Kierkegaard was not a refined eater.
He’d considered tempering his eating habits when he became the leader of the Non. It was, after all, the duty of most kings, queens, generals, dictators, and so forth, to exhibit a dignified self-image, to display themselves as above the common rabble. He could, therefore, prove his superiority by adopting their ways, and such ways always came with dainty table manners attached.
But Kierkegaard knew he was not your everyday leader. Normal kings did not ride forth with their armies into battle. Normal queens did not fight a battle alone. Normal generals did not remain in the heat of combat for the entire melee, regardless of wounds, inflicting more damage upon the other side than anyone else in the friendly army. Normal dictators did not hunch over their defeated prey like buzzards, drooling liberally over the thought of an impending meal. And normal so-forths, well, they didn’t then dig in.
Kierkegaard dug in. He always dug in. He thought it was a form of respect to an enemy to give them the opportunity to fill such an important stomach as his. Kierkegaard believed this so thoroughly that his stomach always seemed to be empty, a stark contrast to that of the average Non, who ate so little.
The same was true now. As Kierkegaard tore the flesh from the arm of a dead, nameless human, the rest of his Non entourage seemed quite unwilling to join in the feast, standing on the sidelines and either watching restlessly or averting their eyes. Kierkegaard respected the Non who refused to watch a little more than the rest, because at least they were honest in their disgust.
Kierkegaard’s group, consisting of some thirty Non guards and ranking officials, sat in the midst of the bones of a smoking town. It was the sixth such settlement they’d sacked this week, and every time it had been the same: token resistance, few casualties, total victory. The remains of the Imperium’s army was never fast enough to stop them. Kierkegaard knew his army would be running low on towns, soon, and that the maps they’d stolen along the way would not be accurate for much longer. Doubtless the Imperium would be establishing new towns for those citizens who managed to flee in places more easily defended than these open-air plains dealies in the coming days.
Kierkegaard didn’t mind that. He was fine with hunting. The anticipation of a feast was almost as good as the feast itself. Hell, it was better -
“Your… your worship?”
Ripped away from his silent, grinning contemplation, Kierkegaard glanced at the Non addressing him. The man was smaller and slimmer than most Non, his skin drawn against his ribs in ill fashion, and he kept his eyes on the ground at all times.
Taking another bite from the arm and wiping his bloody beak off on its ragged sleeve, Kierkegaard waited a full minute before responding. He revelled in the Non’s growing discomfort, watching the little creature shuffle its feet in the dirt. Eventually, once the Non had dared to raise its eyes to his, he growled “What?”
The Non quaked. Kierkegaard liked that. “Y… your worship, the… there are reports from your strike groups… in the rear of the column…”
Kierkegaard rolled his eyes. “Oh. Reports. How fun. Colonel Anders? Get up here, fucktard.”
One of Kierkegaard’s retinue, a crouching, plain-faced Non with a squared jaw, stood to attention. Colonel Anders often handled army logistics, and commanded Kierkegaard’s men whenever Kierkegaard himself couldn’t be bothered. Unlike the courier he straightened to proper attention, not fearful - or at least disciplined enough to hide his anxieties. “Sir?”
Kierkegaard waved to the colonel. “Talk to ‘im. I’m busy.”
The courier turned, skittering towards the colonel with obvious relief as Kierkegaard began picking through the corpse at his feet for more delectables. Anders, however, surprised them both.
“Sir,” Anders said, voice now tinged with the tiniest bit of unease, “perhaps you should hear this report.”
Kierkegaard stopped short, one of his claws half-sunken into his meal’s back, and blinked. The Non surrounding him froze. He could practically feel their hearts skipping several beats. He suspected, too, that each man and woman there wished those same hearts had simply stopped, because that would free them from having to deal with what was to come.
Kierkegaard peered at his colonel from beneath the brim of his general’s hat, the tips of his moustache twitching. “Should I, now? Should I fuckin’ now?”
Anders swallowed, but his chest remained puffed and proud. He obviously knew that he’d come too far to back down now. “Sir, we will follow you to death, but I believe it is prudent that you understand the state of the army. For the past few weeks you have refused any status updates on the war, and as a commander I find that worrisome - “
Kierkegaard clicked his fingers. Anders fell silent. Kierkegaard rose from his slouch and paced into the middle of his encircled entourage, looking first to the enormous Nothing that loomed on the periphery of the town, then to his officers, then to Anders, and, then, to the courier. He allowed them all to stew in fearful silence for several long minutes as he paced around the legs of the courier, half as tall as the man yet larger by leagues and leagues.
“So,” Kierkegaard eventually said, settling his gaze on Anders, “report.”
It took the courier a few seconds to collect himself, and even when he did the words emerged from his mouth in a torrent. His no-doubt carefully rehearsed report changed into a jumble of half-remembered items of import, most of them detailing a rather sad state of affairs for the army. Despite win after win - including two more successful defences of the Non lines at the rear of the column - attrition was, apparently, taking its toll on Kierkegaard’s army. The statistics the courier managed to recall sounded grim.
“G… general Lo… Lovenzo… suggests that we set up… a base… camp… perhaps… maybe… a kingdom… and give the troops… the… time… time to - “
Kierkegaard snapped his fingers again. The courier shut his mouth. A nervous fart squeaked out of the Non, and Kierkegaard had to stifle giggles.
“Do you agree with this assessment, Colonel Anders?” Kierkegaard asked, tucking his hands behind his back. “Should we hunker down for a while, ’n let the troops rest?”
Anders swallowed. His posture slackened the tiniest bit. “Sir, I think that would be wise. I’ve spoken to my troops a great deal over the past week, and they all agree that we would do well by setting up a more defensible position somewhere in the Imperium - “
A chorus of gasps from the Non behind Kierkegaard interrupted Anders, though he only furrowed his brow, puzzled. The courier stiffened abruptly, rising onto his toes, eyes twitching. Something crunched. A portal directly behind his head snapped shut… and as the courier collapsed, Kierkegaard stepped forward to present Anders a gift: a chunk of the courier’s dripping brain. When Anders jumped away, Kierkegaard threw the fleshy organ at the colonel, and it bounced off of his left leg and hit the dirt.
Licking the dark green gore from his claws, Kierkegaard grinned. “Think it’s time we had a little chat, fellas. What say ya?”