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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11. Chapter 11 - A Safe Spot

Today, it was Quill waking Ander, apparently by obnoxiously slapping him.

"Oi, meat-lump, we're dockin'." He said, 'tapping' Ander's face to the point where it stung. Ander's eyes adjusted, and he quickly recoiled from the man, looking alarmed.

The room was almost empty, save for the two of them and Ransom lacing his boots. He frowned up at Quill as he sat. "For pity's sake.. Most would just poke me."

"I did!"

"You should specify where, Ander. It will be to the groin next." Ransom said, without looking up. Quill seemed to find it amusing, while Ander winced at the very idea.

He sighed deeply, swinging his aching legs over the side of his hammock, and rubbed the sleep from his eyes with the back of his hand. "I'm up NOW.. Did you say, docking?"

"At the imperial outer province of 'Saare Pastell.' It's a safe point for both pirates and midnight people alike, night hunter free. Ideal for us." Ransom informed him. He stood up and bobbed his head around the corner. "Be ready in ten minutes."

With that he left for the deck, and Quill followed.

After a change of clothes and recovering his daggers from his trunk, Ander joined them, dragging his feet as he went.

The sun had risen between parted clouds, and the storm had cleared. But the deck was entirely soaked with rain, puddles spread across the wood that Alec now mopped at.

Hunter stood at the wheel above the deck, facing away from them.

"Ander's risen," Reynick said, stood with his arms crossed beside Davelynn. Davelynn flashed him the smallest of smiles as he approached.

"Ander, I apologize for my temper yesterday, I had to be short with you." She said briskly. "I only apologize because understand it may have come across differently to someone new to the ship."

Ander smiled back at her, mostly because she was actually trying to be nice; that he could see. "That's, alright.. I understand I shouldn't have been up there." He lied easily. He honestly didn't see any harm in him helping, and was quite frankly tired of being treated like a child, but he harboured no desire to argue further.

"It was quite the storm last night, everybody's tense." Reynick said whimsically. He scratched his chin, in a way that simply screamed 'I want to look as whimsical as humanly possible.' "I wonder if docking will help morale?"

"Can you just for once try not to talk like you're narrating a theater production?" Cyro grumbled from behind them, before trudging on with a barrel in his meaty arms.

Ander chuckled a little, "Storms are an occupational hazard, I'd imagine."

He then moved away with a nod to them, closer to the edge of the ship to look out at their destination.

They were approaching an island, a populated one, this time. Past the narrow stretch of beach, where several dozen fishing boats were docked along the wooden walkways, was the colourful village Ander was sure he had seen in water paintings at Zafflen. From the distance, the villa like buildings spreading uphill were painted in multiple light and cheerful colours, making the sight a new and welcome one.

While Ander had no idea whereabouts on the map they were, from this, he supposed they must have been close to Sparing. Outer provinces were rarely invested in as much as cities within the Imperium and the Sounderlands, but Sparing was historically pretty, it regained that reputation by sporting pastel and floral everywhere you looked. He supposed that was why they were labelled as pansies by every other nation.

The accents were the most ridiculous thing, at least to him. The way the working class seemed to over pronounce everything as remnants of their old tongue, prior to the forming of the empire under the rule of the king of Dioma, yet still shortened things as Imperial peasants did. Dioma had been the name for the Imperium, once upon a time.

 The nobles, however, had adopted articulate Imperial-Dioman accents long ago. They sounded simply strange to Ander, struggling to maintain a balance between the two dialects.

Considering it, Ransom had a similar tone to his voice at times, something distinctly foreign that he hadn't been able to put his finger on..

Ander had known a few Sparing refugees, who had moved from the crumbling capital of Haron for a new life in Zafflen. They had wound up in the opposite corner of his dank communal house. 

He recalled that occasionally, the two would break away from speaking traditional Dioman, the required first language of all within the Imperium, and speak in the Sparish tongue. Only short sentences, if at all, like the language had been largely forgotten by them. 

When questioned about why, they shared that the language was still used, but only privately. And that it came in handy for sharing secrets.

Ander had picked up only the survival basics by listening to them and asking them to translate single words, young and overly curious. However, they soon moved out, like everybody else to pass through the house.

Ander imagined that, if the countries and continents he knew had voices, the Imperium where he had lived his entire life would be the one holding an unnecessarily colourful sign that reads 'look at me!' and punching other countries square in the jaw for no particular reason.

The Sounderlands being their estranged cousin, the very archetype of the friend who claims to be highly religious, yet we've all lost count of how many people they've been in bed with. The corruption in the Sounderlands couldn't have a figure put to it.

Altogether, Anders opinion of the empire was not a high one.

Across the sea, it was likely that the entire sub-continent of Sparing would be sitting on a footstool wondering why they hadn't been fed a grape in so long. Or, at least this was their historically lasting impression, before Emperor Carver killed their King, 'Lysander the coward', and their noble families went back five steps in the social spectrum. 

The icy sub-continent of Frimaria would be shyly hiding in a corner, wearing enough fur to award the entire population of the Imperium a new doormat. Likely questioning why the hell everybody was so worked up, yet never bothering to reach out and actually stop every other nation from ripping each other apart. Actually rather wise of them, considering how that went for Tordan when the Imperium did it..

What he knew of Tordan was slim, except that they were generally accused of being nothing but lawless barbarian alcoholics who enjoy activities largely orientated around hitting things, and sparking rebellions over something as simple as imported fruit. However he doubted, to that claim, Tordan would do anything but turn around and say 'yes, we are lawless barbarian alcoholics and hitting things is surprisingly therapeutic, but at least we aren't Sparing.'

Vialta, then, would likely laugh in the face of Tordan, and turn away swinging their bloodied axes like kites in the wind.

"Saare Pastell," said somebody behind him. He turned around to face Ransom, stood turning up the collar of his coat to shield his lower face against the sea breeze. "Governed by Sparing, as you were probably wondering. Or primarily the Dioman Empire now, I suppose. Archduke Abelard rules over it, along with the Northern coast of mainland Sparing and a handful of other islands like this one.. It is a beautiful place."

"It is.." Ander said slowly. "But there are so many ships, is it safe?"

"It's a known pirate haven, a safe spot. Because of their general unwillingness to enforce maritime laws, and the criminal network hiding here, it doesn't get much imperial affection. Making it fine for us to restock, repair and catch up on the rumours. It's also.. supposedly, safe for midnight people like us." He hesitated a moment, looking over Anders shoulder at the view, and he breathed a sad sigh that carried into his words. "How many poor fools have fallen for that..?"

"Drop anchor in ten! Adjust the mainsails for docking!" Called the Captain from the wheel. Ander looked across at the others, who began dashing about the deck to their assigned tasks. Ransom nodded to him briskly before following to tie off the masting.

The ship was steered to a spot just a little out from the dock, so that there was just enough space to drop the walkway onto the pier, and Quill heaved the anchor over the side.

After a minute or so they began filing from the ship, following Hunter, and Alec was joining them at Davelynn's side, flashing a smile at Ander. Only Yates remained, guarding. He stood by the edge, his spy glass surgically attached to his hand, as usual.

Samson came quickly to Anders side upon spotting him. "Oi! You been 'ere before at all?"

"Never left the Imperium." Ander shrugged. "Moved provinces, though. From Sounder city, to Loria, then to Zafflen when I was seven and stayed there. Why, have you?"

"O' course! Oh, wow! Do we 'ave some sightseeing to do! And by 'sights' I mean the brilliant local taverns and maybe even the seasoned pearl.."

"Do NOT take Ander to a whore-house, Samson!" Snapped Davelynn from where she was disembarking the ship. "I forbid you!"

Samson groaned dis-heartedly. "You approved Gillian!"

Gillian snorted from where he followed off behind her. "I approved me' self, lad!"

"Probably best to salvage my innocence, Samson," Ander chuckled nervously, pushing his hair back from his face by force of habit and heading to the ramp. "What are we doing exactly, anyway?"

As they headed off onto the pier, Samson started to explain. "See, half of the crew goes off carrying goods back while the Captain and Davelynn make their diplomatic deals for price cuts, and fence off the plunder. A few will be seeking out a handyman around the locals willing to mend the hull, since I'm far from qualified and will probably end up sinking the ship if I attempt to fix it.. And the rest of us nosy about for rumours to follow up. They can prove useful! Plus," he smirked, holding up a finger, "I have a personal contact."

"You have a friend? Here?"

Samson chuckled lightly, "Try not to look so shocked, I'm offended!. Rhys, yes. He's more or less a walking 'arrest me,' sign, but he has his uses."

"Very ominous."

"Well.. the truth is a little more complicated than than. He's somethin' of an oddity among midnight people, an' all.."

The Captain stopped at the beach, the group earning suspecting glances from a few fisherman kneeling by their catches, but at a glance they averted their gaze and returned hurriedly to their tasks.

He turned to address them, with the tone of a commander ordering his troops, though with a tired look that some what resembled a worn out single father, rather than a ships captain.

"I'm sure you all know your function, here! While I wouldn't mind some loot myself, stay low profile at all costs. And for the love of Stara, do NOT kill anyone!" His narrowed eyes settled accusingly on Gillian a second, who feigned innocence.

"What?" The man cried, "'ee-"

"..I will not accept 'he was looking at me funny' again, you bloody imbecile!" Hunter barked, and Ander could hear how drained he was, like a father attending to his misbehaving children. "Now spread out, be back by midnight at the absolute latest or we'll be sending out a search party for your sorry arse! You better have a damn good story prepared.."

He then turned on his heel and strode away, Davelynn a step behind him attempting to keep up, and the others started to disperse, too.

"..That was, informative?" Ander frowned.

Samson tutted, "Things tend to get less formal once they've been repeated ninety times, Ander. Come with me, we'll find my friend."

"Captain!" Called Ransom, moving quickly to his side before he could leave. Ander looked over curiously as the man turned to face him, waving for Davelynn to go on.

The two leaned together, stepping to the side of the path to talk in private.

"What are they discussing?" Ander whispered to Samson. The man shrugged his shoulders. "Pff - axed if I know!"

Ander frowned as he passed them, straining to catch only a snatch of their hushed conversation.

"-I can't allow the Galeswicks to see me, but I would benefit from their where abouts."

"Alright. Do not take unnecessary risk."

***

The town was bustling. Leading uphill, along the damaged cobbled street between two rows of brightly painted buildings, was an abundance of market stalls selling goods that Ander had never seen before.

"Can I interest you with this fine jewellery, young man?" Asked an older merchant woman, wearing so many fake rubies and diamonds that it hurt to look at her in direct sunlight. "For your mistress!"

"No, thankyou.." Ander quickly rejected her, moving onward and attempting to keep Samson in his line of sight.

Another reached out to him, catching him by his shirt. "Lovely young man, can you spare a moment to look over our displays?"

He quickly recoiled and dodged around her, raising his hands in apology.

A faint scent of spices lingered in the air, exotic and almost intoxicating, that was apparently clinging to every shopper to barge past him. In fact, several stalls were selling them, some dangling from the frames of their stalls and some stuffed in clouded jars. 

He barely took three steps before a large man maybe twice his width positioned himself in front of him, his voice deep but thick with the accent of Sparing. "You there! We are serving half price, yes? Do not miss out!"

Ander stepped around him again, shrinking back into the movement of the crowd once more, before Samson twisted to face him. He quickly extended an arm. "Ander, take my wrist, the cap'n will cook me if I lose you."

"What? Don't be ridiculous, I'm not a-"

"Don't whine like one then! That's my aesthetic!" Samson sighed, grabbing Ander firmly around the wrist and pulling him forward through the onslaught of locals. Ander grudgingly allowed himself to be led, taking in the sights and sounds around him.

The balconies overhead, though strewn with laundry and towels, provided very little shade. The tightly packed street was stiflingly warm, sunlight beating down the moment he stepped into the centre of the street. Voices overlapped each other - merchants calling offers, beggars tucked away in the gaps between stalls pleading for spare change..

He couldn't remember the last time he'd been anywhere quite so overwhelming. Even Loria during his time at the orphanage, filled with Staraniun pilgrims at the changing of the seasons, couldn't hold a candle to this.

Is this what it's like outside of the imperium? He wondered in bewilderment. Such busy marketplaces would never be permitted there. The closest would be the docks at Sounder City, and even there, imperial guards lingered by every pavement crack waiting to swoop in like bald eagles in armor. 

"Where are we headed?" He called over the noise. Samson didn't look away from the path. "To a tavern named the Head Of August - Rhys'll be there for certain, I'd bet money on it."

"Rhys?"

He didn't hear him.

Ander looked distractedly toward the ending of the markets, where the crowds seemed to disperse and the streets grew emptier, but Samson suddenly pulled him aside.

"Oi, this is it." He said, before dropping his arm.

Ander looked up. The tavern was painted a darker shade to the rest of the buildings on the row, nearing on black, and painted in large, white, ornate lettering above the door was 'The head of august.'

"Why the name?" Ander enquired. Samson smirked a little. "For once your pointless questions have an answer. August. An island that resents the Imperials. Head.. Severed, perhaps? You make the connection."

"The late king Augustus? He carries most of the blame for the imperiums creation.." Ander proffered. The quirk of the mans lips told him he was correct.

Samson pushed on the wooden door, and more noise greeted them, along with the foul yet intoxicating smell of rum.

Drunken fools stumbled about, red faces wild with laughter and boasting overflowing pints of alcohol. Around tables littered with discarded bottles and casks, men sang loudly to the bands music, who were seated in the corner. An upbeat violin tune was playing, drowned out by the volume of everybody around them.

Ander looked up at Samson, who was grinning broadly. "Taverns. Where you can't be judged, because nobody remembers who was there the next morning,"

"Where's your friend?" Sighed Ander, folding his arms around himself. The atmosphere somehow made him nervous, as he hadn't entered a tavern willingly in over a year, and the last time he had he had wound up with a black eye and a bloodied nose. Admittedly, every man in the room looked hostile if he focused on them long enough.

Samsons eyes roamed for a moment, then brightened. "By the bar, the young Vialtan!"

He peered across the room to where the bartender was serving drinks. Many men made up the group there, but the foreigner sat alone stood out. He was slender, but not without muscle, dark skinned with his black hair drawn back with a green ribbon. Vialtans were natives of the Northern Wildlands, so why he'd be here, Ander couldn't guess.

They made their way over, and Samson called to him eagerly. "Rhys!"

Turning his head, the man smiled, and rose to his feet with an amused expression. "Sammy, me' friend! You're back!"

"Rhys," Samson chuckled. The two met and slapped each other on the back, laughing. "It's been a while! Good to see you've not gotten yourself killed."

"And you!" The man chuckled, "Though I suppose you have it easy, don't you?"

Samson caught Anders sleeve to turn him to them. "Rhys, this is Ander.. He's travelling with us. Probably best you don't learn why, for your safety, and such."

Rhys arched an eyebrow. "Very cloak and dagger, usually my fortay.. I should be proud of you, old timer." He flashed a grin at him, then at Ander, who he extended a callused hand to. "Rhys Zakonis. I pretty much spread rumours for a living - That and some professional eavesdroppin'. Call me a rogue, it's shorter."

"..Tactfully put, Rhys, tactfully put."

Across the room, the others were just entering the tavern. Ransom, Reynick, Cyro and Alec, who saw Ander and beamed. Worming out of Ransoms reach, the boy darted toward him.

Ransom cursed loudly. "Alec!"

"Ander!" Alec smiled, arriving at his side and grinning childishly up at him. "You met Rhys, huh?"

"Alec-zander," Rhys smiled, shaking his head. "I remember YOU. Course I do! Not often you see one of your kind on such a small scale."

He smiled, and ruffled his blonde hair. "Big things in small packages, right?"

"You know I'm older than you, Rhys." Alec said gruffly, but smiled at the affection all the same.

Rhys sank back into his chair and turned his head to face the barkeep. "A round on me, aye? Three bottles of rum, on my tab!"

Samson leaned over the bar, and slipped an extra coin to the man. "And put some milk in a rum bottle for the little lad, alright?"

The barkeep nodded knowingly, and Ander smiled a little, thanking them. He pulling out a chair for himself, but found it difficult to relax. The dark haired man across the room with knuckles white clutching his bottle; there was a knife in his belt. The blonde sat by the fire; he'd been glaring at his back since he arrived, he could see it from the corner of his eye.

He avoided looking anyone in the eye, instead smiling nervously at Alec, waiting for the drinks.
Alec seemed to sense his dis-comfort, and wriggled closer to the edge of his stool, feet swinging. He leaned forward a second, "I don't like it 'ere, either. They wonder why there's a child not in serving uniform."

"I can't imagine you serving anyone," Ander smiled, but the boy looked entirely serious.

"Isn't that what I do on the ship?" He breathed.

Anders smile drained away. 

Rhys took the drinks from the bar keep, and chuckled as he passed them about. "You wouldn't wan't to be spending too long 'ere, Sammy."

Samson rolled his eyes. "Act a little happier to see me.."

"The criminal underworld 'ere is a force to be reckoned with. An' the breakaway nighten's of course.. Think the criminal spectrum 'ave more control of the island than the guards do."

"How so?" Ander asked, matching Samsons perplexed expression.

Rhys shrugged, sitting backwards on his chair and handing a bottle to them all. "If you think about it the guards 'ave to work twice as 'ard to reduce crime. All the rogues 'ave to do is take a weekend off."

Alec spoke up before the rest could speak, looking away from where he had been staring into his bottle. "What are breakaways?"

Rhys smirked, looking at him in amusement. "Sorts like these two from all over, lad. The ones who didn't want to join a midnight clan. Mainly vampires, but you see mages an' sorcerers too. If they dress a little less like your friend over there and cover their tats', they're the mos' human in nature over you fellas' and the drifters an' such.. No offence intended. No idea how their culture works, but it must be difficult to get away."

Rhys cast a sidewards glance at Reynick, who was stood reading a billboard by the tavern doors with Ransom and Cyro. He notioned to what looked like a circus magic show poster, momentarily animated, and both men gave him a responding look most would reserve for an upside down turtle.
Samson sighed. "He's from the magi coven. A little too confident in his race, I know."

Rhys nodded to Samson with a shrug. "Well, you 'ad the Galeswick family bringing in all sorts. Magi, vampires like yourself, drifters, the lot of 'em. Them' lot was thinking it were' hunter free. Which is mostly true. S'posed they got tired of living with the 'ope that they wouldn't be the unlucky sod to get killed by one of 'em."

Ander remembered what Ransom had said suddenly, about his reason for lying low. He cut in quickly. "The Galeswicks? Did you say the galeswicks?"

"Aye?"

He quickly excused himself, and stood. "Hey - Ransom!" He called to the group by the billboard. Ransom looked up and frowned at him before approaching, folding his arms. "What is it?" He asked sourly.

Ander motioned for him to come away a moment, Samson looking on with a frown.

He leaned in slightly, and lowered his voice. "I heard you mention some people earlier to Hunter..? The, Galeswicks?"

Ransom frowned deeply, an angry, scolding frown. "You eavesdropped on us?" He snapped.

Ander cursed himself for not thinking it through. He stumbled over an excuse. "No, I.. You were speaking loudly. Rhys over there, sat with Samson. He's talking about them."

He gestured discreetly with his thumb. Ransom followed his gaze past him to the men by the bar.
His eyes brightened, sparking with interest. "Why would you.."

"I thought you'd like to know."

Without a moments delay, Ransom went over. He leant a hand heavily on the bar, sliding lower so he was eye to eye with Rhys. "Where are they?" He asked bitterly.

Rhys arched an eyebrow, and put down his bottle . "'Oo?"

"I think you know who.." He asked in annoyance. "You know as much about us as any."

Rhys groaned, fiddling with his collar consciously. "Woah, mister. Assumin' you are talkin' about 'oo I think you are, let me finish my bloomin' drink, before we get into that.. Heavy duty stuff."

Ransom leaned in closer, his eyes narrowed dangerously. His face was intense, unflinching. "Where is the damned Galeswick manor, Rhys? Surely that isn't too difficult for your acute intellect to recall?"

"Ransom, wring your neck in!" Samson snapped, scowling at him. "If Rhys isn't blabbing it out, you know it's with-held!"

Rhys held out an arm to mute Samson, before Ransom could bark at him. "It's alright! I'm not all secrets.. The manors west off the village centre, the grounds are fenced off."

Ransom nodded. Without another word he headed to the door, turning the heads of Cyro and Reynick.

Alec sighed. He had already downed his bottle of 'rum', and now stood, dusting off his drawers. "I'll go keep track of him?"

"Don't get lost!" Ander said like an instinct, and boy cast him a pitying smile before leaving. He had to once again remind himself that Alec was not a child, in his head. 

Samson sighed. He looked at Rhys apologetically. "Don't mind 'im. That bloke has given me some right scoldings over the years, 'ee has.. It's healthy for him if his prey bites back from time to time."

"You talk about him like he's a wild animal." Ander observed in amusement. He took a sip of his drink but recoiled quickly, attempting to hide his disgust at the bitter liquid.

Samson arched an eyebrow. "'Ee acts high and mighty, but 'ees no better than the rest of us.. He reminds me of a wolf at times."

"Does that make me the scraggly little mongrel, then?"

Samson laughed, tossing his head. "Nah, you more resemble a teeny kitten with a broken paw. Not quite at your full potential, stunted from growing.."

"Agh! I've never much cared for poets." Rhys grinned. He leaned forward in his stool, looking at them both, and clasped his hands together. "Come on now, out with it. You never stop by just to say hello to your little rescue-ee."

"What do you mean?" Ander asked. He looked at Samson, who seemed unamused, then back to Rhys. "Rescue..?"

Rhys sighed deeply, taking a prolonged swig of his drink. "S'pose you're clean to tell.. When I was just 5 I was captured from the outer provinces of Vialta," He started, knitting his fingers together. "for slavery. It's not so much a touchy subject now, so close your mouth.. Sammy and his mates saved me, and he gave me money, trained me to use a knife incase I needed it. Eventually, he brought me here.."

Samson was flushing, like the very idea of him being thoughtlessly kind embarrassed him. "That's cutting the story short.. I only noticed you because of your branding."

"You're both speaking in code! Can you please just tell me what happened, no whimsical storytelling attached." Ander sighed, sitting back in his chair.

Rhys blinked at him, before smirking a little. "As you will, lad."

He glanced about the bar a moment incase of anyone sober enough to listen, themnleaned in closer, his elbows on his knees.

"I was born at a vampire clan, in the Vialtan Wildlands, like I said. It was nothing fancy like the first-blood clans over yonder - it was more like a tribe, with no restrictions but one. They had new bloods, first bloods, but strictly vampires."

"So why were you.." Ander started, but he cut himself off. Rhys seemed to wait for him to understand before explaining. "I'm something of a collectors item; a clear blood. A human, born to vampires. The only thing close to Sammys level of vampirism I have is a faster healing than most, a resistance to disease, and my lifespan is doubled." He scoffed, shaking his head. "Great, right? I thought so too, until they kicked me out. Branded me with the mark of a failure so I wouldn't be mixed up with the other children, and off I went."

"How could they do that to a child?" Ander wondered aloud, wide eyed.

He shrugged his shoulders, reclining into his seat again. "If you ever meet my parents, ask 'em! They waited until I could beg and got rid of me, so I was easy prey to slave catchers with a preference for blacks to work the sounderland plantations."

Ander was taken aback. "Not to seem.. Unpleasant, but how are you even alive..?"

Rhys pointed both his hands at Samson. "You're looking at the reason. Him an' the rest of the ship, but he was my adopted big brother." He grinned. "Always finds a reason to bob his head in the door."

"Don't get sappy on me, I've not had enough to drink yet.." Samson chuckled. "You wanted to talk business, now, right?"

"Aye. What do you need, then? Better be interesting."

"A carpenter.. Preferably not from polite society, if you get what I'm saying.."

Rhys groaned. He drained the rest of his bottle, then placed it on the bar, rising to his feet. "Here I was thinking you'd be giving me a fun job. How disappointing.. I'll take you to D'lin."

He started heading to the door, and Samson blindly followed without a moments hesitation. Ander was left for a moment, confounded, before hurrying after them.

"..D'lin?"

"Sorry - Devlin. He's a handyman, but right-good with hushed affairs like this one." Rhys grinned.

The man appeared to be fixed with a permanent expression of amusement, he rarely stopped smirking.

Ander wasn't sure whether to be unnerved, offended, or relieved by it.

*

Ransom turned a corner at Ramayas street, adjusting his hair to cover his scar as he did and surveying his whereabouts fondly. Walking this road, it seemed warmly familiar, yet so distant, all at once.

He was thankful that the people passing him did not part for him as they once did. He had been long forgotten, long accepted to be dead. He was no longer a resident here. And he no longer carried weight, or importance.

He welcomed the fact. It brought new comfort to the place.

But the fact remained that they were here. They had to be. How else would they be remembered?

Suddenly, something held him back. A hand was clutching at his sleeve.

He instinctively started to pull away to continue on through the crowd, before seeing that it was not a merchant, but a child, that had halted him.

A young, blonde haired boy of maybe 14 stood before him, holding a fist full of his coat in his small, bony hand. A beggar. He was dressed in filthy rags; his sack shirt several sizes too large, with the neckline hanging so low it exposed his protruding collarbones and rib cage.

Even his face, though the innocence in his eyes lingered behind weary shadows, was hollow in the cheeks and lined deeply.

Ransom set his gaze on him, slightly taken aback by his appearance. The child looked Alec's age - but the difference between the two boys was immeasurable. This boy looked like he would snap if embraced too hastily.

"..Yes, child?" He uttered.

The boy dropped his sleeve, and wrung his hands nervously. "E-Excuse me, messir, I di'n't mean to bother you.." He started, his small, shaky voice almost inaudible over the chatter of the street. "I was wonderin' if you could spare a few coppers, my mother.. She 'asn't eaten in days, mister."

Ransom barely had time to think it over, he reacted so fast.

"What's your name, boy?"

"Leon, messir.."

"Hold your hands out, Leon, both of them." He instructed mildly. The boy obliged hurriedly.

His coin purse sat deep in his pocket, and upon retrieving it, he promptly emptied the entire contents into the boys palms, coins almost flowing over his fingers.

His eyes widened in both alarm and joy, "M-Mister!"

"You will get yourself off the street, you hear?"

The boy nodded so wildly Ransom thought he might injure himself, physically buzzing with delight. "I.. Thankyou!"

Ransom glanced over the shoulder of the ecstatic child, to a small company of others, gathered at the street corner. Children, all of them, aged from maybe 6-16. In the shadows, they sat, a few sleeping in each other's arms and others picking at what little food they had. They were all in the same obvious state as the boy.

He gestured to them discreetly. "Can I ask you kindly to share it with them, Leon? You look to be a fine young man, and I hope it is enough to ensure that."

"M-Mister, just stopping was enough! Thankyou! Thankyou!" Leon gushed. He glanced at his filled hands, forgetting for a moment that he could not put them together in thanks, and instead hurriedly recited staras rite. "M-May the lord of mercy walk in your shadow!"

With that, he scrambled to the other beggar children, hands filled with Ransoms money, and he shared it out. Light returned to their dulled eyes as they saw relief, then grew animated at the sheer amount of it.

Ransom, for a moment, forgot his anger as he watched them. The smallest of smiles crept onto his lips,

It was all he could do, to undo the lingering effects of this islands dark past. He had, after all, witnessed it going to shambles in the first place; in more ways than one.

He had failed to prevent it.

*

It occurred to Ander that in order to avoid touching silver, the vampires carried an abundance of copper around in their pockets in individual sacks.

When paying for something worth a few silvers, they would put an entire coin purse worth of copper on the poor shopkeepers desk, and step back attempting to look intimidating while the man or woman counted irritably.

Samson was not wearing a sturdy coat like the others, but a hooded leather hunting jacket that looked like it had been worn past it's expiry date, holding his shallow but bulging pockets somewhat protectively.

"Ander - do you have pockets?" He muttered. They were just turning out of the market street, trailing after Rhys.

Ander raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm wearing a waist-coat."

"How observant, I'm talking about your trousers."

He looked knowingly apprehensive. "..Yes?"

They escaped, following their guide, down an empty cobbled side street, and Samson brought out three full sacks of coin from his jacket, abruptly dumping them on Ander and seeming to straighten from relief.

Ander looked from the sacks in his hands and back to him in alarm. "Why in Staras name do you need so much, and why are you trusting it to me?"

Samson sighed deeply. "I told you earlier! It's all small money, and people will charge an arm and a leg for confidentiality, you see?"

He buckled his pockets back together, and muttered under his breath, "..Besides, that's only half of it."

Grumbling, Ander lined his pockets with copper, wondering distantly why the man couldn't just carry his change himself.

Rhys stopped. The street was shady looking, but if it hadn't been so engulfed in shadow it would have the potential to look friendly. The white washing of the villa-like buildings here was peeling considerably, with wanted posters or hand written advertisements strategically placed over the exposed brickwork. The house Rhys stood by was a little different to the others; above it's rotting wooden door, the window was tinted red.

"This is Dlins place." He informed them, before knocking. "On this island, red windows mean nighten' friendly. Same with mos' places. It's universal language for shelter, and the imperial idiots never caught on."

After a couple of seconds, there was a sound like scuffling across a rug, a loud dog bark, and then the rattling of chains.

"Who is it?" Shouted a mans voice from the opposite side of the door.

"Rhys!"

"Tell the collectors I'm not bloody paying!"

"Devlin," Rhys said mildly, "I bring customers, aye?"

There was a pause, then more rattling. From the sound of it, it took nearly 20 seconds for all the locks on the opposite side of the door to be undone.

The door opened just a crack, Ander could hardly see the man that spoke. Through the dark, though, a misty grey eye peered out at him.

"Humans..?" He uttered in a low voice, the eye flitting from them and back to Rhys.

Rhys looked impatient. "One of 'em.. They're Eclipsium pirates."

The door opened abruptly. The man behind it looked maybe 45, olive skinned, with a mane of wildly messy dark hair now streaked with silver, reaching past his shoulders, and probably capable of housing a small family of rodents. He had a visible look of exhaustion, his face lined with dark bags sitting beneath his grey eyes, but he was wide awake. His eyes were alive, open.

"Eclipsium pirates?" He hummed, with a raise of his eyebrows. He boasted a slightly faded Dioman-imperial accent, the articulate ring to his words very clear, but there was still the hint there that he had spent a fair amount of time within Sparings borders. "I shouldn't think you'd need a carpenter, you have the Wick boy.. Pete, is it?"

Ander saw Samsons face fall. He glanced sideways at Ander, and didn't speak.

"Pete, died.." Ander said, trying to appear confident as he looked back at the man. "Fighting night hunters."

Devlin sighed deeply, though his face hardly changed. "What a waste.. I don't suppose they gave him a glamorous exit, either, did they?"

Samson looked up again, just a little. "Pete wouldn't have wanted that, anyway.."

Devlin sighed, but he didn't look so convinced. He leaned back against the door to clear a path. "Come inside, then. Ears everywhere, y'know.. Run along, Rhys."

Rhys grunted. "Where's me' payment for redirecting 'em?"

"The knowledge that your blasted alcoholism is not something I will fund right-mindedly, boy. Off with you!"

Rhys grumbled something unpleasant under his breath before turning to Samson. "You'll be at the tavern later, eh Sammy?"

"If I can get this one to tag along," Samson mustered a small grin at Ander, who just looked doubtfully back at him.

Rhys chortled, waving as he walked away, and Devlin coughed for attention. He rapped on the door behind him.

"Are you lads coming inside then, or not?"

Exchanging a glance that plainly said 'you first!' Samson nudged Ander forward, following a step behind and glancing at the door as he passed. It was a miracle that the slab of wood hadn't fallen through the floor, with the sheer number of chains and locks hanging from it.

And past his hastily buttoned waistcoat and trailered pinstripe trousers, the selection of ornate looking keys jangled from a thick belt at the mans waist.

Devlin promptly locked and bolted the door behind them, whilst Ander kept a hand on his knife.

The room would have been something of an emporium, if it had been in better condition. The fireplace, the tops of the cabinets and every surface inbetween had been covered with trinkets ranging from crystal balls, to lumps of gem stone, to small and old looking toys and sculptures. The toys were a recurring trend; mainly made of wood and in a state of disrepair.

The only wall not covered with shelves was the back, where three bookshelves had been arranged, and filled. The table and chairs, decorated with several sheets of translucent silky material in shades of red and purple, were piled high with the excess.

Across the floor, sheets upon sheets of handwritten notes and drawings had been left scattered, some screwed into balls and others acting as a hiding place for the rug. The occasional item of clothing could also be spotted, though they seem to have been hurriedly kicked into the corners before he had opened the door.

"Nice place.." Muttered Samson, slowly and deliberately.

Devlin grinned broadly at him as he turned away from the door. "It is a royal pig-sty, but it is my own. You say what people want to hear, boy, don't you..? Would either of you like some tea? Oh, and do ignore my jottings.. Would biscuits also be welcomed?"

"Uh, no, thankyou. Did I hear a dog bark before?" Ander asked abruptly, distracted by his curiosity.
For a moment, the mans grin wavered, then he rallied. He ducked his head. "That would be I. I was getting to that, I swear.. Sit, sit!"

He gestured with both hands to the two wooden chairs piled high with books, and didn't seem to see exhibit A.

"..Thankyou?" Samson managed, and perched on the edge of it. Ander did the same, trying to ignore the smell of onions in the air.

As they sat, he surreptitiously kicked a pair of trousers behind the armchair with the side of his boot, and laughed a little at their discomfort. "Oh, you both do it. You say what people want to hear. Tell me there seem to be books on your chairs - go on, I'll find it humorous."

Ander glanced at Samson, who looked one hundred percent done with the man already, then back to him. He chewed his lip. "Uh.. There are books on the chair you want me to sit on."

"Oh, silly me! I shall move them." Devlin grinned. He moved to Anders side and took the pile effortlessly. Despite his scrawny appearance, he was not even slightly weighed down by them, dumping them into one of the corners without complaint. He followed with Samsons. "What-" he heaved them up, "-do you require of me?"

"You.. Were going to tell us about you first, I think?" Ander hinted, nudging him back onto track. Devlin considered this as he dumped the second pile.

"Ah, yes.." He recalled. "I suppose there is no need to delay, I am what's known as a hybrid. I'm sure you've heard of them."

"I haven't.." Ander frowned.

Devlin grinned a little at him, sliding back into a third chair beside the fire and crossing his legs. "My mother was a Mage, my father was a changer. Stara knows how they met, I honestly could not care less, but hybrids all have one thing in common; the genetics of one parent are always dominant."

Samson, looking suitably disinterested, crossed his arms. "I'm guessing you're going to tell us the pattern?"

"Indeed. The circle goes; changers, vampires, magi, drifti - a drifter understandably being the rarest. I am dominantly a changer, but I still carry a few Mage abilities. It is the same with every hybrid." Devlin said. "I get awfully bored, but with the ability to change into an animal and roam around like that? Why wouldn't I train in my spare time? I was in dog form before you arrived. You heard that, boy."

Ander glanced at the muddy paw prints stamped onto the papers by his feet.

"Y'know, you could freak out your neighbours if they saw that.." Samson chuckled, scratching his head.

Devlin laughed. He leaned forward. "Of course, thankyou for the rather unnecessary warning. Now, the job?"

After almost an hour of Samson repeating himself, and Devlin apparently trying to keep his guests for as long as possible with an assortment of biscuits he didn't seem to realise were specially made for canines, they escaped back into the side street.

"I'll be on my way to meet him. Samson, where did you say your captain was?" Devlin smiled eloquently, locking his front door and pulling his hood so far over his eyes his coat lifted at the back. 
Samson looked somewhat worn out. "The warehouse at the harbour, Dlin, you'll be able to tell it apart."

"Rightio! Good evening to you both."

Devlin finally left. The lack of senseless gossip brought a moment of relieved silence.

"He was a handful.." Ander muttered.

Samson scoffed. "You're telling me! I just ate an unholy amount of dog biscuits to shut the crack-pot up!"

"Ander! Samson!" A boy called. They both turned, to the opposite end of the street from the way they had come, to see Alec sprinting like a hound let loose. He looked frantic, his crystal eyes wide, cheeks flustered from running.

Ander quickly dodged the incoming child, reaching out an arm like a safety net. "Woah! What's the matter? Is someone chasing you?"

"I think Ransoms about to murder someone in the middle the square!" Alec cried.

Ander glanced at Samson, unsure as to whether or not he was serious, and he shook his head.

"..Ah, the blokes finally lost it.. Come on, better break it up before there's a clean up on our 'ands."
He started to jog after Alec around the corner, and Ander blindly followed a few paces behind, startled.

They reached what looked like a town square, besides the fact that it was devoid of passer-bys, and the gated front of a large, stately manner, could be seen behind the fountain of the lords of truth in the centre of the plot.

Reynick stood idle, looking bewildered and unsure of himself, having clearly travelled off with Alec. They reached him quickly.

Around a corner behind the fountain, Ransom appeared to be interrogating a boy of maybe Anders age.

"-You're lying, now, that's not very noble of you.." He said icily.

The boy backed away a little more. "Look, YOU, I don't know who you are, but I-"

Suddenly, with nobody making a move to stop him, he rushed forward and pinned the boy to the fountain by his shoulders. His face was straight, but with just enough malice to reveal he had unkind intentions.

Ander and the others dashed forward, forming a ring around him, but not willing to risk interrupting. 
The boys eyes shot open, and he thrashed once before realising escape was a lost cause. He trembled in fear visibly.

"I would like you to tell me all you know of the last residents of this household. And considering the great lack of precious sleep this has caused me I won't be asking twice."

"D-Do you know who I am?" He asked in giddy terror, his face contorted with anger despite his telltale violent shaking. "If you so much as CREASE my SHIRT the guards will come running.. There is noble blood in my veins!" He threatened.

Ransom looked at him, unbashed, with his head tilted to one side. A small smile crept onto his face. "Would you like to keep it there?" 

Ander glanced at Samson, who flashed his eyebrows up at him once and mouthed, 'the quiet are usually the most homicidal.'

Ander nodded.

The boy let out an unattractive whimper accompanied with a trail of snot running from his nose. "T-The Galeswicks never met my parents, but theres this l-legend about them."

Ransom tilted his head more, eyebrows furrowing with interest. "Please, go on.. You'd be surprised how much time I have on my hands right now."

Ander thought he heard Reynick snicker, but the noise ceased as fast as it was there.

The boy heaved a heavy sigh, like he was trying to relax himself. "I-I would appreciate you releasing me first.."

Ransom obliged somewhat reluctantly, dropping his grip on him. He folded his arms across his chest, but still stood close enough that if the boy attempted to run he would probably earn himself a greater problem than a 'creased shirt.'

Ransom nodded for him to continue.

He cleared his throat, brushing a wrinkle from his shirt. "The G-Galeswicks used to have complete control over the island.. They had reaches into everyone. With money, dirty secrets they uncovered, and a mining business that stretched far.. Not to mention the duke was once a viscount of Sparing, denounced by Emperor Carver..

Father says they had the underworld in one hand and the aristocrats in the other.. N-Not surprising really. But one day their son went missing. There were posters everywhere, offering a ransom on his return of hundreds. Lord Galeswick stopped leaving the manor. Many thought he had caught his wifes Tuberculosis, but it was revealed that she had been cured already, so it was highly unlikely.." He paused, looking up at Ransom. His face was intense, eyes wide in concentration.

The boy managed a shaky breath. "T-Then they just disappeared, vanished off the face of the Earth leaving most of their things behind. The most of it was auctioned off. I'm sorry.. T-That's all I know, mister.. There are no heirs here, if that's who you're looking for. The line died out like the mines!"

Ransom hung his head. He seemed to visibly deflate, his eagerness was gone. "Thankyou." He said after a moment, sounding sullen. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a gold coin between thumb and finger, dropping it into the boys hand. "Stay quiet about this."

Then he turned, and marched off between Reynick and Samson.

Ander frowned, stepping after him. "Ransom?"

"Coulder, wait.." Reynick started.

Ransom didn't turn or respond. He carried on walking back down the street, before vanishing beyond their line of view.

Samson sighed deeply. "'Ee makes me feel exhausted.. Come on."

Ander felt all the more confused. He knew Ransom came across as a secluded fellow, but that had been so unexpected. He almost pitied the young noble he'd interrogated.

And for what? He wondered. They couldn't possibly be his family, because he was a newblood. His parents would be long since dead.

He simply nodded, stepping forward as he made his way after them.

Ransom posters.. He did have such an unusual name, to hear it used in ordinary conversation..

They made their way back down the paved street to Dlins run down little house. His wall paint peeling, exposing the bare, chipped stone behind. Notices had been pinned and clipped to the wall by his door, many half torn or peeling at the corners.

A couple were Wanted posters, offering a ransom. Ander, again, wasn't sure why the word surprised him.

'Munto Smith' was one, a run away thief who had stolen from a particularly touchy establishment selling clocks and pottery. The parchment looked fairly new, along with several others, however several were so faded they was almost unreadable. The edges were torn and curling inward, looking almost mouldy with age.

Then 'Farenger Ardon,' a Tordanite refugee on the run for first degree murder of a young woman. This one included a poor sketch of a man so intimidating, you would simply expect such a crime of him at a glance.

But one caught his eye. It read 'Dantallion Galeswick. Son of Lord Galeswick and Lady Galeswick (Neé Coulder.) A ransom of 200 gold coins will be paid to anyone who returns the missing boy to the Galeswick manner in Port Marys.'

He looked at it a moment longer until the name set in. Coulder, Lady Coulder..

"Samson.. How common a name is Coulder?" He asked aloud.

Samson barely glanced at him, frowning. "I don't know, sounds fancy, but so do all Sparish names.. Ransoms Sparish, I think. Why the intrigue?"

He sighed outwardly at the idea. It would have no relation to the man he knew. Besides this incessant interest he had..

Dantallion.. Who is he?

Why does Ransom Coulder care about a boy who would have died decades ago?

He shook it off. "Right.. Nevermind."

"Ransom will go an' lock us out now, the friendly bugger." Samson groaned, shouldering the weak door of Dlins house before leaning back against the stone.

Reynick shrugged his shoulders. "Leave the man, he's being rather ridiculous."

"Who wants a pint, then?" Samson grunted. It was an unusual suggestion, and the two men both turned to stare at him. Reynick looked more confused than surprised. "A pint of what?"

"Ah, Reynick.." Samson tossed an arm around the mans narrow shoulders, and grinned teasingly. "You poor, introverted little mage, you."

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