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Astral Danger

by David Grant
 
Brief Fiction

It was unusually cold tonight. I pulled the coat more closely around me as I took my nightly walk through the bush. I almost thought that it would have been better to stay at home, beside the warmth of the open hearth, but then I guess I got into a bit of a pattern.

It was still damp all around me, but tonight, it seemed drier than usual. I wondered if perhaps the canopy of leaves above me were having an effect.

Yet the cold was still biting, and try as I might, I could not gain warmth as even without wind, the icy tendrils would still find there way through each crack or hole in my garments.

That was when the realisation hit me. How would the cold get through non-existant holes when there was no wind to carry it?

The harsh chill was clearly more than natural, and something was leeching energy from my body in this place, on this particular night.

I hurried home, the chill ever present and even the extended activity did not bring warmth back to my limbs. My fingers felt as if they should be purple by now, yet when I returned, they were coloured evenly as they always were,

That confirmed my fears.

Something had latched onto me and the effect was being felt already in my mind long before the physical body was showing symptoms.

After briefly checking the thermometer inside, I doused the open flames, cleared a three metre circle in my living room, and set down a basic blanket in the middle, with a thin cushion. I needed to find out what it was that was attacking me and I needed to know now. My physical body was beginning to go numb, and that could only mean an attack on my etheric body was already well underway.

I layed down on the thin mattress, facing north/south. Some of my friends would have done more. Would have built up the ground around with power-channelling symbols etched in thin lines of four different salts. But some of them are dead. Ritual majick has it's place and time, and I don't believe that right now is either the time or the place. In fact, I don't like majick at all. Not one bit.

I like the direct fight. Astral combat. A chance to move out into the real time zone as a warrior. Majick's not like that at all.

Trance was easy. My etheric double was already screaming in agony, reflex action drawing me more and more rapidly into the state necessary for the mind split to occur. Necessary to project astrally and cause separation of the concious mind so that it could focus on the etheric double and not on the physical world.

After all, nothing in the physical world would help me.

My mind began to sink deep within my body, and I began the now ritual exercises, bringing my mind into focus with my tertiary energy centres.

I was tempted, very tempted, to break open my primary centres and rush straight in, but I knew better.

Once I was stuck at the bottom of the ocean. Scuba diving. Eighty five feet below the surface, and my regulator broke. At eighty five feet below the surface, you have only one urge, to shoot to the surface like a Polaris missile.

Well, I did. I knew that I needed to ascend slowly. I knew to follow the small bubbles as a gauge and breath out. Hell, I blew out as hard as I could and shot to the surface. Well, I came right out of the water too. Just like a Polaris missile. And I ruptured a number of avioli in my left lung, and spent days recovering.

The human energy mesh is just the same. You have primary energy centres which are connected throughout your bodies, etheric and physical. You have secondary energy centres which distribute this flow from one body to the next, and you have tertiary energy centres, which you need to raise to full energy to project.

But that's not what you do. It's too easy to fall for the temptation to rip open the primary energy centres and let than energy flow through you. All it does is burst through your secondary energy centres in a rush for the tertiary stores, and when you project, you are already injured in ways that medicine cannot fix.

So I had to force myself through the same procedure. Open the tertiary energy centres first. Then you route the small trickle of energy back through the secondary centres.

That was already beginning to happen. I could feel the secondary energy centres coming on line.

There was no more time to waste. The preparation was complete, and now the primary centres needed to be open. As the first of the primary energy centres began to blossom, I could feel the flood of energy. A warm feeling began to penetrate the numbness, and then a slight burning. Another primary centre ripped open, spilling more energy into the tertiary centres, the secondary centres almost bursting at the surge.

I began to try and hold the remaining primary energy centres closed, as there was already more than enough energy in my body to begin separation, but the dam had been breached. I felt the burning sensation increase to a blaze, as the remaining energy centres fractured their seals, exposing all of my nervous system to the astral energies that were flooding my body.

A felt a scream slip from my physical lips as my astral body groaned with agony. Instead of separating from the physical, my double was ripped cleanly from its place and I felt myself being flung helplessly through the astral planes, dragged within a flow so intense, I could not control it, nor comprehend how this was happening.

Finally, the burning stopped, and I realised that my sensory translation system had broken down. The respite from the pain was welcome, but it was a bad sign. If this was happening to my etheric double, then my physical body would not hold out much longer. Whatever was attacking me was doing more damage than a body was meant to take.

I found myself floating within a uniformly coloured space. No up or down here. Just uniform colour. I began to look for some reference to determine where I was. This was not like the normal astral planes.

I began to wonder why I had the sudden surge. Why had the tide of energy suddenly started to flow through my body?

My Body!

It was still unprotected, possibly dying on the floor, back in my living room. I moved quickly, visualising the route back through the tumbling flow that would take me to the real-time zone. The world around me began to morph, shrinking inwards and altering until I was again standing in my living room.

Only this time I was in the astral. My real body, of flesh and bone, lay before me on the floor. Blood was trickling from my nose and ears, and I had shifted. From the look of the thin mattress, I would think that I had suffered some kind of seizure.

But I was still now.

The silver cord wasn't visible. At first I was alarmed, but then I realised that it must still be attached, or I would no longer be anchored to this world, and I would have been lost in that strange place that I had first projected out into.

I moved slowly back towards where I had first noticed the cold feeling. It was time to take my evening walk again, only this time I would leave the excess baggage back at home. And this time, whatever was waiting for me the first time was going to get a surprise.

The forrest seemed more alive now. Even at night, the living energy surrounding trees always astounds me. I guess that's why I moved here. The path was clear. I could just make out the energy disturbances that my footsteps had left as I moved this way earlier.

It's the energy you leave behind that makes you realise just how important buddhist traditions of stepping lightly on this earth really can be at times.

But then I moved further and the energy began to diminish. I could see that the trees here were weaker, and I began to realise that no too far from where I lived, in a place I had never visited astrally, there was something terribly amiss.

At a certain point, the subtle energies of decay became more prevalent than that of the living energy, and I knew I was in the right place.

I noticed my etheric footsteps moving right through this area, and chastised myself as to how I could have been so shut off from my senses that I hadn't picked this up without the need for complete astral sight. Had I never closed my eyes along this route to notice the damage that surely must have been noticeable.

Then I saw the disturbance. This must have been where I had been attacked. Etheric energy was everywhere. Lot of it. My own astral blood all around. The trees, hungry for living energy were eagerly feeding on what had been splashed upon them, so deprived of etheric nutrients that they were.

Something very very dark and dangerous had attacked me along this path. In projecting astrally, I had healed the loss of energy, so now I knew my body was safe, but what had caused the flood of energy?

I noticed some astral spiders lurking in the shadows. Perhaps they too had been gorging themselves on the etheric carcass that was scattered here. Mine!. A wave of anger swept over me, but I resisted the urge to allow the emotion any foothold.

A small dark clearing was up ahead of me. There was no life left in this area, and it was clearly a place in which very dark ceremonial majick had been used. I began to move over in that direct when I realised that something was watching me. Something hiding within the shadows beyond my astral vision.

I hesitated, then took a step backward.

My left hand stretched out, and my right came up next to my right shoulder. An ornate, curved bow appeared in my left hand, and the string flickered into my mind, neatly curved around the rear end of a fine shaft of ethereal energy. Sigils formed along the length of the shaft, and the point and rear fanned out briefly, mists of astral energy forming perfect quills and barb.

Ceremonial majick is far more dangerous than ritual majick. I was now sure that something was watching me and had summoned my Astral longbow. If anything lurked, then I did not want to proceed unarmed.

Other projectors that I knew often carried swords and knifes, even halberds and maces. Yet I preferred the longbow and despite the difficulty in maintaining the image I could now wield an effective weapon of defense or offense when needed.

I moved my mind through the shadows. From dead tree to lifeless rock, I moved past each. I now felt sure that whatever had attacked me had originated here, and whatever it was was about to learn a quick lesson in leaving humans alone.

Especially a guardian.

A stronger feeling ensued from a small, lifeless stick, sitting in the ground. It was barely the size of my forearm in diameter, and just over two metres long, but then in the astral, an entity or even a large astral spider could easily hide here, scale wasn't so important in the real time zone as you might imagine.

I aimed at the oversized staff, and fired, loosing a lethal barbed shaft that left a smoky trail as it arced instantly towards it target. The impact tore cleanly into the thick staff, and ripped its way through in a way that suggested it had little more consistency than astral smoke.

Yet whatever was hiding beyond it's shadow was more substantial. A cry, half howl half scream and definitely not human echoed through the blackened surroundings. As I watched, and began to draw back the string in case a second shaft needed to follow, a large beast proceeded to emerge from the shadow.

Half hound, half ape in appearance, it had a distended jaw which seemed to be absolutely filled with canines, each ripping out from the face at different angles. Two huge eyes seemed to be set almost on opposite sides of it's thick leathery skull, and a simple skin-flapped hole seemed to make up what could be a nose.

Each of it's huge arms ended in a three claw kind of hand and it's large back legs resembled a bird reverse-like knee joint, except each as thick as my waist, and ending in a foot that was midway between cloven and toed.

It's thick leathery hide was dark and almost carapace-like at the front, and within the centre, lay the shaft that I had fired, extending directly from the centre protruding nearly half it's length.

This was no astral spider or leech, and I was beginning to realise how lucky I had been to make it home. There was no doubting that this creature before me was as alien to the natural real-time zone as I was.

As it raised itself now to the full height, one claw reached into the shaft, and snapped it from the body, discarding the remaining shaft which quickly evaporated back into astral smoke now it was no longer needed. The wound healed over, and I assumed the remaining arrow was absorbed into the creatures own energy system already.

It was a Cracetarac.

I had only ever heard of these creatures before, yet had never actually seen one let alone face one in Astral combat. A sub-demon, it was also a projecting entity, yet unlike a human, a Cracetarac is a permanent projection. They never tire and never need to wake in the physical body, as they have more than one mind, leaving them the innate ability to be present in both the physical and the etheric body at all times.

Worse than that, they were actually dangerous, one of the few astral creatures actually capable of killing a person who was not even projecting, let alone one that was completely within the Astral real-time zone.

And looking at the way it was approaching, it was also angry. Very angy.

It's not easy to anger a Cracetarac. They are dangerous enough when calm. I had heard that they occasionally guard places of decay on the physical zone, but they usually hate human contact. Despite being able to do considerable damage to a person, their energy is not directly compatible with Human energy, and to attack a living human would slighly poison the creature.

Of course, when angry, distaste for human energy probably won't enter it's mind.

The beast began a lunge for my position, and I was about to step back and run, when I noticed the thin smoke-like line in front of me. It was a ward.

As the beast came at me, it suddenly stopped, mere feet from my face, it's jaws ready to close over my projected body. Then like a dog with a lease, it had reached the end of it's rope and been stopped in it's tracks.

Whoever had been practicing ceremonial majick in this place had set much of it up well, but I had not previously walked near here, so how did this creature attack me? The answer was obvious, it had not. It was trapped here.

Snarling and snapping soon, it was clear however what would happen were I to venture beyond the boundary of the wards that had been placed here. I redrew my bow and began to skirt the boundary of the enclosure, needing now to find the limits and hoping that I did not accidently trespass.

Another section came into view, and finally, near the far side, I found the safe path.

A safe path is a warded bridge into a ceremonial area. It is warded in the physical world, so both the physical and the real-time zone are affected, on more than one dimension. This one moved between two warded zones, and the physical area appeared broken up into five separate zones, with a single safe-zone into the area.

It figures. Humans were responsible for this. Pentagrams were convenient and easy to build and deploy, but why were Cracetaracs here also?

The centre zone was clearly established for ceremonial purposes. A thinly built pentagram created with a single salt. Crude, but effective. And a light water channel with flowing water appeared to be running around the outside of the inner circle. Five large staffs sat at each apex, each projecting an energy barrier beyond which held the wards in place. After all, even majick needs to be anchored in the physical world.

I sensed other Cracetaracs around me as I scanned the perimeter. One, two (which I had faced earlier), three, four showed up clearly within my senses.

Where was the fifth?

I spun almost instantly, literally turning within my skin as I felt a powerful presence behind me. My drawing hand immediately creating and drawing back an astral shaft as I pivoted. The sight-line of the weapon came up to my eye as I sighted along the now glowing shaft.

Then I froze instantly at the site before me. A woman, clad in white skin-tight leather stood before me, smiling, leaning against a ghost of a tree, her arm resting lazily over the top of a heavily curved bow, similar in size to my own, yet quite different in appearance.

Her hair hung down over one shoulder, in one continuous braid that fell to almost her navel. Her suit was glovelike in its appearance, leaving only hands and head outside of the holes, and she wore nothing additional but a belt and an astral quiver.

She cocked her head to one side, appraising my aim at her, narrowed her gaze then spoke to me, "What's the matter? Never seen a woman before?"

I was stunned. I sensed no hostile nor dark energy coming from her. I tried to see through her form, but it remained constant. It must have been another projector, but why was she similarly armed. Had she also sensed the danger? And why was she carrying a bow rather than a more traditional sword, lance or axe?

I lowered my aim and withdrew the shaft from my conciousness, allowing the bow to return to a relaxed, yet ready, state. There was still a demon yet un-accounted for and I wasn't about to drop my guard.

"You seem far two casual," I offered her as a response, " Perhaps you don't realise what you dealing with?"

Immediately, I began to wonder if she may have been from the Coven that created this place. It would be unusual for such a strong projector to be a witch. But that didn't mean that it wasn't possible. I considered for a moment whether she might be trying to cause me to drop my defenses, perhaps preparing for an attack.

"You mean the Cracetarac? It won't come back into this area. It might be dangerous, but it's not stupid.

"I've been keeping an eye on this area since it was prepared. Damn fools. No idea of what they are dealing with.

"I'm well aware of what's happening here. The only thing I'm not sure about is you. You want to explain?"

If she wanted me to drop my guard, at this point she achieved it. I was stunned!

"Me? You mean you followed me into this place? You couldn't have. I would have seen you."

Her face then reflected perhaps the most condescending look I have ever seen. "Ohh, You're a human then. It figures. You think that just because you live here, you own the place. Barging in here like a complete idiot, shooting a Cracetarac, in the chest no less, then standing there just waiting for it to shred your consciousness."

Her eyes now felt like they were boring a hole into my soul. She continued with what I now realised was a beratement.

"I don't know how you came here, nor where you found that weapon, but I suggest that where-ever you came from, you turn right around and go home. This is no place for children, and I'd appreciate it if you'd let me get on with my task."

Now I was angry. My emotions began to get the better of me, and I forgot where I was. Rage is like that.

"Me? Listen, I live around here and I was attacked. I don't know who the hell you are, or why you chose to turn up at the moment, but when something attacks me, I fight back, and if you intend to stick around, then keep out of my way, because if you get in my way, I'm going to deal with you first then whatever it was that just took a bite of me back in the real world!"

It was about this point that I suddenly realised I was probably not dealing with a human. I could already feel the anger being emitted from her auric field, and it was intense.

If she wasn't human, and if her emotions could change that rapidly, then that only left higher order beings, and now I had angered her. I kept a careful eye on her bow, which was beginning to look all the more menacing. If she kept her arrows in a quiver and did not create them mentally, then her weapon might be a lot more dangerous than mine.

I was about to say something, anything to try and defuse the confrontation, when in a heartbeat, her mood changed back to calm, and her face changed. It was now obvious that she had established an emotional link between us to aid communication, and I could feel her emotions quite clearly.

Now she was amused.

"Ohhh," she began, "You'll deal with me then will you?"

She began to move towards me, and my emotions began to change once more. I suddenly realised just how beautiful she was, and just how stunning her figure seemed. Her curves were perfect, and then some and I suddenly felt an incredible sexual urge.

She came up to me face to face, then slowly pressed her body against mine. The feeling was almost electric and even in the astral state, I could feel my erection growing instantly. Her face came close, and her free hand reached around the back of my neck. My lust grew instantly, and she pressed her lips to mine. It felt like a fire inside my head of pure pleasure, and I wanted this feeling to last forever.

I began to reach around her to bring her close, when my mind clicked back to my purpose. I was here to deal with my attacker. Whatever it was that had bitten deeply into my energy, and I was not about to let this strange ethereal being distract me.

Instead I moved my hand into the remaining space between us, and pushed her back, breaking off the kiss.

"I am no fool, nor a child, and I think you underestimate the danger. All demons are powerful, and all dangerous."

Her eyes looked back into mine, and despite the clear beauty still pooling within them, my lust vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared. For a moment I didn't know what to expect, then she just smiled a simple, yet stunning smile, and I felt at ease.

She began to speak again, and this time it felt like it was reverberating through my entire being. "Well, it seems that you are in control of your emotions. That's more than I expected from a human."

Now I was puzzled. Before I could speak, she began to speak again. Now I heard not only words, but felt pictures and concepts being passed from her mind to mine.

"The creature you are hunting is a Cracetarac, so you are correct." I felt my mind split, and an image of the beast formed within my mind, along with all of her knowledge of the creature. Indeed they were dangerous, far more than I imagined, and she did in fact have a healthy respect for the dangers it posed.

"They are difficult to fell, but if you are accurate, and your weapon is powerful, they can be stopped," My head filled with another image. A powerful shot, to the centre of the head, would interrupt it's primary chakra flow, and possibly destroy the beast, and at the least would destroy its projection in this plane. I also perceived that my bow was not a powerful enough weapon to cleanly fell such a demon.

"This place was set up by ceremonial majick, and you correctly guessed that there were five here. They were summoned by an ancient spell that is perhaps more powerful than those who dealt it imagined, but then an old unused spell is more potent than a well used one. I'm not sure how they obtained the knowledge."

Again my head filled with extra information. Much of what I knew about ceremonial majick and it's dangers was confirmed, and extra information also entered which I was not aware about, which related to it's practitioners.

"The seals here were broken by one of power, and as it was a site that I was monitoring, I was sent in to clean things up."

An image appeared in mind mind of a person moving across a physical seal. In the real world. A fool oblivious to all that was really going on around him, and another scene played itself out across my mind. A Cracetarac moved directly into the human aura, and proceeded to destroy it with ruthless efficiency.

I began to feel sorry for the hapless person, then I suddenly realised it was actually me. I was the fool who had broken the seal, and who had released the creature. The implications of the other word hit me. One of power?

"I'm one of power?," I asked the woman before me.

She nodded, and I felt as she continued communication, that I was not supposed to pursue the significance of this revelation.

"Now we must shut this place down, and destroy the loosed creature before it does some real damage." She finalised. The final thought communicated that while I was here, I was welcome to join her, but I should understand that I was not to interfere, nor to get in the way. This final point was punctuated with a clear message that if I got in the way, that it would be unfortunate, but that I was expendable.

I let this sink in for a moment, then I nodded once. If this strange woman could communicate with me, and also determine what I was thinking, then she didn't need words to understand me. I made clear that I understood. In fact, now I really understood what she was also. Whatever the link between us, it worked both ways, and I could read her thoughts also. She was a hunter of considerable skill, and while this was a more dangerous hunt than usual, it was neither out of the usual for her, nor was it beyond her skill level.

Besides, I had come here to defend myself. The beast looked nasty, but just how dangerous could it be? After all, I was in the real time zone. Worst case, I would return to my body and recover.

She smiled again, then turned and began to leave the inner area, and I followed, back down the safe path. As she moved, I felt her thoughts of earlier. She really had followed me, stalking me since the moment I entered the forest, watching my every move. I felt a strange surprise within her as I created my astral weapon - almost admiration. I tried to focus on that thought, then suddenly felt cut off, with a slight tinge of annoyance in my emotion. I realised that she had caught me probing back into her mind, and was not too happy about it at all.

Yet, I was a little happier. Perhaps I wasn't the weakling that I had almost begun to believe.

She walked to the edge of the outer perimeter, then backtracked to where I had seen the seal broken. It was near where my energy had been splashed around so freely by the beast. Her senses must have been far more acute than mine, for she could sense the beast's path after the attack, and followed it back deeper into the forest.

As she moved, I watched, with both curiosity and admiration, how she seemed to work the astral fields around her. Whatever she was, she must be native to the plains. Her entire body seemed to blend with her weapon, and her moves were so fluid that she almost seemed to flow through the real-time zone.

She moved far deeper than I had ever visited into the physical forest, and after some time, stopped. I moved up to her, then felt her mind tell me to crouch beside her. She must have established that same mental link again, and this time out of necessity.

Now I knew we were in dangerous territory, and I felt that something was wrong. Even by her standards.

"What's up?" I asked her.

"There's a cave just past those trees. It's a place of darkness. I have no idea why?"

Moving swiftly, from tree to tree, she darted forward, and I followed, somewhat slower, which I felt was what she desired. I also realised that the path we had come through was dead, like the ceremonial place we had just left.

The level of life was different, but in the end, there was a lot less life along this path than there should have been, given the usual life energy surrounding a forrest.

As I moved past the vegetation, the smell of decay became more intense, until the surrounds began to smell like sewerage. The darkness was surrounding me again, and I could feel the unearthly cold begin to seep back into me, even into this ethereal body, and I became very conscious of the fact that some times it was possible for astral injuries to affect the physical body. Especially from the real-time zone.

The woman had already moved into the cave entrance, so I followed quickly behind. There was a sucking feeling up ahead. I thought I heard a cry and surged forward rapidly. Was she in trouble? I re-summoned my bow and began to draw the string.

As I moved around the corner, I saw a small pulsing shape on the wall. Instinctively, I drew back and loosed a single shaft into the centre. Out of the side of my vision, I saw the woman running towards me, diving through the air and hurtling towards me. I turned to break her fall, but her form slammed directly into me, her bow evaporating briefly as she roughly shoved me aside.

A moment later, I realised why. The shape on the wall broke apart, filling the entire room. A searing heat permeated the air around us, the centre of the heat centred directly where I had been standing. Our two bodies tangled and rolled loosely as we hit the floor, and although we were not physically present, it felt like my head hit a hard stone wall.

The heat caused a brief reality shift within the room, sealing the entrance. Instinctively, I tried to move out of harms way, projecting outside through the rock, but for the first time ever, the real-time zone felt absolutely real, and terror was starting to permeate my thoughts.

Then the creature appeared, moving rapidly despite its bulk. It was coming right towards us and was clearly attacking. I moved sluggishly now, but the changes had not slowed down the strange ethereal woman, who moved just as fluidly as ever. She stepped to her feet and resummoned her bow, beginning to draw an astral arrow from her leather quiver, racing around the side of the cave as she did so.

She stepped back at the other side, moving in right behind the beast. Just when she was about to loose the shaft directly at the creatures head, it turned back, stopping just in front of her, with its mouth open wide, showing several rows of teeth. I wondered how I was seeing this, and realised that our two minds had once again joined as one, and I could feel her drawing on my energy as she did so, funnelling my thoughts and strength into her own weapon.

Then the terror finally drove home through all my senses, and the link faltered. The Cracetarac leapt at her and knocked the astral weapon aside before it's hand snapped forth, grasping her throat.

While the energy link between us had faltered, it was still present and I felt the pressure increase around my throat as the beast began to choke its next victim before me. Tendrils shot from its head, extending rapidly into the woman's chest, biting savagely into her lifeforce, and I saw from her perspective exactly what attack had recently been launched against me.

The mind link between us began to break down completely now and I felt her reach to resummon her weapon, but the attack was too far progressed for her to regain control. I had cost her the chance to fight. Whatever I did must have triggered a trap, and in moving me, she had left herself open. Didn't she realise the humans normally might be badly hurt, but they always return to their bodies?

A final thought cross between the mind-link as it snapped totally.

Fight.

Anger now tore through the haze of terror in my mind and I realised that the beast itself was creating the fear. That meant that it was also mind linked to me, and as such it was open to me to read both ways also.

I worked the anger, swinging it back into my hand, filling it with energy. My fist snapped shut, and I began to summon my bow again. Thoughts about the inadequacy of my weapon vanished as the smooth recurve of its hardened wooden texture shot out from my clenched fist, opening my grasp to enclose it's well considered handle.

I felt the beast's terror rise and knew that was an emotion aimed at me like a weapon. But it was energy also, pure energy and that could be put to use. I converted terror into hate, as so many humans had done before me, now forging it into a single shaft of pure hatred, one yard long and one half-inch in diameter.

Slivers of fear slid down the back and created three flights of perfect concentration, removing the fear from me completely.

Finally, my rage formed a wicked barbed head on the arrow, glowing with the converted terror being driven into it from the shaft of hatred.

And my hand drew the shaft back while the bow recurved solidly. From deep within me, I re-established the mind-link back to the woman who was now almost limp in the creatures grasp, and sent one simple message.

Fight now!

The shaft loosed and cleared the bow, arcing perfectly towards the dark beast's head chakra. The beast saw the arrow coming, but the hatred was too much to contain, and the shaft began to jettison hatred in a spiral, forming a cone of pure light that spun outwards from the arrow, expanding as it went.

In the split second as the shaft span towards the target, the woman now drew upon my remaining energy and summoned another weapon, this time two perfectly created swords. Each sword extended with blinding speed from the hilt up, in much the same way that I had created my bow, one in each hand. With a scissor action, she deftly cleft the arm that held her at the throat cleanly, then began to drop slightly.

She began to halt her descent, and was ready to return the fight when the shaft struck home.

I'm not sure why or how I created that arrow, but the effect was, to saw the least, awesome. As it drove into the beast's head, a wave of pure energy erupted back out of the entry wound, blowing out parts of the creatures skull in a shower of sparks. The shaft turned instantly to stone and drove clear through the remaining skull, then smashed clear through the wall beyond shattering a clear portal in the stone more than a yard wide.

For a brief moment, I thought that I had struck the creature a mortal blow. As the severed section of the appendage fell loosely to the floor, the beast turned to face me. I stood prepared to deliver another blow, but I knew that I was weakened by the creation of the shaft that had fired. I felt sapped by the emotional drain, and began to draw back the string one more time.

Yet the beast was obviously hurt. A deep, guttural growl emitted from its huge maws and the stench of its breath reached me clear across the room. Perhaps another shaft, while not as powerful, could finish it?

I never had a chance to find out. Ignoring the woman had been it's fatal mistake. The twin swords arced cleanly and neatly, slashing down either side before the blades rammed hilt-deep into it's now bloody abdomen.

Dark blue energy shot from the wounds, and the Cracetarac jolted as if it was being electrocuted. For a moment it looked hurt, then it grasped the womans hands with it's remaining hand and withdrew the two swords in one clean movement.

It looked down at the deep wounds, still oozing it's deadly life-force, and an absolutely vicious snarl moved across its hideous features. It's hand moved back, preparing to strike the woman down, but she did not move, instead simply dropping the swords down into a guarded position, the blades slightly crossed.

Before the beast could return the attack, the wounds elongated, opening up and spreading. There was time for one unholy shriek, and then the chest cavity opened up, revealing organs that did not look like any I had ever seen, even within the real-time zone. They continued to open, like a cancer spreading rapidly until the wound comletely covered the beast. It now seemed to evaporate into pure energy, winking out and vanishing.

I stood there for a moment longer, staring as my bow unwound back into nothingness, the shaft partially forming now dissolving, my concentration shattered by the effort I had exerted. When I regained my concentration once again, I noticed that the woman was similarly standing there, just staring now at me, her twin swords still glowing faintly within the dimness of the cave, still crossed at the centre.

Beyond the hole created by the overshoot of the shaft was the forest outside, although this section was still alive, and did not resemble the area through which we had come.

The woman walked over to me, sliding her two swords back over her shoulders, their forms vanishing as she did so. She was clearly surprised at the effect that my weapon had on the monstrosity.

"I'm impressed," she said. This time there were no additional images or thoughts moving through my head. Just the honesty of what she had just said.

"What happened," I asked.

"This is an ancient place. You set off a trap that was intended for others. The beast realised the traps here had not been intended for it's kind and would not harm it. It was the perfect lair." She responded.

"Why didn't you just leave me and finish it," I asked.

"Because this time, if you had been hit by the trap, you would not be waking up human," she explained. "Some forces are more powerful than your natural healing ability can repair. You are young and inexperienced, so you were not to know. I did not notice the trap when I came by, because I took another path into the cave."

"I heard a cry," I explained, "I thought you needed help?"

"The cry was part of the trap." And she left it at that. I knew that to ask more would be of no use.

She helped me over to the broken rock where the arrow struck and assisted me outside. This place now resembled the real-time zone I was familiar with, and I felt closer to my body, as if the cave had existed as a portal to another place.

I turned to her, and realised once again that she really was attractive. A question began to form on my lips, but she pre-empted it, and gave me a simple answer.

"Malassa. My name is Malassa, And in since you're also wondering, this is my real form."

Her real form? Did that mean she was human also? But how could a human be a higher-order being?

More questions began to form in my mind. Just who was Malassa? She was obviously highly skilled in ways that I had never realised were possible. Her combat ability showed what seemed to be an eternity of training, something I could never match, yet I had been fighting in the astral many years now, and until this moment, had never faced an opponent like I had tonight. I also began to wonder just what might have happened had she not been around and I had faced the Cracetarac alone?

My thoughts blurred, and I stumbled, dropping to my kneeds. Malassa knelt before me and smiled, simply looking into my face and waiting.

I began to realise why now. My mind was losing it's focus and I knew I was returning to my body again. As I began to leave, my silver cord tugging me back home, her hand touched her lips then reached out and touched mine. I felt a light burning sensation, and heard her words "We will meet again, Medion" as I returned.

The last thought entered my mind with the word. Medion. It was from her language. It meant surprising one.

Epilogue.

It was morning when I came around. My body was in pain, and the mattress under me seemed unusually warm and almost dry to the point of being brittle. My side hurt badly and my body ached all over.

As I had recalled the events of the previous night. It had seemed so fantastic. In a way, I felt I had gained a new-found level of focus on my weapon, and the recollection of esoteric knowledge was still firmly in my mind.

I wrote down the details, and stored them away. I tried briefly to re-project, but could not. I guess that the fight had taken more out of me than I had realised. That frightened me in a way.

I returned to the forest, this time in the physical world, and soon found the ceremonial grounds. Treading the safe paths I had learned, found the centre. Markings of different salts coloured the ground, and the smell of ants was incredibly strong. There was no doubt what had been frequently transpiring here. New symbols in the western quadra meant that they knew a beast had broken out. That was very dark majick that was practiced there indeed.

I still don't understand the smell, but the knowledge that the woman had imparted to me had allowed me to disassemble the five wards that protected the area in a way that would release the beasts back to somewhere else. I laid them down in a pattern that I somehow now knew indicated that this area was breached, unsafe to continue any majick within, either ritual or ceremonial.

Three days later, the entire site was gone, removed to a level that someone had even planted new trees in the junctions of the marks that had once been in the sand. Five small lavendar bushes in the centre.

Obviously, whoever created the site was well connected. The clean-up looked professional. I never found out who created the place.

After several months I went looking for the cave. It was a long way from my house, and well within an aboriginal reserve. I was getting near the area when I stopped and sat down. I was about to leave when I felt a firm hand on my shoulder.

I turned to see an aged aboriginal man in a plaid shirt and old akubra hat looking down at me.

"What you doin' around here," he asked.

"Just looking," I responded, only half thinking.

"Lookin for what," he enquired.

"Somewhere I thought I had been once," I responded.

"This is a reserve, this land. And you should not come here," he said sternly.

"I'm sorry," I responded, "I'll leave if you like."

He shook his head and sat down beside me. He pulled out a tattered packet of cigarettes, and placed once into his mouth, covering it briefly with his hand then puffing away. I didn't even see him light a match.

"That's alright, you can come on our land if you like, but not here." He gestured.

"Thankyou," I said, still unsure as to why I was chasing a cave that might or might not be here. After all, it could just be in the realtime zone.

"I've been expecting you," he began to say, pausing as if to think of something. Then he continued. "A friend said that you would come by. A friend said to give you this. Said to come and see here again."

He handed a small stone to me. After taking it I realised it was a piece of broken stone. It was about five inches long, and a half-inch in diameter, and perfectly cylindrical in shape.

I stared at it in disbelief. Somehow I felt this represented a part of my emotion-arrow that I had created during that battle.

It also made me realise that I had not projected since that night, yet I was possibly fully recovered by now.

"But don't come near here," the aboriginal man started again, "This is a sacred place. Not to us, but it is sacred. Even we respect that."

I put the small stone shaft-segment into my shirt pocket. I turned back to ask the aboriginal man where he had gotten it, but he was gone. Just the sound of the wind in the air remained, and the hardness of the shaft segment in my pocket.

An unlit cigarette was sitting neatly on the log beside me. I reached into my pocket and retrieved the shaft. It was now a simple piece of polished wood. I thought I could hear a quiet laugh carried on the wind from somewhere distant.

I left it there, beside the cigarette, and returned home now in a more happy mood, and cleared the floor in my living room.

It was time to raise my energy and open my centres again. Already I could feel the buzzing