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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19. Chapter 19 - Blood Sickness

When Ander woke, he felt stiff all over, his back working up a breathtaking ache that seemed to protest as he straightened. He was glad to have slept dreamlessly, and without slipping into the between, though he doubted that was the result of anything more than him being propelled across the room and abruptly woken up several times during the night by the tossing of the ship. He had ended up starfished across Reynick once, who simply grumbled something about him not being a mattress and nudged him back to his own space. 

He sighed. "Staras breath.. Why did I offer to sleep in the-"

Ander froze mid sentence. Reynick was gone from his bed already.

He groaned, doubtful that if the pompous Mage was up before him it was any time before noon, and eventually dragged himself to his feet. He was about to leave, when he almost stumbled right into a plate of food and a cask of water. He halted quickly.

The sandwich had been prepared far more neatly than anything he'd received from Yates, and appeared to boast not two, but three layers of admittedly delicious looking fillings. Upon examination, the bread was even slightly fresh! Some sea biscuits dusted with what appeared to be sugar were stacked beside it.

His stomach rumbled merely at the sight. He beamed, and tucked in instantly, trying to savour every bite of the food but far too hungry to hesitate.

Living on the streets, he had stolen food to stay alive. Petty theft wasn't something he considered particularly immoral, especially with the questionable state of the imperial guard and their general lack of enthusiasm for their job. Honestly, the most many of them did on a day to day basis was disposing of wasps nests 'causing trouble' in the roofs of local young women. The incident at his execution would have caused enough unease amongst them to wake a coma patient. Like an athlete who had spent a year resting, then suddenly had to run a marathon.

It was a surprise that the one time he was caught, they didn't just pretend they hadn't seen it to avoid the chore of beating him.

Living with the baker had been a constant supply of treats to feast on, though nothing that could be considered filling. It was all bread, and pastry, and sugary things that made his stomach turn if he ate too much.

This had been his pay for the work. The spare room once belonging to the mans son, enough food to fill his 'growing self,' and training to one day become a baker himself. That was if carrying the flour shipments back from the stock house counted as training..

In short, Ander was amazed by the quality of this somewhat pathetic meal. For one, there was cheese, and sauce, and greens. Who would have thought that even survived on the ship?

Once he had finished, he laced his boots, drew back his hair with Samsons red ribbon and made his way above deck, taking the short cut through Yates kitchen leading off from the hold. It was a small room with one large wooden table in the middle, that had been used for so long that the knife slashes carving through it formed an almost abstract pattern. Around the edges of the room, cabinets were filled with equipment, and green herbs dangled from the hooks on the ceiling.

Yates was no where to be seen, and the considerably clean state of the kitchen entirely ruled out the possibility that the cook had made the sandwich.

He left the emptied mug there, and carried on to the deck. It struck him suddenly. Only one person here was sophisticated enough, and knowledgable enough in human cuisine, to have put it together. Reynick.

Stood by the railing, Ruth appeared to be trying to flirt with the Mage with little to no result. Whether or not he really was as ignorant as he appeared wasn't clear, but he hadn't seemed to grasp the concept of a girl taking an interest in him at all. She leaned sideways against the railing, fiddling with her bandana. "You're not bad looking, you know."

She said, smiling at him wryly, "You could do well for yourself in the big world."

"Ah, could I?" He replied in a disinterested drawl, without turning to face her.

Ruth's eagerness dwindled. "Yes.. And your tattoo, it suits you very much."

Reynicks hand lifted a moment, fingers brushing over the black spiralled spikes below his eye. He looked to her briefly, "It's not a tattoo like that one you're hiding under your sleeve, Ruth, it's different. It has a purpose."

Her cheeks flushed with rare embarrassment, hand flying to her shoulder. "You've seen it? How?"

"We changed in the same room for a time, and I am observant."

"You pervert! What's it of, then?" She challenged, shoulders hunching forward slightly despite her angry tone. He looked away again, turning back to the sea. "I believe it was an anchor with a name on it, 'Stephen.'"

"If you weren't so pretty I'd be punching you in the face right now.." Ruth grumbled, regaining her usual scale of bitterness. She leaned against the railing once more, folding her arms in annoyance. "I was complimenting you, you know."

"Were you? I thought you demonstrating your inate ignorance to my people." He retorted in a low mumble. "The 'tattoo' is called a magarc."

She looked at him in annoyance, finally reaching the breaking point of frustration. "What the bloody hell is a magarc?"

"What the hell is a magarc?" Ander asked, risking approach and making his way to the two. Ruth cast him a cold look, but no colder than her usual response to him entering a room. "Oh, it's you."

"Ah, Anders!"

"Just Ander." He corrected, possibly for the 10th time. "Again.."

Reynick nodded stiffly. "Apologies.. Well, since you're both clearly oblivious to the magi, I shall educate you. The magarc is our symbol, usually placed somewhere noticeable, like the face or neck. Somewhere we don't already have runes - so not the arms or hands. It represents the field of sorcery we practise. Generally every coven Mage has one they excel at, and it's finalised using a series of tests. We are given our mark, the enchanted 'tattoo,' to help us channel our energy into that school of spells."

Ruth looked at Ander with a glazed sort of stare. "Is it only me who zoned out the second he started on the double syllables?"

Ander sighed, ignoring her, despite missing half of his explanation himself. "What 'field' do you practise, then?"

Reynick tucked a strand of white hair behind his ear, and his earring winked, unmistakably silver. "I'm sure I've told you this? It is named alteration. There is alteration, healing, offensive - which is closely linked to elemental - and soulstis. Necromancy too, of course, though that is only a warped form of soulstis. It is forbidden black magic that is only good for causing harm. Those at least, are the most common. There are rarer fields, too, that we can't fully explain. Alteration specialises in what can be changed. Usually none destructive, as the offensive and elemental fields deal with spells that inflict pain or damage.. I can use spells that change matter, create things that weren't previously there. You've seen my force fields at work, for example."

"It's like you write these things down before you say them.." Ander said, a little overwhelmed by the bombardment of information. Somehow though, the words seemed distantly familiar, thought he couldn't place where from. He tried to picture what was meant by inflicting pain or damage, and winced at the idea of being hit by Reynicks sturdy force field.

Reynick shook his head, "We just study all of this in detail at the coven.. What else would we do all day?"

"Most take a stroll, or read a book." Ander voiced.

Ruth chuckled. "No wonder you're so pale. But it suits you, adds to the mysterious stranger aesthetic you're going for."

"Oh look. She's back."

Reynick still seemed painfully oblivious. "Actually, that's my lack of skin pigment. I'm albino. Mutations like mine are almost ten times more common amongst mag-"

"You're mind numbing, Reynick, that's what you are! You are aware of that aren't you?" Ander asked.

Reynick shrugged off the insult calmly. Ruth sighed, studying the man intensely. "Still. The 'magic-arc,' or whatever it's called, is quite attractive to look at. It brings out your eyes."

"I should hope not!" He said. For a moment, it sounded sarcastic, but soon it set in that he was in fact deadly serious. 

Ander groaned inwardly in disbelief. It was almost pitiful. "That's a lost cause, Ruth." He muttered. "Besides, he's in a relationship."

Ruth glared at him, "Why thank you, I hadn't noticed! And.. Don't act like I care!" She cast Reynick one more look before storming away to where Samson and Edward were tending the masting.

Ander looked at him in raw disbelief. "That wasn't serious, right? Have you ever left that coven before?"

"What? She was referring to my magarc blinding me, was she not?"

Ander shook his head, but decided it best to save romance lessons for another time. His understanding of women was very slim as it stood, but he supposed this was the case for most people. Of course, Samson seemed like a natural sweet talker, and both Ransom and Hunter would find women easily with their intriguing and mysterious nature.. If Ander felt inferior in his knowledge, he assumed Reynick would be much worse off.

"I actually just wanted to say thanks for dropping me breakfast. I know it was you.. It was actually, uh, really good."

Reynick awkwardly shrugged his shoulders. "It took seconds."

"You still did it. Little things like that matter."

"It meant nothing." He sighed, turning back to face the railing with his elbows leant against the wood. "I simply pity you."

Ander looked baffled. He quickly stepped to the railing beside him. "Excuse me?"

"Soon, you will be one of these.. Grim, creatures. And you are a fairly good man, Ander. It is such a shame." He looked at him briefly, but his face didn't change as he spoke, he just shook his head. Ander rolled down his sleeves as he spoke, the wood of the railing cold against his arms. Anger simmered in his tone, he found himself yanking on the fabric. "You know, you're wrong about vampires."

"Yes, I'm sure you know them much better than I do in your vast two week experience." He muttered irritably.

Ander glowered at him, "You're judging them all from a few bad ones! You know my personality will not change once I become a vampire, I'll only develop a few new abilities. Yet you act like I'll be dead!" He snapped.

Reynicks eyes narrowed. "Stand down, I won't take a lecture from the likes of you. Or that cretin Hunter and his pet, the one with the awful name."

Ander felt like punching him, like wrapping his hands around his throat. His fists bunched, nails digging into his soft palms. He wouldn't have imagined himself defending them, but calling them cretins was too far. "You bastard, Reynick.. Have you even stopped to look at these people?! Have you even pulled your head out of your arse long enough to strike a conversation?! They are good! They are no worse than humans! You are the only cretin here!"

"ANDER!"

"Go on, hit me with your special alteration magic! It won't change the fact that I'm right."

Reynick was red faced, shaking with rage. Ander started to walk away, but stopped to talk over his shoulder. "I think you are a good man, Reynick. But you need to get these twisted ideals out of your head."

And he left, before the urge to choke the man grew too strong.

"Anderson.." Reynick growled out, but stopped himself from calling out. 

Though the nearest deckhands had turned to gape at the argument, Ander stalked away, and Reynick didn't pursue him.

 

***

 

Ander, taking deep breaths to calm himself, returned to the cabin quarters to cool off. He had almost started to like him, he had thought of him as a friend. But these little things that ate at his personality were overpowering all else.

  He ran a hand back through his hair in distress, catching his fingers in matted knots as he did. Suddenly, he stopped in his tracks. The cabin was not empty. Alec was in his bunk, with Davelynn stood over him looking increasingly stressed.

The boy was extremely pasty. Davelynn was dabbing tentatively with a cloth at his bare chest, and neck, his entire body drenched with sweat that stained the sheets bunched at his knees. He groaned in apparent pain, his face twisting as his head drooped to one side.

Ander came closer cautiously, and realised with shock that his hands were bound. They'd been tied just loosely at his sides, comfortably as possible, but tied all the same. Where he had struggled, the rope had burned his wrists, red raw. He bent his knees to worm further up his hammock, and groaned once more, not realising his presence.

"S-Sister, my stomach.."

"I know, I know Alec.. I know.." She breathed, her voice as soothing as she could manage. Ander quickly went to her side, taken aback by his appearance.

"Alec? Davelynn, what's wrong with Alec..? Why are his hands bound?"

"He's suffering from withdrawal.. Blood sickness. He hasn't drank in so long, and now it's caught up to him and turned into a condition."

Ander looked at the boy in alarm, who's eyes were settling on him now. Such a harsh shade of emerald, they made his eyes look almost bulging. 

"Condition..?" He asked tentatively.

"It's his stomach, and his throat.. The illness dulls his senses, making recovery even more difficult, because he couldn't hunt even if he was able." She said, wiping another bead of sweat from his temple. Alec was starting to look slightly panicked, his eyes widening further.

"A-Ander.." He started, in a wracked mumble. "Your blood.. I hear it.. I-I.."

Davelynn turned sharply to him again, resting a hand on his shoulder. "I suggest you leave, when he smells you it'll make things worse. Go quickly."

"Can't I help him?!"

"Don't be ridiculous! There's not enough left of the blood supply to cure him, he's too far gone. Giving him small doses will only worsen his condition. To put it into perspective, he'd need an entire deer to completely cure him. Letting him get at you right now would be sacrificing you.."

Alec, his voice shaky and weak, mumbled a prayer beneath his breath. "Lord of control, teach me to be true.. Lord of strength, h-help me go on.. L-Lord of wisdom, give me guidance.."

Ander wanted badly to reach out to him, but forced himself to resist. "Just.. Let me tide him over, just for a while. Please, I can't watch him suffer!" He pleaded.

Davelynn sighed in distress, gripping a fistful of her curls in her fist. "Look, he is my only brother, I love him more than I can say! But I must say no, because of that fact!"

"L-Lord of will, strengthen my soul.. Lord of mercy, be my salvation.. Kind gods, kind Stara, hear my prayer.."

"How long has he been like this?!"

"Just over an hour ago his condition kicked in, but the symptoms have been coming for days. The paleness, the darkening of his eyes, his significant lack of strength.." Davelynn shook her head, and picked up a cask of water from the floor, raising it to the boys lips. Even as he drank, he groaned inwardly.

Alec went to wipe his now dripping chin, before remembering his hands were bound, and Davelynn tended to it for him. "Shh.. Be still, you'll trigger another fit."

"W-Why must I be.." Mumbled Alec, "W-Why must I live on in this weak body..? C-Can't you just.."

"Please, Alec, don't speak like that! Not now.. Ander, go!"

Ander reluctantly obliged, and turned to the ladder once more, the image of Alec's paled, sickly face imprinted on his mind. He couldn't even stay to help, he couldn't do anything. All he knew was that whatever this was, was driving Alec to desire death.

After maybe half an hour, he hadn't moved from his position beside the hatch, feet resting on the ladder. Reynick remained distanced since their argument, but looked on with concerned eyes from the railing. 

Alec's unstable ramblings could be heard loud and clear as he sat holding his head in his hands, and wishing desperately that he could do more than just that. This condition seemed to have the effects of a disease he'd once known, save that there was no physical change but his lighter skin and alarmingly green eyes. He was in constant, writhing pain, like his entire body was rejecting him, without sustenance to tide him over.

Samson, who had just been to see him, rose from the ladder and slapped Ander lightly on the back to signal his return. "The lads strong, we'll get him to a safe point.. Hunter will get us all to a safe point."

"What safe point?" Ander muttered into his hand. "The hunters are everywhere now.. They have reach into the three biggest military forces on the globe. There's no 'safe point' worth it's name."

"Oi, now! Don't be so negative. You don't smile half as much as you should." Samson sighed, sinking back onto a barrel beside him, and leaning his elbows on his knees. "Nobody here smiles enough."

"I wouldn't imagine they have much to smile about!"

"Now, that's not true! They have an extended family that care very much about them, a ridiculously handsome blonde carpenter, and they have life. Life's a pretty amazing thing, Ander."

Ander scoffed, looking up at the sky, where clouds blotted out the blinding sun. He ran a hand back through his hair with irritation. "There are worse things than death, Samson. At times it seems like everything we do has no purpose.."

"It doesn't, that's the humour of it!" Samson beamed, standing up briefly. "In the scope of things, we're all entirely insignificant! But that only makes our own individual lives and their scale all the more amazing!"

"You're starting to sound like Reynick," Sighed Ander, with the smallest of smiles. "But happier, of course."

"I'm always happy," Samson chuckled, "Atleast outwardly, raises morale. You should have realised that at this point."

"I do.. Sorry for acting so depressing. It just worries me; if the blood sickness has struck Alec, what's going to stop it claiming the rest of you? I don't want to bear witness to that.."

"We're stronger than that. Alec is very young, physically. He can't take as much strain as the rest of us."

"I still understand nothing about you people.." Ander said. He looked up at his friend with disdain. "What the hell am I supposed to do when I become like you?"

"We're not exactly going to let you change then throw you into a ditch and leave! I will personally teach you whatever you wish to know, within reason.. The where babies come from question, though I am rather an expert on the general topic, is off limits."

Ander rolled his eyes at him. "Ha-ha, very funny.."

"Now, you should go clean up the hold and the bilge while Alec can't." Samson smiled. He slapped him on the back before leaving, Ander staring after him a moment.

He grudgingly took the shortcut to the hold through the kitchen, unwilling to pass Alec once more.

He was making his way down the ladder, when a rich and powerful scent abruptly hit him. His breath hitched in his throat, making him halt in his path. It was like food, like a banquet, like various foods mingling and making his mouth water. Yet it had an edge of rock salt, of metal, of copper..

It was red in his mind. As he tried to picture what it could be, tried to work out why the stench alone was making his head spin, it was red, red, red.

He clenched his fists, grimacing, but pressed on from curiosity.

Upon reaching the bilge, he couldn't see anything out of the ordinary, but the smell appeared to be emanating from the left side of the room, in the rather narrow space behind a towering wall of barrels. Ander braced himself, and slid into the gap, where he discovered the source. It startled him that he had picked up such a small one from so far away.

A small puddle of dark blood had formed on the floorboards, apparently dripping from a barrel half way up. Every few seconds, it would drip, and fall from the crack in the wood with a dulled splash. His eyes widened in muted realisation.

The others would smell it soon, it was likely contributing the the horrible pain Alec was feeling.

He cursed, and hurriedly retrieved Alec's mop and bucket.

After mopping most of puddle, which seemed only to smudge and spread no matter how hard he scrubbed for a long time, he searched frantically for something to patch the hole with. 

"For the love of.." He muttered, as bandages and ropes proved too short or too thin to do very much good. Instead, he lifted the barrel down, which was very heavy in his grip and caused him to stumble back once he had it secure in his arms. He leaned it against the wall for a moment to find an empty replacement.

There was the sound of footsteps on the ladder, and Ander swore furiously. He dashed around the corner to stop them coming any closer, but only ran straight into Ransom.

Ransom cursed, tripped over a step, and was thrown into the ladder in a moment, with Ander landing flat out on the ground by his feet.

Ander dizzily glanced up at him, sprawled out and momentarily dazed with hair in his eyes. He gave him a severe stare. "Ander.." He growled out, sitting up slowly and wrapping his arms around the rung behind him to help himself up. "You are a class A imbecile!"

Ander groaned in response, rubbing his head as he straightened up, before being pulled to his feet by Ransom.

"What am I to do with you?" He sighed.

Ander was about to object, before remembering suddenly why he had been running. "Oh, god, you can't go in there!"

"Excuse me? I'm the quarter master, Ander."

"No, there's.. There was a spillage! There's blood! You can't go in!"

"And you must trust my restraint more." Ransom said, pushing past him to where Ander had been rooting behind the barrels. "I can stand few drops of animal blood."

"Ransom!"

The man froze in his tracks. The blood soaked mop was discarded in the centre of the room, and the cracked barrel Ander was about the swap was wide open.  He visibly paled.

"I-I.. I'll go and get some filler." Ransom choked out, rubbing at the nape of his neck beneath his collar. "And throw the mop overboard."

With that, he was a blur, and then completely out of his sight.  

 

***  

 

When Ransom returned, Ander sat mending the barrel, it's lid now returned. He remained with him, though sitting at what he deemed 'a safe distance,' perched on a barrel with his arms wrapped around his middle.

The two were only in the small, alley like gap behind the rows, where a small puddle still sat and attracted Ransoms hungry gaze.  "Are you alright?" Asked Ander quietly, nervously. 

Ransom gave a stiff nod. "I will be fine. Just.. Hurting. My stomach, I mean. It's really quite bad.. Why in Staras name am I telling you this?"

"Because you're a person?" Ander sighed. "With feelings? You have a right to express them!"

Then, it occurred to him. "Stomach pains?" He repeated. 

Ransom gave him an odd, prolonged look. "Yes?"

"Is your throat sore too, by any chance?"

"Why would-" Ransom started, then stopped abruptly. He rubbed at the nape of his neck beneath his collar slowly. "Actually, yes.. Unusual. How did you know?"

"Oh, god.." Ander groaned, sitting back and tugging on his hair so hard that it almost came out of his ponytail. "Already? You're getting the sickness Alec has, Ransom! I was afraid of this!" 

Ransom sighed, arching an eyebrow. "I honestly doubt that.."

"How old are you, exactly?" Ander asked. The question earned only a bewildered look.

"I mean, really. The age of your body." Ransom stiffened, hunching his shoulders.

"Nineteen.." He muttered. This threw him. Ransom definitely looked older - he would have guessed that he was at least in his twenties!

"Then you're barely older than me! You're probably one of the youngest here!" 

"Do you see many old codgers limping about the ship?" Ransom scowled, but he sighed in defeat. "Perhaps.. Perhaps I may be coming down with it." 

"We can't let YOU get sick!" Ander cried in alarm. He stood up, having fixed the barrel, and moved toward him. "Arm out, please."

"Excuse me? No!"

Instead, Ander pressed a hand to his forehead, clearly startling him. He was burning hot to touch, a terrible contrast to the usual icy coldness of the vampires. He jerked back. "A-Ander, what the hell are you-"

"Staras breath, you really are sick, you'd think you'd been cooking out in the sun!"

"Can you just, not, touch me!" Ransom snapped, and moved away flat to the wall with his hands out. "I don't like it!" 

"We have to fix you. You're not getting what Alec has. You.. you're important! Important to us not getting killed!" 

"Can you stop being a panicking imbecile for one moment, Ander!" Ransom glowered. He sighed slowly. "The only cure is an excess of blood. I have none at my disposal that isn't on rations, and curing me isn't worth the rest of the crew getting sick instead."

"..You have ME."

This, this shocked him. Ransoms fists clenched, trembling with rage. "Do you realise what you just suggested?!"

"Of course I do! I'm not a child!"

"Y-You ARE a child!" Ransom yelled back, now dangerously close to him. "I.. Refuse!"

"Ransom.." Ander sighed. He started to roll up his sleeve, sticking out his wrist. "Please! I can hold it back, if only for a short time! I won't even need it much longer!"

"Shut up!" Ransom cried. He threw out his arms in frustration. "I.. I could lose it! You do realise that I could kill you?"

"Just take it!" Ander ordered, as authoritatively as he could manage. Ransom looked desperate. He was wide eyed with determination, but shaking with the pain of fighting his urge. He bit down on his lip, grimacing, and then he promptly caved.

The man was a blur of colour, and then quite suddenly Ander was slammed against the wall, with his arm out before him as it had been now curled in alarm. He swore loudly. "Crap! Why?!"

Ransom was hunched, his mane of hair concealing much of his face, but he was clutching his wrist hard with one hand, the other holding him still at the shoulder. "I'm truly sorry in advance, Ander." He said in a low, breathy tone, and he bit down. 

Fangs pierced flesh, and a terrible pain rushed and burned it way through Anders arm. It was like red hot pokers, sharpened to a point, leaving him suddenly breathless and choking for air.  He found himself crying out in wracked agony within seconds, but his mouth was covered abruptly with Ransoms free hand, who didn't withdraw.

The sensation of blood draining from his veins was combined with the stinging punctures, which seemed to feel far deeper than they were, was like burning to his very soul. He almost bit down on Ransoms palm to relieve himself from screaming out.

He had never experienced such searing, overwhelming agony. 

His vision blurred as salty tears filled his eyes, shapes changing and tripling, and Ransoms crouched form split in two.

It took him a while to realise that he wasn't pulling away. He struggled a little, but the pressure of his hand against his head just increased. He wasn't letting go; he was too driven. Ander mustered his strength, alarmed, and shoved the man hard at the shoulders with both of his hands, his foot kicking out against his knee.

The pain of his fangs ripping away was shocking, and he stumbled backwards, but Ransom was thrown aside at an angle into the barrels.  As he hurtled into them, the barrels from around the edges of the stacks toppled. They caved outwards, each landing with a thud and many without lids spilling across the wooden floor.

They piled atop one another, and filled the already narrow space, their exit. Balancing on the top layer, it's edge just leaning on the top of the nearly formed stack, was the first of the blood supply barrels. A single drop landed on ransoms nose as he rose from the mess, rubbing the small of his back in irritation and stretching out his arms.

It would be so easily tipped.. As would the others.

Ransoms hair was tousled from the fall, his fringe scraped back to reveal the full extent of his scar. Ander could hardly concentrate on it; as coating his thin lips, and trailing down his chin, was a grotesque layer of crimson blood. Anders blood. His eyes, previously closed, glowed a shade that matched the blood exactly. A deep, dark, violent red.

 

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