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Verstael really hates functions. As with most things that aren’t experimenting in his ever growing laboratory he’d much rather be in the deep frigid north doing that than making nice at a political assembly. Ardyn asked him to attend, scheduled it into his calendar between ‘experimenting’ and ‘experimenting’ and everything, and because Ardyn can do wicked super-human things with his tongue here they are in the Emperor’s country estate near the Tenebraesian border.

Verstael is convinced they’re going to conquer Tenebrae in the next ten to fifteen years. Since Ardyn very quietly took control of Nifleheim Verstael has been using the influx of cash and resources to perfect production of his Magitek army. Still the Oracle, Sylva Nox Fleuret, is keen to avoid a violent conflict and has made the trip East, heavy with her first child, to make nice with Emperor Aldercapt at the summer estate.

Verstael is making the rounds. He’s a nobleman. He’s been raised at functions like this. He knows how to play nice and drink himself into a contained stupor. Niff nobles are also very good at gambling in plain sight so Ulldor is sneaking info about the dog races back and forth through the kitchen staff which is always good for a laugh. Honestly though his feet hurt and he’s getting sick of pulling his cultured ‘I’m not pissed’ face which as close as he comes to serene indifference.

Ardyn is playing his own grand game. Verstael can tell by the very strategic way he moves himself around the room. Ardyn’s a natural when it comes to politics. Back door dealings, schemes within schemes, innuendos… There’s a reason Verstael left the whole Chancellor thing to his personal monster. Still Verstael is quietly pleased when Ardyn seems to emerge from the vapors to throw an arm around him.  

“Looks like you’re making good progress,” Verstael murmurs, leaning back into the arm slung oh-so-nonchalantly around his shoulders.

“The Tenebraesian ministers seem to have clued into who’s pulling the strings,” Ardyn shrugs, tipping back his champagne flute. “But, and this will surprise you, I don’t think the Oracle likes me.” Ardyn reveals with a mocking dismay.

“Oh no, whatever will we do?” Verstael sighs with the same theatrical woe, slipping into a much softer much sharper scoff to declare; “I’ve always considered Oracles a little outdated as a concept.”

“Maybe we should put an end to the barbaric practice of deifying young blonde girls?” Ardyn grins just as savagely, just as playfully, between their shoulders.

“I’d like to see if there’s a genetic component to their divine abilities.” Verstael whispers. “Think Oracle Sylva needs that baby for anything important?”

“Oh it’s just a boy, totally expendable to Tenebraesi royalty,” Ardyn dismisses, “I’m sure if we ask nicely she’ll lend it to you when it’s cooked.”

Cooked,” Verstael repeats, laughing softly. “You are the absolute worst.”

“That’s why you love me,” Ardyn grins smugly, finding a seemingly casual way to squeeze him a little closer in plain sight.

“Hmm, so they say,” Verstael dismisses all coy and pleased waiting for Ardyn’s fake dismay in retaliation.

“Now, don’t look now,” Ardyn murmurs into his ear, “but I think her Ladyship has noticed you.”

“Sweet fuck,” Verstael snatches the champagne glass from Ardyn to tip back the remainder, “someone up there give me strength.”

“You play nice for five,” Ardyn prompts, “I’m going to check in on my bet with the hounds.”

“I’m winning, you’re losing,” Verstael saves him the time. “You owe me dinner.”

“Organic meat or cloned meat?” Ardyn snorts, untangling from Verstael as the blonde thrusts the empty glass back at him.

Untangling they drift their separate ways. Ardyn makes for Ulldor and, sure enough, her Ladyship is making a beeline for Verstael with her full belly puffed up under her dress. Verstael braces himself for the worst. He’s never been good with women. Fuck, he’s hardly even any good with men. He’s been domesticated only through the sheer, unmitigated, determination of an ancient scourge and its inane desire to cuddle.

Lady Sylva smiles, hand on her stomach protectively, and makes eye contact.

Verstael tries not to scowl outright.

He’s not built for this nonsense, for these fake smiles, this is exactly why Ardyn lets him hide up north making weapons. He’s much better at that.

“Lord Besithia I believe?” The Oracle greets.

“Lady Sylva,” Verstael acknowledges, “I’m afraid you’ve just missed the Chancellor.”

“Oh that’s alright,” Lady Sylva assures with this look; the look people give when they’re actually quite glad to have avoided Ardyn. “We haven’t had a chance to talk yet. Seems a shame to me. The Chancellor said you’re doing really quite extraordinary work in your enterprise.”

“Did he?” Verstael snorts. “Well, don’t let him fool you, it’s really quite tedious to explain. Nothing quite so exciting as…” Whatever it is Oracles do? He gestures vaguely to her, trailing off.

“You and the Chancellor look at each other like old friends.” Lady Sylva diverts, clearly more interested in that.

Verstael tries to get her game. Is she hoping he might be able to talk Ardyn into some more reasonable treaty conditions? Fat fucking chance. Sure, most of the Niff court suspect or just casually accept that Verstael and Ardyn are… fucking? Involved? Married under a dark star? Whatever. They know they’re a thing. But most of them understand Verstael is too much of an absolute cunt to be appealed to. Most of them have known Verstael longer than Ardyn, with his five year tenor at court, and they know Verstael is a massive prick.

Lady Sylva seems to be willing to hold out hope.

“We’re…” Verstael laughs softly. “He’s insufferable and I tell him so. Does that make us friends?”

“The best of friends I would say,” Lady Sylva gives this insufferably knowing smile. “Have you ever had your fortune read, Lord Besithia?”

“I’d rather make my own fortune,” Verstael pushes back gently. Honestly, he thinks that kind of thing is fucking stupid.

“I understand,” Lady Sylva nods, “but it’s a little fun sometimes. Show me your hand?”

“What did the Chancellor’s hand say?” Verstael supposes, unfolding his arms.

“He has very strange hands,” Lady Sylva admits solemnly.

Verstael can’t help it; he outright laughs.

Oh, she doesn’t look pleased at that.

Verstael surrenders his hand.

“Hmm…” the Oracle traces the lines in his palm with this annoying seriousness. “Seems the gods want you to be careful with whom you trust and things which you do not understand.”

“Oh?” Verstael tilts his head innocently.

Yeah, she’s definitely onto the whole Adagium business.

“Magic is very complicated and very powerful. Not everyone is equipped to handle it.” Lady Sylva nods solemnly, making meaningful eye contact.

“I’m no expert, certainly,” Verstael permits, “but I suspect I could tell you a few things about daemons and star scourge.”

“I suspect you could,” Lady Sylva murmurs. “I don’t think drawing on such dark powers is ever wise.”

“Maybe if you’re ill equipped, superstitious, uneducated…” Verstael trails off. He’s not going to be lectured. He knows full well what Ardyn is. He knows full well where Ardyn comes from. His set features seem to communicate his certainty pretty clearly because Lady Sylva frowns over him.

“I admire men who’ve committed themselves to their decisions,” Lady Sylva stands back, releasing his hand. Her smile is decidedly sterner now. Yep, she’s decided he’s a lost cause, one of the ‘bad guys’. He can see it.

He doesn’t care.

“I should retire, Lord Besithia,” she explains, “this wee babe takes quite a toll on me already.”

“Enjoy your night, Majesty.” Verstael bows his head dismissively.

He’s quite glad to see the ass end of her drifting away frankly.

God, he needs a drink.

True to her word Lady Sylva says her goodbyes to the Emperor and Chancellor a few moments later retiring to her room for the night.

Verstael tips back the tail end of his drink and tries not to admit he’s excited.

Now the white ceremonial cow is gone they have no reason to linger much longer. Which means they can leave, which means—

“I could absolutely destroy a mattress right about now,” Ardyn announces, catching him by surprise again.

“Get me the fuck out of here,” Verstael agrees softly, pointedly.

“Let me steal a bottle of the port and I’ll meet you at the back elevators,” Ardyn nods.

Plan agreed upon Verstael hikes it for the exit. He’s ready to get out of dodge. Fuck parties, fuck politicians, fuck manners…

Five minutes later by the back elevators Ardyn half stumbles, is half thrown, out of the kitchen side door with a bottle of port. Verstael gives him a little clap, Ardyn does a little bow, Ardyn slings an arm around his shoulders and with two trailing MT troopers they slink into the elevator.

“Let me guess,” Ardyn supposes when the door closes, “you had a wonderful night and—”

“The things I do for you,” Verstael huffs, leaning back to grab his collar and yank him down.

Ardyn cackles, pleased with himself, but bends a little so they can kiss hot and sudden and quiet in the elevator.

They’re a floor up and Verstael is starting to turn more into the kiss when—

The elevator lurches, moaning.

Verstael stumbles, Ardyn catches him.

The lights flicker, there's the thrum of power in the building going dead.

They pause for a second, waiting, listening…

“Trouble?” Verstael supposes.

“Oh most definitely.” Ardyn concludes, playful but sharper than before. “Should we wait for the maintenance crew?”

“Sounds like the whole building surged.” Verstael murmurs, looking about. “Emergency power’s down too which means sabotage.”

“So maybe not,” Ardyn concludes, stuffing the bottle of port in his coat pocket.

“Can you force the door open?” Verstael untangles from him, fumbling for an MT and retching an assault rifle out of its hands. The MTs are pretty good shots but Verstael is better in unfamiliar conditions.

“Give me just a second,” Ardyn assures.

Verstael doesn’t totally understand Ardyn’s magic. The armiger, the warp, summoning, daemonification… He’s still figuring it all out but he knows Ardyn is plenty strong enough to deal with a little steel. Sure enough, the Chancellor summons a blade from his armiger and half gesturing half pushing puts Verstael behind him so he can safely strike the sealed doors.

“Very exciting, isn’t it?” Ardyn grins.

“Not how I wanted to spend our anniversary in all honesty,” Verstael snorts, amused.

“It’s all about spending time together, dear,” Ardyn jokes, striking hard enough to send the doors barreling off the elevator and crashing into the hallway.

It’s dark but there’s moonlight wafting through the windows in the hall.

Verstael raises his rifle.

“Where to next?” Ardyn steps out into the hall with him.

“Well if you want that nightcap in your room,” Verstael sighs, “we should probably go down to the basement and switch the emergency power back on.”

“Such a chore,” Ardyn sighs. “You don’t need any assistance to do that?”

“Pft,” Verstael scoffs, “just get me there in one piece and I’ll figure it out.”

“I do love your unending stubbornness.” Ardyn grins. “Alright, forward!”

“What’re we betting on this time?” Verstael murmurs as they stalk towards the stairs. “Lucians? Tenebrasians?”

“Lucians, always Lucians.” Ardyn snorts.

“You just like killing Lucians,” Verstael rolls his eyes. “Bet you dinner the bloody Oracle witch had something to do with this.”

“Oh I agree,” Ardyn assures. “She most likely sold us out to a much older ally. Why doesn’t everyone just find me charming?”

Well…” Verstael trails off theatrically.

“You’re going to break my heart, darling.”

“What heart? We have hearts?

They turn another corner and—

Fucking Lucians alright.

Ardyn summons his armiger and charges, dick fucking first like a psycho as per usual, but raising the assault rifle Verstael pops off a couple of well timed shots at the warping Kingsglaive.

Annoyingly this has become something of a regular occurrence for Ardyn and Verstael so Verstael has started cluing in how to kneecap the Kingsglaive without blowing holes in Ardyn too. Its all about color coding. Ardyn’s magic has a different tangible signature. Luckily Ardyn is pretty sturdy so even if a shot goes stray in the chaos he usually patches up fairly quickly. It’s just the sulking of ‘You shot me!’ that’s unbearable.

Verstael steps over a corpse, dispensing another round in the masked skull just to be sure, and follows Ardyn’s magic towards the stairs. Honestly Verstael thinks sometimes he’s just showing off. And, sure, it’s impressive but reminding Verstael he’s a filthy Lucian by birth is hardly the most attractive thing Ardyn could do.



They’re not the only ones fighting the Lucians. As they scurry through the palace they encounter several clusters of Niff resistance fighting off the covert Kingsglaive.

“Chancellor! We need your assistance!” Ulldor calls as they pass.

“Turning the lights on!” Ardyn sings back. “Little busy!”

“We’ll get back to you!” Verstael assures with equal dismissive flair, firing off another round.

Eventually they fight their way down to the basement.

Cracking his knuckles Verstael puts the rifle down and snuggles up to the emergency generator.

“We’re about to be ambushed,” Ardyn informs him casually.

“Deal with it, I’m working.”

“Yes Dear,” Ardyn chirps.

Verstael only has to duck once when Ardyn disconnects a Kingsglaive’s head from their body and the skull comes bouncing off the generator.

“Hey!” He snaps.

“Sorry Dear!” Ardyn is very much not sorry.

“Insufferable, smug—” Verstael grumbles to himself as he types in keycodes and pulls levers. “One of these days I’m going to—”

“Hurrah!” Ardyn cheers are the boiler room blooms back to life, lights flickering on.

“Alright,” Verstael sighs, patting down his suit pants. “We should go punch Sylva Nox Fleuret in the face.”

“Darling!” Ardyn makes a face, horrified.

“Fine, fine; gut.” Verstael concedes.

“That’s my boy,” Ardyn grins wickedly as they head back up to the main floor. “Now,” Ardyn regards the chaos of the ruined antiques in the main foyer, “think you can rally the troops for a few moments while I go track down our esteemed guest?”

“Punch her tits off, I’ll keep Ulldor from pissing his pants,” Verstael assures absently.

Ardyn salutes him and vanishes in his flurry of dark magic off towards the second floor.

Verstael snatches up a radio from a felled MT and reloads his assault rifle. This is why he insists on consistency amongst the MTs and their armory. Makes it easy for him to slot in and out when the time calls for such things.

“Ulldor,” he barks into the radio, “how are we looking?”

“Oh now you want to help!” Ulldor snaps.

“I was turning the lights on!” Verstael huffs. People these days, no gratitude.

“We’re starting to sweep the floors and regroup. We still can’t say how many Lucians there are.”

“I doubt they snuck in a battalion,” Verstael shrugs, “just keep shooting the fuckers.”

“They’re fast and—”

“Sweet fucking Six, do I have to do everything?” Verstael groans. “Does someone wipe your ass full time Ulldor or is it more a part time position?”

“Just help us damn it!”

“Ugh! I’m coming! What floor?”

“First floor, south corner.”


 

In another hour they’ve taken back the palace and the Emperor is secure. Verstael is reclining, feet up on a dining table, assault rifle across his lap, while Ulldor and the Emperor try to discern if the Oracle is still in the building or if she’s absconded with the Lucians. Given the troops from Tenebrae didn’t exactly help them in reclaiming the palace Verstael guesses it’s the later.

He’s waiting for Ardyn. Ardyn is, despite all appearances, basically their commander. He’ll know what’s going on. Verstael’s job was just to keep their hapless middle-aged men-children from dying in the crossfire.

“Well gentlemen.” Ardyn announces as he lets himself into the room with some dramatic flair. “I don’t think the Oracle is as interested in peace as we hoped sadly.”

“Did you find her?” Aldercapt demands.

“No, alas,” Ardyn informs, “she’s and her fat ass have escaped with her caretakers and several Lucians.”

“Damn it all!” Aldercapt huffs.

“Eh, exciting night.” Ardyn shrugs as if its all a wash, as if the entertainment was worth the hassle. “Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to retire for the night.”

Ardyn doesn’t sleep but Verstael keeps his mouth shut.

“The palace is in a shambles! Men are wounded! We have been double crossed! And you—” Ulldor starts to rail.

“It’ll be there in the morning,” Ardyn scoffs, “no need to get your panties in a twist, general. But if you’re so keen to organize the chaos I’ll leave the next twelve hours in your capable hands.”

“I didn’t—”

“Ta ta!” Ardyn sings, pulling Verstael up as he passes.

They stumble hurriedly out of the room and down the corridor before anyone can stop them.

A few moments later Verstael is collapsing into Ardyn’s bed, shoes finally off; feet free. Free at last.

Verstael cover his eyes with one arm, groaning.

“What a night, hmm?” Ardyn chuckles, collapsing beside him.

“I hate parties.” Verstael grumbles.

“Hmm, I suppose,” Ardyn shuffles through his jacket to—“Aha!

“How do you still have that?” Verstael laughs, peaking at the port as Ardyn sits up to uncork it.

“We’re celebrating,” Ardyn shrugs as if that’s a good enough reason to have kept the bloody bottle safe.

“She got away.” Verstael reminds.

“No, no, not that.” Ardyn slumps against the headboard. “Five whole years.”

Verstael sighs and pulls himself up to sit against the headboard too. He pulls the bottle out of Ardyn’s hands and tips it back for a mouthful.

“Happy anniversary, darling,” Ardyn croons, leaning close.

“Heh,” Verstael is too tried to give him much more sass than that so he just sighs exasperatedly; “yes, I suppose, happy anniversary you ruffian.”