Maximus Minimized

So there we were, overlooking the streets of the great flying castle-city. It was clear that we didn't have much time before Goothum's destruction, so we opted to make haste. D'arcy jumped through the window, and Tibles cast an obscuring cloud on the square outside. The place was lousy with Bishkan soldiers, so we wanted to make as little a stir as possible.
We jumped down after him, and Tibles tried to open a portal to the other end of town to knock a chunk of time off our transit, but something went wrong. A purple smoke started to rise from him, and the spell went haywire. Instead of a dimension door, we got something worse. A big red portal opened up over the haze, and something dropped out of it.

We heard screams, and the Bishkan soldiers were dropping like flies in there. Tibles' magic had malfunctioned, it seemed. He'd summoned something or other. Suddenly it was eerily quiet. And cold.
And then, disaster struck. Out of the fog came a greatclub of black metal, adamantine presumably. It hit D'arcy straight on the noggin, and left a lot more than a bruise. One minute I'm looking at D'arcy, ready to take the hit, and the the next, he's a bloody pancake, falling off the club.

Fighting wasn't an option. We had to run. Tibles tried to grab some remnant of our fallen comrade - a headband and a holy symbol were all he could nab before I tackled him off the edge of the street. Being that it was a flying city, and we were on the edge, we started to plummet. Luckily, the one I was plummeting with was well versed in the arcane, and knew exactly what to do. In an instant, I had sprouted wings, and was carrying my caster towards the tower on the far end of the fortress, where Maximus was holed up.

But of course, nothing could ever be that easy. A portal opened directly in front of us, and I didn't have time to slow before we cannoned through it. We found ourselves inside the city once again, in a sub-basement. And the thing that killed D'arcy was chasing us. Tibles said it was a Demon Lord that went by the name of Naal. It showed up whenever a new greater demon was birthed.

Either way, we booked it. And man, did we book it hard. Naal chased us across rooftops, over gaps, through secret passages, construction sites, you name it. I got cornered in front of a portcullis. Tibles showed up just in time to open it from the other side and drag me through, and we ran until we found a building to hide in.

We bolted through the door, and then slammed it behind us, and piled up as much furniture in front of it as could physically be possible. We sat there panting for a sec before realizing we'd just entered a fully occupied Bishkan bar. There were at least twenty soldiers brandishing spears at us. What was stranger, was that they were playing pin the tail on the halfling, and Peregrine was the halfling.

I picked Tibles up and held him like a powder cannon. "Nobody move," I said. "this thing's loaded."
I got laughed at.
I put the wizard down.

We didn't have much time. Tibles cast a spell, and in a second, the entire pub was leveled, and all the guards were dead. I didn't ask him how he did it. He always gets technical when you ask him. We freed Peregrine and his wolf, made some amends, and then realized we were right outside Maximus's tower.

When we headed inside, we found ourselves in an antechamber, with giant statues holding up the ceiling. Maximus was on the other end of the room, but there was another of those force field things blocking our way to him. We yelled back and forth, and eventually got the impression that he wasn't plannin on stopping what he was doing. Things looked bad.

And then, he interrupted us and pointed up at the ceiling. We heard a cry of pain, and none other than Mersh fell from the ceiling. Apparently he'd been spying on Maximus for a while now. He challenged Maximus to a duel, and to everyone's surprise, Maximus accepted. He took one of the swords from his companion, Kenchi, and faced our rogue.

And against all expectations, Mersh managed to pull through. He stabbed Maximus through the gut, and the man crumpled. Mersh looked like he couldn't believe his luck. He turned to us, said "I can't believe it! I won! I actually—" and got a sword through his upper torso. Maximus had stood up, a demonic glint in his eye. He opened a jar - the same one that held Moira's soul, and sealed away Mersh's life essence as well. It was then that we understood; the demon lord Naal had shown up for this man. Maximus was the vessel for bringing a new demon into the world.

Maximus retired to his chamber, but not before ordering Kenchi to kill us, and animating the statues around the room. We were missing our gear, and in no condition to fight, so we made our way out of there pretty quickly. We managed to just get out of the room fast enough for Tibles to blow the ceiling supports and collapse the whole antechamber.

We entered the office of Maximus, and confronted the man. He was sweating; in a state of agony. The demon was attempting to take him over. We made our demands, got our gear back, and were told that if we wanted to have any hope of stopping the evils that were being committed, we would have to enter Maximus's world.

He pulled out a snowglobe, shook it, and threw it. It shattered on the tiles, and opened another sort of portal, which dragged us all in.

At first all I saw was darkness, and then, I was falling. I did all I could do - I screamed all the way down. I landed in a snowbank, puzzlingly uninjured, and lit a cigar. Suddenly I was outdoors, it was winter, and I was beside a road that wove through the forest. Despite being seated in a snowbank, it was strangely warm out.

I was ripped from my thoughts when I saw a familiar face. Strolling down the path was a Tiefling that I recognized as Wilward Jones - alive, and… and… whistling. I crept up to him, and demanded to know what the hell was going on. He looked taken aback, and tried to talk his way out of my assertions by pretending he had no idea who I was or why I was calling him the foul spawn of the pit.

I was interrupted again when I saw none other than Coheed Jones strolling up the path to meet us as well. I did what any sane man would - I hid. When I was sure that all suspicion had subsided, I followed Wilward and Coheed back to a small village with a wall around it, and snuck inside.

Peregrine was in the square, shouting at Maximus. Maximus was doubled over in confusion and terror with an arrow sticking out of his arm. All around, a crowd was gathering, and all the faces were familiar. There was every sister of the Airalin family - even Coraline and Liesel, the two sisters that were killed by Maximus! There was Krogan, and D'arcy, and Winfrey. And what was weirder; none of them recognized us at all. Peregrine and I stood back to back in the square, unable to figure out our next moves.

And then Tibles rounded the corner, accompanied by Mersh and none other than Alexis Machine. And all hell nearly broke loose.

Tibles explained that we'd been plonked into a pocket dimension, and these were the spirits of people from the real world. Maximus, apparently, had only wanted peace, and when the benefactor demon had granted him a demiplane, this is what was created. We had seen another like this: Crowley's demiplane was the lair of Krampus, the demon of solstice.

In any case, Mersh couldn't remember who he was, and all these would-be villains were living together in harmony. Maximus led us into the courthouse to explain the living situations here in the walled village.

Nobody dared venture out of the walls at night, due to some terrible and indescribable horrors. Apparently Coheed had lost his wife, Teresa, when she ventured outside. Lovely. We found Moira in the town, though she didn't have any memory of us. D'arcy as well, but that wound was still fresh. We didn't try to talk to him.

Finally, the resolution was made that we would spend the night in Coheed's Inn, and then seek some place called "The Cavern of Souls" in the morning. There we would find answers, we were told.

Peregrine set up a tent just by the wall, and I bedded down where his wolf Doug usually sleeps. We still hadn't found the beast since coming here. I didn't trust Coheed as a host, and I trust the town itself even less. I'd be keeping my guard up, that was for sure.

In the morning, we would set out for the Cavern of Souls, and hopefully get some answers.

—Richard J. Buckles

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