Into the Light (Axe Druid Book 1), page 1
INTO THE LIGHT
Book One of the AXE DRUID Series
Written by Christopher Johns
© 2019 Mountaindale Press. All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except as permitted by US copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
About Christopher Johns
About Mountaindale Press
Mountaindale Press Titles
GameLit and LitRPG
And The Ugly
In loving memory of Jaken “Warmecht” Fox, loving and doting father, friend, and confidant. I hope that your little moon can someday know the man I did.
We miss you, bud.
Thank you to Nick Kuhns, Jay Taylor, and Lucas Luvith for your amazing editing skills! You guys are some serious editing monsters, and I truly appreciate your willingness to slog through my world with me.
I would like to thank the lovely folks at the GameLit Society for being there to help me along and supporting my dream alongside me. That, and giving me plenty to do!
Thank you to all my supporters, my awesome friends—without whom this book would never have been possible—and my loving fiancée for constantly telling me I can do it.
Specifically, to a certain Mr. Wilson, who for the entirety of this series has acted as that neighbor over the fence. Giving odd wisdom, insight and support in your own way since the beginning. You are a light, sir. And not nearly as dim as you portray yourself to be. With deep respect and profound—and surprising—kinship in this new world. Thank you. You know who you are.
You all rock.
“Hey, man. Wasn’t Aaron supposed to be getting on tonight?” I asked into the headset. A quick button press and my character dove into a forward-shoulder roll.
The in-game knights we were fighting were difficult, and dodging was the easiest way to defend. I growled as another of the hulking suits of armor stepped forward, entered the fray, and swung at me. I must have walked inside his aggro—aggressive action—range and pulled his attention.
“You know how he can be sometimes, man,” Erik’s voice filtered through the speaker over my left ear. “He’s so busy with life, his lady, and trying to get his shit in order that we don’t hear from him for days on end. Things have been different since we got out. You know how it is.”
I nodded, as I thought. He’s right.
I had met Erik in the Marine Corps through a friend in my shop. Shop was a common term for any kind of small, business-like unit like ours, as public affairs Marines. As soon as we had met, it had been a fast friendship, simply because we had so much in common: interests and humor, what set us both off, and a love of photography, stories and of course, video games. Over the years, we had become brothers; hell, he’d even saved my life when I had hit a truly low point in my career.
So, here in this dank, blood-drenched cathedral of turmoil and suffering, we did what we did best: killed shit, looted, and kept trucking along. This was our way of bonding and staying in touch—video games. After a while, he had introduced me to Aaron, another Marine, who shared most of our same interests. We had been gaming together ever since.
We spent another minute or so mopping the knights up and healing before moving on. These types of games were great at first; everything was so new and intense that you can’t help but be lost to the enchantment of it. But this was my second—or was it third?—time through this one area, and it was getting a little tedious. Hell, half this area in the game had been one “back-turn, secret hallway, here’s-the-thing-you-didn’t-know-you-needed-to-do fun.” So much fun. Don’t know why I let Erik talk me into these kinds of games; as fun as they were, they had some seriously scary bits in there, like when monsters, mimics, and other numerous assholes would just pop out on you and kill you in the most gruesome ways possible. Mmm, wholesome fun.
“You saw your boy today, right?”
Erik’s voice brought me out of my small reverie, and I had to sprint away from the giant we had just started fighting. I’d retreated in order to get a better vantage point. It wasn’t working.
“Yeah, man, took him to the park today,” I said as I backed into a wall, then sprinted through the giant’s legs. “He made a new friend with some little boy who doesn’t like to climb very much, so he was showing off.”
I’d spent the day with my son, the rambunctious, four-year-old boy running and playing at the park while I observed and encouraged him to try and make friends, climbing all over the jungle gym and giggling as I shook it a bit. Spending time with him was a joy, and I looked forward to seeing him again soon.
“Good shit, brother.” I had to dodge once more and swung my great axe into the creature’s leg. “I’m glad you’re getting to spend some more time with him, man. I sent Aaron a text, still no response.”
“Well, wherever he is, I hope he knows we are about to royally fuck this mini-boss up.” I pushed my character forward a bit and dodged another blow from the giant. “Fuck, man. You wanna grab some hate? This guy has been riding my ass this whole fight, and he hasn’t even hinted at dinner.”
“Nah, son, you got it. Lemme get some time to heal real fast.” Erik’s character, a thin male with a katana in hand, drank from a flask before he headed towards the boss. “You have that dream again, man?”
I grunted as the giant we were fighting smacked me back and into some ooze. Slimes began to materialize from the liquid disgustingness and slowly glide toward me… if I couldn’t get out fast enough, those little bastards would gang up on me and kill me. Not to mention they were ugly as sin. Their slime-like bodies were taking on grotesque and misshapen limbs that dripped and grasped at me, and fuck if I wanted that on my beautiful avatar.
“I did a few days ago, but it’s always just before my damned alarm goes off.” I tried to heal but got smacked again; my health had taken a beating. I was closer to dying than I was comfortable with.
“Gotta heal, man,” I warned Erik.
He slashed at the giant’s ankle and threw
A name popped up on the screen in the upper left corner, and my friend Jake, recent father and newest friend to our gaming circle, jumped into our chat.
“What’s the haps, ladies?” His almost surfer-like voice flooded our ears, and I smiled.
“Killin’ shit, puto, you?” Erik joked. “You gonna get on at all man?”
“I’ve gotta put little Luna to bed. She’s been kinda fussy, but it’s cool.” Jake yawned and cooed to his daughter. We could hear her gurgling happily on the other end. “I’ll be on in a little bit, though. Y’all still gonna be on?”
“I will be for a bit, but I gotta work tomorrow.” I whooped as I watched the giant’s health drop by a decent chunk when my flaming great axe hit his leg. “I’ll be on after that, though. How about you, Erik?”
“I will be for a bit, but I gotta go do a thing with the wife tomorrow, I think. Leave or not, life doesn’t wait.” His normal tone became a bellow, “SHIT, GET THAT FUCKER.”
I panned my view to the left; a small, goblin-like creature was running up behind Erik’s character brandishing a jagged and rusted blade with teeth hanging off the pommel. A globule of flame flew from my left hand and hit it squarely on the chest. While it was stunned, I moved in on it and whacked it with my weapon once to end its pathetic existence.
“Got him. Here comes the rain of flame,” I informed my partner and turned on the giant, his last quarter of life ebbing from the bar above his head. It began to swing the club in its fist as Erik dodged and I threw fireball after fireball. Finally, it fell to its knees and disappeared.
“HELL YEAH, BABY!” Erik and I shouted together.
He followed it up with, “That’s what you get for fucking with the Overlord, man. You should’ve told him, bro.”
“He didn’t know,” I shrugged and stated theatrically. “They all think that just because they’re the size of a gigantic cathedral that we aren’t gonna start some shit when they talk smack.”
“You guys are nuts,” Jake said. I heard Luna in the background starting to try and fight sleep a little. “Talk about the dream at all?”
“Yeah, he had it a few days ago,” Erik informed him cautiously. “Wait, you know about it?”
“Yeah, he told me about it last night while he was helping me get through the last area you all had already cleared. I’ve been having a weird dream too, but it doesn’t sound exactly like the one you guys are having.”
All of us had had some kind of weird dream lately: someone was calling out for help. I had heard it in some nightmares, so I hadn’t thought anything new of it—but it was a little weird when it happened during a dream about being able to fly. Aaron had mentioned he had experienced a similar dream too, but since he was always so busy, we hadn’t had time to discuss it much.
“That’s wild, bro.” I couldn’t help nodding at Jake’s observation. Still, I needed to change the subject. It seemed like the more I discussed the dream or any dreams, for that matter, the more likely I was to have nightmares. Not that it mattered anyway—they were the most common thing I had going for me.
“Yo, I saw Jake—not you, ya big lug, the other one—and Evan at the gym today,” I said as I stretched out my hands a bit. “Jake plays this game as well, and he’s not too far off from where we are. Evan said that he would be getting it this paycheck so he could join in.”
“Right on, man,” Jake, Fox was his last name and what we called him if we played when the other Jake was online with us, sounded pleased. “What did you work today, man?”
“Cool!” Erik droned a bit, cutting me off before I spoke. “More people to play with since your ass is never online when I am.”
“Hey, man, I can’t help that my life is nuts, okay?” I teased him back. “And I hit up some shoulders and back. Got a new personal best on shrugs, four hundred pounds.”
“Tight, man!” I could hear Jake clap on his side of the mic, and his daughter giggled.
“Yeah, yeah,” Erik remarked. “If you were as good at gaming as you are lifting, you might be less of a scrub!”
Neither of us held it against the other when we couldn’t play. It was just our way of showing brotherly affection. His schedule was almost as screwy as my own, but his joke at the end there had been what made me laugh the hardest. That was what we did; we ragged on each other. I muttered some choice curse words in his direction, and Jake started laughing.
“Well, you better fucking game it up this weekend fool,” Erik warned. “Cause you know we’re getting all the loot, kicking ass, and saving the day.”
The three of us laughed, and we started to move through and systematically clear the area while we waited for Jake to finish what he was doing. This was why I gamed. These were my people, and damn if I didn’t fucking love these assholes.
* * *
That night, I had the dream about the voice again. It called, but I was just in a dark room. It sounded a lot closer than it ever had before, but I still couldn’t make out every word. It was like trying to listen to a radio in the car when there are multiple stations broadcasting on the same frequency. The sound would cut in-and-out, and it got garbled in the rest of the sounds.
My alarm chirped at me from beside my head, and I woke up with a groan. All I had to do was make it through my shift, not let anyone die, and then come home to game with the boys. But first, the gym. I packed my work polo, khakis, fresh socks, and briefs in my bag, followed by a towel and dressed for success in some shorts and my Viking-inspired t-shirt that said something to the effect of, “Your prince is my prey.”
The gym was only a half hour drive, so I threw some tunes onto my phone and let the bass of crashing metal smooth my still-curious mind and my nerves. I tried to shuffle my shoulders a bit to relieve a bit of the tension as the houses on the side of the road blurred by.
I parked my car in the gym lot and walked inside. A few people were there, some on the elliptical machines and treadmills. I waved to the manager, and she smiled back.
“Hey, man!” A stout guy about my height at five-foot-six with a nice beard, a faded haircut, and man-bun waved at me from behind the other side of the counter. “How’s it going?”
“Not bad, Evan,” I grinned at him and stuck a fist out. “How you doin’? Work okay? Has the gym been busy?”
Evan was the quietest of the group. That didn’t mean he was shy or that he wasn’t important; he just knew when the time was right to speak up. He was observant and thoughtful, most times, but when he did decide to join a conversation, you’d either laugh or have your mind blown. The guy knows his stuff and has a lot of passion for his hobbies and interests.
“I can’t complain too much. Work is work, and you know how the gym gets this time of day. Though, I didn’t sleep too well last night. I’m sure you know how that is. You usually have trouble sleeping, right?”
I nodded. It was true; between the dream and the nightmares that seemed more prevalent after the Corps, sleep was broken at best. At worst—I stayed asleep and had to endure what I was seeing.
“Yeah, that’s what leg day is for, bud. Give the nightmares no chance to run!”
We both chuckled, and he pointed to my other buddy, skinny, fit, and funny as hell— that was Jake. They both wore their purple gym work shirts and khaki shorts, and you could tell they worked out. Jake’s curly hair bounced as he walked around near the spray bottles with a jug. Somebody had to refill them, right?
“Yo, Jake!” I waved over to him and he smiled back. Every now and again, we would all meet up here and have a meeting of the minds. Usually about a new song from a favorite band, a new game, or the newest movie. We all had a lot in common—hence the friendship. He had the beginnings of bags under his eyes, some dark circles. Was there something going around or what?
“Whattup broham?” A resounding clap rang out from our high-five greeting. “Leg day?”
The man had almost no trouble making conversation with anyone. Probably why we got along so well, having that in common. Well, that and an unhealthy love of quoting random songs, games, movies and other pop culture.
“Go get it!” He chuckled. “We can chat about that game between sets and see how best we can get Evan here all caught up. Maximum Effort!”
I gave him and his best friend a thumbs up before turning toward the free weights and smith machines. I loaded my favorite smith machine with a few forty-five-pound plates on each side and tightened my black weightlifting belt. With my lower back problems, it helped a lot to have it on while I squatted. Then I switched to the leg press machine, racked my usual dozen forty-fives, six on each side, and began my warm-ups.
After I was good and sore, then freshly showered, I spent the next eight hours at work. Never really a bad time. I liked my coworkers, helping people is worthwhile, and there are long stretches where I may not have to talk to anyone. It was downright lovely at times for a desk job.
Once work was complete and my relief had arrived, I was on my way home to play. Erik and I got Fox all caught up to us after several hours of turmoil and struggle before it was time to go to bed. It was my weekend, and I was planning to try and sleep as best as I could. Hell, I even threw in a couple of melatonin chews to keep me asleep. Well, at least, I hoped it would help a little bit. We would see how that turned out. I laid there on my bed, staring at the ceiling for a little while, surrounded by pillows and waiting for slumber to take me as it normally did.
“Help us, traveler,” the otherworldly and almost androgynous voice pleaded. “Our world can yet be saved, but the window is closing. You must make your choice. Will you come?”
I stood there, basked in a pale blue light, waiting for my phone’s alarm to wake me up for a day of gaming and general tomfoolery with my friends—but it never rang.
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