Although there seemed to be nothing equivalent of the sun in this Other Realm, the further from the Conversion I got, the brighter things became.
Colour was returned to the path; flecks of green grass – emerald green grass – trees with brown trunks instead of the almost charcoal ones close to the Conversion, as if the colour had only been borrowed. This place was so different.
High above me the sky was pale pink in colour, with richer gloss-wet looking, glistening ragged strips of torn tissue-paper-like highlights moving through it. Each flickered like temperamental fluorescent lighting tubes, almost aurora borealis but less graceful and not vertical, but perpendicular to the ground. Although the effect was absolutely stunning, time was moving on. I checked the map. Somewhere ahead there should be a hill, Mullach na Sidhe or Fairymount as the translation, in brackets, next to the words declared.
I couldn’t believe this otherworld I’d been brought to, but something was nagging at me. Something was not right – barring Nature’s peculiar colour scheme.
I stopped and looked around. Rolling plains of grasses, trees scattered, a far off forest, I think – in reality just a dense patch of green many miles away – and sheer, oxblood-red, snow-capped mountains beyond.
Then it struck me; there was no noise. No sound of birds twittering, no sound of streams trickling, no sound of people talking. Absolutely nothing. The hair on the back of my neck prickled.
It was time to get off the path – everything screamed ambush. I shook my head; how could I have been so stupid?
Next to the path was a v-shaped ditch, hemmed in between two rows of strange looking shrub, one either side. I slid down the short five-foot slope to the bottom and waited. I needed to know if the silence that’d become so obvious was due to my presence in this Other Realm.
Fifteen minutes ought to do it, I thought.
As I leant against the furrow’s wall, hoping my stupidity hadn’t undermined everything I was aiming to achieve through this ordeal, I started to hear sounds. The sounds made me shudder, as if someone had stepped on my grave and recognised who was lying there.
The noise was made up of myriad floppy and leaden footfalls. In my mind I was not far from the Conversion.
I knew this eerie sound could only mean the Akh’Mori were not far from destroying the barrier between the Earth – my world – and this Other Realm.
I straightened my legs and carefully poked my head between the stubby trunks of the shrubs that lined the ditch top. I couldn’t see anything – I could hear a lot, but there was nothing to see.
This place was doing my head in.
Then the sounds were upon me, on the roadway, and it was only now, when the noise was parallel with my position, that I could see dark shapes flick between transparent, translucent and opaque; each synchronous footfall acting like a switch changing the flanks of the Dark Army between each state.
The Akh’Mori were completely different from the Irdiroga, more human-like, beautiful and sinister at the same time. Each soldier, when at their most solid, appeared to have been sculpted by the most talented hand of all time, in pure Jet.
They were of classic Faery-form with pointed chins and pinched noses, but probably no more than five foot in height. The real difference between my childhood memories of what Faeries ought to look like, from the children’s books I used to be read and what was before me, were their wings – no butterfly or dragonfly facsimile these, but feathered – like an angel’s; pure black as if born of a raven. Stunning.
Their faces were grim though. The impression I got was that they knew they had a task to undertake, no matter how unpalatable. I knew that very same feeling – the Akh’Mori were truly soldiers, just as I had been.
As soon as the column had passed me, the thrump, thrump of their footfall continued but they ceased to be visible once again.
Time was running out. I had to find the Queen.