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The Perfect Monster: A Tale of the Scourge By Matthew Perrett mperrett@mattperrett.

com Chapter 1: Arise! Hunched over a massive wooden table, an elderly man carefully sewed scraps of dead flesh onto a framework of bones more than twice his size. So absorbed in his task, he was, that he failed to notice another living presence enter the decrepit laboratory. "Doctor Alexi Romerov!" boomed a deep, commanding voice. Startled, Alexi jerked his head up and looked around frantically. Seeing a man in the doorway, he squinted in the dim light, trying to make out his unannounced and unwelcome guest. Finally recognizing the figure, the doctor turned back to his work. "Oh, it’s just you," grumbled the old man, applying another stitch to the body before him while waiting for the inevitable rebuke. "Just me?" replied the other man tersely. "You would be wise not to take that tone with me. I am your superior, as much as you dislike acknowledging the fact." Doctor Alexi harrumphed loudly, then turned back and gave his visitor a mocking bow. "Well then, Necromancer Edvard Barov, please excuse my lapse of proper etiquette and subservience, but my work is time consuming and keeps me too busy for empty pleasantries." "Too time consuming, Acolyte Romerov," snapped Barov. "You’ve had more than enough time to finish your abomination, and you still have a great deal of work to do!" Alexi waved the retort away dismissively. "You cannot rush quality, Edvard. You may have hastily assembled your creature in order to earn a promotion, but I will not sacrifice my craftsmanship for petty material gains. My monster will be perfect, unlike your clumsy beast." Barov turned red with anger. "The abominations are hulking brutes of undead meat, not elven dancers! You may have forgotten, but this is an army! We have deadlines – ones we must meet! We are in the middle of a war, and mass-produced soldiers are the key to victory, not custom-made monsters!" Alexi took off his glasses and cleaned them on his black robe. "You have no idea what you are talking about, Edvard," he replied wearily. "Without innovation, the Scourge is doomed to failure. Great numbers can fall to superior strategy, and if we do not change

and adapt our foes will learn all our tricks. You do not understand because you are not a scientist. You were a paper-pusher before the Plague, and you are a paper-pusher now. And I will never finish if you don’t let me get back to my work." The necromancer sputtered with rage, unable to respond coherently. Finally controlling himself, he held up a finger angrily. "One month, Alexi! I’ll give you one month to finish making your abomination! If you are not done with it then, I will throw you to the tender mercy of our leaders!" With that, he turned and stormed out of the lab, leaving Alexi alone once again. Alexi chuckled and went back to his work. "Poor Edvard," he said quietly, "your temper will be the death of you one day." He patted the stitched monstrosity on the table, feeling the cold, leathery texture of the creature’s skin. "You will be a masterpiece," he whispered, "no matter what anyone else says." -------------------------------------------------Three weeks and five days later, Alexi’s work was complete. Only a final inspection to ensure his creation’s viability for reanimation remained. Ordinarily, the inspector would be the acolyte’s direct superior, but Alexi instead chose to go directly to Scholomance’s leader, Ras Frostwhisper. Such a maneuver was not unprecedented, but while the lich’s attention could be profitable to an ambitious mage, it could also prove deadly. It was a risk Alexi did not take lightly. Alexi felt the lich approach before he heard anything – a chill of both cold and fear running down his spine. One day that power would be his, but today he had more important concerns...namely staying alive. Alexi opened the door with shaking hands, revealing his undead master. Bowing deeply, he stepped to the side of the doorway as quickly as his old bones would allow. "Welcome to my laboratory, Lord Frostwhisper." The lich glided into the dank structure, cold mist flowing from its skeletal form as it calmly surveyed the room. Its focus soon turned to the creature on the immense operating table in the center of the room. "So," it intoned emotionlessly, "this is the abomination that you have informed me of." Alexi bowed again, his face showing both anxiety and confidence. "Yes, Lord Frostwhisper. It is finally complete." Ras Frostwhisper moved slowly to the edge of the table. It examined the monster carefully, with the infinite patience of the dead, and several minutes passed before it spoke again. "I see no flaws with your creation. However, I see none of the modifications you said were present. Elaborate." The doctor beamed with the pride of a master craftsman, and began to speak with great enthusiasm. "Yes, my lord. It is true that my changes are not obvious, but what I have

done is make it able to grow, and learn." He hesitated, waiting for a sign of approval from his master. The lich remained silent, as if considering the implications of this. "Continue," it said finally. Encouraged, Alexi went on. "I enchanted it with some of the magic that drives the ghouls, my lord. Unlike other abominations, it is imbued with a great hunger...a desire to feed, and take from what it consumes." Frostwhisper turned its head to look at the doctor, its eyes burning with cold flame. Alexi willed himself not to blink. "Explain," said the lich. "The necromantic magics that sustain the creature are not stagnant, my lord. Whatever it eats, the magic adds to the whole. The more it devours, the larger, stronger and tougher it becomes. Allow me to demonstrate, if I may." The lich nodded slowly, and Alexi walked to the other side of the table. Grabbing a hunk of rotting meat from a nearby bucket, the doctor dropped the dead tissue into a gaping hole in the creature’s stomach. Almost as soon as the meat made contact, it began to change color, quickly matching the shade of the abomination’s flesh. Within minutes, the meat was completely absorbed, appearing as if it had always been there. Frostwhisper watched the process impassively. "Impressive." Alexi nodded. "Indeed, my lord. In truth, the stitches are more for show than purpose at this point. The frame will adjust to support the additional mass, and will grow taller as well. Before long, it will be substantially larger than the other abominations. Also," he said with a sly grin, "this same magic allows the creature to learn and adapt – the standard magics keep our creations mindless because are unable to alter the structure of the brain. This one has no such...disadvantage." The lich considered this in silence for several minutes. "What are the limits of its intelligence?" Alexi gestured dismissively. "Little more than a child at best, my lord. Mindless creatures require too much control, but so do overly intelligent ones. It will learn from its mistakes and remember orders, but it is still stupid enough to be properly malleable." "Good. I am pleased that you understand the needs of the Scourge. However, the time it took to construct this creature concerns me. If it passes the trials, we will need many more. You are capable of reducing the production time, I assume." The doctor bowed. "Of course, my lord. Prototypes always take the longest to produce. Now that I understand the process, I can work on perfecting it."

Nodding, the lich almost smiled. "Good. The Scourge needs more innovators such as yourself, Necromancer Romerov." A promotion! Alexi was thrilled, but kept his face calm. "I am pleased to be of service, my lord. And if I may make a suggestion..." "You may." "Necromancer Edvard Barov’s abomination would make for a fitting trial for my creation. He has attempted to discredit me and my work on a number of occasions, and I believe that such a challenge would settle matters once and for all." "Yes," said the lich, "I have heard him speak of you. His dislike for you leads him to act...unprofessionally at times." Frostwhisper paused for a moment. "The challenge will be held tomorrow at dawn." Alexi bowed again. "We will be ready, my lord." Frostwhisper turned away and slowly glided out of the lab. Pausing in the doorway, it looked over its shoulder at Alexi. "We expect great things of you, Necromancer Romerov. Do not disappoint us." Then it was gone. Alexi stood at the table a few minutes longer, then collapsed into a nearby chair. "Whew! Never been so nervous in my life!" He grinned with fierce triumph, and rubbed his hands together. "Alright...time to put the finishing touches on you. Tomorrow’s a big day, my boy, and it wouldn’t do to be unprepared." -------------------------------------------------Midwinter. Midnight. The Scourge facility of Scholomance was a beehive of activity, even at this hour, and especially on this day. Liches prepared dark rituals to take advantage of the equinox and the magical energies available at the changing of the seasons. High-ranking necromancers aided their leaders in their preparations, gathering reagents and tomes of forbidden lore. Ghouls and abominations guarded the gates, ready for an attack if it came. Only a few acolytes slept this evening, most of them too keyed up by the magic in the air to rest either. Necromancer Alexi Romerov was not among the blissfully unconscious. In the dark of the night, Alexi stood beside the table where his creation lay, chanting vile words of necromantic power. The lab was devoid of light, save for five candles that gave off a red glow and unholy-looking smoke. Although the magic that animated the monster was complete, it had not yet awoken, and the final spell that would bring the creature to life was nearly finished. "– drak thal’an, gul kad alanatos! Fer’nas, grath vo zeradal! Rise, my creation! Know life once more, in the name of the Lich King!"

As he spoke the final words, Alexi thrust his arms into the air, and the black smoke flowed down into the gaping maw like a whirlpool. The force of the wind extinguished the candles, leaving Alexi in utter darkness. The ritual complete, the doctor lowered his arms. Silently, he stood there in the dark while he caught his breath. Sighing, he rubbed his forehead to relieve the weariness that threatened to overcome him. "Guess my age is showing," he said, chuckling. "This wouldn’t have drained me so much ten years ago. Got into this business too late, I suppose, but it won’t matter soon. Now, where did I put those candles..." "Here, mas-ter." "Ah, good." Striking a match, Alexi found the candle he was looking for and lit it. Light radiated from the flame, revealing a hideous face that peered at him curiously in the dim illumination. An ordinary man would have been scared out of his mind by the proximity of this horror in the darkness, but Alexi took in the sight calmly. After all, he had seen that face every day for months. "Good, you’re awake!" said the doctor with a broad grin. He moved around the room, lighting more candles so he could see more clearly. When he turned back, he saw his creation propped up on one massive elbow, looking around the brightening room with childish amazement. "Yes, mas-ter," it replied in a deep, resonant voice. It had the same echo-y quality that all of the Scourge possessed, as if the magics that reanimated them carried their words from the damned souls in the hells directly to their lips. A mystery Alexi hoped to solve, but one that would have to wait for now. "Where...this place?" asked the abomination, bringing Alexi out of his musing. "I am Necromancer Alexi Romerov, and I am your master," he replied with a commanding tone. "You are in my laboratory, in the Scourge training facility of Scholomance." "Sk...Skolo...manse?" The creature struggled with the name, the same way a child would with a new and difficult word. Alex was thrilled, but kept his face calm. "Yes, but that word is not important right now. Do you understand that you are one of the Scourge, and that the Lich King is your master?" The monster paused briefly, then spoke. "Yes...we are...the Scourge. Lich King...mas-ter of Scourge." Alexi chuckled. "Excellent. Do you have a name?" It was always wise to ask, he reflected, since occasionally the Lich King stepped in during the reanimation process and gave the newly awakened undead a name. Once given, the undead would cling to the

name with the only shred of personal identity they had left, and could never be convinced to accept another name. The abomination looked sad, and shook its head. "No, mas-ter. Had name once, but...forgot." Fierce pride surged through Alexi. So intelligent already, and newly risen! This monster would be his – no other would command it! "Then, my creation, you shall be called..." He glanced at the creature’s plump gut and grinned. "Pudge. Rise, Pudge, and stand before me!" Pudge nodded vigorously. "Yes, mas-ter. Pudge...good name." Sitting up, it slowly slid off the table and tentatively placed its oversized feet on the floor. Its balance was a bit shaky, Alexi noted, but that problem would work itself out soon enough. Pudge simply needed to get used to its – his, Alexi decided – his new body. "Excellent. Now, walk around the outer edge of the room while I tell you what you need to know. You have many things to learn, my creation." Pudge nodded again and began stomping around the room, his great bulk causing test tubes to rattle and loose items to shake with every step. "That sound good, mas-ter. Pudge know so little." Alexi cackled with glee. "Yes, yes, I know. Now, listen to me very carefully. In a few hours, we will leave this place. You will follow me to another place. Is this clear?" "Yes, mas-ter." "Good. When we get to the other place, you will wait until things are ready. When I say to, you will fight another abomination, like yourself. You do know how to fight, yes?" Pudge’s circuit around the room slowly briefly as he thought, then nodded and curled a meaty hand into a fist. "Yes, mas-ter, can fight. Need sword." Alexi laughed dryly. "Unfortunately, we do not have swords big enough for one your size. You will have to learn a new weapon, I’m afraid. Pull down that hook from the ceiling." Pudge stopped walking and looked up. Seeing the massive butcher’s hook, he stomped over and pulled it loose. The large length of chain attached to the hook came down as well, a portion of it smacking Pudge on the head as it fell. "Ow," grumbled Pudge petulantly, rubbing his head. Chuckling, Alexi moved towards the door. "I’m going to get some sleep. I will be back in a few hours, so practice with that thing while I’m gone. Don’t leave this room for any reason...and don’t break anything!"

"Yes, mas-ter," called Pudge distractedly, already busy testing the weight and balance of his new weapon. As Alexi closed the door, he heard the sound of shattering glass and a muffled "Oops." Alexi clucked with annoyance, but he was pleased nonetheless. His Pudge would show them all...tomorrow!