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

com Chapter 2: Trials Pudge stomped noisily down the halls of Scholomance, following his master Alexi Romerov and dragging his new hook behind him. The abomination made sure not to follow the little man too closely – he had already stepped on the doctor’s foot once, and his master still walked funny. He knew his master was angry with him because he had stopped talking for the first time since Pudge woke up. Still, the doctor was talking to him again, so Pudge guessed that meant he wasn’t mad anymore. The master was talking awfully fast, too, and Pudge struggled to keep up with the constant flow of words. He knew it was important, but it was hard to focus on walking and listening at the same time. "– and remember, Pudge," said Alexi as he strode quickly down the hallway, "when you see a lich, stand aside and bow to them. Oh, and call them Lord, preferably with their name if you know it – they like that, as much as an emotionless being of untold power can like anything. You do remember how to bow, right?" "Yes, mas-ter. Pudge practiced many times." Pudge remembered what liches looked like. They were tall, but not as tall as he was, very thin and bony, and they floated off the ground. Pudge wondered how they did that. There was something else...oh, and they made things cold. Pudge was sure he would know a lich when he saw one now. Alexi stopped in front of a massive set of double doors taller than Pudge, and the monster stopped himself before he ran into his master. He was still getting used to walking, though he didn’t remember it being so hard...before. Before when? The thought always made his head hurt. "Now then," said Alexi, turning to face his creation, "do you remember what you’re going to do out here?" Pudge paused for a moment to think, then nodded vigorously. "Yes, mas-ter. Pudge wait for signal, then fight other thing like me. Win fight, make everyone happy." He grinned toothily, feeling very pleased with himself. Alexi chuckled dryly. "Well, certainly not everyone, but," he waved dismissively when Pudge looked confused, "that’s an explanation for another time." Pudge nodded again, still feeling like he was missing something. "Yes, mas-ter."

The doctor turned back to the doors and pushed them open slowly. As the doors yawned open, Pudge saw the outside world for the first time...but it wasn’t the first time. He had seen this Before, whenever that was. Stepping outside, Pudge blinked in the bright light of early morning. The sunlight all but blinded him, and from the way his master was squinting, the light was no more pleasant or welcome for the small man. Slowly, the light faded until finally Pudge could see again. Dry, cracked black dirt crunched beneath his bare feet as he looked around with childish amazement. A vast encampment covered the area, full of people and buildings of all shapes and sizes. A large forest of black and browning trees lay to his right, and he knew that at one time animals of all kinds had lived there. He could hear no sign of them now...which was just as well, considering how much noise the people were making. "Why they all so busy, mas-ter?" "Everyone has work to do," replied Alexi, "and the Scourge has no place for slackers. We are at war, as I have told you before." Pudge looked down at his master curiously. "Is Scourge winning?" Alexi hmphed with annoyance. "We made excellent progress initially, but I understand that we are at something of a stalemate with the allied forces. We no longer have the advantage of surprise, and they are learning our tricks. Too few of our leaders understand the need for change...but you will change that. You will help us win this war, Pudge." Pudge scratched his head, not knowing what his master meant. "How, mas-ter?" The doctor gave him a wry grin, then began to move forward again. "You’ll see," he said, chuckling quietly. Pudge shrugged and continued to follow his master. After a few minutes of walking, they reached a large clearing. A great number of robed people stood around, apparently waiting for something. Waiting for him? Pudge thought this was very strange; his master told him there would only be the other and its master, and maybe some liches. Did these people think he was important? He didn’t think he was important. Alexi strode confidently into the clearing, and several people stepped aside to let him pass. On the other side of the area, they were doing the same, making room for an angrylooking man and a tall, bulky creature. Was this the thing that was like him? Pudge looked down at himself, then back at the monster. Yup, very much like him. Smaller, though, and carrying a huge cleaver instead of a hook. Pudge wondered if it could fight well, and found himself looking forward to the battle. The other man stormed across the clearing and pointed angrily at Alexi. "You!" he shouted, then lowered his voice. "I don’t know how you arranged this, Alexi," the man whispered fiercely, "but this...this farce won’t help you!"

"I beg to differ, Edvard," replied Alexi smoothly, a condescending smirk on his face. "And I didn’t have to arrange anything. I simply mentioned the idea to Lord Frostwhisper, and he thought it had merit." "Then it was your idea! I knew you had a hand in this, you, you–" Barov closed his eyes briefly, obviously trying to calm himself. "I know what you’re up to," he said with a vicious smile, opening his eyes again, "but it won’t work. You only finished him last night, so you can’t possibly have had any time to train him yet. Stitches and I have had the past month to train – it’s easy to see who the victor will be." "You can tell yourself that all you want, Edvard," said Alexi calmly, "but very shortly we’ll see who wasted their time...and odds are, it won’t be me." Edvard glared at Alexi for several seconds, then turned around and walked back to his abomination. "We’ll see who laughs last, Romerov!" "Yes," said the doctor quietly, "we shall see." Pudge looked down at his master curiously. "Who that, mas-ter?" Alexi sighed and rubbed his forehead wearily. "My rival. My enemy. Whatever other nasty word I can call to mind." He gave Pudge a serious look. "Whatever happens, Pudge, do not harm him. Defeat his creation, his...Stitches, but not him. He would love to use that against me." Pudge nodded. He didn’t know what his master was talking about, but it sounded important. "Yes, mas-ter." Suddenly the chatter died down, leaving the clearing in silence. The crowd parted again, making way for three liches. Pudge noticed his master was very surprised, but didn’t know why. "Three," Alexi whispered with awe, "three of them! I never expected so many! Lord Ras Frostwhisper in front, of course," Alexi pointed the lich out to Pudge, "and flanked by Araj the Summoner and Naze the Eternal! Truly amazing! They’re usually too busy to bother with such things...a point for our side, to be sure!" The three liches, having arrived, stopped and took a moment to survey the challengers. Frostwhisper glided forward a short ways and stared at each of the necromancers in turn. "You are ready?" it said coolly. Alexi bowed as deeply as his age would allow, and Pudge mimicked him clumsily a moment later. Edvard and Stitches did the same, though more smoothly. "We are, Lord Ras." He bowed again to the other liches. "Lord Araj, Lord Naze." The two liches regarded him emotionlessly, then nodded their acknowledgement. Ras held up a hand, then dropped it quickly. "Begin."

Bellowing a war cry, Stitches charged across the clearing. Taken by surprise by the suddenness of the attack, Pudge stumbled back a step and clumsily raised his hook and chain. His hasty defense blocked his foe’s chop at the last second, and Pudge felt the impact reverberate through his meaty arms. His opponent was strong! Keeping the chain up, he blocked a second strike, then ducked under a vicious swing that only barely missed. Knowing he had to get off the defensive, Pudge attempted to hit the other abomination with his hook, but Stitches easily dodged the inept attack. The miss threw him off balance and sent him stumbling forward, knocking his foe back a few steps. Pudge swung wildly, trying to force Stitches back further, but the abomination would have none of it. His enemy grinned as he casually blocked another strike, then countered with a brutal backhand. The blow made Pudge reel in pain, pain he had not felt since Before. Distracted, he only noticed his opponent’s next attack at the last second, when it was too late to avoid it. The cleaver bit into Pudge’s shoulder and he roared with pain, his green blood flowing out of the wound. A reflexive strike knocked the abomination’s arm aside and dislodged the cleaver, and a quick attack with the hook struck Stitches in the face as Pudge retreated. Stitches shook his head clear and spit out a grimy tooth, then growled and stomped forward to continue the fight, no longer amused. Edvard laughed heartily, his voice carrying across the clearing. "Your Pudge is putting on quite a show, Alexi! As you can see, a little training goes a long way, though I think your creation will go far as well – to the trash heap!" Alexi smiled slightly in response. "This fight is far from over, Edvard. First blood means nothing." Edvard’s taunts were irritating, but Alexi was more concerned about Pudge. He knew the creature would learn quickly...but he wished Pudge would speed it up! The battle continued to rage between the two monstrous enemies. Pudge managed to get in a few more weak hits, but was unable to slow the other abomination’s assault. Several more minor wounds leaked blood, though Pudge was not yet seriously injured. Stitches battered Pudge’s hook aside with a flurry of attacks, then leaned down and swung at an exposed leg. Pudge moved the appendage clear, but a sudden push sent him careening off balance. Toppling like a falling tree, he fell to the ground with a deafening crash. Struggling to right himself, Pudge barely noticed his opponent bringing his cleaver down hard. Raising an arm to defend himself, the blade cut into him and caused immeasurable agony. Fighting through the pain, Pudge’s anger rose. He knew how to fight! The hook was slowing him down because he didn’t know how to use it, but it could not keep him from winning! Snarling with rage, Pudge caught his foe’s head in the hook and pulled him down, head-butting him ferociously. Stitches reeled back from the blow, giving Pudge the time he needed to get to his feet. The other abomination growled and swung again, but Pudge neatly caught the blade on the inner curve of the hook. Spinning his arm around, he twisted his enemy’s arm around until he lost his grip, sending the cleaver

flying across the clearing. Disarmed, Stitches tried to get back and retrieve his weapon, but Pudge grabbed him by the throat and jammed his hook into his opponent’s stomach, ripping the poorly stitched flesh open. Howling with pain and rage, Stitches struggled to break free of Pudge’s grip. Suddenly he paused, and Pudge could faintly hear the mental command Barov was giving his creation. Get the acid, now! We are lost – this is our only chance! The abominations turned their heads in unison towards a large dead tree at the edge of the clearing. Now aware of its presence, Pudge spied a large cask hidden behind the tree, guarded surreptitiously by three of Edvard’s loyal acolytes. Distracted, Pudge was unable to dodge the lightning fast blow to his head, and he released his grip. Stitches pushed past him and lurched towards the cask with grim resolve. Pudge’s eyes narrowed with cold fury. They would not cheat their way to victory while he still moved! Whipping the hook around like a sling, Pudge hurled it at the other abomination. Catching Stitches around the throat, he jerked the chain viciously and pulled his enemy down to the ground. Stitches struggled to rise, but Pudge lumbered forward, wrapped the chain around the abomination’s neck and yanked him up. "You...made me hungry," Pudge growled quietly. With that, he bit into his foe’s neck, consuming the undead tissue with sharp teeth and a ravenous appetite. Stitches screamed and fought to get free, but he was too weak. Soon he slumped over lifelessly, the necromantic magic that reanimated him no longer able to sustain him. Edvard fell to his knees, broken and defeated. As Pudge sated his terrible hunger, Alexi walked over to Barov, accompanied by Lord Frostwhisper. Pale-faced, Edvard rose quickly, but swayed on his feet. Lord Ras gazed at him unnervingly for several minutes before finally breaking the silence. "Pudge has defeated Stitches. Necromancer Romerov takes your position by right of challenge. Necromancer Barov, you will now oversee the acolytes’ ghoul training and creation. Is this clear?" " lord," replied Edvard quietly, bowing shakily. The lich waved dismissively. "Dismissed." Edvard glared at Alexi wrathfully, then turned and departed. Pudge lumbered over, having finished his meal. He carried both the hook and the cleaver, his toothy grin covered in green ichor. Alexi noted with great pleasure that not only had all of Pudge’s wounds healed already, but also that he was at least an inch taller. He would have to measure his creation back at the lab to discover exactly how much he had grown as a result of his feast. Turning to face the lich, he bowed low. "What did my lord think of the trials?"

Frostwhisper looked over the abomination thoughtfully. "Brutal. Effective. He exceeded my expectations." It glanced back at Alexi. "As I said before, I expect great things of you and this...Pudge, High Necromancer Romerov." Alexi’s smile broadened, and he bowed again. "We live only to serve, Lord Ras."