Growing up in the Castle of the Crystal taught Rian many things. His education, skills with combat, and personality had been shaped by the environment he had thrived in. As different as they seemed, Rian was always Ordon's son. There was a strength and capability to thrive as a captain that had been there since the very beginning. It had been forced out in a way that was less than favorable, but that didn't lessen Rian's finesse for being a leader. He was good at what he did and everyone admired him for it.

None of that made up for the fact that being a leading figure in the resistance was exhausting.

Today was particularly hard. The Great Conjunction was growing closer with every unum. With that came more meetings, more talks, and more practice. From the moment Rian woke up to when he laid his head on a pillow, there was work that needed to be done. There was always training that needed overseeing, battle plans that needed checking, or meetings that needed listening. Rian couldn't help but enjoy it, as it was something he was good at. If Ordon were still with them, he had to wonder if he'd be making his father proud.

Even so, he could tell it was slowly eating away at him. Evenings were becoming longer as work grew heavier. The desire to stay in bed was becoming harder to resist. Times where he would catch himself nodding off were becoming more frequent. His patience was steadily getting worse. The resistance was keeping Rian alive, but it was also taking so much away from him.

Walking out of the war room left Rian feeling relieved. In a miracle, his tiredness was much easier to handle today. The meeting, however, had done nothing but amplify his stress. His shoulders were tense as he strode out. Stone-in-the-Wood was in a constant buzz nowadays. The Garthim's attacks were relentless and everyone was busy. Their plan to restore the urSkeks was closer than it had ever been. That left everyone in a rush and scrambling all over.

Gelflings who noticed him said hello or spoke to him as he walked through the village. Rian forced down the weakness in his eyes in favor of a tired smile. He was one of the faces of the resistance. That didn't leave much room to show exhaustion. If he was meant to lead them into battle, he couldn't show fault. Hope needed to be flawless and, right now, that's what he had to play the role of.

As Rian walked past the Crucible, his eyes lingered. The flames licked at the various weapons and swords strewn within. Metal blades glinted in the sunlight. Their handles were all carefully crafted. Wordless memories of the weapon's stories were buried in the scratches and imperfections of each blade. Rian smiled, warm at the thought of one day placing his weapon to rest within that same hearth.

In the present, he was reminded of someone. Rian softened as the sight of countless swords brought one face to mind. No matter his foul mood, there was one gelfling in all of Thra who never failed to get his mind off things. A spark of energy began to flow through Rian's veins, already eager at the thought. He turned on his heel and began a short trek towards the smithery.

Stone-in-the-Wood's forge was built into a cliffside that overlooked the square. The rock face, eroded with age and nature, had created nooks and small workspaces at various levels. Ladders and steps led to the various pockets. One of the larger, ancient trees grew on top. The roots fell over the black stone like streams of water, intertwined in a beautiful, organic mix of wood and rock. The rightmost smithing table, tucked away on the ground floor, was Rian's destination.

Gurjin had taken over this forge as his workspace. The room was distinctly crafted with Stonewood's architecture and motifs in mind. Despite this, it looked as though the Drenchen clan was slowly taking over the room. Instead of spearheads, materials for bola-crafting hung from the ceiling. Gurjin's organized chaos was evident everywhere. Racks and shelves held partially made spears and handles, and there were containers reserved purely for blades. The left wall held a large array of completed weapons, all ranging in style and size. One corner was reserved for storing pieces of parchment, crates filled with prototypes cast haphazardly into them.

On the walls, there was a carved out crevice, meant for storage, but it looked like it had been turned into a makeshift target for bolas. A thick piece of wood was hanging, a few small daggers sticking out of it. The back of the rock wall was hollowed out and held the furnace that held all of the room's heat. It was currently burning bright, being stoked with a surprising amount of adherence. The heavy rocks and flattened boulders were used as tables.

There, in the midst of it, Gurjin was working with his back to Rian. His heavy green locs fell down his back, loose and dampened with perspiration. His posture was straightened, shoulders back with his head tilted ever so slightly downward. He didn't make a sound or indication of noticing Rian's presence. The former wasn't quick to announce it, however, as he read the room as something that shouldn't be disturbed.

As Rian entered, he found a decent angle to observe from afar. Gurjin's palms were alight with blue. His arms were poised strategically over the sword blade he was meddling with. All four digits were meeting the unpolished steel on each hand. The gentle glow of his practiced metal-molding vliyaya worked slowly and meticulously. His ears were low against his head, eyes carefully shut. His chest rhythmically rose and fell in a state of deep, meditative breathing. Gurjin was concentrated, resolute, and completely engrossed in his work...

… And Rian immediately decided that he was going to take advantage of it.

It was a terrible thing to do to someone else. The right thing surely was to just leave him be and come back later. Gurjin wasn't just someone, though. He was Rian's best friend, which meant he was never safe from potential pranks. Especially opportunities such as this.

Rian walked as carefully as he could. There were no leaves to crunch or give his position away. Soon he was one nebrie's length away. Then, he was one meter away. Half a meter… then, finally, one Fizzgig. The scent of Gurjin's natural musk, combined with hours of sweat and work, reached his nose. Rian held his breath, waiting until he was just over Gurjin's shoulder.

"Hello, again!"

Gurjin's reaction was immediate. The Drenchen jumped and let out a startled yelp. There was a sound of metal against metal as his arms threw back. Gurjin was thrown out of his meditative state and he reacted on instinct. Rian lurched backward, dodging a panicked flail of Gurjin's dominant hand as it nearly hit his poor, not-so-innocent face. Gurjin's feet stumbled as he caught himself. His arms, still half-poised in the vliyaya gesture, hovered in the air as he stared blankly ahead with wide eyes.

Rian's laughter reached his ears and Gurjin came to his senses not long after. His shaken expression quickly fell, replaced by one of bitter recognition. Slowly, his head curled backward. Amber eyes that burned with annoyance stabbed in his direction. Rian only watched, biting his teeth to hide another snicker and failing.


The greeting was drowned with audible displeasure. Rian nearly started to chuckle a third time. "What are you up to?" he asked innocently.

Gurjin blinked, still only looking at him from the side. His eyes flickered down to the table, then back to Rian. Wordlessly, he picked up the sword blade with one hand and held it out for him to inspect. The blade was perfectly sharp and straight from end to end. At least it would have been if the steel hadn't taken a sharp twist where Gurjin held it between his fingers.

The metal visually depicted the moment where Gurjin had gone into a straight panic. It made the sword blade look like an artistic dramatization of a right angle. It seemed more like a bizarre sculpture than an actual weapon now. Gurjin raised a brow, only barely amused underneath, while Rian only smiled. "... Still think it was worth the laugh?" he asked coolly. His tone was already losing its edge. Gurjin's fuse was so long when it came to Rian that it was nearly tragic.

Rian grinned wide. "Oh, absolutely," he said without hesitation.

Gurjin shut his eyes and shook his head. The hint of a smile flashed over his face, but Rian caught it before it vanished. "Alright then," he surrendered, followed by a heavy sigh. He set the blade- if they could even call it that- back down. "Did you need something? You know, besides nearly killing me?"

"Oh, please," Rian said with a scoff. He rested one hand on his hip while Gurjin set down his tools before turning to face Rian properly. "That would not have killed you. You're too d— oh Thra have mercy!"

Gurjin's hair had hidden the majority of his back from view. Rian wasn't as observant as he thought, because he only now realized that his hair was the only coverage Gurjin had. His outer layers and tunic had been shed in favor of nothing. All that gave him a semblance of decency was his wrapped feet, his pants, and an apron that was tied around his waist. A strong chest, glistening with sweat from working in the forge all day, was on full display.

Rian had to catch himself before his eyes started wandering everywhere, and he spluttered. "Where's— what happened to your shirt?" he squawked. His voice wavered at the end.

Gurjin keenly cocked one brow. "I got hot," he said. He crossed his arms and leaned his weight on one hip. "Why? Am I disrespecting the grounds of Stone-in-the-Wood for getting comfortable?"

"No!" Rian's ears were tipped with red. "There's no problem! I… I hadn't expected it, that's all." He cleared his throat and looked away. Gurjin's taut, strong muscles were all he could focus on. The urge to stare was nearly impossible to ignore, but Rian tried anyway. "You can wear- and not wear- whatever makes you feel comfortable. This is your forge."

Gurjin hummed and set his hand on the table. He tapped it with his fingers, then walked away. "You didn't answer my question." He grabbed the mangled blade off the table and tossed it into a nearby bin of scrap metal. Most likely he was to use it later. "Did you need something?"

Rian paused. "Well, no. Not… really," he replied slowly. Gurjin wasn't facing him now, which made it a little easier to handle. The image of his friend's bare chest was still burned into his memory. His heart was beating like a drum while his ears felt as hot as the furnace. "I was done with work and was just walking around. I thought you'd like a visit from your favorite Stonewood."

"Do visits always include getting the daylights scared out of you?" Gurjin questioned. He grabbed a pair of heavy gloves and pulled them over his hands. "Or am I just getting special treatment today?" He grabbed a poker once his hands were protected and carefully removed the red-hot metal that was sitting in the forge.

Watching Gurjin work rapidly took Rian's attention. He walked closer, arms crossed as he observed from a safe distance away. Gurjin gave Rian a small nod in acknowledgment but otherwise focused on his work. "Gurjin, you always get special treatment," Rian shot back with a smirk. "That just comes with being my best friend."

Gurjin rolled his eyes, grabbing a hammer and, still holding the bar with one hand, started to draw out the future blade. "Well, aren't I lucky, then," he replied. Sarcasm was dripping through his voice. Rian found the edge of the nearest table and leaned against it. He enjoyed watching Gurjin work. The Drenchen had been slow to commit to anything back during their time in the Castle. Now, he was steadfast and devoted to his vliyaya. It was a bold change in maturity that Rian would never admit to admiring out loud.

"What's this one going to be?" Rian asked curiously. Gurjin always seemed to know, even when Rian couldn't. It was laughable- the Stonewood gelfling failed to see a future weapon while the Drenchen forging it could.

Gurjin hummed as he hammered the metal. "Saber," he replied. He inspected it carefully, throwing his head back to get locs out of his face. "Nothing fancy this time."

Rian hummed. "Oh, well that doesn't seem fair," he said teasingly. "You usually do such a pretty job with them."

"Yeah? Well, today I'm feeling particularly mean," Gurjin shot back. He flipped the metal over and started hammering the other side. He tossed his head again to move his hair, then gave Rian a teasing smirk. "If they've got a problem with it, I'll let them know that it was because a certain gelfling decided to have a laugh at my expense."

"Hey! I deal with enough already," Rian defended with a smile. "I don't want to tack on being your damage control to my list of tasks."

"Then stop scaring the sog out of me when I'm working," Gurjin argued, belting out a laugh. He showed teeth and paused to let out a deep chuckle. "You brought this on yourself, Rian." As he worked, his hair fell in front of him a third time. Gurjin huffed, growing frustrated but not having the free hands to do anything to fix it. Drawing required him to work with the limited time given and left no room to fix visionary issues.

Gurjin's griping didn't go unnoticed. Rian glanced over at him. It didn't take long to see the problem, and he softened. "Here," he said. With careful steps, Rian approached Gurjin's side. He was much closer to Gurjin's bare chest than he would have liked, but Rian tried desperately to ignore it. His eyes locked on Gurjin's face. He refused to give in to the urge to look downward- even for just one moment. Rian held out a hand. "Let me help."

Gurjin watched him silently for a moment. Then, with a small nod, he took the tie from his wrist and dropped it into Rian's open palm. "Thank you," he uttered, still deep into his work.

Rian looped the tie over one hand then carefully grabbed a fistful of Gurjin's locs. He moved as delicately as possible, not wanting to pull too hard and risk burning either of them as Gurjin continued to work. Gurjin's hair was thick, but always so soft beneath his fingers. Rian collected him until they were out of Gurjin's face, then began the process of a simple updo. As he worked, more and more of Gurjin's tan, green-tinged skin came into view. Rian felt a nervous lump develop in his throat as he saw the expanse of Gurjin's sturdy back. He flinched, shaking his head to get the thoughts out of his head. 'Stop it' Rian thought, warning himself.

"How was your day?"

The question surprised Rian. He looked up, halfway through a loop in Gurjin's locs. "Huh? Oh." Rian glanced down and swallowed. "Uh, good. It was good. Nothing fancy." His lips curled as he tossed Gurjin's own words back at him.

Gurjin huffed a small laugh, hammering down on the metal before inspecting it. "'Good' and 'nothing fancy', then? That sounds fun." The blade was beginning to take on its new form, and he nodded in approval. "Don't go leaving out the finer details on my behalf."

Rian scoffed and finished pulling Gurjin's hair back. He did a simple tie, letting the remains fall down Gurjin's shoulders. As he did so, Rian's eyes followed the blue-green locs until he caught a glimpse of exposed skin. Gurjin's arms tensed as he worked, too focused on his craft to notice Rian's staring. The way each muscle moved and pulsed under thick skin was hypnotizing. Rian's jaw fell half an inch while his blue eyes were wide. Every inch of Gurjin's bare back was to him, and it wasn't being stingy with the view. The sweat from a hard day's work made his frame shimmer like the surface of a river, speckles of evening light glistening across. Scars of Gurjin's time at the Castle were between his shoulder blades, partially obscured by hair. Rian wondered if they were soft to the touch. Or perhaps they were rough, like everything else about Gurjin.

For the love of Thra, what was he thinking?

"Uh, there isn't— there's nothing else to tell," Rian blurted out. His ears straightened out in a panic, the green in his skin now much darker than usual. "It was just the same old things. I wouldn't want to bore you with them!"

Gurjin's ears tilted at his tone but otherwise didn't comment. "It's never boring if you're around," he replied. His gloved hand flipped the blade once more. After inspecting it, he hummed and set the blade inside the forge once more. He pulled off his gloves and dragged a hand across his brow. As good as he was at this, Gurjin was still terrible at handling high temperatures. If he wanted to complain, he kept it to himself (this time). "You bring madness wherever you go."

"Madness?" Rian bristled. "By Aughra's eye, you are relentless." He grinned, teasing. "I show up, offering only my wonderful company, and this is how I'm repaid? With cruel words and insults?" Rian put a hand over his heart. "You hurt me, Gurjin."

The look Gurjin sent in response nearly made Rian laugh. "So the gelfling that nearly died of fright is fine, but the one who scared him isn't?" His delivery was dull but retained a lick of amusement. Gurjin shrugged, relenting with a hand wave. "Here. Just because it's you, I'll rephrase. You have a certain… tendency… for getting into trouble that I always have to dig you out of." He cocked a brow and smirked. "Better?"

"Not even close!" Rian's shrill voice made Gurjin chuckle. "I don't like what you're insinuating." He crossed his arms, pacing, while Gurjin poked through various scraps of metal and tools. "I don't have a 'tendency' for trouble."

Gurjin laughed. "You attract danger so frequently that I'm shocked that you haven't lost a limb," he retorted. He grabbed a strip of rope and began working on crafting a bola at a rock shelf. "You're lucky I'm the only gelfling that's willing to put up with you."

Rian's ears twitched as his face grew hot. "That's not true," he argued. It was probably true, but it was instinct to disagree with assessments of himself. In this case, he wasn't entirely sure if Gurjin was joking or being serious. "I'm very likable." Rian wandered around the room, settling near a rack of bladeless handles. He leaned on the edge as he looked back towards Gurjin. "I can also take care of myself fine on my own."

"I hope so," Gurjin replied. He looked down at the bola as he tied a strong knot. There was a beat of silence. Then, without warning, his amber eyes glinted upward to admire Rian's form. "It'd be a shame for Thra to lose such a nice arse."

Out of anything that could have come out of Gurjin's mouth, that was the last thing Rian expected. Instantly, his body froze up while his eyes shot open. His head swiveled towards Gurjin. "I— What did you say? You— that's not— I... what?" he spluttered.

Rian's ears were flushed a deep scarlet at the ends with a face to match. The words were clumsy and littered with embarrassment that was running through Rian's veins. Gurjin was watching him out of the corner of his eye, a grin stretched across his face. At the realization that he was being toyed with, Rian swallowed. His face was displaying his flustered emotions fully. Despite that, he tried to play it off. He leaned into the weapon rack and rested his elbows on top, clearing his throat as he did so. "I mean, you're not… wrong." Rian had regained control of his words but still stumbled over them. "I've got-"

The rack shifted under his weight. There was a sound of a metal hook coming undone. Without warning, the ledge he had been leaning against fell. His support now gone, Rian fell backward. He cried out, panicked, while the spear handles and sticks tumbled to the ground. Everything hit the ground in a loud clatter, metal hitting wood while a very living body hit solid earth. Rian winced as he became half-buried in sticks, grateful that he hadn't decided to lean against a crate of blades instead.

Gurjin watched Rian vanish from view with the rest of the weapon rack. He laughed. "You alright?" he called out once he finished snickering.

"Fine!" Rian's face was burning, just out of sight. "I'm fine! Never been better!" He reached around to grab some of the fallen weapons. Rian slowly got to his feet and attempted to swallow the nerves that were coating his being. He kept his ears tucked back in a way to hide how red they had become, then rested the sticks against the half-standing rack. Once there was enough cleaned up, Rian cleared his throat. He turned back and tried to look as nonchalant as possible. "So, um— what you said-"

Gurjin rolled his eyes and turned back with an amused head shake. Rian trailed off as Gurjin proceeded to ignore him. "Watch your step. I'd rather not clean up your mess."

Rian closed his mouth. It was obvious that Gurjin wasn't going to invite conversation about it again. That wasn't ideal, because Rian couldn't stop replaying those words in his mind. It was different from the other teases they would usually exchange. This time almost seemed… flirtatious. His stomach flipped while his heart pounded in his chest. It was just as when he had caught himself staring at Gurjin's bare chest, but much stronger. Rian couldn't place the source, but he was feeling all too warm and had a sneaking guess that it wasn't from the forge.


Gurjin finished tying the bola. After cutting the rope, he tested the weight in his palm, feeling it with his fingers. "So, your 'boring' meeting- what important new developments were made this time?"

The question took a moment to settle in. Once it did, Rian threw his head back and groaned. "Nothing," he said. His fingers trailed down his face and grit his teeth. "It was a day of standing around while everyone argued with one another. It felt like I was watching a room full of childlings." Rian set one hand on his hip and sighed into his palm. His shoulders slumped and he shook his head slightly. "I don't know why they even want me there if they don't listen."

"They do listen to you," Gurjin argued gently. His tone was firm but kind. He watched him from across the room, assessing Rian's body language with concerned eyes. "Just not in the way you think they should."

Rian huffed and shut his eyes. "We'll never win this if we're divided," he muttered under his breath. Usually, he was full of spirit and ready to take on whatever the resistance was faced with next. On days like this, that passion was gone. Conflicts with ideas or strategies never seemed to end. It made Rian worry about their future- as well as wonder if he was cut out for leadership. Ordon could have handled this, but that didn't mean he could.

"We're not divided. You're telling yourself that and you're wrong." Gurjin's voice was sharp. He set down the bola, forgetting it for now, and watched Rian from across the room. "We're united because of you, Rian. We wouldn't be here if you hadn't brought us together." He smiled weakly. "I wouldn't be here at all if it hadn't been for you."

"Yes, you would," Rian objected. "You're the strongest gelfling I know."

Gurjin let out a bitter chuckle. "The strongest gelfling still wouldn't have been able to fight his way out of the Castle by himself," he replied. "Your dreamfast saved my life, Rian. I wouldn't have survived that ambush." He sighed and set down his tools. The mood to craft had left him.

Rian wasn't sure if he believed that. Gurjin was tough- more than he gave himself credit for. It almost seemed like a lie to make Rian feel better. Although he knew Gurjin would object to that idea. "I think you would have," he repeated. "You're strong."

Gurjin hummed. "Maybe, but I'm stronger when I'm with you," he uttered. The words were unexpected and soft. Rian's ears fell back as he looked upward. He glanced at Gurjin in gentle surprise, taken off-guard by the unexpected moment of quiet vulnerability. Gurjin's smile grew and he tilted his head in thought. "I don't feel quite as invincible when you're not around to make me feel better in comparison."

The last remark spoiled what tenderness Gurjin's words could have held. Rian's face fell from fondness to annoyance. A retort failed to come about, so he merely stood there. Eventually, Rian just scoffed, clicking his tongue. "Arrogant Drenchen," he muttered under his breath whilst turning away.

Gurjin chuckled, unbothered by the lackluster insult. He watched Rian for a moment. An idea came to mind and he lightly bit down on his lower lip. Then he softened, sighing wistfully and shaking his head with affection."That reminds me."

"What of?" Rian asked. He looked at the weapons and poked at one that was sitting against the half-broken rack. "More jokes? Or perhaps another grand insult to slice away what remains of my pride?" He rolled his eyes as he idly stared at the various handles.

"No— well, yes, I do have many— but no." Gurjin smiled and stepped away from the table. His feet led towards the workspace at the back of the forge. "I have something for you."

That was new. Rian paused in what he was doing to perk up in surprise. "Me?" he asked aloud. His eyes followed Gurjin as the latter walked away. The compulsion to follow him grew and Rian soon trailed behind him. "Can I ask what it is?"

Gurjin carefully brushed some scraps of metal away from the center of the desk. "Hm… no," he said simply. Rian huffed in mild annoyance, making Gurjin smile. His eyes were searching for something in the area, although Rian wasn't sure what. As he grew closer, Gurjin suddenly brightened. "Ah! Here we are."

Buried under various containers and experiments of vliyaya, there was a scabbard. Gurjin grabbed it by the base and lifted it. Unlike the Vapra's usual amount of filigree and ornaments, the decorations were simple. There was a handle resting on top and Gurjin admired it for a moment. Then he sighed and extended his arm out towards Rian. "A deal's a deal," he said simply.

Rian softened. Almost one trine ago, he had bugged Gurjin for the promise of crafting a sword for him. At the time it had been only partially serious. Over unums, it became a topic of jokes and teasing. Gurjin always seemed to put it off for one reason or another. Rian had doubted he even had the intention of completing it. Yet, now, he was surprised to see that not only had his friend taken the promise seriously, but finished it.

Rian took a small step forward. "Is that…" Rian's voice trailed off as he budged into Gurjin's space. The scabbard looked similar to the one he already had at his side, once he thought about it. Rian lifted one hand, fingers twitching, then hesitated. "You made it?" he asked, voice soft and full of disbelief.

Gurjin smirked. With an amused head tilt, he gently pushed the scabbard forward, forcing Rian to take it as it grew close. "Took me about three unums to get right, but yeah... I finished it."

The weapon and scabbard was heavy in his hands. Rian's breath hitched as he felt it. His thumb ran over the base, testing the feeling of the fabric under his fingers. It was sturdy, and he felt confident that it would hold under pressure. After that, his eyes drifted towards the sword's hilt. Rian paused, then looked up. Gurjin was watching him with crossed arms. He lifted a brow and nodded as if encouraging Rian to hurry on. Rian clenched his jaw, swallowing, then grasped the hilt with his left hand.

The sword came out with a smooth, metallic 'shiiing'. The blade shined orange, reflecting the bright fire coming from the forge. It was silver, sharpened, and polished to completion. The weapon was so pristine that Rian could see his reflection within the blade. The shape was reminiscent of the scimitar he used in everyday battle with the sharp, curved edge. The crossguard was longer than what he was used to, but not enough that it would be distracting. Rian tested the grip whilst gently swaying it back and forth. The hilt was wrapped with a leather and rope combination that settled against his palm and fingers. Adorning the pummel was the sigil of the Stonewood clan, engraved with careful fingers.

Rian exhaled as he found the perfect hold for the sword in his hand. Curious, he passed it to his right. Just like his left, the sword fit perfectly in his hand. The grip seemed to fit against his hand like a puzzle piece, and there were no adjustments needed to feel as though he had a firm hold. He felt ready to make a confident swing instantly, and Rian was thoroughly impressed. "Gurjin, this…" Rian wasn't sure of what words to say, but he still wanted to attempt. "It's beautiful." He let the sword sway back and forth experimentally. "You made this for me?"

Gurjin merely hummed as the only confirmation. There was a hint of a smile as he watched Rian test simple motions. "Does it fit well enough?" he asked simply. He rested one elbow over his arm, moving to bite his thumb as he inspected from afar.

Rian huffed a laugh. "Well? It's magnificent," he said, awestruck. He turned away and did an experimental swing. The motion was smooth, controlled all the way through. It was as though the sword was an extension of his arm. Rian exhaled, admiring it closely. "This is some of your finest work. Without a single doubt."

The forge suddenly became the second-brightest thing in the room, because Gurjin was glowing. He chuckled and looked down, shoulders hunched in a rare display of humbled relief. There was an indistinguishable murmur under his breath. The words were hard to make out, but Rian did manage to hear a soft 'thank Thra' through whispers. He was tempted to make a teasing comment, but Gurjin recovered moments later. "Good. I would've been very offended if you had doubts to begin with." He threw his head back, sending his hair back over his shoulder with hands on his hips. Gurjin smirked and gave Rian a little wink. "Always trust 'Bold Gurjin' to do the job properly, Rian."

Rian rolled his eyes. "You're such a soghead," he muttered. Gurjin only chuckled in response. Rian gripped the handle and held the scabbard up to sheathe it. The blade fell through the locket seamlessly, gliding like water over stone. As the metal vanished from view, the flames of the forge flickered. There was a faint flash of light across the blade. Something glinted by the hilt. "Wait." Rian narrowed his eyes and pulled the sword upwards some. He inspected it closer, holding the scabbard with one hand and the hilt with the other. "What's this?"

The symbols were nearly invisible. At a glance, it appeared as though there was nothing there. Yet as the flames from the forge fell in just the right spot, Rian could see the faint sign of engraved marks. He frowned, quizzical, while Gurjin had gone quiet. He was silent beside Rian, just watching with attentive eyes while the former angled the blade to see the shapes better.

All at once, Rian saw the engraved symbols. Along the base of the sword blade, there were two sigils. One Rian knew all too well, recognizing the triangular emblem of Stonewood without any trouble. The second was also familiar to him, two curved tails with an orb at the end of a long line. Drenchen. They were carefully cut and carved without a single hint of being rushed. At first, Rian wondered if it was Gurjin's way of wordlessly signing his work. Then the third symbol that was etched between the clans caught his eye.

Unlike the two clan symbols, this one had signs of hesitation. The lines looked as they had been gone through many times, rather than once with confidence. The craving had faint scratch marks around the sides, recording an uncertain hand that steadily grew over time. It wasn't perfect, but Rian could read it all the same. It was the gelfling word for 'protector'.

"You wrote." It wasn't a question. Gurjin wasn't illiterate, thanks to many restless nights back during their Castle days. Even so, he wasn't much of a scribe. Rian couldn't recall if he ever taught Gurjin this particular word, but he was pleasantly surprised regardless. Out of all the times they spent together, Rian had never seen Gurjin actively try to write. He had assumed the Drenchen stopped caring. It seemed that he had been wrong. "Protector?"

Gurjin reached up and rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah… It was the only thing I could think of," he said honestly. For once, Gurjin looked sheepish and wasn't trying to hide it. "I had just our clans there before— but it looked boring without something else on it. I mean, you'd look at the sword and see just 'Stonewood' and 'Drenchen'. It's not very poetic, is it? So I was thinking— since I have to save your arse every other unum— maybe it wouldn't be so terrible if I put that there. I should've practiced— it's not very good. I've never been good at remembering that stuff you show-"

"I love it."

Rian's soft voice cut Gurjin off. He shut his mouth with widened eyes. All at once, his body relaxed. Gurjin's shoulders fell and he bore a tiny, hopeful smile. "You do?"

"It's perfect," Rian assured. He admired the engraved markings, carefully running over them with his fingers. After taking one last moment to admire his friend's handiwork, Rian gripped the hilt once more. He slid it back into the sheath and clasped the scabbard with both hands. "You're brilliant, Gurjin." Rian smiled at him.

The compliment made Gurjin beam with pride. "Strong and brilliant?" he repeated with raised brows. "That's two nice things in one day, Rian. Are you sure you're alright?" He leaned over and gave Rian's skull a playful nudge with his knuckles. "Did you hit your head during that meeting?"

Rian shook his head as a reaction to the head tap, sighing. "I now renounce that statement." He reached off and shoved Gurjin's hand away whilst the latter snickered. "You're arrogant and an oaf." He adjusted the scabbard so it was propped under his left arm. Gurjin reached across again, this time ruffling a sweaty hand through his hair. "Knock it off. My hair is going to smell like the Great Smerth." Rian swatted at Gurjin's arm, chuckling through his words.

Gurjin laughed too, raising his arms in surrender. "Oi, the Smerth smells fantastic," he defended. "You're just too busy having that pretty, dainty Dark Wood scent all over you that you forgot what a real gelfling smells like." He gestured to himself and smirked.

"Of course it is," Rian replied. The comment about Rian's scent supposedly being 'dainty' and 'pretty' had caught his attention, but it could wait for another day. He doubted Gurjin would be loose-lipped enough to explain it anyway. "Swamp water and wet soil: the most attractive of fragrances." He glanced back at Gurjin, giving him a lazy smile. As he did so, he abruptly became aware of the two's position.

Without realizing it, Rian and Gurjin had budged into each other's personal space throughout the conversation. Their chests were less than an arm's distance apart. Rian had to crane his neck to make eye contact. The bare skin of Gurjin's chest was taking up a large portion of Rian's view. His ears began to turn red at the edges and fell back towards his skull. Gurjin hovered over his shorter frame, smiling down at Rian with a hand on his hip. At this point, the only way they could be closer was by making direct skin contact. If Rian were to stand on his toes, their faces would be close enough to touch.

At that mental image, Rian's eyes fell just below Gurjin's eyes, falling on his lips-

Rian jumped, startled out of his thoughts as he caught himself drifting somewhere deep and unexplored. "I, um— I should probably— really get going," he stammered. He took a few wide steps back, clearing his throat. His ears were flat now, twitching nervously. Gurjin's eyes were glued to his form, silently watching his retreat. His expression held a softness Rian couldn't quite place, but he didn't want to stick around to ask. The thoughts that had appeared in his head were unexpected and he didn't know how to handle it. Being brave and addressing whatever that was was the last thing on his mind, as Rian felt as though his heart had been cornered. "You're busy— and I really shouldn't keep you from— from your work."

Gurjin's expression was unreadable, but that settled after a short pause. "Yeah." His voice was strangely sober. Gurjin seemed to notice too, and he cleared his throat. "Yeah, I… should probably get this settled before the Sisters rise." Gurjin turned and grabbed his gloves again. He paused, then sent Rian a curious look. "You're taking the sword?"

Rian's heart was racing in his chest, drumming in his ears. He held the scabbard in his hands, squeezing it. The question distracted him from the panic in his chest, and he softened. "Of course!" Rian glanced down at the scabbard, unable to hide the smile that graced his features as he admired it again. "I can't wait to practice on it— Is that alright?"

Gurjin hummed and nodded affirmingly. "In fact— what about a round of sparring? Me and you, at the Crucible?" He glanced over at the forge and made a wince of regret. "I've got all this to tamper with," he groaned. "— tomorrow?"

The offer was so simple, but Rian's heart didn't relax any. Still, that sounded nice and it had been far too long since they had a time like that. The resistance took so much time away from them, and Rian missed it. "That sounds fun," he replied. He rested a hand on the scabbard that was already at his side. "Be prepared to lose."

"It's been a long time since I lost to you, but I admire the enthusiasm." Gurjin turned away from Rian. The view of his chest was gone, but Rian was still facing a bare back. Rian blushed and averted his gaze, swallowing a lump in his throat. "Rest well, Rian." Gurjin sent him a smile over his shoulder.

Rian nodded. "You as well, Gurjin," he replied. After one last smile, Rian turned on his heel and left the forge behind him. If he were to glance back, Rian would have seen a pair of amber eyes watch him exit. Gurjin lingered in his stare, wordlessly watching Rian leave, then turned back to his work with a pure smile nobody was around to witness.

Soon the shadows of the cliff were given away to the light of the Three Brothers. Rian exhaled as he walked. His heart was thrumming away in his chest, like a never-ending drum from a podling wayhouse. He set his sights forward, in the direction of his home, and continued regardless. As he did, the scabbard swayed in his grip. An idea struck him suddenly and Rian paused midstride.

Considering the decision for a moment, Rian took the rope of his belt and carefully untied the scabbard that was already present. The battle-worn leather fell with ease, and he soon replaced it with the one Gurjin had fashioned for him. The sheath and hilt rested perfectly against his right hip. Rian let out a small hum, pleased at how comfortable the sword felt hanging at his side. It truly did feel like it was crafted just for him. He took the old blade and tucked it under his arm, already deciding that he had a new favorite.

As he continued forward, Rian's hand rested over the sword hilt. The grip felt against his palm with ease, and he gave it a gentle squeeze. This weapon- this gift- was from Gurjin, made special for him and only him. Something about that made his heart flutter in his chest. Although, even if he wasn't touched by that action, the memory of his friend without clothes did the job well on its own. Rian's face flushed for a moment as he recalled the image of Gurjin's bare chest. His mind wandered, imagining how those muscles must have pulsed and tensed while working on Rian's sword.

Rian's breath hitched as a gasp caught in his throat. He clenched his fists and squeezed his eyes shut. With a cool exhale, he took a moment before continuing. The heartbeat in his chest was forcefully being coaxed back to a more calm, normal pace. Whatever was wrong with him, he had to get it sorted before the sparring match with Gurjin tomorrow night. Rian wasn't sure if he could handle more teasing otherwise.

That didn't make the mental image of Gurjin working fade from his mind- nor the unexpected thought that Rian couldn't deny how good his best friend looked.