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Down in the Dungeon by A. J. Walker (Fantasy Short Story Anthology)

Down in the Dungeon by A. J. Walker (Fantasy Short Story Anthology)
 
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The orcs of Grimwood summon an ancient evil. . .
A mountaineering expedition to retrieve a griffin's egg goes horribly wrong, at least for most of the climbers. . .
A soldier begins to believe his commander is not what he seems. . .
A dungeon door poses a problem for an experienced party of adventurers. . .
A unique trap appears to be inescapable, but for one desperate plan. . .

Here are five tales set in the good old days of fantasy gaming, when friends sat around the kitchen table late into the night rolling dice and sharing adventures. Relive the spirit of the past (or even the present!) with stories of epic combat and base trickery, stories that any adventurer would be proud to tell over a mug of ale at the local tavern. Includes the short story The Trap, co-written by special guest author Tony Rudzki.

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Night Owl Reviews (http://www.nightowlreviews.com/nor/Reviews/A-M-Donovan-reviews-Down-In-The-Dungeon-by-AJ-Walker.aspx)
This is an enjoyable 50 page collection of short stories by someone who has fond memories of late nights with friends, rolling the dice and using our imaginations. Hey, it worked for Dragon Lance.

He reveals a wicked sense of humor while telling stories of battles between good and evil, adventure, skull duggery and daring do.

Like with real life, good does not always win, but likewise, sometimes evil does good. Wither to prevent a greater evil (or quite by accident).
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Sample Chapter

Introduction

A group of teenagers sit around a dimly lit table, the clatter of dice echoing through the otherwise darkened house. One of them hunches behind a cardboard screen decorated with fire-breathing dragons and other fell beasts, telling his excited audience of the dank tunnels and monster-filled rooms their characters are exploring. The others reply in various voices, taking on the personae of fearless warriors, wise mages, and crafty thieves.

For many fantasy readers and writers, these late-night gaming sessions are fond memories, whether of the past decade or the past weekend. When I started gaming in the late Seventies, there was a wealth of small magazines devoted to the hobby. Some like the Dragon were glossy, but most were offset, like the Dungeoneer and Pegasus, or photocopied, like Abyss and Alarums and Excursions. They included gaming tips and ideas, which I eagerly lapped up for my own campaigns, but they also included gaming fiction, narrative accounts of adventures played or imagined.

This style of fiction has fallen by the wayside, as have most of the old gaming magazines. Even the fabled Dragon has closed its doors. But for this writer the pull of these old memories is a strong one, and this collection of stories and novelettes is the result. A few are based on dim memories of games dating back twenty years or more, while others are completely my own creation.

This collection of stories aspires to recreate those days, when gangly teenagers could slay dragons and save fair maidens, before the ravages of time and the responsibilities of adulthood turned quests into jobs, and treasure into paychecks. Those heroes of yesterday are now parents and employees, but the joy of the adventure will remain forever in their hearts.

I hope these tales will bring back some of those old times for you. They have for me.

I'm planning to create a second volume, Down in the Dungeon II, which will include work from other writers as well as my own. If you have some fiction that you think would make a good fit, even if it's a reprint, please contact me.

Ghosts of the Crimson Claw

The wood elf slid silently through the thick undergrowth, moving slowly so as not to make the slightest noise. His uniform of emerald green and wood brown blended with the scenery. A golden griffin embroidered on the shoulder of his shirt showed that he was a member of the Overlord's Forest Guard.

He remained all but invisible as he crept under bushes and around trees, using the lush foliage of Grimwood to its full advantage. He crept up to a small group of humans waiting anxiously in a thicket.

"About sixty," he whispered. "Camped just over the next ridge to the north. A few archers as sentries, the rest crowded together."

His four companions nodded. One was dressed like the elf. The griffin patch at his shoulder was circled in crimson to denote a member of the Overlord's Rangers. He was a wiry man, as hard and resilient as a young sapling. Next to him crouched an older man in flowing green robes. He had long flaxen hair and a full beard of the same hue. His wise eyes spoke of a man of learning, and a corded necklace of mistletoe showed him to be a druid. Behind him sat a thinner man, also in robes. Instead of the forest green worn by the other two, his were of sky blue. He had a far away look in his eyes, as if he was listening to something that he could barely hear. Every now and then his lips would move to form words, but no sound came from his throat.

Next to this man stood the fourth--a burly human with piercing gray eyes and a deep scar running across his jaw. He wore the uniform of the Overlord's regular army. Instead of the leather jerkins worn by the others, he had on a full suit of scale mail. Iron greaves protected his legs. His left arm gripped a large wooden shield. His red robe, laced with silver thread, showed him to be a Tenththrong leader, a commander of fifty men. His name was Garand. Being of common stock, he had no family name worth recording. Unlike many officers in the Overlord's ranks, who had bought their positions with their family's influence, Garand had earned his rank with his steadiness of mind and the strength of his sword arm. It was to this man the elf spoke.

The officer furrowed his brow in thought before replying. "Welwyn, take the other three elven scouts and make your way up to the ridge a bit to the east. You will provide cover for our assault. I'll take four squads of my men over the ridge and attack. The fifth will work their way around behind them and cut off their retreat." He turned to the other men.

"Marsilio, Dranath, and Iamblichus," he addressed the ranger, mage, and druid respectively, "You will position yourselves on the western edge of the ridge and provide crossfire. Marsilio, use your bow. Dranath and Iamblichus, use whatever spells you deem necessary, but don't use too much power unless we run into trouble. I don't want you exhausted by the first attack, as we might run into reinforcements."

The men nodded and slipped off to take their positions. The officer crept back a few hundred yards to a small glade where fifty soldiers crouched. Like him, all were heavily armed and armored. Each wore a full shirt of chainmail, high leather boots, and an open steel helm. They all carried a short, broad-bladed spear, well balanced for throwing and stout enough for close combat. Each also carried a sword and dagger sheathed at their sides. Their shields bore the golden griffin insignia of the Overlord.

A few whispered instructions to the soldiers were enough for them to spring into action. A squad of ten men hurried off into the woods, working their way to the northeast in a long circle that would bring them around the ridge and behind the camp the elf had mentioned. The other forty broke into units and lined up a spear's length apart. Then, with a silence one would not think possible for so many armored men, they crept to the north.

A few minutes later, the officer peered cautiously over the ridge. Barely forty yards beyond, he spied several campfires. Around them huddled the hunched, dark forms of orcs wearing a variety of armor, from boiled leather breastplates to crudely fashioned chainmail. Several drank from wineskins, their toothy mouths and cracked lips sucking greedily from the spouts. Some sharpened their weapons--cruel scimitars and heavy, spiked maces. Another group turned a large side of meat over a spit. The officer could smell the pungent odor of burning flesh even at a distance. He squinted and examined their meal. The meat looked about four feet long, a bit big for an otter and too thin to be a boar, he thought. It wasn't a deer, either. It didn't look like any animal he knew. It took him a moment to figure out why.

Whatever it was, it had once walked on two legs.

The officer scanned the nearby woods. He could pick out a few orc sentries armed with bows hiding in the underbrush. One had been positioned on the ridge along which his men now formed up. That orc lay a few feet behind him, his throat slit.

The officer looked to his left and right. He couldn't see his companions on either flank, but he knew they'd be in position. For five years he had been patrolling these woods at the edge of the Overlord's demesne, and they had never let him down. He turned and gave a signal to his men. The first unit of ten men crept to the crest of the ridge.

"Go!" he barked.

As one man, they rose and charged down the ridge.

A sentry gave a shout and the orcs sprang for their weapons. Just then the officer heard a twanging of bowstrings from eastern edge of the ridge. Four orcs dropped to the ground. His elven scouts had taken first blood. Turning to the left, he could see the ranger Marsilio rise and add his fire to the fray.

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