The Year of Dreaming Dangerously

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Hang Foy saw himself struggling to resist a rising tide, defending a bridge aflame, ward off enemies attacking him with sticks and axes, and jumping on various rising and sinking poles. He saw the Forbidden City, the Pagoda of Fear, and formidable opponents to defeat. He saw his sister struggling for survival in deep dungeons under the emperor's Pagoda. He saw all this in what may have been but half a minute. Then, the pictures faded away into the air and the old Mandarin gently floated down back to the ground.

The Thoughtstone assumed its familiar shining again. But just before the Mandarin opened his eyes again, it seemed as though someone else, someone invisible or someone appearing in the leftover of one of the visages, shouted something through the room in a dark and threatening voice.

When the Mandarin finally opened his eyes, Hang Foy could see they were filled with dread and fear. Why did it have to come to this? What are these Chambers of Shao-Lin?

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Nobody has done that ever, and even all the Mandarins in this Pagoda of Knowledge know nothing more about it than that which you have just seen in vision. All that is known is that someone has to conquer the Chambers of Shao-Lin and fight several fierce opponents. Though he wasn't a particular hero, the life of his sister Leia Sing meant everything to him.

A long time ago, a mystic world of wizardry and magic existed - in which thinking and handling was only controlled by power together with the mind. This tale tells something about this world, and lets us meet some of its inhabitants. A deafening silence ruled the old master's room. It seemed almost palpable, and his student, Arbolan, didn't really know whether he felt comfortable or not - whether his rather inexplicable feelings where those of anxiety or relaxation.

Never before have you been able to learn as much as you will be able to learn now. With remarkable speed, the old master had preceded Arbolan from the city library to a dungeon-like room in the cellar of the wizard's house, several miles outside the city limits. Normally, this room used to be securely locked but now the door was ajar as they arrived, and a deep orange light could be seen to come from beyond it. He refrained from asking questions, feeling instinctively that they would be answered at a later time during that day anyway.

The room seemed vaulted, as though it was but the corridor to an even more obscure room further down. Cobwebs hung down the arched ceiling, of which some stroked along his face and the magician's as they walked. Sounds of water dripping from the curves were clearly audible, and the dancing shadows caused by several flickering candles and torches made the dungeon appear ghostly. Arbolan had seen mystic things in his career as a student of the old master, and he had read about things even worse - but this beat it all. As his eyes grew used to the dim light, he carefully observed the things standing in the room and hanging on its rough stone walls.

There were several shelves clung to them, on which small pots and jars stood.

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Most of them were covered by thick layers of dust, but ofttimes the labels stating the contents were still discernible - there were jars containing lizard tails, spider eggs, bat wings and fox eyes, whereas the pots mostly contained powders that could cure and, indeed, cause various illnesses. Largest part of the dungeon was dedicated to a black cauldron; a large pot presumably made of iron that was on four sides surrounded by candles that hesitantly threw their light on it.

Although Arbolan didn't see a fire or any such thing burning under the pot, the liquid in it still seemed to be boiling. The fumes that arose from it reminded him of his younger hangover days, and he had some initial trouble breathing as the scent seemed to grasp his lungs like if a spirit was trying to prevent the foul air from ever leaving his body again.

The wizard told him to sit down and be silent. Far too near to the cauldron, as far as Arbolan was concerned. He was beginning to understand why the people considered wizard to be a rather weird profession, and why the magician's house was built outside the city limits. The look in the magician's eyes sent shivers down Arbolan's spine.

It was the you-know-what-happens-if-you-don't-listen-look. And, indeed, Arbolan knew what was going to happen if he didn't indeed keep his mouth shut and if he didn't indeed remain seated on the small wooden stool he was placed upon - even though this happened to be located so near to that awfully smelly kettle.

To become a wizard, one had to be a pupil at a well known magician's for twelve years in a row. And after having successfully gone through that, one had to take an exam, so to say - one had to conquer the complex labyrinth of Jambala with the cities lying in there.

Only few returned from this mysterious and seemingly dangerous labyrinth, and none of those who had eventually returned from it were liable to speak of it - as though a sacred oath prevented them from doing so. Performing this task was even far beyond the capabilities of most accomplished students, let alone for someone like himself - who had only been tought the basics of magic in the few years he had been tought by the old master.

It would mean sure death, yet there was still hope for him, might he end up to do something that would cause the wrath of his tutor to be unleashed upon him - which would surely make him undertake this quest at a somewhat preliminary date: The magic wand. There were ancient legends being told of this wand. In the days before his age - and probably even before that of the old master - there was an omnipotent magician that got his considerable power from a magic stick wrought by even older races of mankind that were the purest incarnation of wizardry themselves.

Some way or another - not even the legends care to tell exactly how, why and when - this race became extinct and the magic wand they had created was lost for many centuries. Around that time, a simple carpenter roamed the forests around his native place and quite simply found it in the innards of a cave - how the magic wand got there, the legend again fails to explain. He became Linmer the Magic One - even up to know the most powerful wizard ever to have lived on the whole of the earth.

He was no bad wizard, and even though he by far surpassed the other magicians in the guild, he still agreed to perform the regular exam all wizards had to undertake. He agreed to conquer the labyrinth and the cities of Jambala. Even though nobody questioned his power and abilities, he was never heard of again. He might have been the most powerful wizard ever to have lived on the whole of the earth - but he had been so only for a very short time.

The legend now tells that his magic wand, broken in seven pieces, was scattered within the labyrinth. He who would be able to retrieve the individual pieces and put them correctly together to form the whole magic wand again, would be given unimaginable powers - powers that would greatly enlarge his chances of surviving, and indeed leaving the labyrinth.

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Only with the help of the magic wand, a relatively inexperienced student like Arbolan would be able to successfully complete the task in the more than likely event that the old master would cast him in the labyrinth on the aforemeant preliminary date. For Arbolan knew himself.

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He was always eager to learn, but also eager to talk and intervene. More than once, he had imperilled his life and that of his tutor by striving to "improve" spells or potions; and last time the old master had told him that "next time The decisive look in the old man's eyes was unmistakable. This was no bluff. The old man meant it. Every hair of his long grey beard radiated with anger; every square millimetre of his pupils radiated with anger.

His skin had become very red. He had meant it, all right. Arbolan knew himself, and therefore he aimed to be very careful - especially today, now "something big was going to happen".

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He was also kind of inquisitive to what his tutor referred to as "big". He had never called changing lead into gold "big", and not even turning frogs into beautiful fair-haired princesses and worthy courageous princes this varied according to their original sex.

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Arbolan watched carefully as the old master took some ingredients off the shelves and cast them all in the fluid that was zealously boiling in the cauldron. The fumes became instantly dark, yet seemed to vanish quicker now. Arbolan now saw that they were sucked into an exhaust pipe located at the far end of the vaulted chamber. The horrible scent also seemed to lift, and with relief the young pupil breathed the fresher air deep in his lungs. At least, he needn't be afraid of fainting now anymore. He stood up from his small wooden stool, trying to get a better look of what the old master was doing, who had now taken a big book with faded yellow and light brown pages clad with dust and written on in a kind of writing Arbolan only recognised a few basic words of.

The old wizard didn't actually read them; his eyes were closed as if meditating, deep in thought. Arbolan leaned over and got a clear look of the page. Some of the words he recognised concerned "cauldrons", "potions", "ingredients" and "dust". Though, of course, this didn't clarify much even to a student of the mysterious science of magic.

The old master opened his eyes now and turned over a few pages. Dust fell off the paper, that seemed to be brittle and ancient. Arbolan for a moment had to take care not to sneeze - doing that would probably cause the book to evaporate into thousands of little fragments that even the old master's magic would not be able to put back together again. Lucky for the young student, he succeeded in withdrawing the urge. He was quite considerably relieved at that - since sneezing had no doubt made sure he would have ended up in the labyrinth of Jambala before he would have been able to say "Arfle Barfle Goob!?

He sat back, and transferred his weight to a sturdy-looking wooden lever on the wall. Which he probably should better not have done, for in spite of its rusted hinged and sturdy looks, it gave way with quite a remarkable ease that stunned him witless. Neither Arbolan nor the old master could tell precisely what happened then, as the vaulted room was instantaneously transmuted into something that was as black as anything could possibly be black - in purest and deepest darkness imaginable.

It was as if the candles and torches had all gone out in that same instant without any obvious cause - which they probably had. He could sense nothing except for cursing in some ancient tongue in which he only now and again recognised his own name. The cursing grew dim and distant as Arbolan lost consciousness. Arbolan awoke after what seemed to him like seconds later - but which could easily have been minutes, hours, or even days. The angry words of his old tutor, even though he had not been able to understand any of them, echoed literally through his head as he regained full consciousness again.

After the dark veil had seemed to dissolve itself before his eyes, the only thing he could become aware of was a thick wall before him - not unlike the walls of his tutor's dungeon he had been in, but even older and more grey. In that wall was a small door with iron ornaments on it. It opened - autonomous, so it seemed, and next thing he felt was that he was being sucked into whatever was behind its dark opening by powers unknown to him.

Even before he truly knew what had happened, he was on the other side of the old grey wall. The door had closed behind him. Although Arbolan didn't quite know what had happened to him, he kind of guessed what had become of him, and how people generally named the place he was in now The Seven Gates of Jambala. The background novel for a game by Thalion software called A Prehistoric Tale.

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Although the actual game was to be released more than a year later, this novel was already written in December When he regained consciousness, the timetraveller shook his head and moaned. He immediately felt a mindsmashing headache, throbbing through his head as if it wanted the very bones of his skull to burst at every single heart's beat. He once more swore never ever to do it again. As his senses focused on the sights and sounds around him, he noticed that he was indeed teleported and even warped to the era he was supposed to be teleported and indeed warped to: The Jurassic era, a massive million years ago - there were ferns as high as three-storey flats, and all kinds of flowers that were to die out at the end of the Cretaceous era, about 65 million years ago.