Kierkegaard woke up at his dinner table.
"Ugh... oh man." The penguin belched, wiping his beak. He stared at the remains of his meal. "Too much wine...? Yep, too much. Ha. Oh my, that's a lovely headache."
Kierkegaard stood. He wobbled once, belched again, and laughed. His stomach rumbled discontent, but he ignored it. A discontent stomach is a full stomach, and a full stomach is a good fuckin' stomach, he mused. Though maybe next time I'll pick a dude with less cholesterol. Gotta watch my figure.
Staring at his reflection in his tent's opulent (but cracked, cracked and bloody) mirror, Kierkegaard decided he cut quite a dashing figure indeed. Military garb, plenty of medals, a fantastic hat, lovely tail feathers, what wasn't there to like? He adjusted the collar on his uniform and grinned, licking a spot of gore from the fabric.
"Perfect," he crowed. "Just perfect. The old man'd be damned proud. Damned proud."
The flap to Kierkegaard's tent slipped open. A meek voice followed. "G... general? Sir?"
Kierkegaard picked at his teeth with a claw. "I'm an admiral today. Don't forget it, Shuster."
Shuster, Kierkegaard's aide-de-camp, nodded. "Apologies, ad... admiral. May I...?"
Kierkegaard waved the younger Non inside. Shuster was one of the Non freed two years before, born in captivity, and ever since he'd served the upper echelons of the Non faithfully. Previously he'd functioned as The Baron's lackey; with The Baron fled, Shuster's ass belonged to Kierkegaard.
Seating himself, Kierkegaard pointed at the air beside his table. A roiling hole opened at his fingertip, stretching and contorting reality until the pinprick stars of codespace shone into the tent. He shovelled the remains of his meal - a head, some fingers, and a pile of entrails - inside. The portal closed with a pop.
Shuster swallowed. Kierkegaard grinned at his assistant's discontent.
"So? You have something?" Kierkegaard wiped his hands on his uniform. "Speak up, now. I am not a patient penguin."
Shuster swallowed. "We, ah, we've uncovered a door, sir. Colonel Grundle found it this morning, beneath the oil sands to the east. Just as you said."
Kierkegaard's eyes widened beneath the bill of his general's cap. He leaned forward, clicking his nails on the tabletop. "And what's inside, hmmmm?"
Shuster offered a timid smile. "The colonel believed you would like to open it yourself, sir."
Kierkegaard laughed, delighted. A good idea. Even if the little shit's hopin' I'll open it and get blown up or something. "Commendable asshole, that colonel. Let's go have a look at his door."
Kierkegaard left the tent, and Shuster followed. A pair of hulking Non sentries, several times taller than Kierkegaard's current form, snapped to attention and followed briskly at their heels. Kierkegaard wondered if he could eat one in a single sitting. Certainly not as a penguin, but... maybe...
They moved through the Non encampment, a thousand soldiers strong. Non guards and warriors left their duties and saluted Kierkegaard as he passed. He ignored them. A squadron of Sky Dwarves buzzed overhead, directed by a massive Non bird; Kierkegaard reminded himself to congratulate Emmett for recruiting the little bastards. With Eve missing, we'll need all the extra firepower we can get.
Deciding to save his fast track, Kierkegaard summoned one of the circling Non birds. It left the sky at once, descended to the ground, and laid itself flat at Kierkegaard's feet. He chortled at the obedience, and, noticing that it was female, asked the Non's name. He filed 'Alice' away for later fun. Moments later they were airborne, Kierkegaard's clawed feet pinching so hard into Alice's back that they drew blood. She didn't complain as she winged them east, over a rocky wasteland.
"News from the front?" Kierkegaard asked, standing upright as his Non transport flapped. Shuster huddled behind him, clutching to Alice's malleable skin for dear life.
"N... n... no, sir!" Shuster said, yelling over the wind. "We... ah, oh, god... our last report came three days ago! The Imperium is still entrenched at Ogdenford!"
If what I think is behind this door is behind this door, they won't be for long. Kierkegaard snorted, twirling one of his mustachios. "Fine. What about those fucks we nabbed in Bottomless? How many did you get?
Shuster consulted a roll of parchment. "S... several hundred! Almost a thousand, sir!"
Almost the entire population. Nice. "Fine. What'd we do with 'em?"
"I... I believe they're still being held in the city, but I can check - "
Kierkegaard shrugged. "Don't bother. Just tell our guys out there to raze the place."
Shuster swallowed so loudly that Kierkegaard could hear it even over the wind. "R... raze? The city?"
"Yeah. Burn it." Drool dripped down Kierkegaard's beak. "Lock the people in their homes. I'm gonna go visit that dump soon, 'n I'd like some BBQ waiting. Extra crispy."
Alice landed a few minutes later, swooping in low over a vast plain of dark brown sand surrounding a huge digging operation. Kierkegaard playfully licked the gouges he left in her back before dismounting. Two more hulking Non guards greeted him upon arrival, virtually identical to the ones he'd left back at camp. He nodded, and they led him into the mine shaft.
"Holes, holes, holes," Kierkegaard muttered, eyes adjusting to the dark as the group tromped past a cadre of diggers on break, leaning on their shovels. "It's always holes in this fuckin' game. Everywhere I look is another goddamned hole, waiting to be dug."
"B... beg pardon, sir?"
Kierkegaard shook his head. "Forget it."
The Non guards led Kierkegaard deep into the earth, past dozens of toiling human, orcish, and goblin slaves. Dirt tunnels soon gave way to stony passages, their architecture old and spartan but immediately recognizable to Kierkegaard as Non. He smiled, memories of his school days coming back. I wonder how Plato's doing. Haven't fucked with him in a while. Shame I had to let 'im out... Jeffrey wasn't near as fun to torture...
The tunnel widened, terminating in a wide room with a high ceiling. A dozen smaller doors lined the walls, surrounding one heavily-armoured door set into the middle of the far wall. The smaller doors were all open; the larger door remained barred and shut.
A large, well-toned Non in a shadowy military uniform stood near the door. He turned to Kierkegaard and saluted. His squad of troops followed suit. "Sir!"
Kierkegaard grinned, approaching the door. He ran his fingers across the heavy chain holding it shut. "Colonel. I see you struck pay dirt. Glad ya did - I was getting impatient."
The colonel shifted nervously, but he didn't break his salute. "I accept full responsibility for any failure, sir!"
"I'm sure you do." Kierkegaard licked the chain. It tasted foul. Acidic. "Get outta here. All of you. I'll handle the rest."
Kierkegaard issued this particular command often. He liked to get his hands dirty. Early on, his troops were stupid enough to question him. A year later, having publicly disemboweled three men and consumed their innards as a lesson to his army, Kierkegaard found himself instantly obeyed. Shuster, the colonel, the guards, and the squadron all fled the room.
Never question a hero, Kierkegaard thought. He began to change, first to a deep black, then a sickly bone white. Muscles sprouted in places where once there was only blubber, shunted out of deep, glowing portals. His massive body barely fit into the room when he was done, and he flicked the door open easily. Never.
A penguin again, Kierkegaard coughed as a wave of must and age floated out of the battered doorway. Stepping past the remains of the door he descended a stone staircase, willing his eyes to brighten and illuminate his path. Green light filled the darkness. The steps took him down -
- and down -
- and down -
- and when he reached the bottom, Kierkegaard was standing on an ancient balcony.
Long ago, Iko had told Kierkegaard a story. Iko was once a military man, so the story went, and during his time in the military Iko had been stationed at a secret base, deep in Non territory. It was a staging ground for experimental designs, meant to end the war with the regulators, and Iko swore he'd seen things that would turn an ordinary Non's stomach. But none of the other projects compared to the room with the spheres.
Gripping the balcony, Kierkegaard began to laugh. His hideous cackle bounced off the walls of the titanic storage space, rebounding weirdly and distorting into a near-scream. The black spheres sitting motionless on the floor far below, each as large as a city block and tidily arranged into five rows of ten, did not comment.