We were now standing on a macadam path. Behind us was a road and across that another large hedgerow.
“Where do we go?” I asked my mentor.
He pointed. “Along there. See those twin trees on the south side of the path?”
Jacob looked at his watch. “In five and a half minutes you need to walk between them and make your way to the Conversion. After that you will have about three hours before the Akh’Mori start deconstructing the Conversion and cross the bridge between the portal and our realm.”
I checked my watch as well, and nodded. The situation was dire, but to hear Jacob call this world “ours” made me all the more determined to do my very best to fix the problem.
“Derek, I need to tell you some other information before you cross over.”
I felt my heart sink. If this wasn’t difficult enough, Jacob was surely to load me up with other bad news. “Ok, Mr Brizelthwaite, what else do I need to know?”
On seeing my face, Jacob shook his head and waved a palm at me. “Nothing so serious, young Derek. Don’t worry.”
“That makes a change,” I said. As soon as the words had left my mouth, I could see Jacob grinning under the moon shadow light.
Jacob shook his head again. “Sorry, Derek. A little jest to lighten your load. Be wary of the Irdiroga – the in-between folk – you may or may not come across them. But they will certainly hold a resentment of your presence, should you meet.”
“Why? Where? What have I done to them? I don’t even know who they are.”
“I’ll start with the ‘where’. They hold sway between the portal and the Conversion.”
I looked around quickly. The park was empty. Only myself and Jacob to be seen, barring a few of the other regular earthly inhabitants – foxes roamed and owls flew. “There’s no one else here.”
“I didn’t mean here. I meant on the other side of the portal, on the way to the Conversion. Sometimes they’re used as scouts for the Akh’Mori.”
I was afraid to ask, but in my gut I needed to know. “Why are they likely to ‘resent’ me?”
“They have no free will, lad, other than in the in-between space. They cannot choose to leave or stay. When they are able, it is only because some other power has made that choice. They will see you, and your presence, as an affront to their circumstance.”
“Oh great! Thanks for lightening my load!”
Jacob looked at his watch. “It’s time, my lad. In three minutes you will need to walk between those two trees.”
I looked to where Jacob was pointing and a little way along the path, in front of us, stood two solitary trees; twins they certainly were.
As I looked I could clearly see a house in the distance, framed by the two trees, shimmer as if some unknown source had heated the air enough to make the light passing through it sway and shake like a lake’s surface, disturbed by small ripples of a thrown stone.
“Give me the map.”
I couldn’t believe Jacob’s tone, but I handed him the map anyway.
“Look!” Jacob thrust a finger on the unfurled scroll. “Don’t go near there.”
His finger indicated a jagged zigzag line. It was a little way from the path we’d already agreed I’d follow. I shook my head. “Why would I? It’s not our route.”
“Just in case, my lad. Just in case.” Jacob rolled the map up and handed it back to me. “One minute to go, lad.”
We had walked the path and were now standing next to the twin trees. The shimmering between the trees belied the fact that the air was much, much colder – no heat-haze the effect. I could also hear a noise; almost a sea crashing somewhere on a distant shingled beach.
Jacob grabbed me by both shoulders and pulled me close, hugging me. “You need to sort this problem out.”
I smiled. “I think it’s a bit more of a ‘problem’ than you think.”
Jacob nodded and winked. “You can do it, lad. You can do it – time to go.”
I looked at Jacob for the last time; shook his hand. Then turned and made for the gap between the trees, waving as I left him standing on the path.