Ch. 11.3 – Max

The shadows screamed.

Intellectually, Max knew that there wasn’t really a “shadow space” to flow through. It was a mix of Rift and Vision the adept used to evade their enemies, an ancient Daimani trick of the mind and soul. All the same, there was an echo of the concept in the Vision World, and in West’s stronghold, his Vision reigned supreme. So, emotionally, it felt and sounded like the shadows themselves were screaming as Max darted through them.

Max had been through worse. Ignoring the not-sound, the Reanimate bolted through the darkness like a desperate thunderbolt. Emerging where the physical world felt more quiet and empty than anywhere else in West’s dungeon, Max surfaced, male and taloned and bloody-eyed.

A closet, he thought, snorting and retracting his claws. Great. At first, that seemed accurate, given the small space and plastic cubes around him. A moment of examination revealed the contents around him to be far more than paper towels and bleach bottles. One cube held a demon-faced mask that radiated ancient power and menace. Another had a tiny golden beetle that looked worth a fortune, until it scuttled beneath Max’s gaze with a clicking-gear sound. He whistled. West may be a monster, but he’s got taste. So. He glanced around with a greater focus, drawing on Vision and the Weave. Okay. Anything useful in here? Feel free to speak up. Threads and spirit led him to a bin with a short sword inside, its Daimani enchantment calling to him. Max grinned. Jackpot.

Max broke the sword out, then did the same for himself, crushing the interior lock and opening the door carefully. No guards. Good. Above him, the building shuddered. Not good. Alex, what have you gotten yourself into? He slunk carefully through the halls, watching for the disturbingly absent guards, shadow Majesty devouring less personal forms of security.

After passing several green doors and ignoring the fortunes he sensed behind them, Max shook his head and stopped. This is getting me nowhere. He concentrated, again seeking a hint through Vision and Weaving. Though West’s counter-Vision was everywhere, Max felt only passive defenses. Then he felt a room full of Woven static, disturbingly similar to the Quadrum attack they’d faced.

It took less than a minute to find the gray door, obvious amid all the green. That’d be stupid, except his goons might never find them otherwise. Max drew the sword, which pulsed with a deep red glow. “Okay, let’s see what you can do.” He sliced at the door. The blade cut through the metal, including several locking bars that reinforced it, like slicing bread. Max whistled.

“Help!” Max straightened at the unfamiliar, desperate voice. “Please, God, help!”

Two more slices and Max had a triangular opening to step through. He grinned and laid the sword on his shoulder, doing his best to look confident and assuring. “Ask, and ye shall receive.” Then he stopped and stared at the most beautiful human man he’d ever seen. Though his shoulder-length black hair was messy and his muscles looked a bit underused, the captive was still stunning, with a swimmer’s body and perfect tone. It was easy to tell, given that all he was wearing were gym shorts and water shoes.

Max shook his head quickly. What is wrong with you?! he raged at himself, then darted to the prisoner’s side and sliced through every strap in two seconds. Max sheathed the sword, released the speed Rift he’d drawn on, then caught the rescuee before he could fall. “You must be the Rift Prime. My friends and I,” he continued, pausing as the tower shuddered again, “are here to rescue you.”

“Me?” the Prime whispered. Then he kissed Max with passionate abandon. Max reeled. Whew! Good kisser, too. When the Prime came up for air, he smiled with a dissonant shyness. “I’m Victor. I suppose I should’ve said that first…”

“Not complaining. I’m Max,” the Reanimate explained. “Maxwell like this, Maxine when I’m femme.”

Victor blinked. “Cross-dressing?”

Max grinned again. “Shape shifter. I’ll explain later, hot stuff. For now, you’re the Rift guy.” The building shuddered more violently than ever. The lights flickered. “Yeah. Let’s find my friends and get out of here.”

Victor looked up nervously. “If they’re fighting Ekaida, we can’t help them now.”

Max’s jaw dropped. “Ekaida? The original Hydra, Tiamat, mother of monsters, that Ekaida?”

“I guess she really is famous,” Victor replied diffidently. “I can do things I thought only God could, before, and I didn’t stand a chance.”

Oh, gods. Though the smile was forced, Max drew on every erg of tenacity he could find. “She’s fighting one of my friends. He is to raw power what you are to dimension, and what Travesty is to will and spirit.” Victor stared, gasping in amazement. “Protip: he’s straight as an arrow.”

“As long as he’s polite about it,” the Rift Prime shrugged, “I don’t care what he prefers, especially if he’s fighting her for us. So, where are the rest of your friends?”

“Two of us,” Sara called from the doorway, and Victor jumped, “are right here. Cap is busy fighting Ekaida, and A…a Rose is keeping Travis occupied.”

Max leaned against the slab as Molly and Sara came through the hole he’d left. “Boy scout’s going to be sorry he missed the fun,” Max quipped.

“The ‘boy scout’ is busy keeping us alive,” Molly retorted dryly. “We’ll go back up Rose, then help Bastion.”

Victor clung shakily to Max, biting his lip, but looking as determined as he did scared. Good man, Max thought, then glanced at the Ghost Dragon. “Rose first? West is dangerous, but Christ on a crutch, Cap’s fighting the queen of the monsters.”

“Rose is fighting West right now,” Dunn retorted, and Max scowled. “As brilliant as she is, West is a Prime. Besides, though I wouldn’t call him a coward, it wouldn’t be cowardice to flee from our combined force. Ekaida is effectively fearless.”

Max nodded. “So we’ll only be there for a moment.” He looked at the adept leaning on his arm. “You ready to give Travesty a black eye, Victor?”

Determination won out in the Rift master’s expression. “You have no idea, Max. Everyone gather close.” The Ghost Dragon and the Weaver walked up to Victor, who held up his free hand and swept it over the quartet. A gateway formed overhead, then swept down, and they were gone.

Written by Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan was born in the Bronx, New York, giving him the right to root for the Yankees while making less than six figures. After a long, largely pleasant interregnum in suburban Connecticut, he moved to the Inland Empire, California to be with his wonderful wife and muse, a stepson, and a crazed feline. An occasionally too-avid player of and writer for tabletop roleplaying games, his other passion is metaphysics, which informs most of his fiction.

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