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.'


15. Chapter 15 - The Judgement Card

Every child knows that being ill, in proportion, has it's undeniable benefits. Time off school, larger amounts of food, and undivided attention without even leaving bed.

Ander, however, felt only helplessness, and with Reynick gone after a day or so of nursing him, his bandaged wounds stung ruthlessly. He had Alec as an unwanted manservant, and Samsons running commentary of the goings on above deck like he couldn't see in colour.

Now, a week had passed, and all he wanted was to be of relative use.

He was in the bilge pushing the barrels into place across the wall. His muscles ached, straining, but from doing the task daily his general strength had improved just slightly. Still, a part of his bicep twinged as he flexed it, clearly sprained, and his wounded calf stung beneath his bandages even after a week.

Alec was sat cross legged by a faintly glowing lamp, writing some lists on a sheet of parchment. His handwriting was an untidy scrawl that wasn't much better than Anders own, many of the words mispelled or in the entirely wrong place.

Barul 1. 32 purpl bloodles fishes. 
Barul 2. Blud supli. Left Qorter 
Barul 3. 15 more blu bloodles fishes.

Ander checked the list briefly, but it was mainly the unnecessary result of the boys boredom.

It had been a week since they'd left saint Mary's island, with no stops, and none soon to come.

Tensions were generally, undeniably high, it was expected. Hunger, or more thirst, was driving people to passive aggressiveness. It seemed they were trying to deny that they were doing this, however.

Much of the optimism left in people had faded, even Samson was running dry of jokes.

Ander looked at the ceiling, clenching his teeth, as he tightly gripped the rough wood of the liquid filled barrel and hoisted it up, quickly tilting its weight to fit above another row of the things Alec had listed as the blood supply. Or, 'blud supli.' It was a wonder Alec could write at all, so he hadn't bothered to correct him.

At the orphanage Grammar school they'd taught basic writing, Imperium-Sparish, and mathematics. Though triple digits were lost on him, and he'd never seen a purpose in speaking a language that was scarcely spoken within the continent but in trading.

His writing, due to the age he had left the place, was poor. But he'd never had to write himself, just read. (Like most peasants, even that ability was lacking greatly.)

He recalled being caned for getting his words mixed up, however. Since then, he'd gotten the letter rules into his head, and would run over them in his head when he was at his most bored.

If anyone had it hardest on the ship, it was Alec. Not only was he stuck around the barrels upon barrels filled with fresh blood day to day, he had to hang around Ander and often Reynick, who was very vocal about how unhygienic his bed space in the bilge was.

Alec would gently remind him that it was, in fact, a bilge. And Ander would remind him not so gently that he should stop acting like he was something spectacular just because he knew how to turn a pack of flour into a potted plant, and that he had brought the damned situation upon himself. However, after his efforts of relieving his pain when he was injured, Ander had tried to be kind over the past few days despite the mans insufferable attitude.

But Alec was suffering the most temptation, causing Ander to take frequent unscheduled breaks out of guilt, and be scolded by a much less patient than usual Davelynn.

Whatever kindness the girl had been previously harbouring was shredded. She was stressed, and it showed. Her frustration was being channelled more than anyone at Ander, despite her usual soft spot for his unfortunate situation.

Somehow, he doubted they'd be able to safely last another week.

However, being human had one advantage besides the obvious. He had complete access to Yates kitchen, and Yates seemed to enjoy cooking recreationally. He didn't talk outside of brief mumbles or one word answers, but Ander and Reynick got whatever meals he'd prepare in his spare time. It was a silent agreement between them, since he had given him the sandwich.

For the others he seemed to make an odd mixture of things, or strange concoctions with a key ingredient of animal blood no regular chef would even dream of. The nutrients or herbal effects of the meals were intended to ward off their thirst for blood, but all they really did was cause a lot of sea pollution barely seconds after tasting the foul mixtures.

However, Yates real cooking was close to god food in the midst of everything. It was hard not to just consider his position as a first mate being solely so Hunter could have exclusive access to it.

As Ander hoisted another slightly lighter barrel, he reminded himself that soon he could leave and get his share of the food.

Alec, shifting every few seconds into a new seating position, hummed the tune he had sang the first time they'd met as he had been for the past half hour. Now the notes sounded exhausted, low pitched, out of tune. Still, he didn't stop. Ander supposed he was attempting to cheer himself up.

"Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye.. Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie.." He mumbled, then trailed off into a hum once more.

Ander smiled slightly, ceasing his task for just a moment. He liked listening to the boy.

"What is that song, Alec?" He asked, a little breathless as he nudged another barrel into place and knelt down quickly to fetch the rope.

Alec looked like he'd snapped out of a daydream. "Hm? Which one?"

"What's that one you were singing earlier..? Uhm.." He thought a moment, trying to recall the words, and instead hummed the tune.

Alec's eyes lit up as he recalled it, too. "Oh, you mean 'little boy blue!' It's just a nursery rhyme. The original crew used to sing as they drank and such.. All 'ave scary stories behind 'em! Overtime songs change, though, and barely anyone sings anymore. 'Cept maybe the children."

"Children? I thought you were the only-"

"The children in the places we visit, I mean." Alec chuckled. "Don't worry, we're not harbouring drifter children around the ship. Anyway.. The children seem to have their own versions of stories. The imperials 'ave a tight grip, you can barely ask what's for dinner without being suspicious. So, they write their rumours into songs!"

"Are there any rumours about the Eclipsium?" Ander wondered.

Alec looked up at him, "Well - being a ship dotted with fugitives that never really seemed to come from anywhere, like a permanent fixture, people talk." He shrugged, straightening his back. "They 'ave their own theories 'bout us, but we keep up to date with the help of rogue contacts like Rhys, who spread rumours that overlap.

Ander had never heard the songs Alec sung before he'd arrived on the ship, or at least he didn't think he had. At school, he had heard 'ring around the Rosie,' however.

"Does vampire ever crop up?" He asked, only half joking.

Alec laughed weakly. "Eh, sometimes. But the wooden stake to the heart version, y'know? Anyway, kids just sing the songs without really considering the words, only Stara knows how it really got round to 'em." The boy smiled. "It's pretty, though. Which isn't said enough 'round 'ere."

Ander smiled back at him, seeing the childlike innocence re-emerge in his blue eyes. Then he looked back to the barrel and wrapped a rope around it, knotting it safely to the others.

It gave him a glimpse of hope to imagine that his rebirth would liberate Alec from this life. He'd be free to live the life of a regular boy his age, a human. 99.9% ordinary.

Still, freedom always comes at a price, he thought dully.

He tapped the barrel to check the security, then turned back to face him. "Can you teach me?" He asked abruptly.

Alec looked surprised, dropping his quill and making a splodge of ink on his parchment. "Really? You didn't strike me as a poet or musician.."

He smiled, "I'm not completely shallow, Alec, I think it's quite pretty too."

Alec stared at him a moment, then pushed his mound of papers aside, and awkwardly patted a spot on the floor on the opposite side of his lamp. A small smile emerged on his face.

Ander settled down, and once he'd relaxed he doubted it would be easy getting back up again.

"The song 'as a hidden meaning. I think it was written about a drifter kiddy - who are a lot like the ghosts in human stories. Drifters can chose to reincarnate certain souls into host bodies when they die, and I think this ones about that. A boy who woke up in a different body, hidden away, and life seemed to go on as normal around him.." He said. Ander raised his eyebrows curiously, nodding for him to begin.

A hush fell, and Alec started to sing, his voice light and clear. "A Little Boy Blue come blow your horn,
The sheep's in the meadow the cow's in the corn..
But where's the boy who looks after the sheep?
He's under a haystack fast asleep.."

Ander closed his eyes, listening intently to the words as the song slowed to a close. Alec's voice grew quieter.

"Will you wake him? No, not I - for if I do, he's sure to cry.."

He ceased his singing, and took a deep breath in and out. Ander opened his eyes.

It took a moment for him to wake himself up. Though it was just a nursery rhyme, it seemed like so much more in the boys gentle voice. He hadn't felt so relaxed in days.

He smiled. "Your voice is quite beautiful.. I'd like to learn it, but I don't think I'd be able to sing like you."

Alec blushed fiercely, even the tips of his ears going pink. "Oh, thankyou.. I didn't really consider myself as that good.."

"You are good. I think as nice as the words of any song are, they'd be useless sang by someone who doesn't give them meaning." He shrugged. "Or more, they wouldn't be much good if the singer deafened the listener."

Alec blushed even more, if it was possible, standing out against his porcelain skin, and he laughed lightly. "Can, you sing?"

Ander awkwardly scratched the back of his head, "I haven't exactly tried.."

Alec seemed shocked. "Really? Well, uh.. It's like talking, but dragged out. There's a certain part of your throat the sound reaches that sounds best."

"Uh.." Ander started, a little confused. "Where would that be?"

Alec laughed, leaning forward with his elbow on his knee. "Tell you what.. I'll teach you the song if you teach me those knife tricks you do!" He said eagerly.

Ander raised an eyebrow, starting to stand but giving up as his back complained. "Which knife trick?"

Alec looked up as he thought, though Ander could guess the answer. "Uh.. The spinny one?"

It was almost pride that flashed upon Anders momentarily stunned face, recalling the moment he had asked Curtis exactly that. They were eerily similar, or had been. Even the look of fascination was replicated in Alec.

He stood up quickly despite the ache it caused, straightening his back compulsively from the concept that he was being watched, in the close way he had watched Curtis. "Of, course.." He said slowly, warmly.

He pulled his dagger from its sheaf, smiling ear to ear uncontrollably like a child realising he had grown taller than his parents, and clasped the hilt. Alec seemed to catch on his happiness, and he grinned broadly with pearly white teeth. Ander hadn't noticed before, or hadn't paid particular attention, but Alecs canines were infact pointed like tiny daggers, protruding slightly past the others. The point seemed almost manually sharpened, with needle like precision, as though they could tear flesh. Which of course, they could.

He had searched briefly before for the infamous vampire fangs while they had spoken, but they had always been concealed from view. However the fangs HAD seemed more definitive recently, like they had grown in mere days. Ander shook the idea off as impossible, and smiled back at the boy.

"Want to practise with a spoon or something?"

Alec gave him a look so insulted you'd have thought he'd mistaken him for a girl. He crossed his arms. "Why?" He exclaimed.

Ander blinked hard like it was painfully obvious. "Incase you cut yourself!"

Alec tilted his head, and reality rushed back to at the notion. Where Curtis had been careful with him, Alec could take a lot more. He wasn't a child, really. And he certainly wasn't about to bleed out if he was to stab himself in the foot.

Ander hesitated, feeling undeniably stupid. "..Ah."

He quickly unstrapped his other dagger, and passed it cautiously to Alec, earning him another small frown. He bit his lip in concern.

Alec smiled, holding the the hilt in both hands. "You can trust me, you know.."

Ander reluctantly spoke his mind. "Alec, I feel like I'm doing something awful giving you a weapon, even though I know you're not really a child.." He scratched the back of his head sheepishly, avoided his offended gaze.

He looked down sadly at his feet. "What happened to all your eagerness? Won't you teach me?"

Anders mind was fixed on Davelynn, on her constant concern for Alec, how she feared for his life. Guilt weighed down on him. "Yes, I.. I'll teach you, just not right now.. I think maybe I should ask your sister."

Now, Alec looked up sharply, eyed wide in shock. "What?" He exclaimed. "And should I ask the captain if I can throw you overboard while we're making pointless moves?"

Ander was momentarily stunned by his defiance, before he looked down, sunken. Though guilt bit at him, he told himself in the back of his mind that he was doing the right thing. "Alec.."

"You're making me angry.." Alec said harshly, looking away from him. His fists bunched, then relaxed by his sides forcefully. "You don't get it, do you?" He grumbled. "All I want is.. To be useful! To not be the pathetic one stuck in the child's body, just once!"

"Alec!" Ander snapped, cutting him off and getting his attention. The boy looked at him in sudden alarm.

He said nothing, muted, and Ander breathed out a slow sigh. Getting a hungry vampire angry didn't seem to be a grand option. "I apologise for snapping." He said flatly, diffusing the argument.

He ran a hand back through his curls in distress. "Okay, I'll teach you, because feeling useless is unhealthy and you deserve much better. But, you should know they're just parlour tricks.. Actual usefulness in fighting situations isn't entirely guaranteed."

A big grin spread across Alec's face, and he nodded frantically. "Oh, thankyou Ander! Thankyou!"

Ander offered a meek smile. Telling Davelynn was a lost cause, but if she was to find out somehow, surely she'd understand their reasons. The feeble, undersized boy required building up, and that much couldn't be denied.

"Well, hold it like this to begin with.." He started.

For almost an hour, Ander taught Alec the basic form of the trick, guiding his hands and offering tips. Alec would slice his palm, wince, and the wound would miraculously seal moments later as if time itself had sped, before blood could even form around the cut.

Alec could soon toss it into the air and catch it, but Anders breath caught whenever he attempted it. A cold sweat slicked his fringe back as he swept it from his face.

He quickly grabbed his wrist before he could try again. "Let's stop for now.. I'm getting hungry."

"Aye!" Alec smiled. He looked so cheerful, like he'd just bought him an entire toy shop for his birthday. But the sense of pride Ander had felt upon being asked had vanished.

Alec was a child to Ander, no matter what he said. Children weren't meant to be living this life at all, never mind playing with knives.

Alec in tow, Ander picked up the sandwich Yates had helpfully left on his hammock, and made his way above deck. The sun was blazing mercilessly, blinding him momentarily as he shielded his eyes. Samson bobbed his head from around the masting with a faint smirk.

As much as he had tried to ignore the fact, the mans face had changed. The longer he went without feeding, the more prevalent it became. It seemed, though it was impossible his bone structure could have moved, that shadows were resting on him. His cheeks, in the hollows around his eyes, across his nose..

It may have been the paleness, he told himself. He had grown significantly whiter, that much was a fact he could state without hesitation.

But even his blonde hair seemed almost faded. The streaks of gold that ran throughout were dulled, appearing almost mahogany red.

The most disturbing change besides this was his eyes. Usually a dark shade of brown, if memory served, they were now a violent green at the centre.

He glanced at Alec by his side, and realised with surprise that the same was the case for him. His turquoise irises were riddled with flecks of harsh emerald - though he had hardly noticed.

"Ander, you're late for lunch?" Samson smiled, his voice far more tired than it ever had been. His eyes skimmed his neck for a moment, an unnerving habit many had adopted, and Ander habitually turned up his waistcoats collar.

"Aye," he said, and wrung his hands. "You've had your share, haven't you?"

"Course.." Samson said, and quickly averted his eyes back to his face in realisation. "You've been covering a lot of skin in this heat.. That's either thoughtful, or you're just scared to hell with good reason."

Ander was wearing, and sweating unhealthy amounts as a result, baggy trousers tucked into his combat boots with a long sleeved shirt tucked into that, two belts at his waist where he had his daggers sheafed - just incase. Even the turn-ups of his sleeves were rolled down and reaching his knuckles.

He chuckled nervously. "All I need now is a mask and a scarf and I'll be near enough undetectable, aye?"

"I'd still smell yer'.." Grumbled Gillian as he passed, pulling a table casually behind him,

Gillian was setting up his small table in its usual spot, dragging a barrel across to sit at. He pulled a deck of cards from his pocket with a grin.

"Tarot, anyone?" He asked, glancing at the deckhands as they passed him.

Samson rolled his eyes. "Tarot? We've established that those things are never right. You'd think mages made 'em."

"They were right 'bout Wills death, lad.. I 'ain't taking chances." Gillian said solemnly. He gestured for the three of them to come over.

As Samson seated himself uncomfortably, Ander standing behind him with folded arms, Ransom glanced at them from where he stood. He arched an eyebrow skeptically. "The captain resents gambling, I've told you countless times."

"THIS - is not gambling. This is a fine art!" Gillian boasted, and clapped his hands together. He spread the worn cards in his hand face down across the table in one fluid moment, then looked at them expectantly. "Take your pick."

Sighing, Samson took one reluctantly. He placed it infront of the man, who lifted it slowly.

"..Ah, that's a nasty one."

"It's death, isn't it?"

"No, it's the reversed sun. Death might be better, the fellas' misunderstood.. You 'ad the upright sun last time if memory serves. This means temporary depression and hopelessness.."

Groaning, Samson stood up and allowed Alec to take his seat. "Very cheerful. Al - you're up."
Alec sat down, glancing about like Davelynn would swoop in and blindfold him at any moment, while Gillian reshuffled the deck.

He took one.

Gillian, if possible, paled. "Oh, hell.."

"Oh no.. It's death, isn't it?"

"I keep telling you ijits' that deaths not all that bad, 'ees not! This is confusing.. Last time you were the moon, before that, the star.. To go full circle you'd be the sun, now you're the reversed hanged man."

Ander dived in and snatched the card from his hands, staring at it in alarm. "What? What does this mean?"

"It means-" said Gillian testily, "-suspension, restriction, letting go, and in extreme cases, sacrifice."

"Don't believe it." Samson sighed, taking the card from his hands and handing it back to Gillian.

Alec still  looked unnerved as he rose. "Aye.." He said quietly.

"Do I see tarot cards?" Reynick asked from behind them, emerging from the cabin where he had been allowed an extended nap whilst nobody else needed to use it.

Gillian nodded. "Mornin' daisy. I'll read yours if yer' willing to hear out a 'vampires parlour tricks.'"

"Oh, ha-ha!" He retorted bitterly, and scoffed at him. "I will, it should pass the time."

He swept past Ander and leant his elbow on the table as he seated himself.

He promptly took a card. "Amuse me."

"I hate to say it, but you got the magician." Gillian sighed, and spoke his explanation hurriedly. "Pretty good. Power, skill, concentration, resourcefulness. Ander, you're up, please!"

Reynick, looking smug, moved away for Ander to take the barrel. "I do enjoy hearing of my own blatant character traits."

"They say that means you're obsessed with yourself.. No surprise there." Ander muttered as he sat. Reynick glowered at his back.

He reviewed the yellowing pack, which Gillian had reshuffled, and hovered his hand over them for a moment before picking up the card second from the right. He placed it face down infront of Gillian.

Gillian lifted it, and arched an eyebrow.

"Judgement," he said. "Hearin' a call for higher purpose. Ironically.. It represents rebirth."


That same evening, his prophecy all but forgotten, Ander proposed that he sleep in the bilge like Reynick.

"Why on Earth..?"

"I don't want my blood to tempt everybody.. So I'd like to prevent that all I can!" He insisted.

Davelynn sighed, threading her fingers together. She looked at him and Ander searched for signs of blood-drive, though her eyes had been green in the first place, so now they seemed only brighter.

"If you truly wish.. But nobody is forcing you." She said gently.

Ander smiled. It was a weight off his chest, at least, as he gathered his sheets and made his way to the bilge.

Reynick had arranged a flour sack for himself as a pillow, nestled beside some barrels with his robes over him, looking incredibly uncomfortable but snoring anyway.

Ander copied this positioning as much as he could, but the hard wood floor didn't bend like his hammock did, and as the ship turned he had to press him feet and hands to the boards to keep from rolling.

Reynick rolled over, snorted, and twitched a little before settling again, his white hair obscuring much of his face and his gloved hand curled beside his head.

Ander was slightly worried that he'd startle him when he woke and saw him there, so he shuffled his pathetic bedding even further away from him, and managed after a few minutes to settle on the cold floor. Sleeping on the ground was not new to him; but now he had experienced a level of comfort it made his stomach twist.

Reynick had probably enchanted the floor or something, it was alright for him! He thought bitterly.

Closing his eyes and hugging his knees, Ander attempted sleep. But after only 10 minutes of shutting his eyes far too tight and counting sheep, voices stirred him.

He furrowed his brow and listened, unable to pick out who they belonged to.

"-Get him now, they'll blame the Mage.."

He opened one eye; and spotted amber candlelight flickering by the entrance to the hold.

"They'll know it was us!" Somebody hissed back.

There was an irritated sigh. "No, they won't, just listen to me.. More of us'll die tryin' to get to this bloody island to save his skin, we can kill him now and take his blood!"

Ander sat bolt upright, his eyes widening. He glanced about him in alarm until he found his dagger, and held it tight in both hands.

Whoever it was didn't matter, he needed a strategy, and fast.

Allowing them to see him awake straight away wouldn't be good enough.. They were too fast for him, too strong, and he'd be killed instantly. Whoever was betraying him couldn't know that he was awake, and he would strike unexpectedly.

Ander settled onto his sheets once more, flat down with his dagger against his chest, and tried to calm his breathing. The ladder creaked, then two pairs of light footsteps neared him.

Three steps at a time, two steps at a time.. They were slowing, but growing louder, closer..

"-cut his throat, do it!"

Ander spun around, and lashed out his knife blindly at his attacker.

He froze. The blade was caught in mid-air, aiming straight at Quills heart.

He released a shallow breath. Antanio loomed behind the man, his once dark eyes very green in the flickering light of the candle he held.

Quill was wide eyed, clutching his knife.

"You.. YOU betrayed me!" Ander gasped out, choking on his words. "You BASTARDS!"

"He'll give us away! Kill him now!" Antanio growled out.

Quill was hesitant, his hand clenched around his weapon and shaking. "I.."


"I can't, damn it!" Quill barked back. "'Ees just a bloody child.."

Ander scrambled to his feet, still pointing the knife at Quills chest so the sharpened point broke skin. He narrowed his eyes. "I am not, a child."

"Antanio!" Snapped a voice from behind. Antanio, recognising it, visibly paled.

Captain Hunter emerged from the shadows. His eyes were icily thin, shadows from the candle moving across his face as he neared. "You are a fool. His blood won't cure you now. He is not a first blood yet, you'd have to drain all of it by yourself and even then it's not guaranteed. I won't let you do that, none of us will."

Antanio laughed wildly. His frantic eyes were changing, crimson flecks engulfing the green and turning his irises the colour of blood. "You're a fool, Hunter! You insist on getting him to this island just to save his skin, when you'll kill others worth ten tines as much to achieve that!"

"Quill," Hunter said lowly, now with a dangerously commanding tone to his voice. "Put down your knife now and only he will be dismembered.."

"I'd do as he says." Reynick said. He'd half risen, propped up on one knee, with his palms out threateningly. "You're backed into a corner."

Grunting, Quill did as was requested, and he raised his hands to disarm them. Antanio merely glared at the three, backing up a little.

Hunter nodded to Ander. "I'll leave him to you, though I hold no ties of friendship with a filthy traitor.. He is simply yours to finish."

"No," Ander quickly objected. He envisioned the crushing weight on his shoulders when he drove his knife through Pete, and felt no desire to claim a life again, given the option. He shook his head. "He's yours.."

Hunter nodded solemnly.

In a blur or colour, Hunter was at Antanios back, with a grip so hard on his neck that he bent back and shrieked in pain.  He was brought to his knees in less than seconds, and the captain turned promptly to Reynick and Ander.

"Get to the crows nest." He said. "And stay there until told otherwise."

"No..!" The man cried. His face was a mask of horror. "NO! NOO! NOT THAT!"

Reynick grabbed Anders sleeve and tugged him harshly away, "Let's go, have haste!"

The two retreated up the ladder, equally as unwilling to look behind them. 

Hunter sighed deeply. "I don't bide well with traitors.." He breathed, grabbing a fistful of Antanios hair and bringing him so he was level with his face. He smiled grimly. "Your friend William at least died intelligent. He may have been a coward, but he knew what was good for his health.. I cannot say the same for scum like you."

"No.. NO!"

The screams of agony that followed as they retreated to the deck, Ander feared would haunt him as long as he lived.

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