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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12. Chapter 12 - Friends Like Brothers

The night rolled on, though the sky over the island was crystal clear, and as Ransom paced the deck of the ship, Ander sat between Reynick, Samson and Rhys at the tavern, playing mediator. Alec had returned to the ship with Davelynn, whilst Gillian, his pockets far fuller then they had been upon leaving the ship, was at 'the seasoned pearl' with Quill. 

"You 'ave a right face on you, Mage." Samson grinned, sitting back before recalling that he was, in fact, seated on a stool, and quickly catching his balance.

Reynick, leaning one elbow on the bar but trying very hard not to touch anything with his hands, smirked a little at his stumble. "A face? Oh, there are no faces."

"There was a face." Rhys confirmed with a chuckle, gesturing for the bartender. Ander could not help but to observe the fact that while Samson and Rhys had drained their casks, he had only had half, to be polite, and Reynick had hardly touched his, right-mindedly. It tasted sickeningly bitter, verging on vile, and he found it difficult to stomach the stuff.

Samson leaned behind Rhys to slap Ander on the back. "Oi, something up or are you just a light weight?" 

"Bit of both." Ander confessed, considering that the way things were going, he doubted whatever he said would be at the mans disposal tomorrow. "Ransom - I can't help but to worry for him.."

"He's a big boy, he can worry about himself." Samson grinned. He looked back to Reynick. "You've been pouting since I called you 'old man,' old man."

"I just don't appreciate the notion and I am not so stupid as to misunderstand why you said it!" Reynick retorted irritably, breathing a heavy sigh. "It's.. A lack of pigmentation. Mages are almost 3 times as likely to experience genetic mutations than anybody else.. So you can stop staring at my damned hair now."

Rhys laughed, eyebrows raised. "Staras tits, ain't this one cranky?"

Samson, however, had stopped grinning, and taken on an uncharacteristically serious reproach. "..I'll venture a guess that you were picked on just for your hair and pink eyes?"

Reynick scoffed. "It was nothing I couldn't handle," 

He stood up, suddenly, leaving Ander looking somewhat alarmed at the prospect of being abandoned with the considerably drunk men. "What? You're not leaving, are you? Mercy, please-"

"Relax yourself, I wouldn't leave you with the drunken fools, Anderson. I doubt you can carry Samson back to the ship later alone.. I was going to get some fresh air and find a convenient plant pot to soil with this drink."

Then he left, and the bartender arrived with another round.

"To the first blood!" Samson grinned, so loud he left them both looking alarmed, as he raised his pint.

Ander scowled at him, "Shh! I'm flattered, but it's not worth being killed by hunters over!" He hissed.

Rhys laughed. "No 'unters 'ere, lad. Loosen up a smidgen!" Both he and Samson downed another pint, and Ander sipped at his, trying to relax. 

It definitely wasn't working. He knew he had never been a carefree person, but trying to be 'relaxed' whilst not knowing if any man in the room was a hunter or, equally as terrifying, one of the midnight people, was near impossible. A 'midnighten' could be sitting anywhere, and in his current state he was a sitting target.. The idea chilled him.

"Drink, Ander!" Samson grinned broadly, now wearing less of a playful face and bordering into the realms of shark-like. His words, now on his third drink, were slightly slurred. 

Ander looked sheepishly at his drink, and braced himself. He downed it, his throat burning, in one go. It was foul, but he had drank far worse.

Slamming the cask down onto the bar in accomplishment, he bent over, and entered a commendable coughing fit.

Samson and Rhys both applauded, laughing, and thudded on his back to help him. "Easy there, kid."

"Nice one, daisy!" Samson beamed.

"Ugh.." Ander groaned, stroking his throat in regret. He mentally vowed never to touch alcohol again with a ten foot pole. "What the hell was that? Ale? Rum?"

"Ale! Old, rich stuff! Another?" Samson grinned.

Ander quickly declined, blinking fast like he could already feel the alcohol hitting his system. It was mostly because of the smell in the room, though. "Water, for me."

"Real wild card this one, Sammy.." Rhys chuckled. Samson said nothing to that, just followed Ander's eyes to the doorway.

Reynick had arrived from behind them. He glanced at Ander, and raised his eyebrows accusingly at Samson. "Samson, what on earth did you do to the boy?" 

"I'd.. avoid the ale like the plague, if I were you." Ander muttered.

Reynick scoured the shelves with his eyes, searching for the ale he'd been given, and turned his scrutinizing gaze onto Samson once he did. "You let him drink Wicked? He shouldn't be drinking something so strong when he's not used to it, Samson, it's irresponsible! Besides, he's not even eighteen yet.."

"Hey, Reynick, I can take care of myself.." Ander sighed, but neither man apparently heard. 

Samson just laughed again heartily, and handed Reynick another filled cask of rum.

The mage sighed wearily, looking less than pleased, having just gotten rid of his last one. "I feel like a nanny around you idiots.."

But after another hour, Samson was about to buy his sixth pint. 

Ander caught his friends wrist before he could raise it. "I'm making an intervention."

"Aye?" Samson chuckled. His eyes were fluttering, cheeks reddened, and his voice seemingly incapable of remaining at one pitch. 

Rhys stood up, his stool scraping the floor with a loud grating sound, and stretched his arms out almost theatrically. "I'll be off, gettin' late! Good seeing yer' ugly mug, Sammy! Promise I'll keep the 'unters off your back, the best I can."

After a clumsy embrace they daren't risk while sober and mumbled goodbyes, Rhys stumbled out of the tavern into the twilit streets. Samson stared blankly at Ander.

"Wanna 'ear a story, Ander?" He grinned. 

Reynick placed his head in his hands. "Oh, dear.. This can't lead to anything pleasant.."

"Uh.. Why not?" Ander managed, leaning away as the man steadied himself in his seat using his now rather numbed knee. He decided that he'd probably regret responding with any variation of a rejection.

His chuckle sounded very different, almost shrill. "Y'know.. Reynick, you complain like there's no bloody tomorrow. But I remember the cat'o'nine tails.. Davelynn has one for mutinies, but she never uses it.. Stung like a bitch, it did, and bled jus' as bad."" 

Reynicks eyes widened in alarm, while Ander had no idea what he was referring to. "A cat of nine tails, being..?" 

"The overseer 'ad one in 'is belt.. They burned, each strike from each piece 'o leather was like, ah.." He searched a moment for the appropriate metaphor, but simply smirked, like the pain behind his words was drowned out. "We got out though, di'n't we? We escaped, me and 'im, Cyro.."

Reynick placed a hand tentatively on Anders shoulder, leaning in close to his ear. "Did you know he was a Slave?"  He whispered.

Ander looked at him in muted horror, then at Samson, who's head was now lowering to lean against the bar, arms spread infront of him.

"Samson, maybe we should get-"

"Oh, the master would come 'round checking we were all workin', and call us by what we were, an' the Imperial names 'ee gave us, y'know.. Sammy, aye.. Sammy the whores bastard child, 'ee called me."

He laughed again lowly. This time, Ander stood up.

He took Samson firmly around the shoulders to guide him from his chair, Reynick coming to his aid after a moment, and he slumped for a second before finding his feet.

"Let's get you back." He said. Samson stared at him for a moment without truly comprehending, his eyes large and shiny in the dull candlelight of the tavern, then hr seemed to come to his senses long enough to give a short nod.

Holding much of their friends weight, Ander, Reynick and Samson left the tavern and night air greeted them.

"What was in that ale?" Ander muttered dryly, "Opium?"

"Wouldn't surprise me.." Reynick sighed. "The magi don't drink heavily outside of the coven. Inside, it's still only mild wine.. It would be risking exposure and endangering those around us if we lost control, after all."

Ander nodded, still frowning at how quickly Samson's face had changed.

The streets were quiet, and a chill had fallen over the air that rose the hairs on Ander's arms. They guided Samson forward around the corner, and back toward the dock. 

He was mumbling under his breath about wherever Rhys went, half asleep, but Ander droned it out, as he did Reynick's incessant complaining. He found this to be a talent; having shared a mass room with two families and a couple, and prior to that, the dormitory at the temple orphanage. 

But after a while, droning him out became difficult. 

Nearing the dock, one fisherman remained, tying up his catches by the warehouse in bulging sacks. A few sleeping street-children further down the pier were curled up using spare burlap sacks as blankets. 

And suddenly, it dawned on Ander that Samson was growling.

Reynick abruptly froze, jolting him back and leaving Samson staggering forward for just a moment before freezing, hunched. 

"Ander.." Reynick breathed, standing very still. His eyes were wide, fixed on Samson. "His eyes.. Blood drive.."

Ander hadn't been looking at him, he hadn't realized a thing. Within Samson's irises, violent flecks of scarlet were consuming all traces of brown..

Though his head was still bowed with hair falling in his face, they were fixed on the fisherman, and Ander saw his calm facade crumble. 

As he launched himself forward toward the fisherman, Ander cried out, and leaped at him. "Samson!"

He caught him, latching his hands together around his middle to pin his arms by his sides, unrelenting. Samson struggled in his grasp, but thankfully his superior strength appeared dulled by the alcohol, and he cried out as he failed. 

"Reynick, do something!" Ander barked, attempting to wrestle him back. 

Reynick looked about frantically. "He can't control his blood drive in his current mental state!"

"I  DON'T NEED A DIAGNOSIS! You're the bloody magician! Help me!"

The fisherman was now very aware of the display, and he screamed loudly. "STARAS MERCY! T-that man! He's a demon! His eyes!" Wide eyed, he scrambled back against the warehouses wall, his eyes now wild with fear.

Reynick reacted all very suddenly. Before Ander could see him could see him coming, he had picked up one of the planks of wood left abandoned by the warehouses doors, and swung it at Samson's head; missing Ander's by an inch.

With a grunt, he was knocked sideways, and he collapsed unconscious in Ander's grasp. Entirely limp with a spectacular purple bruise emerging across his forehead.

Ander looked at Reynick in alarm, "Are you dead from the neck up?! He's badly hurt now!"

"His kind heals quickly. Also, I'm a Mage, not a magician."

"HIS KIND?! DEMON! DEMON!" The fisherman shrieked.

Reynick looked unimpressed. He approached the man, and as he did, he was unlacing his gloves surreptitiously. "It's alright. Don't be so needlessly afraid of our idiotic companion."

The man continued screaming, scrambling backwards. "Don't touch me! Stara, protect me!"

Reynick rounded closer, and now quickly raised his now bare hands to disarm him. "I won't hurt you, I need you to relax, and look at me." 

Ander watched, attempting to hold Samson's weight, and the tattoos across his palms began to glow. They were as white as his hair, and shining so brightly they obscured his fingertips. 

The fisherman stared in terrified awe at them, "W-What are-"

He was silenced abruptly, like the words had been pulled from his lips, and the fear faded from his face in an instant. His mouth closed.

Ander had never seen a truly neutral, clean-slate face before. This man looked like he was awake, but sleeping. Completely expressionless. And he sunk back beside his sack of fish limply, as calm as he had been before. 

The markings on Reynick's hands dulled once more. 

Moments later, as Reynick walked back to Ander, the fisherman knelt and continued his task like nothing had occurred. He didn't question the state of the man Ander held. He had forgotten.

Ander stuttered for a moment, attempting to question him. "How-"

"-I altered his memory. It's an easy trick, he won't recall what happened. Did you know that he was bullied into working overtime by his boss? Quite sad, really."

"Your hands.." He started, heaving Samson's weight back up as he started to slip from his grasp. "Why do they glow like that?"

Reynick quickly moved forward to take the mans opposite arm. He looked oddly smug, clearly happy to have gained curiosity. "It's something I'm incapable of explaining, but the runes are there to focus power. At any other time, it's theoretically stored around the area our magarc is placed. That's the tattoo over my eye. And, no, there isn't glitter floating around the blood vessels in my face. That isn't how it works - the magarc is more traditional than practical. It enchants me, so that I'm unable to dabble into other fields of magic that I'm not trained in."

Ander sighed, shaking his head, and deeply perplexed by the mans entire culture. "More importantly, I don't suppose you know what happened to Samson..?"

"I hit him with a plank of wood?"

"Very funny."

Reynick chuckled dryly. They began to make their way across the dock, along the narrow wooden walkway leaning to the ship. "Vampires are never unguarded. They command such tremendous willpower to resist the urge to drink blood, it often consumes them, makes them dull and lifeless. Samson will be very used to that trial, having lived so long, but it doesn't make it go away entirely. And when men are intoxicated, they lose all dregs of will. He was to blame, really, for getting like that in the first place. He should have known that Wicked is bad enough after one or two pints, but six? He's clearly not all there."

"With that story he told us; yes, he was very drunk." Ander breathed. He couldn't help but to let it take over his head, even more prevalent than the fact that he was dragging the mans unconscious body. 
The ships ramp was coming into sight now. It had not been lifted yet, as it wouldn't be midnight for another fifteen minutes. So they, for want of a better word, shuffled their way across the pier, dragging Samson as a dead weight between them.

Samson relaxed into his hammock very quickly after Ander and Reynick placed him there, his wound already healed and now in a sleeping but restless state.

What he had told them, Ander couldn't quite comprehend. He knew the reasons people used to sell their children to slavers with the 'promise' of return, though it sickened him that anybody would have a child at all and find themselves capable of such cruelty.

Some were plucked from the Vialtan Wildlands by the slave catchers situated at the few outer provinces there. Others, poverty stricken peasants, were simply taken from outer province orphanages or off the streets. By looking at him, this seemed to be the most likely circumstance. Unless the 'story' was just a drunken, untrue rambling? 

Reynick leaned against the frame of Anders hammock, holding the arm Samson had leaned against like it was sore to touch. He breathed a gentle sigh. "He is deeply troubled.. The man doesn't usually talk about such things, does he?" He whispered.

Ander looked at his feet. "Don't ask me, Reynick.. I've barely been here longer than you have. But no, I wouldn't assume so." 

He nodded slowly. "I'll return to the bilge, try to get some rest." 

"'Try' being the key word, there.." He sighed. Reynick left past Davelynn's hammock to the ladder in Yates kitchen, and Ander sank into his hammock.

Something about this hammock put him into a feeling of complete security; for it was the most comfortable thing he had ever had to sleep in. Even the bunk bed he had shared with a boy named Joe at the Loria orphanage consisted of a mattress riddled with suspicious bumps. 

Though his sheet was pushed down to his knees, the fabric of the hammock curled reliably around his frame, and the gentle swinging was some what relaxing, where he suspected it should have been nauseating. 

He quickly, though temporarily, pushed the troubling thoughts of his friend to the back of his mind and consequently drifted into sleep. 

While, across the aisle, Samson curled into a defensive ball subconsciously. His arms wrapped around his knees, and in his sleep, he whimpered at the images in his mind, before beginning to sob discreetly into his sack pillow for the first time in a decade.

*

It was back.

Ander had opened his eyes, but he knew, not truly. These eyes were different. Everything was brighter, harsher, and he recognised the alien feel of the place.

For one, the fog was ominously purple.

No, not the fog.. He thought, distantly. The fog was grey. The entire space, before fading into an intense white that created the ceiling like sky, was violet.

This was the between.

Ander peered about in frightened curiosity, suddenly very aware that he was unable to move, the same as last time. Surrounding him, on all sides, he saw the same figures. They did not interact, individual scenes, memories, did not once clash. Though when they overlapped, it was like two ghosts meeting in the night, not seeing the other, passing through one another without a second thought.

The revelation came to him suddenly. He had spotted Reynick in the crowd. He was no silhouette ; he was a person. With distinctive features, his hair as white as crisp snow and his curled tattoo a contrasting black against his porcelain skin. It was him.

They were all people, people he had never seen before once, and they were in his dreams.
This time, he could see who they were..

In the distance, he saw Samson.

He was amongst several others, who did not appear to be mages. They were dressed in rags, their bodies bruised and their races varied. A few amongst them were the opposite; of regal stature, their clothes richly tailored and groomed immaculately. These were far fewer, and far between.

They were slaves, just like Samson had said. The tell tale sign was the whip marks, cutting lines across broken skin.

He concentrated hard on his friend, who was crouched on his hands and knees, dressed only in ragged trousers and what appeared to be a wooden collar. His blonde hair had been outgrown, unwashed and greasy and plastered to his hollow cheeks.

His back, bare and darkly tanned, was a gory mess of cuts and slashes. An intricate maze had been carved into his flesh with the whip, that bled and did not stop bleeding.

A man was stood before him. One of the finely dressed, a scowl printed on his lined face, and holding the whip loosely in his fist.

Anders eyes widened. He was going to hit him; he would hit Samson!

He opened his mouth, but no words formed. He tried to reach out, but he was frozen.

The whip blurred..

"STOP!"

His legs gave, as did his arms, and he sprinted through the sea of memories, just in time to crouch before his friend. He turned his face away in a grimace to brace for impact, and extended his arms to catch the strip of leather hurdling through the air..

The whip passed cleanly through him.

Samson howled in agony, and fell onto his front.

Anders eyes widened. He wanted out. He couldn't watch this anymore.

He recalled his escape last time, and stared up at the white space above him.

"Iwant to wake up!"

*

Ander sat up abruptly, releasing a wracked gasp, and panting hard.

The room was empty, he was back in the quarters, staring at the panels infront of him and the top of Samsoms now emptied hammock.

He relaxed just a little in relief, still very breathless. He was alone. The between was gone.
He swore to himself, silently, that he would not invade again.

Ander then lay for several minutes, his knees bent infront of him, and staring out of focus at the ceiling.

The horrors of Samsons past, if that was infact a true vision, were as he had drunkenly told him. The idea both sickened and terrified him, so he tried hard to push the thoughts back, like he did most everything else.

Something about the creaking of the ship had come to relax him, he couldn't quite explain it. It was like a reassuring background sound, something to break the silence. He had always hated noiseless nights.

Ever since he was a child, he hadn't slept alone. From sharing the room with his father at Sounder City, with the warmth of him by his feet in his own bed, to the orphanage at Loria, where nineteen other young boys occupied every inch of the crowded space. This wasn't so different - except here, personal space was a recognised concept.

Then, to the mass house in Zafflen. The couple from the Sounderlands, the red haired girl with the arm amputated at the elbow, the exhausted family of five with bags that hung like scars under their eyes. All had moved on and been replaced by the time he did. In his corner, his few belongings a permanent fixture there. Snores and sighs, and girls sobs, had filled the night. He had learned to zone them out, because despite the melancholy they entailed, it meant they were alive.

But when his limited money ran out, he spent the following 9 months at a side alley, aged almost 16, where the sounds of local night life would make sleeping an even larger chore, even clutching a dagger to his chest in fear of cowardly pickpockets. He'd hear drunken fools returning home late, laughing raucously, and voices muffles through the walls opposite and behind him.

The baker who offered him an apprenticeship gave him his back room, and that had been an unusual change. For the first time in his life, he had nothing to zone out.

Despite the unknown comfort of a proper bed, and the safety of the house, he had never taken to being alone. He supposed that being alone, forever, was a phobia now more than ever.

This creaking seemed nothing to him. It was soothing, having just something to listen to. 

Ander snapped from his daydream, as he heard footsteps approaching, and craned his head past the frame of his hammock to see.

From the door opposite from hunters quarters, Yates had emerged.

Ander had never exactly heard him speak more than a few words, he had paid precious little attention to him at all. He was a man of maybe thirty, steadily built, and square jawed. There was, in fact, nothing else special to name of him.

He was so normal, if you looked last his chalky paleness, he was the spitting image of those men he'd see returning home late. That ordinary, every day man,

And he stopped by Anders hammock, holding a sandwich.

"'Ere," he said gruffly, extending the food in one callussed hand.

Ander sat straight in surprise, arching an eyebrow. "Is that.. a sandwich?"

"Well done. Yer' it's a bloody sandwich, take it. You've been eating nothin' but old fish by the stench of you." Yates said, and folded his arms.

Sniffing unconsciously at his shoulder as he did, Ander hesitantly took the food from him, unsure of why he'd give him anything but old cheese.

"Thankyou..?" He managed.

Yates grunted. His eyes fell, for a moment, to Anders neckline. He raised his hand instinctively to cover his pulse point, but instead felt a dulled pain where his fingers brushed.

"Night terrors, eh?" Yates asked, and looked back to his face, dull-eyed. "You've been clawing at your neck. I'd put a damp cloth on that."

Ander quickly ducked his head to try to seem, and though attempting to look at ones own neck is a humiliating task, he spotted the red-raw lines that had been scraped across his fragile skin by his bitten down nails. He winced.

While he stared, he didn't notice that Yates had left without another word and entered the captains quarters.

Ander, sighing deeply, placed his sandwich on the hammock where he'd sat while he laced his boots, then retrieved a shirt high enough at the collar to conceal the markings and his waistcoat from his sack. He headed up the ladder with his breakfast between his teeth.

Business on deck, the ship still docked, was dull. Ander had almost forgotten the events of the previous night; ransoms questioning, meeting Dlin, the drinking, and Samsons episode. It was easy to.

Instead, most were sat around talking. Gillian and Quill seemed to be playing cards around a decrepit looking table, while Cyro, Edward and a few others were stood with bottles from the blood supply by the railing. They sipped at them tentatively, in regular intervals, so as not to build up any drive.

He guessed that Reynick would be with Dlin in the bilge, and suspected Ruth and Davelynn were likely off bathing some where. Samson and Coulder were, however no where to be seen.

He approached Gillian, swallowing a mouth full of his sandwich hesitantly. "Gillian, where's Sam?"

Gillian looked up from his deck of cards, with a wry grin. "Oh, it's Sam now?"

"Surely that's not wrong?" Ander asked in surprise.

Gillian laughed heartily, and shook his head. "No, the lad'll prefer knowing you're not pissed with 'im. He's running off his 'ang over, I'd wager! Sit down, you can't be much more lively yourself."

He patted the chair beside him, then hesitated. He leaned in with a look of amusement. "Get a glimpse of Quills set first, right?" He muttered.

Quill barked. "Oi! I 'ate cheaters!"

Ander chuckled a little, but he could hardly muster more than that. He sat, and while he ate, he kept an eye on the ramp leading to the docks. Surely after yesterday, Samson would be depressed, to voice the bare minimum. If he remembered what he had said, of course..

Gillian and Quill played on, though he couldn't work up the energy to join them, and after two more questionably fair games the sound of light footsteps on wood signalled someone's return.

Samson emerged on the deck from the ramp, soaked in sweat from head to toe, but not needing to catch his breath. He stretched a moment, grimacing, them made his way to the table.

"Morning..?" Ander poised.

Samson, for a moment, didn't respond. He pulled himself out a chair, and slumped heavily into it. "Ah, that was.." He started, but trailed off and sank lower in his seat with a groan.

Ander smiled slightly with relief at the normality of it, how unchanged his friend was. "Hard?" He offered. Samson gave a meek nod and a thumbs up sign.

He seemed to have a routine Ander had picked up on. When they were at sea for days he'd disappear off to the lower decks and practise some form of unrecognisable martial arts for an hour or so, it kept him charged. Always alone, but he'd return happier than usual, like he'd been off to see his secret lover instead.

It made sense that when they docked overnight, he'd go running in the early hours of the morning.
Ander bit into his sandwich again. It tasted stale, unusually chewy and stringy, but better than the bread from the bilge. The crews mutual lack of empathy for his human requirements meant he'd had to raid the food supply for any single ingredients every day, and the day previous he'd ended up with half a loaf of precarious looking bread, a slightly bruised apple, and a lump of cheddar cheese. 
The apple had naturally been the first to go. He'd never eaten brilliantly at Zafflen, but from working at the bakery he had a basic knowledge of what to stomach and what to avoid. Apples were a treat, because they didn't last. They'd been gathered from the ambush island.

Suddenly, there was more footsteps. Ander frowned, craning his neck to peer over the ramp. Ransom emerged just as sweaty as his earlier companion. His wet hair was scraped back from his face, exposing the full extent of his scar. It travelled from the bridge of his nose to where his ear began, barely scraping by his eye, and was like a deep gash, whiter and shinier than the rest of his face. The mark seemed to have been hurriedly stitched by someone with a shaky hand.

Ransom seemed to sense his interest, and he scraped his fringe back into place before hunching over, his hands on his knees. Looking up, he heavily rested one hand on the table.

"Since when do you go running?" Ander enquired in amusement.

Ransom, irritated, glowered at him. "Since, now."

Ransom was a closed book, but he made no secret of his biggest weakness, his sleeping habits. He was an almost comedically heavy sleeper, getting up at first light for exercise had never seemed to be his fortay.

Samson stretched out his legs. "Ugh.. I 'ave a wretched 'angover, an' now I'm fairly tired to boot."

"That's your own bloody fault. Was the extra mile really necessary?" Ransom complained passively.

He smirked, shutting his eyes and letting his head slump over the back of the chair. "That half jog half limp thing you were doing hardly constitutes a mile! Besides - If you hate running like a human so much you shouldn't have given into Davelynn."

"Davelynn?" Ander smirked. It hardly shocked him.

Samson laughed without lifting his head. "Davelynn forced him to go running with me because he's a grumpy sod who needs to lighten up."

"No, that's your reason." Ransom corrected him pointedly.

Samson chortled belatedly. "Aye.. She actually just thinks that he'll get a shock when his sleeping habits shed no light on him the second he turns human."

"Be quiet about it.." Ransom grumbled.

Ander noticed the embarrassed undertone to Ramsoms voice, and corrected him out of pity. "Actually, sleeping a lot is good for you. But exercising doesn't hurt."

"That why you look like a walking bruise?" Samson joked, grinning still.

He rolled his eyes, shrugging it off. Not for long, he thought. Soon rolls will be reversed.

He surprised himself at the thought.

Samson lifted his head, and carelessly tugged off his shirt, bunching it in his fist and using it to mop his forehead. He stood achingly. "Well, I smell like Yates curry, I should probably go take a wash."

He raised his hand in a sort of mock salute, and dragged his feet to the lower deck to find something resembling fresh water.

The second he turned, Ander could see the scars. It seemed so unusual, he had to blink twice to check he wasn't seeing things. It was like his back had been whipped a long time ago. His flesh was carved with the long, arched markings, some leading up to his neck and not finishing until they extended below his waistband.

He stared in pure horror, while Ransom looked on casually.

Of course. His story last night, it added up. If he had been a slave back then..

Those conditions he had read about in the newspapers back home, Samsom had been there, experienced the trade first hand.

Ransom slid into his seat, looking on as the boy left. "He's learned to live with those scars, that's why he's not covering them. Don't look so shocked."

"What am I supposed to do? Smile?" Ander snapped, putting down his bread. "He was, tortured.."

"I'm sure he's told you what happened if briefly, and probably dangerously drunk, but don't ponder on it. It's best to just accept that he is happy now."

Ander couldn't sit with it. He didn't think that anyone should just have to deal with it, have others 'accept.' He frowned to himself. "You know about it then?"

"Of course I do, we have been friends for a great deal of time." He said. "He is a good man."

"You're opposite ends of the personality spectrum, I wouldn't imagine you having much to talk about.."

"We are alike in deeper ways." He started calmly. "Many people are."

Ander looked at him, but he had turned his head to study the clouds, like he often did.

What was that supposed to mean? He thought. It was difficult to find any similarities between them..

There was so much he desperately wanted to ask, to clear the mystery surrounding him and get rid of the need to be constantly and irritatingly cryptic.

"When are we setting sail?" He sighed.

"Last I checked, that Devlin fellow is almost finished patching the hole. He has his theories about the cause that have startled the captain a little, but they may be some-what unreliable.. Yates will be studying the maps, so maybe an hour." He explained without looking away from the sky. "You should get to work with organising the new supplies. Have them chained down - if Alec's crushed by your failure at the easiest job on this ship, I won't protect you from Davelynns wrath."

Ander nodded irritably, a little taken aback by the idea, and picked up the remaining crust of his sandwich.

"I'll try not to bloody disappoint at fish sorting.." He muttered under his breath, as he made his way to the lower deck.

On his way, he passed Ruth, who was just dressing, pulling a shirt over her head. He averted his gaze quickly, and held a hand up by his eyes. "God, you.. Give some warning!" He blurted as he hurried by.

Ruth snorted. "Never seen a bloody woman before, Ander?"

"You should be more uncomfortable than I am!" Ander cried.

She looked at him in amusement. "I've lived with men all my life, which is considerably longer than yours. Stop being a child and run along, brat."

Now, he dropped his hand, and turned around quickly. She was more clothed, now, but still he flushed and looked at his feet as he spoke.

"Did you just call me a brat?" He breathed. She raised her eyebrows.

"That I did," She hummed, folding her arms. "Aren't you one canvas short of a mainsail today? It's because I don't like that people are dying to protect you when your blood will work all the same if you're dead. The only reason we're making this suicidal journey is so that you don't have to die for our cure, and so we don't die getting it that way. Who knows if THAT will even work?"

"Excuse me..?" Ander uttered.

Ruth scowled at him. "After I was bitten, I had blood drive for a week. I killed every man around me. Who's to say you won't kill us once we're human?"

"I.. I don't care if you don't trust me, Ruth." Ander said, though he did, he cared a great deal. He pointed a finger at her accusingly. "Because you're capable of killing me at any moment, and I didn't run off when we were at saare pastell! Maybe my trust is misplaced."

"Oh, certainly." Ruth scoffed. She finished buttoning her jacket, and started to put on her gloves and shoulder pads as she spoke. "Because I don't like you, brat. You might have Sammy and Davelynn and even Ransom in your pocket, but if when you go through the rebirth you so much as touch one of them, I'll cut out your damned heart. Whether it's beating, or not."

Anders fists bunched. He bit down hard on his lip.

Ruth flashed him a mocking grin. "Go play with the ickle fishies, cooper."

Trying to relax his tensed posture, and glaring intensely, Ander stormed from the cabin quarters and down into the hold.

He couldn't comprehend exactly why she didn't trust him, but in the back of his head, it occurred to him that she could be right. He did have the potential to lose it during this rebirth; and if what she said was true..

Ander stopped dead in his tracks.

No, he thought, somewhat urgently. He wouldn't let that happen.

He reached the second ladder and descended to the bilge, which was lit with candles as usual, but as he turned the corner a new wall of sacks and barrels faced him, stamped with the flag of colonized Sparing.

Only a small gap had been left to squeeze through.

"Alec..?" Ander called nervously, shuffling through the space.

There was a mumble, a clatter, then Alec's eyes appeared in the darkened gap between two barrels. They were a darker shade of blue than usual, and apparently glowing softly.

He jumped back in surprise. "Alec!" He gasped.

Alec chuckled nervously, "Good morning, Ander.. I may have, uh, cornered myself in.."

"You could have asked me for help, boy." Devlin sighed, from around the corner.

Ander, shaking his head, pushed his way through the gap and lifted the top barrel away so that Alec could clamber over. Devin was sat patching the hole in the floorboards, a small toolbox and a pile of wood beside him. Only a small area was left to mend.

Alec hopped down and ducked his head sheepishly, flustered. "Thanks.. I've been trying to sort them, but the empty ones at the back need taking up to the hold.."

"That sounds positively mind numbing.." Devlin mumbled. He looked up to Ander with a crooked smile. "Holes almost fixed. Can't say I'm not confused by it, considering the ridges against the planks were too fine to have been the result of a rock collision.."

Ander glanced at Alec, who stared back at him in puzzlement, then shrugged his shoulders. He frowned. "..sorry?"

"I think someone, or something, cut their way through with a sword or knife. They would have had to swim under water, but it wasn't neatly enough cut to have been done in anything but a hurry, so it's not impossible.. Any ideas?"

"That's ridiculous!" Ander cried. "There is no way someone- something- would do that! What would they have to gain?"

Reynick emerged slowly from behind a few of the barrels, where he had apparently been sleeping. He looked bedraggled and untidy, which was unusual for him, dark bags hanging beneath his pink eyes.

He groaned lowly, and rubbed the crust from his eyes with the back of his hand. "What wouldn't they have to gain..?" He yawned widely. "Hunter has more jewels and gold than half of sparing tucked away in the hold.. And information, in his quarters, so I hear.."

"P'raps it would be worth investigating?" Alec smiled widely.

Devlin finished tapping the last few screws into place, and sat straight, pushing his greying hair from his face. "Well, I can guarantee that patch for years!" He glanced about the room a moment in uncertainty. "..That patch, at least. Do write me when that wall over there caves.. Now! I do think the boy is right, I'd confer with your captain about that theory."

He picked up his toolbox, and strapped his workbench to his back before standing straight. He looked to Alec, "Young man, could you please inform your quarter master of my tasks completion and have my payment ready? And you, white haired fellow?"

Reynick looked up.

He held out his toolbox. "This wouldn't be too much for a man of your character, would it?"

Reynick, looking somewhat unimpressed, took it and grumbled. "My character doesn't build my muscles, but alright."

He headed in a slump to the upper deck, Alec a blur in his wake.

Devlin looked at Ander and smiled broadly. "Now, Anderson, sho arim korona! Those are old Sparish words for 'watch your step,' I believe."

Ander did recognise the words, Sho arim korana, however distantly. The Sparish couple he'd lived with at the mass house would say that to one another, every time one of them left to scavenge food.

He smiled a little in return. "And you, Dlin."

Devlin extended a hand to shake, and Ander took it, but felt the touch of paper against his palm. Devlin slid something down his sleeve, a note.

At the raise of Anders eyebrows, he raised a finger to his lips. "Shh.." He breathed.

There was a sudden, unnatural ripple in the light before the man, and within mere seconds Devlin had changed. He began to morph and shift. Limbs shrunk, hair grew, and his spine bent into a horizontal arch. His features, though they altered so fast it seemed impossible, were inhuman, yet still his.

A large, black dog with overgrown fur stood before Ander, with the bench still strapped to his back. 
He bolted, and began to scamper eagerly up the ladder, using the barrels beside it to give himself leverage. Ander, momentarily shaken by the display, called after him. "Hey, wait! What was that you gave m-"

The dog was quickly out of sight, and he groaned in frustration, instead pulling the crumpled letter from his sleeve.

His eyes widened.

'The imperials saw your ship, and they didn't attack. Myself and Rhys did some eavesdropping on your behalf, and I believe you're in danger of an ambush at your final destination.

That hole was cut by someone, not something. But if they did swim under the ship and your captain has seen nothing missing, I suggest checking for watermarked maps that show your route. 
Sho arim korona, first-blood'

Anders hands tightened on the note in alarm. He'd known, Devlin knew what he was, and that only meant that what he 'eavesdropped' was more than ambush plans.

He scrambled hurriedly up the ladder and bolted to the captains quarters.

"Captain Hunter!" He gasped out, rushing forward. On his way, he had collected a following, Ruth looking on unimpressed that he'd created a draft and Samson and Reynick being naturally overly curious. Around hunters desk where he sat, the three firstmates already stood, leaning over him to peer at the maps they'd spread out. Another small chest underneath the desk was also overflowing with crumpled papers.

They all looked up at him in turn, Hunter arching an eyebrow at the entrance. "Ander? Clearly knocking doesn't come naturally to you.. What is it?"

"Devlin! He slipped me this note, you need to see it!" He said breathlessly, handing him the letter, which was cautiously accepted.

Hunter read it with critical eyes, which widened only briefly. He folded it, handing it back to Ransom to read himself, and sighed deeply. "The man is a hybrid break-away, why should we believe him?"

"Please, just check your maps.. We didn't tell him I'm a firstblood, but he knows! He must have heard it from.. Well, them!"

"Ander, for gods sake, take some deep breaths!" Samson said somewhat nervously from behind him, trying to edge him back, but Ander stood his ground.

Davelynn and Yates exchanged concerned glances. Hunter knitted his fingers together.

"Captain.." Said Ransom, looking up from the note. "He may be right, I noticed the same thing while at the docks."

"Then call a meeting, quickly. I already have my theories, and this -" He held up the map infront of him, it's ink smudged across the top left quarter and marked with water stains.  "-seems too similar to be ignored, if he was right about one thing."

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