The In-Betweener nightclub was bustling with customers tonight. The air was heavy with the smell of narcotics and sweat, and music throbbing in everyone’s ears – a steady dunsh, dunsh, dunsh – as people from both realms put all their differences to the very corners of their minds, sealing it away for another time, and mindlessly danced with each other in a blur of drunken solace.
A lone figure sat at the bar. The bartender paid him no heed – he was too busy staring at the wide variety of scantily-clad women. The figure was hidden beneath a fraying hooded cloak, his pale face shadowed by the peak of his cowl. He sipped at his large flagon of mead, savouring the flavour of the sweet drink. He had piercing blue eyes, a pointed nose and bristled blonde stubble on his chin.
He sighed, the beginnings of a headache slowly buzzing at the back of his mind.
Tostig of Skye hated people.
He hated humans especially, but his own kind – the elves – were no better. Tostig largely preferred solitude and silence. His greatest companion could well be a good book. But people… He looked around and it only proved his point further.
Mindless, destructive bunch, he thought, taking another sip of his drink.
A man approached him from behind, tapping him lightly on the shoulder.
Without needing to, Tostig turned slightly to catch a glimpse of Theodore Radcliffe. Tostig smiled a little at Radcliffe, as the thin young human took a stool next to him, fixing his neck-tie and trying to hide the patches of sweat he’d accumulated on his white shirt, and ordered a drink from the daydreaming bartender.
Tostig didn’t like him.
But he supposed that he could put up with Radcliffe – given that Radcliffe was a bit of an idiot and wouldn’t leave Tostig alone if the elf had him at gun-point.
“Alright, Tost?” asked Radcliffe.
“Bit of a headache, Mr Radcliffe, but otherwise…” Tostig shrugged and sipped at his mead.
“Please,” Radcliffe insisted for the umpteenth time, “call me Ted.”
“I’d prefer if we didn’t have pet names for each other,” was Tostig’s repeated response.
“Anything new in your world, then?”
Tostig gave him a look, “The odd mutiny here, the local war there – nothing out of the ordinary. Yourself?”
“Well, I… um…” Radcliffe searched for the words, “No, nothing interesting really. The world is calm for the moment, I should think. Haven’t seen a man impaled by a spear in years, I must say.”
“Quite a feat,” Tostig muttered.
“But what about your life, Tost?”
“What about my life, Mr Radcliffe?” asked Tostig.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Radcliffe’s cheeks flushed, “find anyone special? Got married? Had a kid or two?”
“No. Never. And highly unlikely.”
Radcliffe frowned, “What’s got your pointed ears in a pinch?”
“Nothing,” Tostig shrugged, “I just lead a very different lifestyle. A life that sees loneliness as a vital key to its success.”
“Sounds depressing to me.”
“Well, it would, Mr Radcliffe.”
Tostig gasped, wincing in pain, as he put his drink down and rolled up the sleeve on his left arm. Burn markings dotted on his pale, hairless forearm – the burns slight and slender, swirling into cursive characters, forming letters, then words, until it read:
Gunnhild of Battersea,
“Have to leave?” asked Radcliffe.
“Well, don’t I always?” said Tostig, smiling slightly, and half-heartedly adding, “Perhaps we can catch up some more next time, eh, Mr Radcliffe?”
Radcliffe gave a nod and turned away as Tostig picked up his burlap sack and quiver of arrows from the ground and slung them over his shoulder. He pushed gently passed the raving crowd of intoxicated people and stood at the open door of The In-Betweener.
It was a wondrous sight.
One that could never be justified in any description – the whites excessively white and the blacks excessively black, and all the colours in between: excessively colourful. All the angles were sharp and all the lines stood out – brazen and profound.
The In-Betweener stood on a plain between Dimensional Plates.
And it was the safest place anywhere for a man of Tostig’s standing. He took a deep breath, the nostalgic fragrance of something he couldn’t name filling his senses, prodding his very mind. He took a small glance at Radcliffe’s world – Earth. The doorway showed a plain of green, mixed with pinpricked hues of yellow, blue and pink. It looked nice. The legends narrated that elves once lived there too, but they had been driven out, exiled by humans. It didn’t matter to Tostig. He shrugged a little at the stray thought and set off into his own world – the Grey Havens – to find this Gunnhild of Battersea, who was guilty of treason…