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

com Epilogue 1: Just Rewards Anna gazed longingly at the verdant landscape, her eyes drawn to the dirt road that led up to the farm. Churning butter was exhausting work, and while the rhythmic motions usually helped distract her from her troubles, today her thoughts constantly turned to her missing son. Months had passed since she last saw Teodor, and even though she knew she would never see him again, she still held onto hope. Maybe today he would come bounding around the corner, his golden curls bouncing as he raced up the path to tell her of his grand adventure. He would hug her tight and promise never to leave her alone again and... A tear rolled down Anna’s cheek, and she dashed it away angrily. Foolish woman, she thought to herself, your son is dead. You have to accept it and move on. She told herself that every day. Maybe tomorrow she would believe it. Shouts in the distance tore Anna out of her reverie, and moments later, she spied a man on horseback racing up the road. Her husband emerged from the house as the man brought his mount to a halt. "What’s the matter, Lukas?" he asked the rider. "Scourge, Rasmus!" shouted Lukas frantically. "On the road from Arathi!" Rasmus’s eyes widened in shock. "So far south? How many?" "Just one, but it’s an abomination, and the biggest one I’ve ever seen! We think it may be a scouting party. We’re still looking for its controller, but the bastard may be invisible." Lukas wheeled his horse around to leave. "Get your sword, Rasmus! We’ll need every man to kill this monster!" "Lukas, wait!" cried Rasmus as the rider sped away. "Where is it going?!" "Here!" called Lukas over his shoulder, before he disappeared around the bend. "It’s coming here!" Anna’s heart skipped a beat. "Here?" she whispered. "Why here? Why now?" Rasmus shook his head mutely. Entering the farmhouse, he emerged minutes later bearing his old footman sword and shield. The two stared at each other for a long moment without speaking.

"Anna," Rasmus said finally, "I know things haven’t right between us, since..." He swallowed, unable to finish his sentence. "But we survived that, and we’ll survive this." Anna nodded, not sure what to say. She watched Rasmus walk away, burning to tell him that, despite everything, she still loved him, but her voice stuck in her throat. All she could do was stare at his back and wonder why the words wouldn't come. When he reached the gate, he turned and looked back at her, his gaze full of the same wordless longing. He gave her a wan smile, then waved and jogged down the road, eventually vanishing from sight. Time passed slowly, but before long, Anna could hear the sounds of distant battle. To her dismay, the din only grew louder and closer. A bellow of monstrous pain sent the birds to the skies, but the shouts of the men became more panicked and urgent. The militia came around the corner, retreating in the face of a seemingly unstoppable assault. When the creature lumbered into view, Anna’s blood ran cold. It was a massive abomination, easily half again as big as any other she had seen, and wielding an enormous cleaver and hooked chain. Green ichor ran down its leathery skin from numerous small wounds, but it pressed on with relentless determination. Though terrified, Anna quickly realized that something was wrong. The monster passed up killing blows in favor of sweeping strikes that pushed the men back. It was as if it did not want to hurt them. Just then, it looked up and their eyes met, and for a moment Anna’s breath caught in her throat. Those were not the cold, dead eyes of the Scourge – there was life in them, and they recognized her. "Anna Pavdun!" it called out to her. "Are you Anna Pavdun?" The militia collectively gasped and took a step back in shock. None of them had ever heard of lesser undead that spoke. Only Rasmus was unfazed, and snarled with protective fury. "You will not have her, you FIEND!" he yelled as he delivered a brutal slash to the creature’s arm. It cried out in pain, but did not retaliate. "Pudge does not want to hurt little boy’s father!" the abomination exclaimed. "Pudge only wants to talk to Anna Pavdun!" Rasmus prepared to strike again, but Anna raced down the path. "Rasmus, stop!" she shouted. "Can’t you see it isn’t defending itself? Something’s different about it!" Rasmus hesitated, but did not lower his weapon. "Stay back, Anna," he growled. "It’s just a Scourge trick!" Ignoring Rasmus, Pudge focused his gaze on Anna. "You are Anna Pavdun?" he asked. Standing up straight, Anna looked the creature in the eye. "Yes," she stated, trying to put some steel in her voice. "What do you want?"

The abomination’s visage softened. "Pudge is here," he said quietly, "to tell you about Teodor." Stunned, Anna struggled to maintain her calm. " son? Where is my son? Is he alive?" Pudge shook his head sadly and pointed at himself. "Teodor is in Pudge...Teodor is part of Pudge." "My son is in you?" Anna asked with a mix of horror and disbelief. "Teodor talks to Pudge sometimes," Pudge said gently. "He asked Pudge to come he could say goodbye." Anna buried her head in her hands. "I can’t believe it," she whispered. "I won’t believe it!" Pudge looked at the ground sorrowfully. "He says he misses your pies, when the fruit in the orchard was ripe. He wishes he had the blanket his nana made for him, because it’s so cold where he is." "Stop," Anna whimpered. "He misses your woodcarvings," Pudge said to Rasmus, who dropped his sword and shield without realizing it, "and the stories you told him at night. He always loved the ones about the Great Kings of Lordaeron." "Please stop," moaned Anna. "He was looking forward to his ninth birthday," Pudge continued, "because then he’d be big enough to help his father in the fields..." "Stop it stop it STOP IT!" screamed Anna, launching herself at the monster twice her size. She battered his chest with her fists, taking out all her fury and pain on Pudge’s unyielding flesh. "How could you do that to him?! HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO MY SON?!" She sank to her knees and wept, all her strength and resolve gone. Carefully, Pudge set his weapons on the ground and knelt before the sobbing woman. He wrapped his arms around her in a gentle embrace, and no one moved to intervene. "Pudge is sorry, Anna," he said softly. "Pudge is sorry." Anna clung to the abomination, and for a moment, he was her son, with his innocent smile and piercing blue eyes... goodbye mommy

...and then he was gone. Slowly, the wracking sobs faded, and Anna found the strength to stand again. Rasmus rushed to her side and held her close, tears of his own streaming down his face. "He’s gone," she whispered. "Our little boy is gone." His only reply was to squeeze her tighter. Rising to his feet, Pudge collected his weapons and turned to go. "Where are you going now?" asked Anna as she wiped the tears from her eyes. Pudge looked over his shoulder and smiled toothily. "Pudge has many people in him," he said matter-of-factly, "and they all want to be free like Teodor...and like Pudge." Anna nodded, searching for something to say. "Good luck," she said finally. Pudge grinned, then stomped off down the road. The militia milled around for a few minutes after the monster’s departure, then returned to their own homes in silence. Alone again, Anna rested her head on Rasmus’s shoulder. They stood together for a long time without speaking, taking in all that had happened. "Rasmus?" Anna said quietly. "Yes, Anna?" he replied. A small smile crossed Anna’s lips. "How would you feel about a new son?" Rasmus looked deep into Anna’s eyes and smiled broadly. "Well, I think you need a bath first," he teased. "You have green stuff all over you." Anna laughed and slapped his arm. "You say that like you’re not all nasty and sweaty, too!" she said playfully. "You better get that bathwater ready, mister, before I change my mind." "Yes ma’am!" he said with a mock salute, then went inside. Anna stayed outside a few minutes longer, basking in the rays of the setting sun and the gentle breeze that ran over the foothills. It would be night soon, but there was one less terror waiting for her in the darkness...and tomorrow was another day.