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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2. Chapter 2 - To Kill An Immortal

"Father?" Ander breathed, looking around at their shared room. He stood up clumsily, and tripped over an empty rum bottle on its side by his bed, falling forward. 

Scrambling up, rubbing his hurt knee, he rushed to the door.

It swung open abruptly in his face, and Curtis emerged.

A bag of coins swinging from one hand and his winning dice clutched in the other, Curtis stepped inside. Dark curls hung over his eyes, his skin an alabaster white, but his eyes warm brown. He looked down at his son, and quickly shut the door behind him, double bolting it. "Ander? Why are you up?"

Anders lip wobbled, and he threw his arms around Curtis in a tight hug, barely reaching his waist. "I-I.. I woke up, and you were gone again.."

"Ander.." Curtis sighed. He took him gently by the arm and guided him back to his bed, a broken wooden frame with a second hand straw filled mattress. Curtis' sheets were on the floor at the opposite end of the small box room, where he slept. "You know I work at night time, I can't always be here when you wake up. Sleep, son. Rest."

"I-I was scared I was alone again.." Ander sobbed. Tears were sliding down his cheeks.

Curtis managed a small smile to re-assure him. "I'm sorry I was late. But Ander... I need you to listen to me now. You're a big boy. You're old enough to understand... There are mean people looking for me, for us both. One day soon, I wont be here anymore. And when that day comes; I need you to be strong. Can you do that for me?"

His son stared up at him in confusion, and Curtis wiped his cheek carefully as he could. "You know, even the most carefully forged shields crumble eventually. There's a difference between being strong, and being invinsible. Remember that, too. Okay?"

Curtis dropped his money bag and leaned in to kiss his sons forehead. It was the last time he would.

*
 

Ander sat up, dazed. He looked around quickly, seeing his temporary room in the underground tunnels, and let out a sad sigh. The sleeping vampire, Ransom, lay with his back to him across the small room.

"Unfortunate dream." Ander murmured under his breath, looking down again.

As silence fell once more, Ander could make out a muttering on the other side of the door. He frowned, trying to make out the words, but they were far too muffled.

Shuffling forward a little onto his pillow, he pressed his ear to the wall, which was simply compacted mud supported by a couple of wooden beams.

He made out Thatchers hushed voice; "What if they are only pretending to sleep?" He said in a low whisper.

Next was Drakes, "Then we shall have to fight."

Thatcher sounded alarmed, his voice raising slightly. "But he the a captain of-"

"We cannot live down here anymore, Thatcher!" Yukami urged. "We need those damned rubies, no matter what the predicament."

"Yukami is right." Drake breathed. "I am sorry to admit, desperation has over written our fair-thinking. For the better.. I have tried beseeching the mages, to no avail but my capture and near death. Amatus would not aid me. I have shared the story."

"Need I remind you Eclipsium pirates are not to be dealt with lightly, sir." Thatcher sighed.

Drake sounded a touch impatient. "Indeed there will be complications when their leaders go missing, however it is a risk we must take. Captain Hunter and Ransom Coulder must die."

Ander leaned back, horrified. The ruby around Ransoms neck, the heart of midnight. That was what they wanted.

With the power it possessed, it was no wonder.

He crawled away from the wall and swung his legs over the side of the bed, pulling on his boots swiftly and rushing across the room. He shook Ransom hard. "Wake up, quickly!"

The man didn't so much as stir. His eyes rolled in his head, but didn't open.

"Damn it, Ransom!" Ander hissed, "Wake up!"

Footsteps grew louder, closer. Ander tensed, slapping ransoms cheek hard a couple of times. But he was limp. The cold and chalky white of his skin only added to the visage of death like a shadow over him.

"Damn.." He cursed quietly again. Then, he remembered the knife Ransom had pulled. His concealed weapons under his coat.

Ander rolled over Ransoms sleeve and pulled his dagger from its sheaf, which was strapped firmly around his wrist. The dagger glinted bronze, the hilt a pitch black ebony. Clutching it, he moved back toward his bed, and lay on the sheets as still as he could.

The light in the empty doorway was suddenly blocked, and Drakes catlike green eyes fixed on his back. Ander waited, jaw set, hearing footsteps approaching close by as light patters on the compressed mud ground. He held the dagger flat against his chest, poised.

There was the sound of a metal knife scraping against its hilt..

And Ander spun.

With a clash, his dagger collided with Thatchers. His jaw gritted, pushing the weapon away from him and leaping from the bed. Yukami growled out in frustration.

Drake gave a cool and calculating smile, holding out an arm to prevent his henchman from leaping at Ander. "Ah, as we suspected." He began, still with his mock politeness.

"Though, am I right in thinking your partner is in fact asleep? Your boots are on, Hunters are not. If those are truly your names.."

Crap.. Ander mentally cursed his thoughtlessness.

He sidestepped slowly until his back was to his sleeping ally, stood protectively over him, knife extended and clutched tight with both hands until his knuckles turned white. "You can't touch him!" He said venomously. "Stand back!"

"Ah, but we can." Drake tilted his head, a lock of fair hair falling over his left eye. "You seem to be forgetting; you face a man who can summon a whole cavern of ravenous vampires with one shout."

"Coward.." Ander growled out. "You don't exactly defend your dignity, to take on one man with three of your own and threaten to call on others? Exactly how weak you must you be, Drake?"

Annoyance sparked across the mans eyes, lips curling. "Yukami." He ordered sharply, stepping back into the doorway.  "Kill them both."

Yukami gave a nod, eyes narrowed, and he swung at Ander with his bare fist. The blow hit Anders arm, then another two punches hit his shoulder and solar plexus before he could either dodge or collapse.

Ander gritted his teeth and tightened his grip on the knife, raising it to attack. He lashed out fast and cut Yukamis bare bicep. For a moment, blood seeped from the cut. Ander raised it again.

Yukami did nothing, stood still like death itself was childsplay to him.

Then, Yukami began to heal. The cut threaded itself back together, and closed up, not even leaving a mark. Anders eyes widened.

He raised his knife again after a moment, slightly daunted, and launched at his chest this time.

But the immortal man only had to step fluently aside and block his arm hard to disable the blow. Anders hand spasmed at the knock of a pressure point, and he released his weapon against his will. It clattered a little on the ground.

Yukami smirked a little. "And, exactly how weak are you? Ransom Coulder?" He hissed tauntingly. 

"I don't need a weapon to kill you." Ander growled out, straightening his stance and forming fists. "They didn't always have such things, and the world still ended up filled with people like you!"

He launched a punch at his ribs, but he stepped aside again, Anders fist instead catching his shoulder. He swung back at Ander who, in a frenzy, ducked. Yukami used his momentum and grabbed the back of his shirt, twisting the fabric so it tightened noticeably. He forced him up by the fist-full of cloth he held, and shoved him roughly against the wall.

Ander swore loudly at him and got in two hits to his chest, but Yukami just gritted his teeth, before catching and pinning his wrists back.

Drake gave an executive nod, and Thatcher pulled a jagged looking knife from his belt and rounded on him with a feral grin.

Ander struggled. "Release me!" He cried.

"Kill him first, then we share his blood." Drake ordered, folding his arms and ignoring Ander's plees. He hadn't once moved to Yukamis aid - stood proud in a stately manner.

Ander carried on struggling, kicking the ground in frustration.

This can't be over so easily! Why is he so strong?!

Then, there was an bolt through Yukamis shoulder, the tip visible barely an inch from Anders own face. Ander looked over in disbelief to see Ransom standing slowly, his once concealed crossbow extended. 

 "Must you make an attempt on my partners life so late at night?" Ransom sighed. 

For a moment Yukamis hand slipped, and he doubled over in agony. Ander slid away from his grasp quickly, snatching his knife from the ground and scrambling to Ransoms side with the weapon extended. 

He looked at him, gasping for breath. "While you were napping so contently those bastards almost killed me!"

"Well, they didn't." Ransom said. He began to speak quickly. "Remember they're immortal, Ander. You can hurt them but they will heal twice as fast. You have to pierce their heart or their brain."

Yukami had risen again, holding Ransoms bolt between thumb and finger. A droplet of sweat ran down his forehead.

Both Yukami and Thatcher looked to Drake for instruction, who smiled thinly; "My orders remain the same. Kill them both, then take the ruby." 

Both nodded their heads, though they seemed far less enthusiastic, then swung at the two.

Ander blocked Thatchers sword with his knife just barely, pushing the blade away before it was thrust back. He dodged clumsily, the blade catching his shoulder thankfully on the flat side, and lashed out twice; but the attacks were futile. Thatcher appeared to be a master swordsman.

He backed away, blocking his insistent attacks with the side of his knife quickly as he could, panting for breath. 

Ransom blocked Yukamis punch, grabbing his wrist and twisting his arm back. Yukami doubled over with his arm forcefully stretched back behind him, crying out in pain.

Still cringing, he managed to wrap his free arm around Ransoms neck, bringing him down with him. But Ransom only had to bring up his knee to break the mans nose and force him to pull back his arm. 

Ransom stood straight again and brought his foot down hard on Yukamis spine. He howled in agony and fell flat.

Then he spun, aiming the crossbow he'd held at bay at Thatcher. There was one bolt left.

Thatchers knife sliced at Anders shoulder, who gasped in pain. Then quite suddenly, there was a bolt through his chest. Right through his heart.

Anders eyes widened, straightening with a hand cupped over his injured shoulder. And Thatcher dropped heavily to his knees, before falling forward like a stone. Dead.

Ransom looked up coolly at Drake, dropping his crossbow to his side. "Will you let us leave now?"

Drakes gaze was cool and calculating, yet his remorseless eyes still flitted about in blatantly concealed fear. "Aren't you going to finish off your prey? The useless rat Yukami is still alive, and it is no use letting Thatchers fresh blood go to waste." He taunted.

Ransoms eyes flashed with fury, and he stepped forward, grabbing Drake by his throat and shoving him against the wall so hard he formed an indentation in the mud. The mans eyes widened now, his mouth forming an 'O' shape slowly as he realized defeat.

Ransoms dark eyes fixed on him, faces barely a centimeter apart as he held him lifted almost a foot above the ground. "I am not like you." He breathed, and then, he dropped him in a heap. 

Ransom turned to Ander, sighing and trying to regain his calm once more. "It has come to my attention that we are no longer welcome here..." He stated, looking up from the pool of blood surrounding Thatchers body to the terrified expression on Yukamis face, then to him. Drake didn't look at either of them, slumped against the wall with his chest heaving.

Ransom gave a very small sigh, like relief, and said; "Let's take our leave."

*

 

The former pirates of Drakes clan were sleeping, yet Ransom seemed to tread lightly, placing one foot precariously in front of the other as though there were creaking floorboards on the ground rather than more compacted mud.

Ander sighed as they reached the small entrance tunnel they had climbed in from. An old, battered looking wooden ladder was propped against the wall for getting out. It had been dark, Ander couldn't remember the size of the hole, but he supposed it must have been un-climbable even for a vampire.

Ransom paused a moment, causing Ander to almost topple into him. He looked at him in confusion. "Why are we stopping?"

"Where did you learn how to fight?" He asked abruptly.

Ander hesitated. He looked at Ransom, at his unnervingly serious expression, and mustered up a disarming smile. "Nothing fancy, I'm self taught. It was necessary to learn, I suppose, for self defense."

"You're quite skilled.." He added, looking skeptical. "At blocking and dodging, but skilled all the same."

"My, uh, my father left me daggers. They were confiscated by the guards yesterday, but I practiced with those.. Just be glad that I can handle myself at all."

"It certainly made my job easier.." Ransom agreed. "But you should train more. You still sustained injuries."

He was right. Anders chest ached dully, probably bruised. The bleeding from his shoulder seemed to be sustained, a dark stain around a tear in his baggy white shirt sleeve, but it still felt like he had a second heart there now. The throbbing was concerning.

Ransom sighed, sensing his worry. "Let me see that," He instructed, extending a hand. He wasn't blinking, eerily focused on his eyes instead of the bleeding wound.

Ander frowned, hesitant. "Uh.. No thanks."

He arched an eyebrow. "I'm not going to eat you, Ander.. But alright, so be it. We should get to the ship."

Anders look of puzzlement re-emerged. Before Ransom could press on, he grabbed his sleeve. "Hold on.. the ship? I'm.. staying with you?"

Ransom turned and looked stupidly at him. "Yes. I'm sorry to be the one to remind you that it's honestly your only practical course of action right now."

"But why? Why would you, a pirate and a bloody vampire, opt to save me?"

"That," Ransom said pointedly, "is not for me to answer. I follow the Captains orders. If it were up to me you'd be in a shallow grave on the black beach right about now."

"Charming!"

"Would you rather me lie?" He almost laughed. "You got yourself incarcerated by stealing that goblet, if I heard correctly. If you weren't necessary to the Captain, it wouldn't be my business whether an idiot novice got caught doing something he wasn't trained to and wound up on deaths row."

Anders gut knotted. He honestly didn't need reminding about his failed heist attempt. And he definitely didn't need to hear the mocking tone edge to the mans voice, like he was waving that failure in his face.

He glowered at him. "I get the message."

"Hey!" Someone grumbled, the same deep, rumbling voice from earlier.

Ander saw Ransom sigh again, and he turned around on queue. "Ah, Quill... We're on our way, good man, you needn't attempt to suffocate me again."

Ander turned to look at Quill, who was seated in a chair much too small for him at the table the gamblers dice were placed on. He looked down sheepishly. "Er, yeah.. My apologies.." He said, his voice an unintentional grumble. He looked up again at Ransom. "You beat me' master?"

Ransom gave a half smile, the closest to happy Ander had seen him. Almost smug. "Not, officially. You will discover your 'master' quite unharmed. However his body doubles are in a.. Well, a different state."

Quill looked down again, focusing his small eyes on the dice. "Guess those buggers ar' bad luck."

"Hold on.. You are wishing we had killed your comrades?" Ander asked in disbelief.

Quill gave a disgruntled shrug of his shoulders. "Wunt' ave' mattered to me. They treated me like they treats a hound... They think cos' they got a, y'know, the smallest bit of an schoolin', that they're the knights of the bloody round table."

"Why do you stay here..?" Ander asked, stepping closer. Ransom stopped him, a hand on his shoulder. "We must keep moving-"

"-Let him speak." Ander cut him off.

Ransoms eyes flared with irritation at being given an order, but he went silent, more curious at Quills response than anything.

Quill sighed heavily. "We shares' the curse. I was bitten by some bloke one night on me' way back from the tavern one night 50 years ago, an' they took me in, they did. Gave me all the blood I wanted. I 'ave nowhere else left to go."

Ander glanced at Ransom, who's face remained impassable. "Quill." He began. "You're a strong arm, yes?"

Quill stood up, folding his arms. "I can 'andle me'self. What of it?"

"If you'd be willing to convert to a slightly different style of living, we could make use of you aboard the Eclipsium." Ransom said.

Quills eyes brightened. "Blimey o' riley, yer' serious?" 

"Very serious. Just.. Refrain from throttling me."

 

*

 

The beach seemed clear. Posted near the village edge where they were rebuilding the structure of the hanging site were a couple of guards holding their rifles pointed up, but the three were concealed by boulders and a reliable blanket of night.

Ander scanned the shoreline, small waves lapping over the damp sand. The current was calm, almost still. Further out there was a cove where the mountains curved out left, there the waves seemed a little choppier.

"Where's that damned ship supposed to be anyway?" He said, looking at Ransom.

Ransom narrowed his eyes. "What? Did you think Captain Hunter would be sailing right up to the beach to collect us with the authorities around? We have to go the ship." He explained.

Quill scowled. "Why do I get the feelin' we'll be gettin' wet?"

"The ship is hidden behind that cove toward the north-west, we will be swimming." Ransom said, then paused, stopping to face them. "Now, if there is anything you both don't need beyond this point, you may leave it to the waves."

He looked at the two. Ander reached into his pocket a moment but found only Ransoms knife. They had confiscated his possessions days before his execution.

He shook his head. "Just your knife. I didn't steal it! Well, I needed it to stop Yukami and-"

"Keep it. Don't impale yourself while you're swimming.. Quill?"

Quill pulled a few objects from his pocket, a hammer and what looked like a corundum nugget. Then took the gold chain from around his neck. He threw the three as far as he could into the water, then nodded.

Ransom pulled off his coat, slinging it over one shoulder and tying it around his arm like a shoulder cuff. He stepped into the water, until he was almost knee deep, then dived in.

Ander glanced at Quill, who seemed uncertain. Then he stepped forward.

A fresh start, Ander thought. I'm leaving that life behind now.

He took a deep breath, relaxing his hunched shoulders, then followed Ransoms example wading in a little first then diving into the water.

Water consumed him. A couple of blue speckled fish swam by his face. Everything was still, quiet.

A new start... He thought again. The words echoed through his head.

He pressed his feet to the sandy ground, and pushed off.

Water lapped over Anders mouth, and he snapped his head up, gasping. Neither Quill nor Ransom had risen from beneath.

Of course, he remembered. They don't have to breathe. They had an unfair advantage.

He had learned how to swim in the river at the orphanage years ago, but he still wasn't strong. He hoped that it wasn't far.

That, and the salt was burning his cut. 

Ander swam his way toward the cove, seeing fish beneath him and the two vampires far ahead beneath the water. 

Ransoms head bobbed up, looking around at Ander. His dark brown hair was stuck to his face with water, cutting across his dark eyes. He gave a small smirk. "Being like us has it's benefits as well as it's setbacks." He boasted, without the slightest flaw to his speech.

Meanwhile, Ander fought to stay afloat, breathless. "I, gathered!" He gargled.

Ransom disappeared again, somewhat smug. Ander would have kicked him if it was physically possible. 

They turned the cove after minutes that seemed like hours, and finally, a somewhat magnificent sight came into view; The Eclipsium.

The ship was enormous and grand, the wood polished spotlessly halfway where it ended with barnacles, sticking themselves to the curved surface with the water lapping over them. The dirt didn't seem defacing - It gave it an odd air of character.

The mast was raised high, smaller white sails flailing in the sea breeze. Ropes were strewn between each plank of wood on the deck, some adorned with dully coloured pieces of fabric tied around them.

The main sails, fading white, were pointed north out to sea. And a crimson splash was painted across each of them. The colour looked eerily like blood.

A vampire ship. Of course there'd be blood on the sails.. It was fitting.

Ander stared a moment, eyes fixed on the spot between the main sails where the rising sun shone through, hinting the water a subtle, golden orange.

He looked away, dazed by the Eclipsiums daunting yet beautiful appearance, and back over at his guide.

"Ransom!" Ander called. "Coulder! Hey!"

 Ransom was too peering through drenched dark brown hair at the colossal ship, like he was staring his childhood in the face at the sight of it. He seemed relaxed, unguarded, at home.

He finally peered over his shoulder at the two, and said, "Both of you stay close."

Ander shut his mouth, frowning. Quill grunted in response, struggling to stay afloat beneath his weight.

Ander kicked his legs hard, the backs of them aching and cramping from overwork. Ransom continued swimming, staying above water this time. He made the work seem fairly effortless.

But Ander remembered, vampires healed fast. It would surely work the same with stamina.

"How are we getting aboard?" Quill said in his grumble of a voice. Ransom seemed impatient.

"Quill.. All good things come to those who wait. And the same to those who shut up at the right moments." He snapped. A smirk curled at Anders lips.

Ransom looked back ahead. "But to answer your question, a rather rusted ladder."

Ander choked over words, breathless from attempting to keep up with two vampires in water for half an hour. "Can I, ask something?" He managed.

He thought he saw Ransoms shoulders sink a little. "Now? Really?"

"I, uh, I get the feeling there will be a drop in status once we get on that thing, so yes, now." Ander said, chin half dunked beneath the gentle waves.

Ransom gave a slight sigh. "Go on, I can't promise a direct answer."

"Aren't pirates more, like.." Ander paused a moment, searching for the least offensive terminology. He glanced sidewardly at Quill as an example, but remembered his fighting ability and thought better of it.

"-Uh, less, articulate, than you?"

Ransom actually grinned, making a small noise from his throat like the beginnings of a chuckle. "I suppose so, yes. However I wasn't raised in the pirating life, or in a sea town, like most sailors. My heritage is different, but, a thing of the past." He paused a moment, expressionless. "We all have our secrets."

"And skeletons." Quillan piped in, in a low mumble. "No need to go diggin' 'em up." 

He didn't pursue further, and continued swimming, dunking his face beneath the water and beginning a forward stroke to catch up.

Within a couple of minutes they had reached the edge of the ship, and Ander could hear voices above. Shouting to each other, things like; "he's back, Coulders back!" and "throw down the ladder, prepare to set sail!"

Ander looked up in dismay, attempting to get a view without sinking. The two figures he could make out were simply silhouettes against the sun, hauling a ladder between them. Between the rungs were snatches of blinding light.

The ladder was lowered down over the side, until it was level with Ander and Ransoms shoulders. With a sideways glance at Ransom, and a returned nod of approval, Ander waded forward and clasped both hands around the second rung.

He inhaled deeply, and heaved himself up, feeling a strain in his shoulders a moment, wrenching them in their sockets. He pulled until he was able to shift his weight onto one knee on the bottom rung, then grabbed the fifth tightly.

For a second, he thought he saw Quill flinch, flinging his hand up as if he was afraid Ander would fall. Then, which a raised eyebrow from Ransom, he sheepishly returned it to his side.

Ander couldn't help but to smile upwards at the edge of the ship, where more and more silhouetted heads were peeking over.

And he climbed.

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