, ready for something to jump out.
"There's something out there," Rian commented, turning his head slightly but still keeping a watchful gaze over the landscape. The nectar wine was warping his otherwise rational state of mind, and he was finding himself growing anxious.
"No, it was different." Rian frowned and leaned closer to peer over the edge. Perhaps it was beneath them.
Gurjin tightened his grip on the spear when he saw Rian get closer to the railing. "Animals make noise at night, Rian," he explained carefully. He knew the alcohol was still in his friend's system, and he didn't enjoy how close Rian was getting to the edge one bit. He crossed the hall to stay near him, not wanting to overstep his protectiveness but still worrying. "It was probably nothing."
Rian frowned, knowing Gurjin had a point, but didn't stop quite yet. "It sounded like it came from the Dark Wood," he explained. Rian leaned to the side, as if a better angle would suddenly make the black void easier to see through. He leaned further out, cursing his lack of night vision as he tried to see any hints of movement in the distance. There was nothing he could see, but Rian didn't trust the shadows.
"There's a lot of creatures in the Dark Wood that roam at night, Rian," Gurjin pointed out, relaxing as it became more clear that the threat was nonexistent. It seemed like the wine had made Rian's worries slightly more profound, so he was itching to drag his friend away from the issue before it grew worse. Gurjin made a mental note to not indulge Rian with drinking next time they were paired in a night watch, and started to walk forward. "Come on, let's head to the next post."
Rian bit his lip, not moving quite yet. If he hadn't drunk any wine this evening, he would have joined Gurjin. Now, however, he was a tad more reckless and slow to react. After a few seconds of watching for changes that never came, Rian gave up. "Alright," he conceded, moving to get down.
It happened quickly and before Rian had a chance to react. The rain from that morning had left the stones damp and slick with water. Rian's hand, which was braced on the outside of the banister, slipped as he moved backwards. The breath left his lungs as Rian felt himself fall forward for a moment. Instinctively, he reached back with his other arm to catch his body on the other side of the railing to stop himself. His trajectory was off by a few inches, and Rian's heart skipped as he felt his arm grab at a flat chunk of rock instead of a secure portion of the Castle's architecture. He was slipping and the void beneath him that stretched for hundreds of feet sat there, waiting to meet him the moment he fell.
Not even a second passed after Rian failed to anchor himself before something strong grappled the back of his cloak. Gurjin had reacted almost instantly, grabbing a fistful of Rian's tunic to stop him from falling forward. The spear hit the ground with a loud clatter that echoed down the hall as Gurjin had rushed forward to aide Rian. Both arms held onto him like a vice and dragged him backwards, which in turn made Rian utter a quiet sound of alarm as he was yanked back over the railing like a ragdoll. Rian's feet landed back on the stone and his eyes were wide as he stared blankly at the darkness just beyond the Castle's perimeter.
The hands that were squeezing his shoulders relaxed ever so slightly, and Rian heard Gurjin let out a sigh of relief just above his head. "Don't… do that," Gurjin forced out after a moment, sounding like he had been given the fright of his life. After a palpable pause, Gurjin let go and took a few steps away. "Yesmit, Rian. You scared the daylights out of me."
Rian glanced back as he watched Gurjin retrieve his spear from where it had been thrown aside. "I didn't mean to," he said quickly, partially to defend himself and also to offer Gurjin the reassurance that it was purely accidental. Gurjin's shoulders were tense even after he had picked the spear up off the ground. Rian bit his lip, unsure of what to say. Eventually he settled on reassuring his best friend that all was well. "I'm alright."
Gurjin closed his amber eyes, taking a breath. There was a brief moment where he seemed to internalize the momentary flash of panic that rarely showed itself. Gurjin didn't outwardly show his fear very often, if at all if he could help it. Rian could recognize it, however, even with the hindrance of nectar wine in his blood. The instance was fleeting and there was only one beat before Gurjin loosened his posture, relaxing fully.
"Thanks to me," he said with a grin. "You're indebted to me now."
Rian spluttered, the moment of intensity completely forgotten. "Wh- that's not how that works," he argued. "I'm not indebted to anything!" Having a debt with Gurjin was dangerous business- Rian knew that no matter what he came up with, it would either be embarressing, stupid, or both.
Gurjin let out a low laugh and returned to his walk, with Rian rushing after him to catch up. "See, when you do something for me, I always have to make it up to you. Yet when it's me, suddenly it's unfair?" His tone was teasing, returning to the warmth and familiarity from minutes prior, and it got under Rian's skin all the same. "What's wrong, Rian? Scared of what I'll make you do?"
The remark made Rian bristle and Gurjin chuckled, delighting in poking at his best friend if only to see him blush. "Nothing you do scares me, Gurjin," he said defensively. "It just makes me wonder why I keep you around." He gave Gurjin a shoulder bump this time, grinning.
"You're lucky I'm the only one here who's mad enough to handle you." Gurjin's rebuttal was just as quick and he nudged Rian back. "...and that I'm the strongest gelfling here so I can save your arse."
Rian's ears tinted red as he looked down at the floor. "You're still on about that?" he asked, trying to play off his emotions. "I already told you that you can't be the best, Gurjin."
"No you didn't," he drawled out, grinning. "You said I can't have the best eyesight." Gurjin chuckled and threw an arm around Rian's shoulder to give him a mischievous side hug, grinning down at him. "Which means I can be the strongest gelfling here all I want. Whether you like it or not."
Rian yelped when Gurjin pulled him sideways, nearly tripping over his own feet. Once his words sunk in, his gaze hardened into one of resigned annoyance. "You're the most arrogant Drenchen I have ever met," he said plainly, shaking his head.
"And you're the most easily-bothered Stonewood I've ever met," Gurjin shot back, smirking with mischief. He moved his hand upward to the top of Rian's head, then shoved his helmet forward to rustle his hair. "But that's what makes it fun."
Rian jumped as it covered his eyes, and he yanked off his helmet. "Gurjin," he cried in annoyance, but his best friend was already meters away, outrunning Rian as he took a moment to recover. "Get back here, you-" Rian frantically pulled his hair back and realigned his helmet before running after Gurjin, quiet swears lost under his breath as he ran to catch up. Their laughter filled the empty halls of the Castle, unheard by everyone.
No matter how much they teased, joked, or egged each other on, their bond was eternal. It didn't matter what any gelfling said, or what the creatures of Thra thought of them. What the two shared was something that couldn't ever be extinguished. Their care, love, and fondness for one another would never be broken. Nothing could tarnish this truth- this law- that was buried in the heart of Thra itself.