“That was uncalled for,” Colonel Anders gasped, dropping his impassive military facade. “Sir, that was - “
Kierkegaard responded, abruptly, by darting over to the courier he’d just killed. The corpse was still twitching. Raising one of his clawed feet, Kierkegaard stomped on the dead Non’s head. He left his full strength out of the blows as he raised and lowered his feet again and again, caving in the Non’s fragile skull be degrees. Kierkegaard cackled merrily with each crushing stomp, his toes soon covered in green. He didn’t stop until the dirt was thoroughly decorated in gore.
Kierkegaard’s Non retinue said nothing. Even Anders was shocked into silence. At least one of Kierkegaard’s officers was puking.
Breathing hard, Kierkegaard allowed himself a few moments of composure. Bloodlust had filled his heart, bloodlust was always filling his heart, and he knew he wouldn’t be speaking logically until he settled down. He took time to straighten his jacket and fidget his hat back into proper order. Then, feeling more himself, he rose onto his toes and smiled broadly.
“I think,” he said, “that I’ve been quelling your concerns a tad. Haven’t I? ’n that’s a fuckin’ shame. So let’s take a moment to air some grievances. If any of you have a problem with how I’m doin’ things, you’d best be speaking up. Oh, and before we start, somebody go get Commander Emmett for me. Any takers?”
A dozen Non raised their hands. Kierkegaard pointed at one randomly. None of them liked Emmett, he knew, but he suspected that they all wanted to be as far from this particular spot as possible right now. The selected Non leaped to her feet and ran for her life.
Watching the Non run for a second, Kierkegaard snickered, then turned to Anders. He motioned for his colonel to step forward. “I think you have some things on your mind. Why don’t you start, eh?”
Anders bit his lip, clearly hesitant, yet he did not hesitate. He boldly strode into the middle of the Non officers, facing off against Kierkegaard, apparently unwilling to turn his back to his lord. Not that it would have mattered - the death of the courier, if nothing else, proved just how versatile a killing machine Kierkegaard could be - but the penguin appreciated Anders’ decision nonetheless. Anyone else in this situation probably would have tried to preach to the crowd.
“With all due respect - “ Anders began.
Kierkegaard shook his head, snarling. “Forget that ‘respect’ shit. You don’t respect me. None of these assholes respect me. I’m not stupid. Be honest or I’ll eat your fuckin’ tongue.”
Anders’ composure broke by another degree, and that was good. He probably needed the jolt.
“Fine,” the colonel muttered. He clenched his fists. “This… campaign, started out fine. We managed to break into the Imperium without much trouble, and our casualties were few. Ever since we’ve breached their lines, however, you’ve led us on a constant, meandering, meaningless march. The troops are exhausted, our supplies are extremely low, and we’ve accomplished incredibly little militarily.”
“We’ve destroyed dozens of towns,” Kierkegaard pointed out. “Most of them agricultural. We’ve crippled the Imperium more ’n they’ve crippled us.”
“The bulk of the Imperium’s agricultural base is further west,” Anders argued. “We will be exhausted long before we get there. Besides that, we could have used many of the towns we conquered. Rather than taking territory, though, you’ve been content to raze everything. How are we supposed to resupply if you order materiel burned? If we’d spent time consolidating - “
Kierkegaard shook his head. “I wanna ravage the fuckin’ Imperium army. That means driving in hard. You know that.”
“They are ravaged,” Anders insisted. “We’ve defeated them so many times. But because of the directions you drive us, we never deliver a killing blow. They’re always allowed to pull back and reform. In the meantime we almost never do the same, leaving our flanks exposed to attack from Dragomir’s army. Why will you never let us deal decisively with his forces?”
Kierkegaard waved a hand. “Pfft. Werewolves and zombies. His bunch are pussies. They never do much. Keep plowin’ ahead, I say.”
“I disagree,” Anders said, his voice raised to a yell. His internal struggles and debates were flowing freely out of him, now, all directed towards Kierkegaard. “Every time they attack they take a substantial toll on our rear guard, and they’re attacking more and more often. Soon they will break through and drive a wedge in our forces. And if they work in concert with the Imperium - “
Kierkegaard interrupted Anders as dramatically as he could, by again stomping on the courier’s corpse. This time, however, he shunted his full-sized foot out of his personal corner of codespace, and his massive toes turned the remainder of the body into paste. The impact sent a shudder through the ground, as though the planet itself feared him, and every one of the Non in attendance jumped. Kierkegaard held Anders’ eyes throughout, his smile growing as he felt the remains of the courier peel away from his foot and squish back to the ground.
“Revolting,” Anders muttered, putting a hand to his mouth. “Revolting.”
“I’d say you’ve aired grievances ‘nough for one day,” Kierkegaard said. He pulled his foot back into a portal, wriggling the tiny toes of his penguin body. They were nice and clean again. “What do you propose we do ‘bout all these problems, eh? What’s your conclusion?”
Anders hesitated. Kierkegaard could see him bundling up his courage, preparing for a single sentence that was surely to enrage the Non commander-in-chief. As Anders readied himself for his pronouncement Kierkegaard noticed the wriggling, bizarre body of Emmett as it clattered up behind the other officers, and he noticed at once that his smile was mirrored on the mad doctor’s face. Kierkegaard cocked an eyebrow, and Emmett raised his hand to reveal a dark, yellow pill. Kierkegaard nodded.
“I believe that we need a new commander,” Anders said, voice thick with tension. He was now looking at Emmett, too, his oily skin paling a little. “Your leadership brought us into the Imperium, but we need someone who can properly - “
The pill disappeared from Emmett’s fingers. Kierkegaard reached into codespace and brought his full, clawed hand out into the real world, pushing Anders to the ground. The lithe Non colonel tried to wriggle away, but Kierkegaard sank his claws deep into the dirt, preventing escape. He strode towards Anders’ exposed face, one arm plunged elbow-deep into a portal, the other raised into the air for all to see, as though he were performing a magic trick. Kierkegaard had no doubt that the effects of Emmett’s handiwork would be magical, as well as deeply monstrous.
“My fellow Non,” Kierkegaard cried, wishing he had his top hat for the occasion, “it has been made clear that some among you are ill at ease with my leadership. Shit, I bet all of you are just as unhappy as Anders, here. Well, maybe not as unhappy, but pretty close. Those among you who’d like to see me get the ol’ heave-ho, please raise your hands!”
None of the Non raised their hands. Emmett cackled, and Kierkegaard joined him.
“I bet that’s a lie,” Kierkegaard said, “’n it doesn’t much matter anyway. I’m not givin’ up leadership to any of your dumb asses. ‘specially not this shithead. And I have Commander Emmett to thank for that, ‘cause soon your opinions won’t matter even the slightest bit. You tested this thing yet, Emmett?”
Emmett shook his head, the gesture a slow, lolling thing on his giraffe neck. “I tried. My specimen got away. This’ll be a, eheh, first, for all of us.”
“Well, that’ll make it more dramatic, then.”
Kierkegaard stooped beside Anders. The palm of his hand was pressing so hard into the colonel that the man couldn’t speak, and was gasping for breath. Kierkegaard ran the pill in his fingers along Anders’ mouth, and as he did he swore he felt the pill wriggle a little, as though its contents were eager to escape. He had little doubt they wanted nothing more than to get loose and wreak havoc.
“You all want to know my plans for the future of this campaign? Yep, I bet you do.” Kierkegaard sneered. He dropped the pill into Anders’ mouth. “Here ya go. Here’s the future, you fuckers. Get ready.”