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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22. Chapter 22 - Darker Hearts

Once Ander finally got up and dragged himself to the bilge to sleep, he found Reynick still tending to Alec in the cabin quarters.

Alec was on his side, his eyes fluttering, while Reynicks moved his hands a few centimeters above his body to ease the pain around his sides.

Reynick looked half asleep himself, yet as the area below his hands shimmered in the candlelight, Alec's face grew more and more peaceful.

Ander stood there a moment without saying a word, and right there; Alec shut his eyes. The gentle snore a few moments later confirmed that he was asleep, and Reynick moved his hands away slowly.

Ander drifted up behind him. "Well done," he whispered, and the Mage smiled fleetingly at him.

"It's no trouble." He sighed, rolling back the sleeves of his shirt and retrieving his blue robes from the frame of the hammock. "He is a charming boy who deserves far better than the fate he received.. I'm terribly sleepy, though. Somebody should stay, incase he wakes."

Ander was about to offer himself up, when Davelynn emerged from the hatch, climbing down expertly. She swung from the ladder, following her hand along the edge of Gillian's hammock, and smiled joyfully at the two of them.

Ander wondered to himself whether her happiness was Ransoms doing. "I'll stay with him now," She said, and turned her attention briefly to the Mage. "Thankyou, Reynick. Now you both have to sleep, whereas I don't."

Reynick looked momentarily surprised. "You're welcome?"

"You should still rest your-"

"Don't be silly, Ander. Go on, off with you."

With a small smile in return, Ander nodded to her. He took one of the candles from the table, the plate warm in his hands, and waited for Reynick to pull on his robes. "Night, Davelynn."

"Goodnight." Reynick breathed. Davelynn nodded to them in turn, still with that full, lovely smile. The two then headed, dragging their feet in exhaustion, to the bilge. The man had purple bags beneath his eyes, especially evident against his pasty white skin.

As he was illuminated by the candlelight, Ander glanced at his hands, currently uncovered by his gloves for once. The 'runes' decorating them were especially complex, a system of curling lines and swirls that entwined around one another, black as ink.

Reynick seemed to notice him looking, but in his exhaustion, he merely smiled. "If you want to look at the runes, I'll simply show you. Stealing glances is fruitless, curiosity is natural."

"Why do you wear gloves to cover them?"

Reynick started to make his way carefully down the ladder to the bilge, and Ander followed suit one handed, awaiting his answer. The space was pitch black, save for the candle he held.

Reynick sighed softly. "It's entirely possible to lose control of ones abilities, as easily as you could trip and impale yourself on the dagger at your belt. We summon our powers forward with our minds, like a natural extension of our brains. We're trained to control our castings once we begin them, but the runes help us to focus them to our hands, rather than an offender engulfing himself in flames trying to cook his dinner. Not that such an action would harm him, if he was concentrating.."

"Isn't that what the, uh.." Ander searched for the word, moving past the wall of barrels to where they had situated their blankets. "Magic-arc, is?"

Reynick looked like he might snap, but calmed himself, sighing shortly. "MAG-arc, Ander.. So close, yet so far.. No, that is enchanted to prevent us dabbling in another field of magic, and harming ourselves or others around us due to lack of training in said field. It's also effectively a rite of passage, which is why we have them put on places like the face and neck."

Putting the candle between them, the two settled into their respective spaces, and Reynick stretched out a hand to him. "Here, take a look."

Ander was hesitant, but took his hand after a moment, looking at the tattoo like markings. The gentle flicker of the dying flame illuminated his skin orange, but the rune seemed much darker than black, darker than the room; he knew that it was impossible, yet couldn't keep from thinking it.

"They have, uh.. Apparently had a lot of work put into them. Where do they end?"

Reynick smirked. "Just at my elbows. And, the process actually is over quickly with magical aid. Ah, you're, ah, tickling me.." He winced.

Ander quickly withdrew his hands, glad that the dimness of the room concealed his blushing face. "Sorry Reynick! You didn't giggle, though? Your dignity lives another day!"

Reynick chuckled a little. "You try to act older than you are, stoic and witty, yet you are timid as a mouse.."

"Wha- I am not!" Ander retorted, folding his arms across his chest indignantly.

Reynick smirked again, like he didn't truly believe it, but he stood down anyway, leaning against the wall to relax. "I have to tell you, it's nice to be the object of someone's curiosity for once, rather than outright disgust or mocking."

"Disgust?" Ander scoffed. He lay back finally, with his hands back his head. "Why disgust?"

"Children are cruel. They don't understand that actions have consequences, so they don't care if they accidentally rip someone's courage to shreds. Teenagers are worse; because they know about consequences, but deny them, and deny that their actions are wrong as a result." Reynick sighed. He stretched his long legs out infront of him, crossing his feet. "You saw my memories once, I'm sure you can piece my ever so joyful childhood together yourself."

"I don't understand one thing.." Ander frowned. He propped himself up in his elbows to peer at him. "Why did they target you? Aren't mutations like yours common among the Magi?"

"Mutations are common place, yes, yet my appearance made me especially victimised when I was young. Because, like I said, children are cruel. Though when I was a teenager, it wasn't the colour of my hair they were pointing at, but my.. Romantic choices. I liked both genders. And I must admit that the latter hurt so much more."

"Let me guess," Ander said, "Because it wasn't your physical appearance they were mocking, it was YOU; your identity."

"I thought there was something wrong with me. That because I had feelings for a boy, I was broken. My family panicked when they found out. My mother slapped me, saying that she had given birth to a boy and not a girl, while my father went silent and effectively shunned me. My sister was the only one who accepted it straight away. She said she had 'known for a long time.' Now, they're less barred about it, but.. I didn't miss the looks on their faces when I told them about my engagement. That astonishment and terrible relief.. It scares me what they might have done if a man were in Zias place."

Ander looked at him in pity, unsure of what to say that would make any difference at all. Reynick only smiled gently at him when he noticed this. "What's done is done, I'm not expecting advice."

"I wish I could simply-"

"Don't concern yourself with me. Your problems are far worse."

"Reynick, you shouldn't measure your pain against other peoples!" Ander sighed. He remembered the phrase from a long time ago, something that the baker had told him, and supposed that it applied.

Reynick smiled faintly. "That's wise, I suppose. You are clever, though an idealist."

"I'm just a parrot," he muttered, bashful. "An old man took me in a long time ago, a baker named Roberto. He said that he was getting too 'crotchety' for physical labour, and needed an assistant. But he didn't need help, really. The man was as tough as a rock. He just felt sorry for me, because he'd been in a similar situation as mine when he fled the Sounderlands as a teenager.. I'd been homeless, so had he."

"And he told you that, did he?"

"He, uh.. caught me crying in my room." Ander started, looking at the ground and avoiding his eyes. "I was just lonely, so don't dare mock me or anything.. I made sure to hide it when he came in, because he'd given me more than anybody ever had and I didn't want to be ungrateful. Only, he just told me that I had as much of a right to weep as I wanted. That there's always going to be someone suffering more, no matter what, so I might as well save myself the trouble of holding it back."

Ander finally looked at the man, who had politely waited on his every word. "You should consider that."

With that, he rolled onto his side, feeling incredibly awkward and having revealed enough of his past for one day.

Reynick smiled at his back, cocking his head. "You're just full of surprises, Anderson.. They say the most wise have seen the most pain, is that true?"

"I, uh.." Ander said. He wrapped his arms around his sack pillow to burrow his head in the centre. "I know that you've seen your share. I saw your dream realm."

"Speaking of that," Reynick frowned, expertly dodging the topic. "Have you.. Entered again, as of late?"

Ander nodded stiffly. "I'd rather not talk about it."

"Your mind must be incredibly attuned! The others only caught a bare glimpse because they were newly exposed to magic, but you say you've seen it more than once?"

"I.. could move, too. And speak."

Reynick froze from where he was moving, kneeling a moment on his sheets. His jaw was slack. "..Truly?"

Ander nodded, a little shocked by the reaction. "Grudgingly, but yes. Is that abnormal?"

"Incredibly so for a human! Or, non-mage, anyway.. You must be cautious if you find your mind there again!"

"Nothing there can hurt me. Trust me, that's tried and tested."

"I'm well aware! But delving too deep is dangerous, even for those who command magic! Your mind could become lost, and you'd find yourself unable to wake, your body caught in a comatose and soulless state. After all, they say that walking in the between is a kind of astral projection.."

"..Ass what?"

Reynick bit down on the inside of his mouth impatiently. "Astral project- you know what, nevermind. Rest, now."

Ander glanced over his shoulder at Reynick, who was tugging his sheets to his nose, so that his feet protruded from the other end. He smiled a little. "I'll be careful if it happens again."

"I should hope so! I've grown fond of you, Ander."

There was a moments silence, and then Reynick chuckled softly, pulling the sheets back to his chin so that Ander could see the sly grin emerging on his face. "So I won't tell anyone important that I found you in a compromising position with the quarter master earlier."

"For Staras sake, Reynick, go to sleep!"  

 

***

 

When Anders eyes opened, he was not greeted by the darkness of the bilge, but by the dull shades of the between.

The chilling mist that clouded the air around him moved slowly, parting around images that gradually manifested themselves. "No.." He whispered, and looked about him frantically, glad that he found himself able to move at all. "No, no.." Not again!

Ander looked pleadingly to the ceiling like sky, but the white space there was too clouded over to concentrate on. He clenched his fists tight, finding them shaking.

The memories in the air were becoming clearer to him by the second, so much so that he could almost feel them. Silhouettes finding their features and dimensions falling across them; startlingly human, yet so far from it all at once.

Where is this? Or rather, when? There were apparently city goers - he could tell from the way that clothing established no specific class. They were strolling through streets that were only transparent to Ander, or faintly outlined. Shop keepers and shoppers in turn debating prices, people eating dinner; there was nobody Ander could recognize individually. He took a few steps precariously forward, and tried to focus on places further away.

Then, it came to him. The buildings, villa like and strewn with colourful laundry, were painted pale shades of pastel; mint green, lemony yellow, the lightest pink and the most delicate blue. He had been here before, recently.

Saare Pastell.

Ander took a precarious step forward, looking at the memory closest to him. Not much appeared to be happening, but when he focused on it, his surroundings seemed to glisten with colour, before the mist shrunk away. He was standing in Saare Pastell. He felt a part of the memory as much as it's inhabitants. 

But as residents passed by, dressed far too brightly for a modern day Sparish province, he was alarmed to find that they simply strolled through him. Ander stumbled back, tapping at himself, but it wasn't him that had changed.

None of this was real - he had to remind himself of that.

There was a sudden clatter on the rocks, and Ander spun in alarm, to see a fine white carriage come hurdling down the street. It's wheels, ornately fringed with gold, caught the light and blinded him a moment as it cleared itself a path.

The horses pulling it, elegant stallions as black as the night, held their heads high and neighed proudly. Ander, despite knowing it couldn't harm him, dodged instinctively out of the way like the others around him.

Many stared in awe, children giggling excitedly and pointing at the fine vehicle before them, while women (and a couple of men, too) appeared transfixed as they gazed at the carriages extravagant owners. They were apparently whispering about one rider in particular.

"Oh, isn't he just beautiful?"

"He is a very handsome young man indeed.. I hear he is betrothed to Lady Jeanette! What a lucky darling she is!"

That name, Lady Jeanette, rung bells somewhere in Anders mind. He strained to look, but the windows were too high and he only caught sight of one side of an older woman's face.

The carriage halted at the end of the street. Ander hasn't previously been able to see so far within this vision, but now he could clearly. It was a Staraniun temple. A white washed concrete roof - carved finely with intricate bumps and patterns - leaning on several tall marble pillars. It's entrance didn't seem to be based from anywhere, but white steps led up to the interior.

Ander had seen the temple when he was visiting, only at night time, but had ignored it on purpose. He had many bad memories himself surrounding such a place. At the orphanage, they had been forced to visit every other day and confess to the demonic sins. Even though, as children, there was no way in hell they could have committed them.

He was walking toward the parked carriage before he could stop himself, driven by curiosity, and then he was running. Objects and people became momentarily transparent as he passed through them easily, sprinting at pace until he was close enough to tell.

First from the carriage emerged a tall, stately looking man with receding blonde hair, his defined face laced with frown lines, and wearing a tailored white suit that was probably worth more than Ander was. Behind him stepped the woman Ander had caught a glance of, pretty and dark haired with large, though tired, hazel eyes. The gown she adorned was regal in itself, a deep purple colour that contrasted with the white corset choking her midriff.

Then, Ander realised who the girls had been swooning over. His breath hitched with the realisation of who he was.

Ransom Coulder. No, Dantalion Galeswick, stepped slowly from the carriage and squinted at the sunlight.

His dark hair, neatly groomed, had been pinned back from his face and knotted into a short braid at the back of his head. There was no scar marring his young, handsome face; only dark circles sitting below his eyes, his cheeks as hollow and defined as ever.

He was wearing a white shirt very large at the sleeves, tightened to his wrists with silver cuffs that caught the light as he moved. A crimson ribbon had been threaded through his collar, matching the silver buckled waistcoat tightened around his middle. He looked young, but not too young; maybe 15 at the youngest. And Ander was staring in amazement.

This was him. It was really, truly him, all those years ago. He didn't know why he had expected him to look more innocent, instead he appeared to stare down those around him defensively.

He turned his head to glance at those still staring in the street, and folded his arms across his chest almost self consciously. Angled so as not to be seen, the blonde man gripped the lace of his waistcoat along the flat of his back, making him straighten fast. Ander gritted his teeth sensitively.

 "Smile, boy." He hissed. The mans voice was not even slightly kind, instead it was raspy, laced with coldness. It made Ander shudder when he connected two and two. That man was his father, the one he'd told him so much about.

Ransom, or rather Dantalion, smiled quickly. As charming as he appeared, it was too harsh, too forced. His father released him all the same.

Ander clenched his fists. That was the man that had caused him so much trauma, the one who beat him and scarred him forever. He was trembling with rage merely at the sight of him, watching as they strolled casually into the temple, Dantalion respectfully two steps behind.

Abruptly, the vision faded. He was once again surrounded by memories.

Ander turned a complete circle in alarm, searching for his face. Though he saw children, elderly, and more men and women than he could count, it took well over a minute until he recognised him. And he instantly felt sick.

In a distant space, in a wooden walled hallway adorned with crystal chandeliers, Dantalion was on the ground with his hands braced infront of his face protectively. The surroundings rushed at Ander once more.

He staggered back instantly. Above him stood his father, no longer elegant and aristocratic in his white suit but in pinstriped trousers and a loose white shirt, unbuttoned a little past his collarbones and drenched in sweat. He was kicking at the boy mercilessly, who would occasionally release a strangled gasp far too pained to possibly be Ransom.

His father abruptly stepped on the arm protecting his forehead, putting pressure on his wrist with his boot and making him choke in agony, biting back a scream. With his face exposed, the opposite foot landed itself in his cheek.

The group of terrified servants huddled in the corner gasped communally, a couple of them sobbing uncontrollably.

Dantalion coughed violently, blood splattering across the floorboards and staining his crisp white shirt. He cursed beneath his breath. "Just.. Stop.. I beg you.."

"Why should I? You foul, ignorant brat! I give you everything, and you disobey me incessantly! Where are you hiding the boy?"

Ander looked on, trembling with rage, as tears pooled in Dantalions eyes. "I.. know what he is.. But Helious hasn't harmed anybo-"

Another kick to his stomach too fast for him to guard, and he spluttered, gagging on the blood and bile in his throat. "GAH! Have mercy!"

"He is a monster!" The man barked, "He will burn us to a crisp in our sleep!"

"And.. you.. wouldn't?"

That was the final straw. Something in the mans eyes snapped. The last thread of humanity lingering there vanished. In one fluid movement, he drew the belt from his trousers, and snapped it down onto his sons back.

Dantalion shrieked, unable to contain it any longer.

 "Tell me!" He demanded, and another strike landed with a sharp crack, this time cutting flesh and causing blood to soak through his shirt. Ander was dizzy, watching with bubbling fury. He wanted to heave and he wanted to rip Ransoms father into small pieces, all at once.

He raised the belt high like a whip, and the strangled scream that tore through the air was not quite enough to do justice to the horrible cut across his cheek, slicing cleanly through the edge of his nose with the buckle, and welding his eye shut. Ander stumbled back from the scene in muted horror, as Dantalion cried out and clutched at his face.

His father, expressionless, threw the belt to the servants roughly. "Clean this filth and send for a private nurse! I don't want questions to be asked if he bleeds out."

Ander slowly approached him, looking at the boy with tears pricking at his eyes. He slid to his knees. "He's.. He's in.." Dantalion uttered beneath his breath, but his father didn't hear, and he didn't finish his sentence, trailing off and clinging to the remaining threads of his willpower.

Ander clenched his fists so tight that his nails dug into his palms, but that pain was imaginary. What his friend had felt was real; what they had all left was more than a dream.

Ander could wake up. Ransom couldn't.

Having zoned out, he didn't notice the sudden rush of colour around him, as the memory faded to a small, misted window somewhere in the distance. The ground he knelt on was apparently a solid black, but put no pressure on his legs while he sat there, like he was floating or standing on a shroud of mist. The memories had changed, now. He could barely focus on them, his mind was so tired, until he suddenly became aware.

He knew this place, too. There were streets of mismatched brick buildings, some sporting the alliance flag - Dioma and the Sounderlands - it's colours un-matching and faded on the aged fabric. He pulled himself to his feet, just barely, and tried to gather where it was..

A spiked fence. Grey building. Towers with spiralled staircases, and a dejected looking field with a beaten football in the centre. The orphanage.

It was haunting. Ander was watching himself.

He stood in the grass. His school waistcoat hurriedly buttoned, ill-fitting trousers rolled to his ankles, and dark, matted curls obscuring his eyes as much as he had clearly attempted to smooth them back. The boys approaching him were squarer, bulkier, and several inches taller. He watched the expression on his face change.

As they spoke, the only thing differing this vision from a regular dream, was the echo of the voices around his own head, bouncing around as though the acoustics had been enhanced.

"Oi, Anders!"

Young him didn't respond a moment, looking away, and this prompted the closest and largest boy to rap on his head with his fist. "Are you dead from the neck up, Anders?" He barked.

He avoided the boys eyes, stepping self consciously away and rubbing his head. "..My name is Ander. No S."

"Oooh!" A further boy mocked, smirking to himself. "There's a tongue in the gaping pit, then!"

Ander shut his parted lips quickly, drawing them into a straight line, and the larger boy rounded on him, grinning. "We just wanted to ask you, Ander. 'Bout your ma. Where is she, then?"

"I.." Ander began, and the quieter boy laughed heartily. "I! I! I! Speak up, berk-head!"

"I don't know!" Ander snapped, raising his voice, finally.

The larger boy suddenly shoved him hard. Ander landed in the grass on his back hard with a grunt, and he chuckled at his outburst.

"Ah, the gob on it! Tell us then, is she on the pull?"

"On the corner?" The other added, resulting in a chorus of laughter.

Ander quickly got to his feet and rounded on the boy. "My mother is nothing of the sort, Kingson Bran!"

Kingson looked merely amused. "Oh? And you'd know? She's probably off stacking her change right now, left just like your pa-"

Ander tackled him, wrestling him back several feet despite his narrow frame. "SHUT UP!"

Momentarily stunned, the boy finally reacted and grabbed his shoulders, throwing him back easily. Ander hit the ground hard once more and gasped out, before groaning deeply as the blow rattled him.

The boys laughed again, "He's lost the plot! Complete nutter, an' in denial!"

"His paps abandoned 'im, must be because he's so dim!"

Finding his feet, small Ander tried again, and tackled him once more, this time catching him off guard and throwing him to the floor. He connected a clumsy fist with the boys jaw. "DON'T YOU TALK ABOUT MY FATHER!"

Heads turned in alarm, a whistle was blown, and a governor finally rushed to the scene.

Promptly, the memory blurred. Ander felt dizzy. He reached a shaking hand to touch his face, and returned to his position on the floor, drawing his knees to his chest.

He didn't move. He didn't beg or plead or search for an exit to force his mind through. Instead, he closed his eyes, and allowed himself to shut down.  

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