Gok awoke from his nightmare screaming. He always awoke from the nightmare screaming, and because he had the nightmare virtually every night, his anguished howl was a constant fixture of his tower. It was, in essence, a call to start the day, because the king was now up and about.
Gok’s nightmare was not rooted in subconscious fear. It was not a jumbled assortment of memories, compressed into weird, terrifying imagery that only a psychiatrist could untangle. It was not a scene of intense embarrassment, one so vague and horrifying as to frighten the goblin. This nightmare was specific, and vivid, and so unyielding in its execution as to feel like clockwork.
The nightmare always managed to segue brutally into one of Gok’s more pleasant dreams. On this particular night he’d been ruminating blissfully over the thought of a massive chicken dinner, the phantasmal scent of the grilled birds enough to make Gok drool on his pillow. But when Gok bit into his first chicken wing, a glut of foul blood spurted out of the tender flesh -
- and, seconds later, the wing had morphed into an arm, and it was no longer held by Gok, but by a penguin in an officer’s uniform. Eyes glowing an evil green, the penguin licked spatters of gore off of its beak and took another bite. The arm spasmed gently as a sharp tooth pierced a muscle, the hand appearing to wave at Gok. A huge, rock-like diamond ring glinted on the end of one goblin finger.
“She’s saying hello,” the penguin whispered between bites. “She wants you to know she’s doin’ okay, Gokky-poo. She wants you to come join her, too… where I sent her is so fucking nice…”
As the penguin’s face slowly transformed into a bleach-white skull, Gok screamed and woke up. His bed was soaked through with sweat, a constant casualty of every night’s sleep. The sheets smelled terrible.
Rising moodily, Gok peered out the windows of his tower. Since arriving in New Gob he’d insisted on bedding down in the upper chamber every night, enjoying the security of watching over his new kingdom whenever he liked. He knew the Non could reach him easily up here, as many of them were winged beasts, but he was fine with that. He could handle normal Non. He’d already killed a few.
Penguins can’t fly, he thought, shivering. I’ll get someone te check that. But I don’t think they can fly.
Legs and arms popping, Gok grunted his way out of bed and stretched. He spent his first half an hour exercising, performing a series of complex flips and feints against a shadow opponent who could do him no harm. His attendants didn’t intrude on his space until they knew he was done - and, as ever, Evangelina was the first to attend her king. The sight of her helped Gok’s mood immensely. Sweating hard, Gok slapped her backside as she strode past him, a bundle of parchment in her hands.
“Mornin’, my girl,” he said cheerfully, motioning her to his throne. “Care for a toss in the hay, eh? I’m feelin’ randy.”
Evangelina’s mouth curled into a smile, though Gok saw the distaste behind the smile. It was always there. “We can if you wish, m’lord, but you may want to attend to the latest news first. One of your scouts brought word early this morning of a Non force in the south.”
Gok’s smile drooped, and he tensed. “Blast it. Those ruddy darkies nay give up. Ye think they’d have learned they canna break us. How many?”
“At least four hundred, m’lord, all ground troops. Possibly more. It’s always difficult to tell with Non.”
“Aye.” Gok used Evangelina’s flowing cape to wipe his face. “Redouble the force on the walls. Get some slaves up there te help keep watch. I want a task force te engage the Non in the field, as well. Have ‘em lead the bastards back here, ’n get ‘em to go for… erm… which wall, ye think…?”
“West, m’lord,” Evangelina replied at once. “We have been working on a new set of defences there. The tar wall. This may be the opportunity we need to properly test it against the Non. Though Tarmaq has doubts that it will work against their skin.”
“He hasna tried it on their damned corpses?” Gok scowled. “I thought ‘e had a few in storage.”
“Non bodies appear to degrade rather quickly after death.” Evangelina shrugged, unapologetically apologetic. “We won’t know for sure until they’re climbing the walls, trying to get in. Not the best set of circumstances, but…”
It was Gok’s turn to shrug. He understood. It had been a long-standing order in New Gob to try and capture at least one Non so Gok’s engineers could study their biology. So far, though, the Non had either escaped or died in battle. Trying to catch one was insanely difficult, given their flexible skin, and very dangerous. Only the trolls could go toe-to-toe with Non in sheer strength, and even they were overmatched if the Non in question was one of the hulking, muscle-bound commanders.
Gok and Evangelina spoke a while longer, mainly regarding domestic affairs, and Gok was both relieved and disappointed to learn that there would be no executions today. Once Evangelina completed a report on their crops yield she excused herself, promising that she would ‘attend’ to Gok later in the day when she was finished with her duties. Gok looked forward to the moment eagerly, mesmerized by the shape of Evangelina’s legs under her cape as she departed.
Once Evangelina was gone and he’d spoken to several other attendants, Gok took a few moments to stare down at New Gob. Ignoring the blatantly human buildings, he drank in the spiked architecture of his kin, admiring the curve of the rain as water droplets slid down spires and cascaded off rooftops. It was almost - almost - like being home.
There is no home anymore, he thought, suppressing the urge to cry. Kings don’t cry. There’s only the place ye live. Thinkin’ that you’re home -
where I sent her is so fucking nice
- is like te get ye killed.