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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13. Chapter 13 - Whispers Of The Past

Ander stood by the door as the captain and his first mates viewed the map in question, the others spread across the small space hiding anxiety with increasingly annoying habits. 

Yates stood solo in the corner by the desk, silent and unnoticed, an entirely unimpressive presence. He was the kind of person you'd instantly write off as unimportant, though for some unknown reason, he was a first mate. Ander hadn't so much as heard the cook speak prior to that morning, and from his primary job he would suspect nothing more than that. The cook. The rather unnecessary and replaceable cook.. 

He looked away quickly. 

In fact, as each possible alternate explanation for the water marks and smudges on the marked map was ruled out, that entire north side of the room seemed to radiate a fatalistic aura that was pushing everybody back several inches per minute. 

Reynick was sat frowning at a book in his lap, one foot up on the chair he perched on as he leant one elbow on his knee. He held the book up to the light as if for closer examination, and Ander caught sight of 'Book of Stara' in gold lettering inscribed on the leather. He raised his eyebrows.

Reynick complained. "This is all so overdone and confusing.. Why couldn't this Stara woman have just explained her little stories instead of leaving the uneducated 'followers' in suspense?"

"Because that woulda' been simple.." Ruth muttered, leaning back against the bookshelf. "Not very philosophical of 'er I suppose.."

"You've never seen the book of Stara before?" Ander asked in puzzlement, ignoring her. "How?"

"The magi avoid reading any texts that don't contribute to their studies.. And they long since abandoned writing their own books to further evade hunters." Ransom contributed from the desk, before looking back to his map. He appeared to be entirely refreshed since his run.  "Holy books are hardly a requirement of humanity, anyway."

Reynick huffed, looking up. "But if we did write books they'd be a lot more enlightening than this rubbish.."

Ransom didn't look up still, concentrating, but he beckoned for Ander with his hand, moving over for him. "We think we have indeed encountered an issue with our current route to the island." 

"From information gathered from the underground breakaways around the town, from double checking Samsons contact, and from the carpenters warning, we have discovered night hunter ambushes waiting at our next two stop off safe points." Hunter informed him, looking him dead in the eye with a sort of morbidity that you'd give a dying patient in a hospital. 

Ander ran empty as he looked down at the map Ransom scoured over, confused at the deathly undertone of the statement. "I, don't understand.. What does that entail?" 

"Next to no supplies." Ruth cut in. Even she made no room for a witty remark at his cluelessness. "No blood savin's for us, an' no food for you an' the Mage."

Ander looked sidewardly at Reynick, who had paled considerably, which looked rather deathly in addition to his existing complexion. He raised a gloved hand like a school child. "Pardon me.. Could you repeat that?" 

"We simply cannot risk another attack, there is too much at stake. We already lost a good deckhand and our carpenter the last time we faced them.. And their, new weaponry." Hunter spat his last words. "If that's what we're calling it now.."

"So we all go hungry?" He asked, despite knowing it probably wasn't his place. "That's the plan? One way or another this is risky, but if you don't put something on the line you'll rarely find yourself with an entirely satisfying outcome." 

A moments silence fell, and Ransom looked up finally, eyes trained on Ander with a curious intensity. Ander avoided his gaze.

Hunter looked at the others for input before speaking up, finding none. "I don't disagree. But I still appose wandering straight into a planned ambush, and I am the captain of this ship." 

"If they know our plotted stop points it is increasingly likely that they have somehow discovered our destination, and therefore we should get an advance on them while we have the upper hand." Davelynn finished him. 

Samson was stood with his arms behind his head, stretching. He finally piped in. "Have we even considered that we might 'ave a rat? Y'know, a traitor who told 'em all this? How else would the imperials 'ave heard that Anders a first?" 

Within seconds of the words leaving his lips, every set of eyes flitted across to the Mage, who looked eerily vulnerable for a moment, a deer in the headlights. He launched a remark, but seemed to falter. "Look, I understand your suspicion. But please, what purpose would my 'betraying' you serve?"

Ruth had to withhold a chortle, earning raised eyebrows from the captain, who looked suitably unimpressed. "Something to say Ruth?" 

"The magi hate us. In the grand scope 'o things it would be a good move for 'em." 

"Ruth, do us all a favour, and try to back up your constant spill of negativity with a degree of intelligence. None of us would even have a reason to trust YOU, after the circumstances of your arrival here, if you hadn't been here so long." Ransom challenged, unusually bold, yet without even a trace of anger or a raise of his voice. 

Ruth looked baffled, stuttering over a response for a moment, before composing herself. She scowled. "You.. Shut it! THAT WAS UNCALLED FOR! I have been here barely 5 years less than yourself, like you said!"

Hunter cleared his throat for attention, then addressed Samson. "As right as you are, I think we should have only myself and my firstmates present currently. The rest of you please leave. That does not include you, Reynick."

Ander frowned at Ransom, who came him a fleeting look of apology.

He couldn't help but to wish he could stay to see the outcome. 

Reynick swore under his breath with the expression of a man given the death sentence, finally closing the book open in his lap and placing it on a side table. He stretched before sitting forward, paying attention. "You're really listening to their biased opinions now, Captain?"

"Biased?" Samson and Ruth both asked incredulously. They glanced at each other before looking back to Reynick.

Reynick narrowed his eyes slightly. "I'm very aware of both of your views on my kind, and while the feeling is rather mutual, I would like you to know that I do not care enough. I do not care enough about the existence of a few vermin vampires to waste my precious time revealing your petty plans." He said venomously, "I do not care enough about you people."

Hunters face contorted into a mask of annoyance, forming a glare that could cut steel. "Then you shouldn't care sleeping in the bilge permanently, you.. filth."

"Excuse me..?"

"Take him. I don't want to look at him." Hunter growled out, before reclining back into his chair with his elbows leaning on the arms of it, fingers knitted. 

Cyro and Quill stepped forward from where they stood by the door, and took Reynick roughly around the arms, jostling him forward. Reynick said or did nothing, just stared icily at the men until he'd been escorted  past Ander to the doorway

"..I am glad you're willing to talk the issue through, your kind are so very intelligent." He muttered sarcastically under his breath, and was roughly pinned to the wall at his collar by Quill.

"Quill!" Ransom barked.

Quill had one fist to the mans temple, as though measuring how much force would be required to crack his skull. "I'll kill you if you flap yer' tongue again, Mage." He growled.

Reynick scowled, though he looked doubtful of the man. "Your captain won't allow that. You can't possibly be so stupid as to risk making my coven an enemy."

"Yer', but the point is that YOU will be very dead!"

"Drop him." Hunter sighed, and after a moment Quill reluctantly obliged, throwing Reynick to the ground at Anders feet. The man grunted on his fall, but quickly started to pull himself up, his wintery hair obscuring his face. 

Ander offered him a hand quickly, wide eyed at the display. "Was that necessary?!"

"I said leave!" Snapped Hunter turned his attention to the group frozen around the doorway. "I need only Ransom, Davelynn and Yates present! Go!" 

Ander and the others quickly left the room, dispersing, while Cyro took Reynick by his arms again and wrestled him down to the bilge. 

Samson and Alec remained by his side, Samson positioning himself infront of them, and walking backwards. He frowned deeply. "The cap'ns wound up about all this.. More so than usual. And, that Reynick.."

"Rightly so I suppose.." Ander mused.

Alec asked up to him, blinking his large, childlike eyes. "You realise if we run out of blood you're in a lot of trouble, Ander? I mean, also more so than usual"

"What's that supposed to mean..?" 

"Well honestly when aren't you in danger, though?" Samson smirked, a little too smug. "And that's when we're fed."

"Alright, I get the idea.." Ander rolled his eyes. He pushed his thoughts of Reynicks treatment aside, leaving room for actual issues demanding attention. Next to knowing his time as a human was limited, a threat that may or may not be genuinely dangerous seemed secondary. 

Still. His blood had been tempting before, if they were hungry for it.. 

"Uh, you two won't eat me, right?" He asked, only half joking. Samson laughed out loud, slapping him on the back. "We'll make a sure-fire effort, for that rosy future you got there!"

"I'd appreciate you treating that as a sore subject."

He smiled a little. "I'll try to keep that in mind. You should go tie up the stock extra tight now, cooper. Or you'll probably find yourself with nothing left by morning."

Then, Samson started to walk away across the cabin. However, half way to the ramp, he froze abruptly, and cursed under his breath. 

Alec looked at him with a small frown. "..Samson?" 

"Oh, god, I forgot something..." Samson said suddenly. His hands flew to his face, and he sank back against the frame of his hammock, wide eyed. "Oh, Staras arse! Crap!" 

Ander looked confused, moving forward quickly. "What? Samson, what is it?"

"RHYS! Damn it, you said he helped us and I left him behind and.. If we leave now, the imperials will know it was him who told Devlin and had us warned! He has a record!" 

He grabbed Ander by the shoulders, frantic. "They will execute him! And Devlin - He'll have to flee! I forgot until just now!" 

The ship shook. With a sudden jolt, they were both knocked aside. Alec stumbled into Ander before catching his balance. 

Ander gathered that this turbulence meant the ship was beginning to move after braking; they'd be hauling the anchor, raising the mainsails.. Samsom was instantly distraught.

"Ander, I can't leave him!" He cried, wrapping an arm around the hammocks frame. "I CAN'T!"

"They might not know it was him, Samson! And Rhys seemed resourceful, he would take measures to-"

"But what if he didn't?! I can't! I refuse to leave without warning him!" 

He started to run back to the captains quarters, but Alec's small arms wrapped around his frame tightly, pulling him back. His face was buried in his back, but his eyes brimmed with tears. "You have to, Sammy.. I'm so sorry. Rhys will not die, he won't!" 

Alec sounded like he was trying to convince himself far more than Samson. 

Ander looked down solemnly. He knew that the death of a loved one was hard, and an avoidable one, harder. Holding that death in your hands would be enough to break a person.

The door to the captains quarters opened after a minute or so of silence between them. It was Hunter, making his way to the deck to steer the ship.

Samson didn't object, as Alec was holding onto him tight, but his glare spoke volumes. Hunter did not look him in the eye as he passed.

*

That evening Samson retreated to the crows nest, asking gruffly to remain undisturbed, but the two chose the next best place to keep an eye on him. 

Ander had barely taken a moment during his time aboard the ship to open his eyes properly, at least that's what he thought, when he gazed out at the sun-set stood far below Samsons perch.

The sky was a patchwork quilt, somber shades dissolving together and shining out purely white at the centre. There, the falling sun was simply a gradient glow against the orange, yellow, pink and purple canvas that formed the foreground.

It was a light in the corner of Alec's blue eyes, where he stood leaning against the railing beside him with an expression only describable as 'wizened wonder.' It was as though he was very accustomed to the sight, yet he welcomed it anyway, a small and exhausted smile creeping onto his lips.

"You're quiet." He said lightly. Ander breathed out a slow sigh. He looked up at the crows nest far above their heads, where Samson was sitting with his legs tangled in the ropes strewn between the masting like a hammock, fearless of the risk of falling.

"I suppose so." He said, and focused on the horizon once more, listening intently to the reassuring song of crashing waves below them. 

Business on deck was quiet, even Davelynn had ceased from shouting orders. She appeared to be watching Hunter steer the ship with unfocused eyes, and in return Ransom watched her.

"I wish I knew what went on with Ransom at St Marys.." Ander mused. 

Alec looked up at him, frowning a little. "I'm sure he has his reasons for not wantin' to share an' such, don't worry about him, Ander!"

"Don't worry about who?" Said Ransom from behind them, causing Alec to snap around quickly.

"O-Oh, nobody-!"

"Samson, you're worried about him?" Ransom asked, and Ander imagined that the hint of emotion in his otherwise flat voice was supposed to be concern. 

Alec relaxed visibly, and Ander finally turned to look at him. 

"He'll blame himself if Rhys is hurt." He said, lowering his voice just enough that it wouldn't carry to the nest. "They acted like brothers.. Can't you do, something?"

He knew that the answer would be less than fulfilling, and so did Ransom, looking away from him in buried guilt. 

"Ander, I wish I could save everybody, but humans die.. And sometimes, it's to make room for others. If you had a brother, and you were each balanced on the edge of scales at a cliff edge, would you save yourself and let him drop, or throw yourself off so he could live?" He asked bluntly. 

Ander looked at his feet, clenching his fists at the truth of it. Ransom could guess his answer.

"If Rhys dies, though I doubt that the imperials are smart enough, it will be because he believes Samsons life is worth it." He said. 

"As long as somebody thinks that, your life can never be meaningless." Alec smiled, then, he faltered. "Or, is it that as long as you believe in yourself it won't be..? Yes, if you believe that your own life carried weight alongside others, your death can never go quietly. Only a person who lives in isolation for their entire life lives meaninglessly, because no matter how many trees you carve your name into, and however many statues of yourself you construct trying to convince the universe that you existed, that person will never leave his mark. Because no other human lives were touched by him. No other person believed in his life, so how could he believe in himself?" 

"Alec, ransom.." Ander said, looking between them both. "You've both lived far longer than me, you're both wise.. What does eternity feel like?"

Ransom leaned back against the railing, with his elbows propped up on the wood, and stretched back his head. "I don't know," he sighed wearily. "I'll let you know when I get there."

*

The purple air was familiar, this time it hardly surprised him. Ander opened his eyes, and saw the between around him.

The voices were louder now as he peered around him, at the scenes crossing one another without interfering. He'd look at one, single it out, and just that one would become clearer, more vivid, like he had been sucked into that event and was a first hand witness.

He saw, now, Reynick. But he was younger; maybe 15, his white hair outgrown to his shoulders and falling across his eyes as he sat crouched on the ground, hugging his knees.

Two others, boys far bulkier than he was, stood on either side of side of him laughing raucously.

"No.." Ander whispered desperately, shaking his head, and the sound of his own voice startled him. 
He clenched his fists. He recognised the nature of the scene all too well. 

As Reynick opened his mouth, the words seemed to form themselves within his own mind, an echo. 
"-Please, just leave me be."

"Oh, look at the little one with the old man hair!" A red haired boy grinned broadly, grabbing a fistful of Reynick hair, so he gasped in pain and was pulled with him. 

"Reynick.." Ander breathed, wide eyed as he watched. 

Reynick grabbed at the boys meaty hands, wincing. "Let go!" He cried.

The boy held on, while the other grabbed his struggling arms and pinned them behind his back, holding him roughly on his knees.

"Release me!"

"Oh, the mouth on you! Hair sore, are you?"

"Just like a little girl!"

"Afraid all that ugly hairs going to fall out, little old man..?"

They both laughed, while the boy tugged and yanked at Reynicks hair, until tears formed in his eyes and his jaw was clenched. He quickly blinked them away.

Ander wanted to run at them, to pull them from little Reynick and help him to his feet, but he knew from his past experience that it was impossible.

He brought his hands to his face in distress, clawing at his cheeks, them threw back his head. He stared horrified into that white gap in the ceiling-like sky. 

"OUT!" He cried. "I DON'T WANT TO BE HERE!" 

And as he stared through the white, he began to make out black silhouettes, outlined against the bright backdrop, yet blurry at the edges. He found one, and focused as hard as he could.

The world around him was abruptly, violently white, before fading into purple.

He hadn't escaped. The people around him had only changed. He stared about him in alarm, his eyes darting.

Here, they appeared to be peasants, regular townspeople. Some were making exchanges in shops, passing coins across a translucent countertop, whilst others were begging on the streets with dirty hands and bare, blistered feet. 

Then, he saw the lower class. Dressed in rags, many bloodied and beaten.. No, they weren't just the lower class. They were those at the very bottom; slaves.

If he had seen somebody in the light that brought him home, it meant they had to be aboard the ship. He scanned the memories around him for a familiar face.

His eyes focused. There, in the distance, was Samson.

Ander approached the scene hesitantly, knowing the nature of Samsons past and bracing himself for the worst.

Dressed in a sack poncho that barely reached his knees, tied at the waist with some rope, he was sat scrubbing the floor coated in sweat. The rags he wore were stained with patches of red across his back, as were the backs of many other slaves in the memories around him. 

"Oh, god.." Ander breathed in horror. 

Samson glanced up at the kitchen around him, almost precautionary. Eyes darting behind him, then back at the cabinet, he rose and crept surreptitiously to the counter. 

From it, he produced a small lump of cheese, and turned it in his hand for inspection before tasting it slowly.

His eyes widened, and the cheese was very quickly, ravenously devoured. In fact, he was so enthralled led in his pathetic meal, that he didn't see the man approaching behind him. 

"Samson!" Ander cried out. 

The rolling pin whirred through the air and hit his back abruptly, sounding a loud crack. Samson howled in pain and was sent lurching forward, cracking his head on the edge of the countertop..

"-Thief! Thieves get what they damn well deserve!" The man barked, raising the rolling pin in both hands once more. 

Samson, sprawled across the floor with blood pouring from his head, was rewarded another strike, then another, until he stopped responding with pained sounds.

Even unconscious, he was beaten, and Ander couldn't watch any longer for fear that he would lose his mind, at the very least his faith in humanity. He snapped his head back to the whiteness once more.

"I WANT OUT!"

*

This time, he woke to the cabin, with Ransom over him. 

"-Ander! Wake up, Ander!"

He peered at him with blurry eyes, blinking fast, and a sudden pain in his cheek alerted him. He gasped, sitting straight.

"-Ouch! Damn it.." He hissed. 

Ransom sighed. He stepped back to allow him to swing his legs from his hammock. "You were apparently clawing your face while you slept.. We had Reynick bandage it, so the blood didn't bother us too much. You must try not to oversleep so much, you are damn near impossible to wake." 

"Speak for yourself.. I seem to remember you sleeping through me getting ambushed." Ander sighed. He stood up achingly, and realised suddenly that the hatch was open, yet no sun shone onto the wooden ground. 

Ransom started to make his way to the ramp. "Be ready on deck in five minutes, the fog is closing in." 

He paused before leaving. "Oh, and I was awake the whole time at the under-clan, by the way. I was curious at how long you would last.."

With that, he left, and Ander groaned loudly in annoyance. "Of course." He muttered.

He started to peel the bandage cautiously from his cheek where it had been taped into place. There was very little blood, but enough to alarm him, as he saw the crust beneath his nails. He had been driven to harm himself by what he had seen - he almost liked it better when he was unable to move or speak or pick out faces there. 

He wrestled a clean shirt on with difficulty, gritting his teeth at the pain in his aching shoulders, and now his cheek as the fabric brushed against his cuts.

The between realm was a nightmare, but the part that terrified him was that the only monsters it contained were human.

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