A/N: Oh hey. Just going through one of my usual crises and taking things down and wallowing in my despair before doing a little revision and then throwing them back out there to hopefully be loved. I won't bore you with anything. Here's the story.
Chapter One: Snagged
It was shaping up to be another boring day at war. Just the way Valerian liked it.
Everything was going smoothly, the plan unfolding perfectly without the slightest hitch. It would only be a matter of time before the front lines advanced right up to the gates of the enemy fortress, busted them down, and dug into their first claim on the northern bank of the Sime River. It was the first step toward seizing the entire Sime region, a piece of land that had been coveted by many a warlord throughout the course of history. Once, not too long ago, it had belonged to the Rumen. Therefore, this invasion was justified; they were only taking back what was rightfully theirs. It had never been under the control of the Rumen during Valerian's lifetime, but once upon a time was good enough. For nearly twenty years now this pot had been simmering, and only in the past few had it boiled over into undeniable war. But political turmoil was all that Valerian had ever known. He was born to a general of the Rumen, and all he had ever wanted was to become the same.
Being the son of a general, Valerian had never been subjected to a lowly foot soldier's duties. Though trained in combat, he did not serve on the front lines. Valerian's place was far from the heat of battle, at his father's side, never too far from the camp where his lord resided during battles. Rarely did he engage in fighting. Only when things took a turn for the worse, which was far from likely today. On this day, Valerian sat on the back of his horse, his brown eyes turned upward to study the steel gray sky above him, his mind contemplating the probability of rainfall. Rain was stupid. All it did was make things more difficult, and if there was one thing that Valerian hated, it was when things got difficult. Oddly enough, though, Valerian's father had often described his son as difficult despite the youth's hate for complication.
The hardened general nudged his boy lightly with his elbow upon noticing Valerian's straying eyes. "Son, pay attention to what's happening on the battlefield."
Valerian lowered his eyes from the sky to settle his gaze on the battle unfolding before them. Not that he could really see anything. The front lines were a league away. But the blood red Rumen flags were still flying high, marking the progress the soldiers ahead were making with their gradual forward push. "I am paying attention. Nothing new is happening."
"Oh really?" his father asked, "Then what is that up on that ridge to the east of the enemy fortress?"
Valerian turned his head to look at the indicated landmark. It was devoid of any signs of life. He looked back to his father, eyes narrowed slightly at the man's attempts to throw him off. "Invisible enemies?" he offered smartly. "Maybe your vision's going in your old age, Father."
It was Salathel's turn to glare. "You could stand to learn a thing or two from my old age," Valerian's father retorted. "That ridge is the very same place from which—"
"Yeah, I know. That's where your commanding officer led the entire unit to slaughter twenty years ago because he didn't see signs of the ambush waiting for him there," Valerian interrupted his father's story to ruin the ending.
"Aha," Salathel smiled lightly, "Proof that you actually do listen to what I say."
Valerian shrugged, a small grin of his own dancing at the corners of his lips. He wasn't going to admit to that. Instead, he changed the subject. "I hope we can get this over with before it starts raining."
"I don't think so," Salathel responded with a shake of his head. "Those clouds have been looming over us for two days now. I can't believe it's stayed dry this long."
A noise of disapproval hummed from behind Valerian's lips. The rest of the day was going to be soggy. "We should press the attack harder," he said.
That way, maybe they could be finished by nightfall. Less time out in the annoying rain. He glanced over his shoulder back at their camp where the boats were docked at the river bank to see just how much ground they had been able to gain the past two days. Not a whole lot. The garrison was only perhaps two leagues from the water's edge, and the point at which Valerian sat atop his horse next to his father was definitely closer to the river bank than the fortress. From this distance, he could see quite clearly the masts of their fleet, shooting high above the tents of the camp.
But something was amiss on the water. Sails, slipping like low, smooth sheets of cloud through the air. And below the sails were wooden hulls of boats gliding weightlessly over the surface of the river. There seemed to be another small fleet heading toward the camp.
"Dad," Valerian started, squinting to make sure his eyes were not deceiving him, "Linnedain and his men can't have made it here from Trumaea yet?"
"No," Salathel answered, turning to see what had prompted such a question from his son. His eyes widened. "Those are not friendly boats… It's an ambush! Nonde's in danger!"
Valerian wasn't one to run toward danger, for the most part. He had little desire to charge into the fray in pursuit of an adrenaline rush, or glory, or whatever it was that drove those warmongering types to jump at the chance to fight. But, on the rare occasions, Valerian unintentionally let a stitch of his more valorous colors, which he normally kept buried far beneath a dull exterior, show.
"I'm going back," he decided without hesitation. "I'll take the cavalry. We can hold them off until you can regroup and bring the main army."
Salathel nodded as he reached out to squeeze his boy's shoulder. "Be careful, Son. Keep our lord safe. I'll be there soon."
At war, careful made no difference, and safe did not exist, Valerian knew. This was exactly the kind of thing that he hated. Ambushes, sneak attacks, cheap shots. They were only okay when he was the one doing them. This attack was supposed to be foolproof. An easy, sweeping victory. Lord Rumen had chosen to send his army by water specifically because the enemy here had no navy, yet there was a small naval fleet rapidly encroaching on the main camp. Valerian had to roll his eyes at the inconvenience, because if he didn't force himself to be annoyed, he might start to worry.
He urged his mount to run faster, kicking his heels into the stallion's ribs, but the animal was already giving all that it had. The hooves of a hundred riders thundered behind him, all trying their best to hurry just as much as he was. It would only take a few minutes to make it back riding at this pace, but they were racing the flow of the river and the push of the breeze. Hopefully the camp was already wise to the oncoming attack; if they were taken completely off guard, only disaster would result.
It was probably a little bit too optimistic to imagine that Nonde had actually been paying attention to anything besides how beautiful the fucking clouds were or something stupid like that. He was even less gung-ho about battle than Valerian was. The worst warlord ever.
Valerian could only watch as the enemy boats landed, grappling hooks taking hold of the Rumen boats and sealing off any chance of escaping via the water. Soldiers began to pour out by the dozens, flooding the main camp. Figures in Rumen red met them swiftly, engaging in combat.
Setting his sights on his lord's tent, Valerian leaned forward against the wind whipping at his face, willing his horse to get there.
The invaders spotted the reinforcements arriving, and some started out to meet them. They were obviously fools, charging a cavalry unit on foot. Valerian plowed right through the first small group, taking several men down to be trampled underneath his horse's feet, and did not pull up until he was at the side of his auburn-bearded lord.
"Perfect timing," Nonde complimented Valerian with a grin, looking down at the corpse that had just a moment ago been a man making an attempt on his life, now dead from a sharp hoof stomp to the skull.
"You owe me a drink," Valerian was quick to tell his longtime friend.
"If we get out of this, I'll throw a party in your honor."
That sounded fair. With a nod of acceptance, Valerian took up his spear and went to work alongside Nonde, sidestepping and thrusting with fatal accuracy. "We just have to stay alive until my father can get here," he explained through gritted teeth as he shoved the point of his weapon into an attacker's chest. These men had little to no armor like he would have expected. "Who are these guys?"
Nonde grunted in response, struggling to hold his guard up against a particularly burly opponent. Valerian offered aid, sneaking a deadly blow in while the man was distracted with trying to smash Nonde's head in. Once he had a free breath, the warlord's son responded, "Must be mercenaries or something." As soon as the words escaped his mouth, he grabbed Valerian's shoulder to move his friend out of the way of a killing blow and then dispatched the would-be assassin.
There was no more time for talking as the situation began to grow dire. The cavalry unit was ineffective after the first charge, being confined in the close space of the camp. Tents and fire pits hindered the horses' movement, and the riders were being pulled down from their mounts and slaughtered by these attackers who fought like wild and vicious animals. But Valerian and Nonde together rose to the challenge, fending off any attacker that would come at them. In fact, they might have been causing a bit of a stir, and certainly they attracted attention.
Through the chaotic mass of flailing limbs and swinging swords, a few dozen strides from where the young warlord and the general's son held their ground valiantly, a pair of crystal blue eyes settled upon the two with interest. Those eyes belonged to the commander of this band of mercenaries, a man known as Adriel Rain. And there were only a few things that Adriel Rain enjoyed as much as he enjoyed a good fight: good drink and good sex. The way to get a good drink and good sex was to get money, and the way to get money was to return to his current employer's palace with the head of Nonde Rumen firmly in hand. So, it looked like a good fight would be the only way to get his money. Adriel wasted no time cutting a path straight to his target.
There could be no mistake that the man who pushed several of his comrades aside to stand before Valerian and Nonde was no ordinary man.
Though he did not show it, Valerian found his newest opponent a bit frightening. The man had stunning eyes, blue as pale as ice. His ears were adorned with thin gold rings along the upper cartilage, while inked serpents slithered up his muscular arms until they disappeared underneath a light cuirass, which was molded to perfectly contour the muscles of the man's broad chest. He was proud, if his posture was any indication. Hanging from his belt were metallic coins, strung up by the holes in their centers, clinking with his every movement. The sound reminded Valerian of the way raindrops tapped rhythmically against metal armor. Valerian hated rain.
The words from Valerian's lips betrayed none of his apprehension. "Don't look, Nonde. I think the enemy means to make you laugh to death," he snipped, a smirk tugging at the corners of his lips.
"Go ahead and waste all the breath you want before I gut you," Adriel shot back at the raven-haired loudmouth.
"Enough talking, Val," Nonde agreed with the enemy across the way, his tone stiff with sobriety. The fellow before them did not look like one to be taken lightly. "Let's get out of this alive."
A fair enough request. Valerian sealed his lips and tightened his grip on his spear, taking up a defensive stance.
Just as well. Adriel had no qualms about going on the offensive, and exploded forward, closing the gap between himself and his target in three decisive strides.
The speed with which his attacker moved was impressive, but the wiry youth was just a tick quicker. In just the nick of time, Valerian managed to knock away the enemy's downward slash with the shaft of his weapon. However, he was now at a disadvantage being caught in so close to his opponent. Adriel tossed his elbow upward at the exposed warrior, catching the underside of Valerian's jaw and laying the general's son out on the hard ground. Upon impact, Valerian felt his spear leap from his hand and soar some distance away, where it landed uselessly in the dirt. He had nothing to defend himself with as Adriel advanced on him to finish him off.
While Valerian, perhaps slightly panicked at this point, clawed around in the dirt beneath him for something to use as a weapon against the oncoming assailant, Nonde decided it was time to step in. It might have been Valerian's job to protect him as a subordinate, but as a friend, Nonde had the same obligation to the other young man. He shouted out, drawing the attention away from his downed friend, and lashed out at the mercenary, swinging rapidly and forcefully at his enemy. None of the strikes connected, each one deflecting off the sword Adriel managed to raise up to protect himself, but at least Valerian was safe.
Of course, safe was a relative term, and if anyone ever asked Valerian, he would say that safety did not exist while at war. He popped to his feet and went in unarmed to aid his lord. Because if anything happened to Nonde, not only would his own father kick his ass, but so would Nonde's dad. Not to mention, Valerian would be devastated at the loss of his best friend.
With the intention of tackling the attacker to the ground, Valerian flung himself onto the man's back, but the plan was poorly executed. He should have gone for the legs. It wasn't a total loss, though. Valerian coiled his arms and legs around his enemy's body, pinning his thick arms to his sides, leaving him helpless against the thrust that Nonde drew back to deliver to his gut.
Before Nonde could deal the fatal wound, though, Adriel quickly spun around, putting the leech that was latched onto his back in between his body and the sword.
Good move. Valerian only barely managed to save himself from being skewered by his buddy, reaching out behind him to push the broad side of the blade away, thus redirecting the thrust off to the side. That was a close one. Valerian could still see the horror in Nonde's eyes at the idea that he had almost just killed his childhood friend. His own expression was probably something similar.
There was no time to utter any prayers of thanks. Valerian once again found himself on his back in the dirt, having been flipped after relinquishing his hold on the enemy. A pained groan escaped him, only to be shoved back down his throat when a heavy boot came down against his neck, pinning him to the ground. He squirmed desperately, but to no avail. The enemy was cocking back to stab that nasty cutlass straight through his face…
Again, Nonde came to his friend's rescue, seizing Adriel's arm before he could thrust, and attempting to wrestle the weapon away.
This was getting a bit annoying for Adriel. The second he thought he had one of these guys, the other one came bouncing back to interfere. He shoved Nonde away from him, only to have his feet swept out from underneath him by Valerian, who immediately sprung on him the second he hit the ground with every intention of strangling him.
Adriel was able to wrench Valerian's hands from his throat and turn the tables, but his advantage didn't last as Valerian quickly wriggled his way back on top. This same sequence of events repeated several times as the two rolled about on the ground. Adriel was stronger, but Valerian's nimbleness evened the odds, leaving the two locked in a stalemate. Nonde was at a loss for what to do as he watched the two tussle and tumble across the campsite.
For some time the two struggled back and forth, their breathing growing heavy and sweat sweeping from their skin in the muggy heat of the overcast summer day. The clammy slickness of their skin made it even more difficult for Adriel to get ahold of his spry opponent. But Valerian wasn't used to this kind of exertion. Combined with the heat, the other man's brute strength was wearing him out.
The longer they fought, the less promising things looked for Valerian. He found himself trapped between Adriel's knees, too exhausted to wiggle his way out again. In a desperate attempt to gain even the smallest bit of leverage, he tried rolling. It didn't work like he thought it would. In fact, it probably only made things worse. Valerian was now face down in the dirt, pinned to the ground by his opponent lying flat on top of him. Mother fucking shit.
Luckily for Valerian, just as Adriel finally managed to get the upper hand, their skirmish took another turn. An unfavorable one, from Adriel's point of view. The quaking of the ground underneath thousands of hammering footsteps meant that the main army was on their way back to the camp.
Even though he wouldn't get paid if he didn't kill Nonde Rumen, Adriel was far from personally invested in this battle. He wasn't going to get himself killed over it. Fully aware that he didn't have nearly enough men to take on an entire army, Adriel decided that it was time to call for a retreat. A draw wasn't as disgraceful as a loss, and he was definitely calling this one a draw. In fact, it should count as a win for him by disqualification, since those other two guys were ganging up on him. That sounded better.
Surrendering the restrictive hold he had on the feisty raven beneath him, Adriel lifted his fingers to his mouth and produced a shrill whistle as he hopped to his feet. "Retreat! Initiate the escape plan!" he roared.
Escape? Valerian wasn't about to just let this guy walk away. He knew a dangerous man when he met one, and whoever this pirate was, he was sure to be a threat to Nonde if he was allowed to live. Valerian gave chase to the retreating enemy, pushing his way through the throng of people only to be met by a fairly determined looking wall of soldiers. Some of them were staying behind, still fighting. Holding a line, it looked like. What a coward that guy was, leaving his men behind so that he could escape.
Adriel didn't have any intention of leaving without his men. He just needed some time. The escape plan that he had called for his men to begin involved more than retreating. He was going to destroy the enemy boats so that they wouldn't be able to follow him, or escape from the counterattack that was sure to follow their retreat from the front lines. Adriel joined the portion of his subordinates that hadn't remained to stay behind fighting to unload bundles of straw and barrels of oil onto the Rumen boats that his own fleet was hooked to. They would be reduced to ashes in no time. His men dumped oil across the decks and then piled straw into heaps all about the boats while both Valerian and Nonde, along with many Rumen soldiers who had realized what was happening, desperately tried to fight their way through to stop the impending fiery doom.
With a weapon he'd salvaged from a fallen soldier, Valerian stabbed and slashed furiously at anyone who stepped in his path, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake as he forced his way through the crowd. Such urgency was rare from the young officer, and the effort that his son was putting forth immediately clued Salathel in to the severity of the situation as he charged into the fray of things ahead of the army that trailed behind him. His eyes frantically scanned the scene, catching on a soldier on one of the enemy boats who was rushing to strike a light for a torch to set the Rumen boats ablaze.
"Valerian! The torch!" he bellowed, "The torch!"
Just as the end of the soldier's torch exploded into flame, Valerian located the unlucky fellow. Unlucky, because he had to die immediately. Valerian did the only thing that he had time to do. He raised the broken spear he had been wielding and launched it with all that he could muster.
The javelin flew straighter and truer than Salathel's ever pessimistic son had imagined it would, burying itself with a thump into the torch-bearer's chest. The man crumpled, the torch falling harmlessly to the deck of the enemy boat.
Having a spear whoosh by, a mere breadth from his face, Adriel couldn't not look and see who had hurled it. When he turned his head from his dead torch-bearer, his eyes were drawn magnetically to the culprit. Well, well. If it wasn't that same pesky squirt that Adriel had only just managed to get off his back, quite literally. Their eyes met. Their eyes did more than just meet. They locked, collided with a jarring jolt that froze the world around them for a fraction of a moment during which each of them promised himself that he would come out on top in this clash which could only end one way.
Adriel's eyes remained trained on Valerian as he bent to pick up the still burning torch. A smirk crossed his lips as he shattered his opponent's glorious hopes and stepped up onto the low railing of his boat to make an easy stride onto the Rumen boat his was tied to.
Valerian spurred himself forward, cursing the fact that he had wasted precious steps being caught in that stupid staring match with his enemy, but was unable to make any difference in the end.
Adriel set the first of the Rumen boats on fire before tossing the torch to his soldier that was waiting on the next boat. The orange flames burst to life in sequence, mere seconds passing before the next boat and the next one and the next one all lit up.
By the time Valerian was able to reach the boats, the entire fleet was alight. There was nothing to be done about the burning Rumen boats now. But there was still a perfectly good enemy fleet that Valerian wasn't about to allow to escape, unless those vessels were carrying his soldiers. He bounded up the loading ramp of Adriel's boat, where the enemy commander was awaiting him, ready to settle this little spat already.
"You're pretty annoying, you know that?" Adriel called out.
No, annoying was the one who came and messed up a perfectly good plan and sent an easy battle into absolute disarray. From where Valerian was standing, Adriel was the annoying one.
"You come here and intrude on my battle, trying to kill my lord, and completely ruining my victory, and you say I'm the annoying one?" Valerian asked, making sure he understood this evidently crazy man. "Do you even know what annoying means?"
"I look like some kinda idiot to you?" Adriel wondered.
"Yes, that's exactly what you look like," Valerian responded. "I thought we established this the moment I saw you."
Oh yeah. Adriel remembered that wisecrack this twit had made before they started fighting. "Someone oughtta teach you a little respect," Adriel growled.
Valerian waved his hand, his gesture meant as an invitation for the man before him to try his hand at teaching something if he thought he could. Adriel accepted the challenge and lunged forward.
The two exchanged several blows, neither of them managing to land anything of any consequence for several minutes. All around them, fights were breaking out as the mercenaries were pushed back until they had nowhere to go but their boats and the Rumen forces gave chase. At some point during the excitement, the clouds had grown too weary to hold back the rain any longer, and the droplets began pouring down. Valerian was too busy fighting to notice it, but with the downpour to help tame the fires and the arrival of their reinforcements, the tide of battle seemed to have turn in favor of the Rumen.
However, Valerian couldn't say the same for his personal battle. Not that he was losing to this scummy brigand, but he couldn't seem to gain any kind of ground against him. It felt like he was playing a lot of defense rather than doing any attacking. He blocked a heavy blow, stumbling backward under the force of it, and then tripped over the corpse of one not so fortunate as himself, landing on his back. Maybe he shouldn't have skipped training so often…
Salathel probably would have fainted had he known that his son might have been regretting his lack of effort in training. Luckily, he had no way of reading Valerian's mind, and had arrived at his boy's side to take over this fight. "Son, let me handle this," he said somberly, stepping in between the grounded youth and his attacker.
Valerian quickly got to his feet. "We'll do it together."
Ganging up on Adriel again. Well, they could come at him in the hundreds, and he'd still beat them all. Adriel scoffed at the pair before him, sizing up the newcomer. "Let's see it, Pops."
Salathel would gladly show this whelp how a real man fought. He unleashed his fatherly fury upon this man who would dare attack his son, a blur of limbs and steel as he wasted no time going for the kill. There were few men on this battlefield that Salathel felt were actually a threat to Valerian's life, and Adriel was one of them; therefore he would feel the full brunt of Salathel's protective rage.
Even though he was supposed to be helping his old man, Valerian found himself doing nothing but watching his father in admiration as he gave the enemy a taste of the nasty medicine he had been giving Valerian. It was Adriel's turn to be on the defensive. It was only a matter of time before Valerian's father killed him. He didn't even really need Valerian's help.
"Son, you could contribute any time now!" Salathel shouted, urging his unmotivated son to action. He wouldn't be able to keep up this pace much longer in his old age. Though he wasn't going to tell his son that, otherwise the wisecracks would know no bounds.
It was as Valerian stepped forward to sneak in a fatal blow while Adriel was preoccupied fending off Salathel that a low groan sounded out, loud enough to be heard over the clanging of metal against metal and the noise of the rain on the river. The three men halted in the midst of their fighting to lift their heads and locate the source. It was the tall, thick mast of the burning Rumen boat next to the vessel upon which they were doing battle, the base marred by the flames so much that it could no longer support its own weight. It was about to come crashing down on top of them.
"Valerian!" Salathel shouted. He had no time. He did the first thing that came to his mind.
Valerian felt himself shoved forward, straight into his enemy. And he didn't stop falling once he hit Adriel. The mercenary stumbled backwards as well, into the railing of the boat. Valerian's momentum crashing into him sent both of them flipping over the rail and into the rushing, murky river water.
Together the two fighters plunged into the chilly flow, and together they flailed about under the surface for a few seconds as each tried to get his bearings and swim upward. More experienced on the water, Adriel got himself sorted out first. But when he tried to surface, he realized something wasn't right. He felt like there was a fucking bag of rocks tied to his waist or something. That snotty Rumen was trying to drown him, dragging him down to the bottom of the river. With no visibility in the dark water, Adriel reached down to his belt, which he was certain was the root of the problem. But he couldn't figure out what the fuck was going on down there. He needed to breathe. Slipping his fingers under Valerian's spaulder, Adriel pulled the other man upward before propelling both of them to the surface.
Upon bursting from the water, Valerian inhaled deeply, sucking in all the air he had been deprived of during his underwater spell. He hadn't forgotten about his enemy, though, and made to swim away from the other man as soon as he had the breath to do so. But he couldn't get away. Valerian realized, as he tried to make a stroke to escape, that he was caught. More specifically, the ring on his finger was snagged on something. The other man's belt, maybe. Something in that general region. Valerian yanked desperately a few times, but to no avail. He rolled his eyes. How annoying.
"Are you kidding me?" Adriel demanded, as the realization hit him.
"Do I seem like the type to kid?" Valerian snapped back.
Fantastic. Adriel couldn't kill him, otherwise he'd have to lug a corpse through the current. "What exactly's going on down there? Whatever it is, take it off."
Valerian was not taking it off. It was a family heirloom. "You take your belt off."
"No fucking way," Adriel said with a shake of his head. This belt was more than sentimental. It was his essence.
"Fine. I'll do it for you, then," Valerian decided. His other hand dove down under the water, searching for Adriel's belt buckle.
"Hey, hey, hey!" Adrial shouted, reaching down to stop Valerian's nimble fingers. "I'll drown your ass if you don't keep your hands to yourself!"
"We'll both drown if you don't cooperate!" Valerian shot back. He had to let go of the belt buckle so that he could use his one free arm to help him stay afloat; he could only use his legs for so long.
"You're the one not cooperating! Just take your stupid thing off!"
Again, both pairs of hands were underneath the water struggling to get their way until they could no longer hold themselves above water without the use of their arms.
"You are the most annoying person I've ever fucking met!" Adriel raged, throwing his hands skyward for a moment.
"You haven't met me," Valerian said.
"Whatever. Take it off."
"No. Let's get to shore, get this sorted out, and then I'll kill you," Valerian suggested.
Adriel scoffed. "Like you could kill me. You couldn't even do it with help from your daddy."
"Excuse me, but were you not about to die just before that beam fell on us?" Valerian reminded his enemy.
"Are you gonna help here, or just flop around like a wet fucking cat?"
"In case you haven't noticed, I'm in a pretty disadvantageous position right now."
"Now I see why people always have to come save your ass," Adriel muttered with a roll of his eyes. "C'mere." Taking hold of Valerian's shoulder again Adriel spun him so that the young officer's back was to his chest, enabling them to work together to sidestroke their way to shore.
It was fairly difficult work; there was no spare breath to be wasted with anymore bickering as the two worked at odds with the current to get to the bank. They must have floated at least a few leagues downriver before they managed to make it to the closer side of a river that was wide enough for five boats to travel down side by side. When they were finally able to crawl up onto the safety of the riverbank, which was mostly Adriel crawling and dragging Valerian along with him, there was little to be done other than collapse and try to catch their breath. Valerian didn't have the strength to move from his place halfway on top of Adriel, and Adriel didn't have the strength to push him off just yet. The disentanglement was just going to have to wait.
Valerian closed his eyes against the rain that was still coming down. He hated rain. He hated the guy he was laying on top of, his hand dangerously close to a private area. He hated this situation. But he didn't have the energy to do anything about it right now.
As they lie motionless on the shore, eyes shut, neither of them fell asleep. But neither of them moved, either. They didn't speak, they just rested their bodies, exhausted from swimming and battling, each knowing that the other was in the same state of sore fatigue. Neither of them wanted to fight right now. So they just lie on the bank with their eyes closed, waiting for motivation.
Valerian didn't expect to be rescued. He had just assumed that he would eventually kill this mercenary and then make his way back home, where his return would be celebrated with that banquet that Nonde had promised him. But later, it must have been hours later, shouting alerted both Valerian and the enemy mercenary he was snagged on to the fact that someone had found them.
"That's him! Valerian! Valerian!"
The frantic voice belonged to Valerian's father. His eyes shot open and he sat up. There, on the river, was one of the enemy boats. It wasn't full of enemies, though. It was full of soldiers in red. Even though he couldn't make out the details of their features, Valerian knew from afar that it was Salathel and Nonde leaning against the rail of the boat. He could hear Nonde yelling for the boat to be navigated to the bank.
There was time for Adriel to escape while the boat was being brought to shore. He couldn't fight all the people on that boat, so he had to run. That stupid ring, caught on his belt. How did this even happen? Adriel reached down and yanked at Valerian's fingers roughly, gaining the raven's attention.
"I'm not letting you get away," Valerian declared, pushing Adriel back down and trying to pin him to the ground. All he had to do was hold him down long enough for the others to get here. Even just slow him down enough that someone else could catch him if he did manage to get away.
Adriel flipped Valerian over easily, since the raven only had one arm to use, but he couldn't get that dumb ring unstuck with those fingers wriggling all over the place, doing everything they could to stop him from unhooking the two of them. Why was he wasting time struggling with this guy? Adriel quickly decided that the best course of action was to knock Valerian unconscious and then do whatever he needed to do without any resistance.
He drew back his fist, but Valerian saw the blow coming and managed to curl up into a ball, protecting his head underneath his free arm. The punch would definitely leave a bruise on Valerian's biceps, but other than that, it was pretty ineffective. Annoying, annoying, annoying. Adriel looked up to see that the boat had dropped anchor, and the angry dad and Nonde Rumen were sprinting up the bank, a dozen soldiers following close behind them. There was no way Adriel was going to let them kill him. He got to his feet, yanking Valerian up with him, and placed the young officer between himself and his enemies, a strong arm wrapped around Valerian's neck.
"Don't take one more step, or I'll snap his neck!" Adriel threatened from behind his human shield. The brat was actually a bit taller than he was, but not so much that Adriel couldn't rest his chin on Valerian's shoulder.
That stopped Nonde and Salathel in their tracks.
Nonde stretched out his arm to stop any of his soldiers from nocking any arrows. "I don't want anyone to die here," he told Adriel.
"He's bluffing!" Valerian yelled. "He won't kill me; that will only ensure his own execution."
"Son, shut up!" Salathel shouted. He wasn't taking any chances. The man holding his son hostage was desperate, and a desperate man wasn't always capable of rational thought.
"Thank you," Adriel said. "He needed to hear that from someone he'll actually listen to."
"I don't listen to hi—"
"Valerian! Shut it!" Salathel snapped severely. "Your mother will kill me if you get killed!"
"Alright, alright," Valerian surrendered. "But only for your sake."
"That's better. Any more of that and I would have killed him just to get him to stop talking," Adriel smirked. "Now that he's finally quiet, I'm willing to let him go. We'll call it a trade. You let me go unharmed, and I'll do the same for this little snot."
"Valerian, keep your damn mouth shut," Salathel barked out before his son could remark. He could tell the boy was thinking about it.
"I have a better idea," Nonde started, slowly stepping forward, his hands in the air to show he meant no harm. "I was thinking. You're obviously not going to be getting paid for assassinating me, right?"
"Clearly," Adriel snorted, not liking the way this guy was rubbing his failure in his face. He tightened his grip around Valerian's neck. There would be bruises on his throat to go with the one on his arm, which Adriel didn't feel bad about at all.
"I want to offer you a job, fighting for the Rumen," Nonde said.
Valerian couldn't hold his tongue, but no one heard him demand to know just what Nonde was thinking, because Salathel demanded the same thing even louder. "What are you thinking? He'll just turn around and kill you when you're sleeping!"
Nonde shook his head. "He won't. Because I'll pay him twice as much as anyone would ever pay for my head. And I'm going to make him an officer, give him full room and board in the palace. Basically, make him part of the family. If he wants to, that is. He's of course free to go try and find a better, higher paying job as long as he lets Valerian go." As he spoke, his eyes remained fixed on Adriel.
That didn't sound too bad. But it was a little bit fishy. "And why would you be willing to do that after I tried to kill you?" Adriel asked suspiciously.
"Yeah, I was wondering the same thing," Valerian said, his eyes narrowed in a murderous glare at his best friend.
"You don't have permission to talk right now," Nonde reminded Valerian before refocusing his attention on Adriel. "There's always room for a warrior of your skill among us. And since you don't have personal beef with the Rumen, it's not too far-fetched a notion. Is it?"
"Nah, it's not," Adriel responded, a smirk dancing on his lips. "Tell you what. I'll give it a try. We'll whip up a contract. Say…two years of full room and board in your palace, living like a ranking officer. We'll negotiate a price. I'll serve under you and see how I like it."
"And you're not allowed to kill Valerian," Nonde made sure to add.
"We are not friends anymore," Valerian said.
"We never were friends," Adriel responded.
Valerian rolled his eyes. "I'm not talking to you, obviously. I'm talking to my ex-best friend over there. Now let me go already so I don't have to touch your cock anymore."
"Since when have you ever had any qualms about touching cock," Nonde snickered, approaching Adriel as he released Valerian to shake hands and seal the deal.
"You owe me a banquet," Valerian said, a slight pout forming on his lips as he focused on unsnagging his ring from Adriel's belt. Above water, it really wasn't that difficult. That idiot should have been able to get them untangled easily and run off so that Nonde didn't recruit him, but no. He just had to be an annoying moron.
A/N: Bam. Chapter one. Kinda like a pilot episode. May or may not be continued depending on how it is received. So, if you like it and would like to see it continued, send a review, yo. Getting fictionpress reviews is like the best thing in my life right now haha. Tell me what you think of the characters. I like to hear about that. I like to hear about anything, really. I will be honest and say that I'm totally spoiled when it comes to reviews haha. My reviewers for Just Out of Reach and Power and Finesse are to blame for sending me such amazing reviews all the time haha. But seriously, I love hearing from anyone and everyone, even if it's just something small, so please don't be shy. And if you're one of those who never reviews, make an exception for me because I love you. Thank you so much for reading, and I can't wait to hear from you! Muah!