The Curse Of The Eclipsium (The Midnight People 1)

In the fantasy world of Riarkum, where powerful yet dangerous 'midnight people' live hidden away from human civilization, the crew of the Eclipsium have been cursed with vampirism for over a century. When Ander Zavien is rescued from his execution by the ships mysterious Quarter-Master 'Ransom', he is pulled into the center of a violent conflict between those who are willing to sacrifice everything to reverse their curse, and the order of night-hunters set on destroying it entirely.
As his own blood hangs in the balance, he seeks out the truth of why these creatures of night are fighting to keep him alive, and why they call him 'Firstblood.'

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10. Chapter 10 - The Between

"Ander!" Alec said breathlessly, emerging from the deck. "Come with me a moment, okay?"

"What's the matter?" Ander asked, who had been sitting beside a sleeping Cyro perched on a closed barrel, his eyes underlined with dark bags after the long day.

Before Alec could respond, Ander glanced behind him and spotted Davelynn and Reynick arriving from the deck. He gathered that it was more serious than some heavy lifting and stood achingly. "Should I get ransom too? He's studying the maps with Yates in the Captains quarters, last I heard."

"No," Davelynn said quickly, earning a smug look from the Mage beside her. She quickly amended herself. "No, no need for that.. But come to the bilge with us, will you?"

With a wary glance at Cyro, he stood with sore limbs and nodded. Davelynn flanked him as they made their way following the child.

Ander wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't collapse as they descended. The moment he sat down, it became a chore to stand back up. His entire body was complaining, and it hurt to move, a fleshy blanket of purple and blue.

Even his hands, though he had tried to pick them out, were pin cushions of large splinters.
He swung himself down the ladder from the hold cautiously, and as his eyes adjusted to the dark, he saw it, just barely reflected in the light of the candle around the corner.

The water would have reached his knees easily, maybe half way to his hips. As Alec dropped down into it, submerged to the stomach and shuddering, Davelynn cursed loudly. "Bloody hell, how was this accomplished?"

"Oh, my.." Reynick muttered, wide eyed. He lingered on the safety of a higher rung for a few moments hesitantly whilst the others descended.

Alec guided Davelynn forward around the corner of a barrel stack, to just past the table at the edge, where a good three panels just big enough for a man to slide through had been cut away. They were completely missing, and the remaining wood was uneven and choppy, the water flowing in at speed and gaining by the minute.

Ander waded closer to get a good look, as Davelynn frantically searched for the missing panels. "Alec! How long ago did you spot this?"

"I came down to get Ruth a pint from the blood supply! Just five minutes ago - I came straight to you!"
She turned sharply to Reynick, then Ander, her face a mask of stress. "Ander; without turning heads, go and get a bucket. A big one. Reynick; please tell me you can do something to patch that up? We used up our last load of carpentry supplies on pantry shelves for Yates bloody kitchen!"

Reynick thought a moment. "A forcefield may work.. But I'll have to stay by it for quite a while, before I can hex it to keep it stable. Even that won't hold permane-"

"I couldn't care less for your whining! Ander, why am I seeing you?! The bucket!"

Recieving a pitiful look from Reynick, who seemed mildly terrified of her, Ander nodded and reluctantly  clambered the ladder once more.

It took him barely half a minute to retrieve several tin buckets from Yates kitchen leading off from the hold, and when he returned Reynick was kneeling, submerged to his chest in the water, with his hands positioned over the hole. Due to the water it was difficult to make out the forcefield, but the sudden stopping of the flow of water made it evident.

His face was just above the water level, strands of his hair falling into it, much to his distress. 
Davelynn, within moments, grabbed a bucket and started filling it, Alec following her example.

"Quickly!" She ordered, "Fill one and throw it out of the hold portholes. Ander, you carry them up and down. This may take a while.."

"Shouldn't we get more help..?" Ander suggested, examining the excess of water around them.
Davelynn looked at him stupidly. "They're all wounded or playing doctor and nurse, do you think they'll exactly be up for it?"

"It couldn't hurt to-" Alec started, then shrivelled away under her intense gaze.

Ander braced himself, and hesitantly took the first heavy bucket to the ladder, it's contents sloshing over him as he attempted to climb one handed.

For a labour-full two hours the three of them shovelled water up and down the ladder, while Reynick remained 'patching' the hole for them.

Soon enough, very little remained, and couldn't be scooped, only mopped. But Ander felt like maybe he'd collapse at any minute, his legs achingly tremendously. He sank back onto the nearest barrel, his pants soaked to past the knees, and sighing deeply with discomfort. "What do you suppose caused the breach, anyway?" He grumbled irritably.

Davelynn looked like she had all but snapped. "I will not deny that my intellect outweighs yours, Ander, but I'm not telepathic. Why don't you ask the smug looking fool over there who probably is?" She barked back at him, twice as irritable as he would have liked to be dealing with.

Reynick, from where he sat with his legs out infront of him, scowled at her. "Miss, you wound me! This isn't all it looks to be, I'm concentrating intently on the task at hand!"

"It looked more like you were 'concentrating intently' on my sister.." Alec mumbled.

The responding look from Davelynn would make any normal man turn and sprint. Reynick just chuckled lightly, shaking his head. "Ah, child, you're mistaken. Fatally, in my case."

Ander seemed more amused than anything. "Alec, do you want your sister to eat the poor man?"

"But he was-!"

"Go change into dry clothes, Alec!" He urged.

Grumbling, Alec left for the quarters, and Davelynn picked up one last full bucket before heading after him. She glanced at the two men. "Well.. Thankyou both, for helping. I wouldn't want to worry Ransom or the rest of crew at a time like this.. I'll tell hunter, now that it's sorted."

"It's hardly sorted.." Reynick muttered, now sat cross legged beside the breach. "And this positioning is degrading. Did I mention I'm wet and cold?"

"Several times."

"You mentioned you could 'hex it' once the barriers solid enough, right? No idea how it works, but you just stay there while I clean the remaining water up?" Ander suggested. The man didn't look all that pleased, he huffed in disapproval. "Surely there's an alternative?"

"It would flood while we tried to patch it up - What with the carpenter.. Gone.." Davelynn trailed off as she thought of Pete, but quickly pulled herself together. "Anyway - See you in a while, I'll tell the Captain."

She then ascended the ladder, leaving them alone again and both as bruised and beaten as each other. However, once she was out of earshot, Reynick chuckled lowly. He whispered something unintelligible, and clenched his fists, pulling them outward in a sharp motion. The forcefield seemed to solidify, like ice, and it held.

Ander frowned, rushing over. "Huh? Why didn't you do that two hours ago?"

As he stood up, Reynick stretched his arms out, and yawned deeply. "The hex won't hold for longer than a half hour.. Besides, you think I'm physically suited for shovelling water up a ladder as you are? I'm a MAGE, we don't.. Weight lift."

Ander looked him up and down skeptically, at the thinness of his long legs, the clearly lithe frame disguised by his baggy robes. Even his cheeks were hollow - yet he seemed healthy. He couldn't make out where he must have been from, if he was not some kind of easy-living noble.

The people of sparing were known for being slender and dainty, whilst the Tordanites were bulkier. He ruled off the Sounderlands entirely from his paleness, and he would never survive in a wild land with his attitude toward simple living. And, Ander knew that mages would be just as hidden as vampires; The Imperium would have been simply too high profile, with imperial guards around every corner. "..I can tell.. You look rather sparing-like, it's unusual. You're not from the imperium, I'm guessing.."

"Aren't you inquisitive?" He chuckled almost nervously. "But, I have nothing to hide with you, I suppose. I was born in the magi coven, Anderson. Yes - Just outside of the Sparing borders. The hunters based there never suspected a midnight clan would be right under their nose, so they never searched for us anywhere close. Strategy, indeed!"

Ander folded his arms, puzzled by the geography. He shook his head. "You still could have helped pale water like Alec and Davelynn, neither of them are exactly outfitted for labour either."

"Oh, I wouldn't put it past Davelynn," he chuckled lightly, and grinned a little, "But once again - I am indeed fragile, I won't deny that. Many of my kind are. But perhaps in this case I am just lazy. Now-" he leaned against the nearest wall, smirking to himself, and began wringing out the bottoms of his damp trousers, "-aren't you to be mopping?"

"You're not making a wonderful impression on me, Reynick. Because I'm lazy, too, or WAS. But you don't make choices here, you kind of just do as you're told."

Reynick shrugged his shoulders. He glanced momentarily at his wet attire, then back to Ander with an arrogantly confident smile. "Mind if I borrow some drawers?"

Ander threw up his arms in annoyance at the sheer ignorance in his tone, disregarding him a moment. "If you couldn't set me on fire in a blink I'd say no, I'd like you to know that! I've hardly been here longer than you!"

The man laughed delightedly and clapped his hands together. "Excellent. Though, a slight exaggeration.. Off you go!"

 

***

Hours had passed on deck, and the crew slept while Hunter steered. Snores and groans filled the quarters, hammocks rocking with the turning of the ship and causing floorboards to creak. 
Yet Ander slept on, fitfully.

The light here isn't right. Too intense, too harsh. And it comes from above. For a moment, he wasn't sure why that seemed wrong. But this light was different; No sun, just a gap. A gap filled with harsh white, and flooding out across this makeshift sky.

It more resembled a ceiling, stretching out too far to see the end.

Yes.. A sky. Above a great space, an expanse of purple, filled with a thick fog of dizzying white. Like clouds, parting and entwining around one another.

He looked down, perplexed, and saw his own bare feet, and the trousers and ragged white nightshirt he slept in. He breathed out, and heard it.

He frowned at the discovery. He felt distinctly conscious, unlike the state he generally fell into when dreaming, but unable to feel the fog as it brushed against him. Unable to feel anything.

Ander squinted into the depths. After a few moments, he could make out a single human shape. 
A man, entirely clothed in shadow, but a shape he could vaguely recognise. A man who then turned, and saw another before him.

He opened his mouth to call out; but could muster no sound. He could not move his limbs as much as he fought, he could only observe.

Instead, he focused, trying to make out a face. Nothing. But there was clearly more than one shape - several. Figures, apparently going about their daily lives. Some stood talking, others crouched over items obscured by the fog, or sitting. Ander was watching a scene play out infront of his eyes.

The first man sat back into a spectral chair, and two others gathered around him. Ander watched, unable to move his legs, in confusion as to who he was.

He could not hear them talking, only vague snatches when he concentrated and strained..

'Pathetic.'

'Freak.'

'Hideous.'

Quite suddenly, the man he watched was shoved from his chair, crawling backwards.

Shock.. Puzzlement.. Fear.. Bracing!

The second posed to hit him..

Rage.. Jealousy.. Rage!

Ander, though his neck would not move, looked away as fast as he had looked over, willing himself to wake up, but he couldn't. Instead, he found his gaze settling on several other individuals as he glanced hastily around the vast space.

In voices he had never heard, words he could hardly recognise, their conversations. He could not string sentences, or fill the blanks, yet he detected their feelings. Anguish, frustration, horror and hatred. Some, neutral, unfeeling. Others, overpowered with emotions too strong to overcome.

'-Really?'

'-Congratulations!'

'-Filth!'

'-Away!'

'-Elemental'

'-Farewell'

'-Necromancer!'

Ander longed to clutch at his head to blot them out. He was willing the sound away, willing the noise to cease and the figures passing through and around him to freeze.

His arms gave, finally. He was in control, he could cover his face. He could feel the brush of his fingers against his dry cheeks.

Overcome with relief, he dropped to his knees, looking back up to the bright void in the purple and the fog, with that stunning white light shining cleanly through.

It was sudden, but he saw them. Figures, against the white, standing idle and disconnected from one another. He strained to look closer and make out a face.

A voice he recognised echoed about the vast space, it's inhabitants unreactive. It spoke his name, urgently.

"Ander!"

Ander opened his eyes, gasping for air like he had been submerged underwater, and sitting abruptly upright. Reynick was stood over him, a hand holding his shoulder, and shushing insistantly. 
"Ander, quiet.." The man said as gently as he could. As Anders head darted about, he took hold of his shoulders quickly to hold him still. "..Quiet, don't wake the others.

"W-What the hell was that?"

"Indeed, what the hell WAS that?" Said Ransom from the opposite end of the quarters. He swung himself easily from his hammock, rounding on Reynick. He looked agitated, buttoning his shirt quickly before folding his arms.

He spoke in a hushed tone, but he was scowling. "I hope you have an excuse for interrupting my sleep with your obvious parlour tricks, Mage."

"Ransom?" Ander asked, furrowing his brow. "You saw that strange place too? With the figures? The muddled words?"

The man nodded, leaning against the frame of Anders hammock. "Well, the figures, yes. And I can't say I enjoyed it."

"Not the words..?"

"Ander, what words are you imagining?"

Confused, Ander quickly shook his head. Trying to explain a dream so strange would be useless, and there'd be no way they'd have had the exact same.

Reynick had been sleeping in one of the other spare hammocks, though they were few and far between. They surrounded Ransoms at the very end of the quarters. His robes were slung over the frame of it, now wearing only a black V-necked vest threaded loosely at the neck and some black trousers borrowed from Anders sack. However, he had slept with his gloves on, the black tattooed markings from them leading on just slightly, and ending at a curl at his bare shoulders. The spiked pattern matched the one crossing his left eye.

"I would explain," He started, scratching his head. "but, I honestly don't think I can provide a fitting explanation in a short span."

Suddenly Davelynn, from the opposite side of the room, sat up sharply. She was panting, her eyes wide as she grasped at her hammock. "W-What the bloody hell did.."

Ransom headed to her side quickly to soothe as she scrambled up. "It's alright.. I'm guessing you had the same, dream, as Ander and I."

"W-With the figures? The fog?"

"Yes, Reynick was about to explain."

"Was I?" Reynick muttered, "Fantastic.. With me, to the deck. Assuming there's nobody else invading my dream realm tonight?"

As they followed him, Ander furrowed his brow, rushing forward to catch up to him. "Dream realm..?"
"What you just tuned into is called the between. It's a space where memories linger, a place of concentration and great, mysterious power. Only mages can truly access it without being frozen still the whole time, and only sorcerers can bend it to their will.. Non-magic catch only snatches, which are what you call dreams."

Ander blinked at him, mildly horrified that yet another aspect of his human life had been reduced to magic and the impossible.

Reynick ran a hand back through his tousled white hair to unknot it, and yawned deeply. "..Sorcerers spent days at a time in its emptier plains, where there are no memories, to train in the more destructive fields of magic. I've heard some can even access it without sleeping, it's a state of intense meditation. They LOOK ridiculous doing it."

"So why could we see it?" Ander pressed. Reynick sighed deeply, as chillingly cold air greeting them upon reaching the deck. "I was getting to that.." He said lightly. "Well.. Often minds connect within the between, giving a combination of the memories of various people. You were probably only able to detect my own, and the lingering footprints of others I have shared a realm with at my coven.. As for what you may have discovered, I must insist that you keep it to yourself. For the sake of my fast-diminishing man hood."

That figure he'd seen.. Reynick? The one being thrown from his chair? He found it difficult to imagine him taking that from anyone..

"No, no, there was nothing.. It was all hazy, anyway.. And I couldn't move, at all.." Davelynn attempted to explain. Ransom nodded in agreement. "It was the same for me."

Ander wondered, distantly, how he had moved when they had not, but put the thought aside. Reynick continued to explain. "You see.. We mages emit a sort of signal when we are within the between ourselves, that can be picked up by other non-mages. You three must have been in a deeper sleep than the others to have been able to detect it, that or it's something else. However, I strongly doubt the latter. Perhaps you should go back and attempt some real sleep, now?"

Davelynn and ransom exchanged glances, then looked back to him. "Reynick, it would be more logical to place you elsewhere to sleep." Ransom stated.

"I agree." Said Davelynn.

Frowning, Reynick leant back against a panel. "What would you suggest, that I sleep here on deck and get crapped on by an abundance of seagulls?"

"To the hold." Ransom informed him. "Take your sheets and use a flour sack for your head. Surely you can handle that?"

There was an edge to his tone Ander detected, a slight challenge. The Mage narrowed his eyes in irritation. "Of course, quarter-master." He retorted bitterly.

With a nod to Ander, Ransom headed back to the quarters, and Davelynn followed.

Rubbing at his arm as the cold breeze sent chills down his spine, Ander started to follow.

But suddenly, Reynick caught his arm, and turned him back to face him. He looked him dead in the eye. "Wait, there's something else. For your ears only. And don't worry, I'm not just complaining about that CHARMING fellow."

Breathing an annoyed sigh, Ander folded his sleeves over his hands and nodded slowly. "You think I'll tell about the.. Bullying, thing? If that's what it was? I swear, I-"

"Nevermind that! Ander, I SAW you within the between. You were aware, like a Mage. You MOVED. That should not be possible for a mere huma- first blood."

Ander recalled the relief of his arms finally obeying him, his knees relaxing, sinking into the empty ground. His mouth twitched into a puzzled frown. "How.. How would that be possible?"

Reynick looked crestfallen at the concept of ignorance. "You ask me, but I have.. no idea. It's something to look into, at least.." He paused a moment, studying the boy, as though he'd find answers in his face. "Go on - return to the quarters, I'll stay here a moment. I don't much look forward to the idea of sleeping on a sack.."

Ander hesitated, still longing for answers, but nodded meekly. "Just - I'm sorry, about what I saw in the between. They called you things that are not true, those people. It was cruel, but also lies."

"Anderson, I live in a world where hungry vampires, mages that can raise the dead, mind reading spirit-things and changers that could turn into an alligator at any moment all live in secret, and the general human population haven't even realised. A few silly children are the least of my concerns.. Besides, none of those boys passed to sorcery training." He smiled briefly, almost smugly. "They were deemed mentally incompetent for such a task.. I may have rubbed it in a little at the time."

Ander chuckled quietly, pretending that he understood the differences. "With right, I'd imagine.."

He glanced up to the higher deck, where Hunter stood, a silhouette against the moon. He was leaning on the wheel, his chin in his hands, and hadn't acknowledged their presence even once, but Ander still lowered his voice unconsciously.

He looked back to the Mage. "Goodnight, then.." He breathed.

Reynick nodded. "..Goodnight, then.."

*

Two days had passed with no shocks or thrills, and Ander stood bored for the first time in a while, trying to shake the details of his 'dream' from his wandering mind.

The images were haunting him, the voice he had never heard.. They weren't fading, they weren't going away. He felt as helpless as he had in the between.

Attempting to put it to the back of his mind, he glanced about at the usual business on deck, ignorant to the individual purposes of the tasks being performed around him. He was still blank on ship terminology; But could just about distinguish the masting from the main sails and the upper deck from the main deck.

However this, apparently, was good enough for Ransom and Davelynn, and consequently good enough for the rest of the crew to leave him alone. They accepted that him learning the trade for the sake of a few weeks would be a waste of someone's time. At least they accepted it outwardly - Occasionally he'd get a sore look from one of the men as they worked, in the beating sun, and he stood idle and empty handed, having concluded his work in the hold and the bilge.

He often felt plain useless watching them work, experts of their tasks. Even Reynick was kept busy; He knew how to mend things with his magic abilities, and therefore spent a lot of time shadowing Davelynn, her being the almost always occupied Bootswain. This kept him happy and her yelling. Currently, he was in the bilge, patching the hole and attempting to keep the hex from faltering.

His eyes settled on Samson, who had been attempting to tie the same knot in some netting for the past ten minutes. He had an odd frown on his face, the kind of scrunched up expression you make inadvertently when thinking about something unpleasant. Clearly, he was troubled, and this was altogether rare. Samson was definitely a care-free spirit. But Ander had seen his face on the island, and this was a shadow of it.

He headed toward him quickly, somewhat grateful for a distraction from his morning of doing absolutely nothing. "Samson?" He said cautiously, "What's wrong with you?"

Samson huffed, tugging a little too hard on the netting. "What's wrong with me? Besides vampirism, and a mild drinking problem?"

"You know that's not what I meant." Ander pressed slowly.

Samson sighed, grumbling a little under his breath. "Look.. I've been offered Petes old job."

Anders breath hitched at the mention of Pete. He had temporarily forgotten about it, and therefore still nobody knew what he had done besides Ransom, who shared in his guilt. A conversation regarding him would surely end badly.

He hesitated a moment. "Isn't that.. Good? For you?"

Samson looked annoyed. The anger didn't suit him, it was so rare to see him not smiling. He turned sharply to him. "If your friend died, would you want to leap at the job everyone knew him for ten minutes later?"

Ander remembered what Davelynn had said, in that dreamlike state as she spoke of her blade everybody marvelled at. That Pete in particular had made it so lovely.

"Perhaps not.." He sighed. "I'm sorry for what happened.. I've lost people, but I haven't lived long enough to truly understand what loss is."

"It aches, Ander.." Samson sighed, his jaw tense. He gritted his teeth. "That's what loss is. It's not like an open wound, it's more like a bruise.. It aches and it's welling up into a big bubble of anger, telling me to kill those damned hunters. It's like this voice is, urging me on."

He ran a hand back through his curls in frustration. "I just keep thinking; what if they take Cyro next? Or Gillian? Ruth? Alec? Davelynn? Even you? I can't let it happen, Ander. I just.. It hurts. I hate this. I hate that I'm being so.."

Then Samson halted, and he sighed deeply once more, shaking his head as if to shake off his frustration with it. "Forget it.. Don't apologise for my sadness, it's not exactly your fault, is it? Let's not get sappy." Samson pulled himself from his daze a moment to flash a weak smirk at Ander, but he could hardly muster the energy to return one.

"I am lucky to have such friends. When they told me they'd be bringing a first blood from the imperium.. Well, I didn't expect to find another friend in him. In you. Let's just leave it at that."

It was like the gods were punishing him for it now, taunting him. Finger-pointing.

He gently reminded himself of the regrettable circumstances, and how they surely excused his actions. But still, the weight of the mans life sat heavy on his shoulders. The weight of his friends hurt.

"Samson.." Ander said as softly as he could. "Uh, you're strong to deal with this, you know.. You shake things off, you still act like a true friend, you keep smiling-"

"Didn't I say no sappy, Ander?" Samson interrupted him, but he was smiling warmly, as widely as usual. The notion made him feel at least a little better.

Ander nodded, and Samson chuckled lightly. He elbowed him, "Oi, gimme' a hand with this knot. It probably looks like I was distracted but I actually just have fat thumbs."

He gestured to the corner of the netting pinned from the masting to the sails, it's corner flapping about in the wind, and Ander rolled his eyes.

As he helped him, he thought that perhaps instead of punishing himself, he should be punishing the hunters who made Pete want to die. The ones who probably wrecked his family and longed to destroy his only friends.

And, he reminded himself, his future..

"How do you do it?" He asked distractedly.

Samson looked up through his hair, "What, tie knots? Christ, I know I'm older than you, but-"

"Shut up, I mean how do you get over things so quickly..?"

Samson smiled slightly at his hands, and leaned back against the masting as Ander tied. "I keep this little box in my head filled with my psychological issues, but I give it religiously strict visiting hours. Like, 'thou shalt not disturb the suicide inducing memories but on the second Sunday of every month at precisely 7:15.' Get it? I don't let myself wallow; but neither do I forget. Helps keep you sane, but reminds you of why you're fighting. Perfect system."

"That's.. Smart. In a frighteningly organised kind of way.. But you know, locking stuff away isn't always a good plan."

He chuckled. "That's what everybody says.. Ruth tells me that, too, when she goes through her short serious phases, but she's no one to judge. She does exac'ly the same thing. At least I could tell you just now, right? She doesn't say a thing bout' anything."

Ander sighed, nodding. "What is it with her? She seems to have a passive issue with me."

"Mate, she has an issue with everyone. Me and her were together for a short time, so long ago now I hardly remember it.. I was in the original crew of the ship, but she arrived maybe 5 to 10 years later, no clue when exactly. Doesn't talk 'bout why, even to me. We ended it because an eternity of commitment made us both pretty itchy."

Ander stared at him in mild shock, struggling to picture the two of them together in any way romantically. He could hardly picture Ruth with anyone, never mind Samson. "Oh, wow.."

"I know! Perish the thought that I be involved with an actual living woman! My god!" He exclaimed in a sarcastic tone, grinning. Ander quickly revoked his statement, shaking his head, but grinning a little too. "No, I didn't mean it like that! It's her.. Not so much you. I can't see it, is all."

Samson chuckled, nodding in agreement. "I know, I know. According to Gillian the others saw 'too much of it.' But enough 'bout that.. You best go down to the bilge and get the supplies sorted, while Alec's swabbin' the kitchen."

Ander nodded, and headed to the ladder, but he over his shoulder. "Are you sure you're alright, then?"

"I'll live! Run along, cooper!" Samson grinned.

Ander nodded to him, and headed down to the bilge.

When he arrived, Reynick was sat against the wall, his hands positioned hovering over the forcefield he had formed and his gloves discarded. He looked up briefly when he heard him, and wrinkled his forehead.

"Ander, nice of you to make an appearance.. These imbeciles are starving me." He sighed.

Ander raised an eyebrow at him, heading to the stack of barrels closest to Alec's table. "You DO know where the food is.."

"Yes, but the shield was left alone all night, and now it needs tending.. Pass me a loaf."

"A loaf?"

"Did I stutter? I feel like a demons attempting to tear out of my gut, and I would like some damned bread!"

"Jesus," Ander muttered, retrieving a few slices from the dried food barrel. They had been wrapped in a material to keep them near fresh, but they were still resembled bricks.

He handed them over. "You're not at your cheeriest. I never expected to see a man so close to committing homicide over mouldy bread."

Reynick breathed a laboured sigh. "Ander, my arms are killing me, I've been been on my own for hours, and I failed to retrieve a man I grew up with, leaving him for dead. But I apologise, for taking it out on you."

Ander gave him a pitying look, unsure of how to respond. He didn't need to.

The man froze the forcefield, and devoured his bread whilst Ander mopped at the corners of the bilge surrounding the barrels. He was so occupied with the mess of an overflowing barrel to realise he had returned the task a few minutes later.

Reynicks hands shifted, fingers bent slightly, and his entire wrists shaking from the tension. He'd spend short periods concentrating, then he'd allow himself a break, where the forcefield would hold without deteriorating or needing to be hexed.

"How do you do it..?" Ander wondered aloud.

Reynick didn't look away. "The key to alteration, is awareness.. Awareness of all things surrounding you and the oppurtunities within them. Awareness of how things are constructed, and their function. Being perceptive." Reynick spoke with a strain, grimacing. "It, takes brain power to take command over the elements of such things and change them."

"How do forcefields..?"

"Hardening the air. But for example one form of alterative magic, energy extraction, is made of my own inner energy changing, concentrated by the magarc over my eye and the contributing runes on my hands. Tapping into ones own strength, not matter, is more complex. Only soulstis sorcerers can tap into the strength of others, and only elementals can truly master creation without existing matter.. Each group has it's own properties, I'll explain them properly one day. In short, It takes a lot of willpower."

"I'm sure I'll never understand how it works." Ander confessed, puzzled by the vocabulary itself. "It is simply, magic."

"And intelligence." Reynick added. He gritted his teeth a second. "That has a lot to do with it.. Like how vampires require great control and skill over the hunt, animalistic, acute instincts.. The magi require brain power. And, of course, will."

"Did you just credit the vampires?" Ander smirked a little. Reynick didn't look away from the task at hand, but he glared into space. "I dont have to like them to admit their power. Infact their power is a contributing factor as to why I do not like them."

"Jealousy?" He teased.

Reynick groaned outwardly. "God damn it Ander, do you want this boat to flood?"

He innocently raised his hands in retreat, but chuckled at his discomfort. "Sorry. I'll go help Alec mop up the kitchen, if you'd prefer."

"Oi! Don't you leave me alone again, keep talking." Reynick objected quickly. "This is painstakingly boring."

Ander rolled his eyes, nodding, and he picked up his brush. Now he considered it, Reynick reminded him a lot of one of the boys in his old grammar school before he left, the rich boy who sat at the front of class with the other higher class children. He had some generic name many shared.

 Thomas, if memory served.

And much of the time, he'd have a whipping boy sat cross legged by his chair on the wooden floor. A boy of maybe seven or eight, small, staying out of the class conversations. Ander rarely saw anything but a head of mousy brown hair and a pale, scrawny neck.

They all knew about his job. He got an education despite living in the city slums, at the price of taking any of Thomas' hits from the cane for him if he misbehaved. Thomas' parents were rich enough to ensure that the teachers couldn't lay a finger on him, and the small, nameless child was his substitute, a negotiation.

Thomas would act higher than the others, and with the boy marking his status like a giant yellow arrow over his head, nobody complained outwardly. He'd raise his hand proudly to answer a question with a large, overly-confident smile on his face. Depending on whether he enjoyed the subject, of course.

If not, he might as well have not been there at all. He'd cross his arms, sitting askew on his chair, making a face like he'd smelled something unpleasant. The teachers never commented on this attitute, of course, as they knew of his parents influence and valued their livelihoods. The whipping boys presence was enough to remind them of that.

But there were others like Thomas, a couple of other children with their wipping boys by their sides. Sadistic was not the word to describe these children.

They would kick their whipping boys if they so much as coughed, and they would actively try to get in trouble, to watch the boys take strikes and endure the unnecessary pain. Ignorantly, the teachers never caught on. It was a memory Ander didn't smile upon.

Thomas, as high and mighty as he acted, was different. He was kind to the child. Often passively, but it showed. He'd avoid trouble at all costs, which explained why he seemed to avoid any subject he feared he would slip up at. Ever since that day..

Ander knew the punishment for failure was the dunce cap, though being too shy himself to risk an answer, he had never had to face it. But for talking back, or talking in class, it was the cane.

Thomas came marching into class one day as always, his whipping boy trailing a respectable foot behind him. The boy had crumbs on his face, signalling that Thomas had shared his lunch with him again. Ander often saw him do it while he ate his own sandwich and played tag with a few other boys blurry in his mind, break off a part of his crust and discreetly hand it to him. Wordlessly, but a secret agreement between them.

Thomas and the boy took their places.

That same lesson, Thomas chanced an equation, in the subject he hated most.

'The solution is N equals seven.' He had offered, without a single doubt in his voice.

The teacher heaved a sigh. 'Wrong, young master Thomas. Are you really so stupid as to get it an entire two digits off?" 
Thomas looked around at the class, with an expression of confusion and embarrassment. Ander had looked at his own chalkboard, frowning deeply. He was right, he was absolutely right. The answer was seven. The teacher had forgotten to square root the answer.

'But, miss..' He started, looking up. 'I'm correct.. I took the term from the-'

'Are you talking back to me, master Thomas?' The teacher snapped venomously, her eyes boring into him.

Thomas looked momentarily startled, but determined. 'No, no just, really, its N equals seven! I'm correct!'

The teacher snapped. 'MASTER THOMAS! That's five strikes for your rudeness, I won't tolerate it!'
Thomas froze. For a moment, silence fell, and his eyes settled on the boy at his feet, tensing noticeably.

His face had grown more and more horrified by the second in steady realisation. He watched the small boy beside him clamber to his feet. His head was hung, looking at his feet like a prisoner walking to the gallows.

Thomas didn't object, but his eyes were wide as the whipping boy approached the front of the class. He was shaking his head, and his knuckles had turned white as he gripped the desk. 'Please, miss..' He chanced. 'Double check the answer, there's no need for-'

'SILENCE!' The teacher yelled. She took hold of a long, mahogany cane leaned against the blackboard, and raised it in both hands. 'Bend over, boy.'

The whipping boy obliged.

As the first strike echoed around the small classroom, heads bowed, and eyes averted, turning anywhere but to the front of the class. The reactions were standard. Afraid, but accepting.

The boy released a shallow gasp, grimacing. Then as the next hit him, he whimpered loudly.

And Ander wasn't watching him then, reluctantly accustomed to such things. He was watching Thomas, who was crying like the pain was affecting only him. A tear slid down his cheek and dropped onto his desk.

Ander had never forgotten it, how he so clearly cared. How despite how his station kept him acting above others by nature, he cared. He had his own feelings, unchanged. Even when they never spoke, never touched, communicated only in nods and primitive gestures.. Thomas has cared about the whipping boy.

Reynick was cold, outwardly superior, but deep down he was as weak as anybody else. Ander saw it. And he was kind, if only a little.

Ander sighed as he mopped more water into the corner. He still had mixed feelings about the man, even if he attempted to understand him. He still had mixed feelings about most everybody on the ship.

 

***

That night Ander lay awake, as the ship was tossed from side to side, his hammock tethered to the wall by a hook to prevent it from slamming.

Alec was snoring across the quarters, lay on his front with his arms wrapped around his pillow like a comforter, and his blonde locks obscuring his peaceful face.

The others were working tirelessly on deck to get through the impending storm, rain beating down so viciously on the wood it could be heard like cannons in the night.

He stood up suddenly, throwing on his boots, grabbing his coat and retrieving the hood from his sack. He clipped it on quickly before making his way to the hatch. Upon pushing it, cold greeted him, and wind almost blew it back into place. He had to force it back to stop it from swinging back and hitting him.

Samson, Cyro, and several others were attempting to adjust the sails, whilst Ruth, Gillian and Quill tied things down or moved them from side to side in an effort to balance the ship.

At the upper deck, Ransom and Hunter stood at the hull bracing the rain, both clutching at the wheel to get it to budge.

Barely inches from his face Davelynn stood, her hands shielding her eyes against the force of the pounding rain and shouting orders at the top of her voice.

"GET THOSE SAILS UP! GILLIAN - MOVE THE BARRELS TO THE BOW! ANDER - WHAT THE BLOODY HELL ARE YOU DOING?"

Ander clambered from the hatch, quickly grabbing the railing to prevent himself from toppling over. "I want to help!" He called over the howling wind.

Davelynn looked like he had just told her he aspired to godhood. "GET YOUR ARSE DOWNSTAIRS! UNLIKE US, YOU NEED SLEEP! GO!"

"Davelynn-!"

Cyro cried out from across the deck, "COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS AND GET OUTTA' THE DAMNED STORM, BOY!"

Quickly, startled by the aggress, Ander obliged and jumped back down the ladder, slamming the hatch shut.

The sudden ceasing of the wind made the dank room feel almost cosy, the sudden calm putting the noise into perspective.

Clothes soaked simply from the short blast, he grudgingly settled back into his hammock.

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