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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23. Chapter 23 - Stages Of Grief

When Ander woke, producing one sharp gasp before silencing himself, the bilge was still pitch black. The candle had been extinguished, but when he reached out sleepily to the right of him, he still felt Reynicks arm there; fast asleep.

Whatever time it was, it definitely wasn't morning yet. Infact, it was disgustingly early.

Ander sighed quietly. He raised a hand to rub at the crust in his eyes, and instead felt the dampness of tears lingering on his cheeks. He flinched at how cold he had grown.

He considered waking Reynick for a passing moment, but that would be selfish, and it wasn't like he could magically stop Ransoms tortured screams or the hurtful calls of bullies from bouncing around his head.

Besides, what would he say? Ransom wouldn't thank him for telling somebody else about his past, and he certainly wasn't up for whining about his own. He put his hands behind his head, stretching out his legs, and stared at the ceiling.

Going back to sleep, though his eyes ached with exhaustion, was out of the question. This time, he'd had so much control in the between. Yet it had contained the most disturbing visions yet.

His own, thank the gods, were among the most bearable he possessed. Though those focused around the quarter masters childhood in Saare Pastell..

Ander, even while hearing the story, could never have imagined such cruelty. His mind would have been in a worryingly dark place if he could. It concerned him, beyond that, what his father had been furiously demanding. He kept saying 'he.'

'Where is he?' He'd bark, his aged face a mask of impatient rage.

Ander chewed the inside of his mouth . Who is 'he?' Ransom had never mentioned a situation that fit, and his curiosity was driving him mad.

He stood up, stepping carefully across the creaking floorboards, and felt his way along the barrels to the ladder. He wanted fresh air.

Reynick mumbled for a second in his sleep, rolling onto his side and wrapping a long leg around his sheets, but thankfully didn't wake.

Ander ascended to the hold, and then to the gun deck. His feet were bare, and his shirt was unbuttoned, yet it was stuffy enough that if the night was cold he didn't feel it at all.

Arriving at the gun deck, hands abruptly shoved at his bare chest.

He gasped and tripped in the dark over a cannon, landing heavily in the space between two of the great metal weapons. His back slammed into it and knocked the wind from him.

He swore between his teeth, looking up and squinting in the dark to see who had shoved him. A match was lit, and Ander could see the contours of her face, the colour of her hair..

Ruth.

"Oi," She growled, and her eyes were alarmingly green in the dull light as she loomed over him. "What are you doing in here?"

"I couldn't sleep!" He gasped out quickly, scrambling back so that he was half straddling a canon. "And, god, that hurt!"

She grabbed a fistful of his shirt, pulling him back toward her with a strength that was lost on him. Her eyes were fierce, ice cold. Anders breath hitched.

"Well I suggest you find your own moping spot, this ones taken."

"Let me go, and I'll get out of your hair," He bargained, raising his hands innocently.

Her eyes narrowed further. As she raised the candle to peer at him, he studied her face. Her cheeks were shiny, damp, and reddened. She noticed him looking, and dropped him. "Bugger off, then."

"Ruth.. You can't sleep either?"

"I said, bugger off!"

"Ruth!" Ander insisted, and caught her wrist as she turned. At this, her eyes flared, but he stood his ground.

"You've got tears on your cheeks."

The girl yanked her arm back abruptly, stepping away from the canons and rubbing at the spot that he'd touched like it burned her. "Nice observation, genius."

Ander exhaled, slowly, gathering his courage. "Ruth.. If you'd like to shar-"

There was a blur, and Ander's back slammed against the wall, her face a mask of anger as she grasped at a fistful of his shirt roughly. Ander gasped in alarm again, but was cut off before he could speak.

She yelled in his face. "Why should I tell you? You're nothing but.. But.." She faltered.

Ander watched her, stunned. Just barely, but she forced herself to relax enough to hesitantly release him, and take a few paces back, She sighed deeply, and looked down to her feet with irritation. "If I tell you, you'll regret asking."

"I regretted asking a moment ago, now you're showing signs of humanity my confidence is restored.."

"Don't push your luck." She grumbled.

He pulled his shirt around himself, looking at her and gathering his confidence. "What I meant to say, is that you don't have to act strong all of the time.. Sometimes it takes the stronger person to admit weakness, y'know?"

"Don't go philosophical on me, we get enough of that from the Mage brat.." She barked, and looked away a moment, brooding. 

At his pleading expression, she groaned loudly and pointed a finger at him. "Tell a living soul, and I'll disembowel you, puppy eyes and all!"

Ander drew two lines solidly across his chest with his finger. "Swear on my heart, Ruth, It stays between us."

Ruth gave in. She leaned against the wall beside him without looking him in the eye. "I was never part of the Eclipsiums original crew. Thank my lucky stars, right? I lived in the Sounderlands - the populated half, not the Wildlands - In the province of Arajor. I grew up there, dead close with my mama and papa and my three brothers. But when the war with Tordan struck, bearing in mind this was decades ago, people starting evacuating.

Queen Sida, well.. I'd never blame the damned woman now, but at the time I would have bathed in her blood for the rules she put in place. Only non-military women and under sixteens could evacuate Arajor, and that discounted both my father and two of my brothers. My mama, stubborn as she was, refused to leave papa. She dragged up her martial arts license as an excuse to stay behind.. She also refused to let her children die in a battle we were clearly destined to lose.. My brothers were all for fighting, but were easily swayed when mother begged.

We couldn't take the ships to the Imperium like the other refugees without them being seen, so the four of us escaped into the wild lands.. Reluctantly, leaving our parents."

"You left them..?" Ander asked in confusion. "Just like that?"

"Did I bloody stutter?" Ruth snapped back at him, scowling. "Of course we left them, we weren't suicidal, even if they seemed to be! We begged them to flee with us, but when they refused to, we had to put ourselves first. So we packed our crap and escaped the province by night, walking for days."

"I'm guessing this is where it gets tragic.." Ander murmured. She shot him an irritated look before going on. 

"Well, it wasn't exactly your typical sibling holiday, no. We learned to hunt wild animals when we ran out of bread; since none of us knew exactly where we were heading. We just kept walking North, foolish kiddies, thinking maybe we'd find our salvation at the sea line in some trader ship or something and ride into the sunset.."

She scratched her head, looking and sounding nostalgic, though he was beginning to detect the sadness that laced her words. "You can guess we didn't get very far, even with our combined determination. Courage without the strength to back it up is a lost card game, after all.. My youngest brother, Wick, got left behind as usual while the rest of us went after some deer we saw in the nearby hills. But, we heard him screaming after a few minutes. This time, from the way he sounded, we knew he wasn't just tricking us because he was bored. He was so terrified, and then agonized.. it was like he was being torn open. And we were sodding stupid for hearing 'danger!' and going 'hey, let's run toward it!'"

She sighed deeply, shakily, like she was cursing her actions. "A gang of scraggly teenagers with no real world experience whatsoever and trailing two dead squirrels behind us.. And, bandits. But not just bandits, we weren't that lucky. Vampiric bandits. Because the grim reaper apparently has a sense of humour.."

Ander saw the look in her eyes. Behind her confidence, they were turning glassy, like she was trying very hard not to cry. He raised his hands quickly. "It's alright, you don't have to go on.."

"I'm answering your damn question, so sit down and get comfortable for story time!" She barked. Ander obliged reluctantly, sitting back onto the nearest canon. 

Ruth sighed again to relax herself, but she still appeared tense as she spoke. "They were ruthless.. They went for Wick, who'd already had his leg near enough amputated at the knee, but José got in the way.. And he was killed instantly. They ripped out his throat with a knife, bits of him got everywhere.."

She paused for effect, glanced at him briefly, then quickly looked away again. "Then they grabbed me. Dragged me away while they killed my eldest brother Dade, too, then Wick in turn. Gutting them like pigs.. They drained my brothers of blood, and I was pinned there, forced to watch.

Because you see, I was supposed to be 'thankful' for my womb and breasts, because they had other uses for a girl. They made me watch while they took turns feasting on their blood to make me afraid of what my own punishment would be for trying to run!"

Ander stared at her, horrified, while she lamented, fingernails sinking into her palms. "After a week of them treating me like some kind of object, I no longer cared about the prospect of death or pain. I snuck a dagger while one of the men was sleeping, and I got my revenge for taking everything I cared about away from me. I slit his throat, and I made my escape."

She looked at her hands now, which were clenched so tight her knuckles turned white. "They caught me.. And their leader decided that killing me wasn't enough. I suppose he thought the changing would render me unable to keep fighting long enough to escape, and for a moment, it did. He poisoned me with his blood, slicing open his palm amd forcefeeding it to me. The pain as it entered my system, it.. Almost drowned out all other senses. But I had my anger. It's almost terrifying how a murderous rampage saved my life, but not completely out of character.

When I came to my senses they were leaving. I took my dagger, and the changing gave me an advantage over their old bones.. So after sticking the blade cleanly through the heart of the pig who had cursed me, I killed them all in turn.."

"Stara's name.." Ander uttered, almost speechless. He was almost completely unable to comprehend what she had suffered, and witnessed, and committed.

She grimaced a moment, looking away to blink back tears. "I was alone, and entirely different, and I scared myself, seeing what I'd done.. I set fire to the campsite, retreating to the cave where the vampires had spent daylight hours. It was there that I curled up into a ball and cried for the last time, before the crew found me.

It was actually Davelynn and Samson. They saw the red of my eyes from outside the cave while they tracked a deer." She grinned slightly to herself, and gently wiped a single tear from her freckled cheek. "I never cried again, because I never told the story. You, arsehole, just broke an 85 year long record, and you don't seem to be showering me in sympathies."

"Uh.. I-"

"I'm kidding, please don't. The last thing I need is coddling.. I'd rather keep the past in the past. No point digging up rotting corpses, right?"

Ander still found it difficult to speak. He nodded quickly. "R-Right, Ruth. I won't. I'm sorry, though. For everything that happened to you.. I had no idea. Your brothers-"

"Died nobly defending their family, but stupidly all the same.. Now get on with your crying elsewhere, because I honestly don't care about your night dramas and I wanna be alone."

Ander pretended that that didn't hurt a little, after he had listened to her so intently. "Maybe you shouldn't be, Ruth.." He pressed, standing up. "You're not sitting here by yourself depressed, I won't allow it."

"Oh shut up, Ander, you have no reason to be worried about me when I've made it clear I don't like you much; I don't understand you!"

"I'm not fond of most of the people here, but I'm still going to let you have a pint of my blood while I'm going through some magical rebirth thing, if it lets you live as a human again. There's this thing, called survival."

"Oh, haha." She mocked, glaring at him. "If I was going to let someone see me weak it wasn't going to be lord of the barrels, oh whom I have known only a few weeks. Keeping issues to yourself hurts only you, and keeping the broken pieces in one clump makes mending easier.. You have to get it all back to come out as strong as you previously were! That crap is impossible. Now go, you reek of fish."

Ander frowned at her, but did as she said. Self consciously sniffing at his shirt, Ander turned and headed away, leaving her sitting back against the wall. He felt like maybe he should turn around, say something to disarm her, but it would be fruitless. The girl was still healing after 85 years; what good could he possibly do?

Sometimes the depressed didn't want to talk. Not always, like she said. But that kind of attitude was confusing to him.. Perhaps some people were simply beyond saving?

He glanced back at her only once before descending to the hold. Then, though cautiously as the ladder creaked and Reynick was probably still fast asleep, to the bilge.

But to his surprise, a gentle glow was lighting up the barrels. The Mage was sitting up, a candle illuminating his porcelain-white face and reflecting off his frosty locks. His arms were crossed. "You, idiot." He hissed, "I thought we'd had a repeat of the Antanio incident!"

Ander looked taken aback. He considered a timely escape, but doubted he'd get very far. "I'm.. Sorry? I assumed you wouldn't wake.."

"Sorry? Ander, I was about to go hunting for you!"

"I woke early.. I entered the between again."

This made him settle, though not untense. His eyes sparked with a mixture of curiosity and alarm. "..Again?"

He nodded.

Reynick stared blankly at him for further intel, but Ander merely settled on his sheets, without speaking, and lay down his head. For a few long seconds, silence settled. "I could move, focus, even speak. Though of course, I wasn't heard.."

"And who's memories did you see?"

Ander thought back to what Ruth had said. Keeping issues to yourself hurts only you, sharing them hurts others. He had told Reynick enough. Ander's past was like a dream compared with those here; he no longer wanted to complain.

"Nobody special."  

 

*  

 

Reynick took another short nap, but Ander lay, exhausted yet awake. His eyes ached with the strain of keeping them open.

He couldn't risk arriving in his sleep in that horrible place again. He wasn't sure what he'd do, who he'd see.

Eventually, light flooded in through the hatch, and he heard footsteps stomping down moments later. "Rise and shine, gents!" Samson called cheerily, his permanent grin imprinted on his face. His eyes settled on Ander, and he raised his eyebrows. "Woah, you look bloody terrible."

"Thanks a ton.." Ander groaned as he sat. Samson stepped over Ander, and whipped the sheets from over Reynick, robes and all.

He sat bolt upright, shirtless, like he had been shocked.  Ander's eyes lingered a moment in curiousity.

The runes that inked his hands stopped just past his elbows as he had said, but there was a spiked spiral decorating the centre of his chest, too. The onyx black stood out against his alabaster skin. 

"Hey! Alright, alright, ugh, I'm awake.. If not as devastatingly energetic as you. Pass me a damn shirt now, at least.."

Samson chuckled to himself. He did so. "We're docked at an island, so you both need to hurry along. It's safe because it wasn't marked on the stolen map, but that also means there could be any manner of other things there."

"Things?" Ander wondered aloud. Samson raised both his eyebrows.

"Things." He confirmed ominously. "We might even find a midnight tribe. Imagine that!"

Reynick murmured in agreement, tugging a black v-neck of Samsons over his head and combing his tousled bed hair away with his fingers. "Yay for imminent demise, right?" He drawled.

Ander followed his lead, standing up to change. "I just hope that Alec is-"

"Awh, damn, I left my boots in the cabin quarters.." Reynick groaned, and rose to his feet with his robes over his arm. He quickly straightened his sheets, like it mattered, and left for the hold with a very quick 'one moment.'

 Samson sighed, now. "Is-?" He coaxed.

Ander looked up at him, his fresh shirt still around his shoulders. "Is, going to be alright. Will you lot bring him back something to cure him?"

"Of course! I love the kid, but you sure do concern yourself with him a lot, Ander."

Ander knelt back down to put on his own shoes. "I made him a promise that I'll cure his vampirism, and let him live as an adult. No matter what."

"Ander.." Samson started shortly. He moved to face him. "What I've learned from immortality, as well as the basic 'living forever sucks,' is that no matter how long, no life lived in unhappy darkness is worth very much. Your own happiness should come before any great mission. And you haven't been acting very cheerful lately at all.."

"I've just never had people to worry about before!" Ander stressed. He wanted to keep it to himself, like he had what he had witnessed in the between, but the words came spilling out. "I had my dad, and his trail is still cold.. Now I finally have friends, and that's making me incredibly anxious, because for the first time I have something to lose."

"I guess I'm flattered." Samson smirked. But at Anders expression, it faded. He gave him a questioning look, like he was only just realising now how deadly serious he was.

The boy struggled to meet his eyes. "Just.. I'm going to have to leave you all anyway, after the rebirth."

Samson's eyes sparked In realisation. He gave him a long, hard look, but Ander didn't falter. "Ander-"

"When this is over, I'm all alone. I won't even have my family.."

Dismal silence. Samson wished desperately for the right words to come, wished that he could tell his friend that he wouldn't be, but he knew that such a promise was impossible.

When Ander finally managed to meet his gaze, the childlike wideness of his deep brown eyes was almost heartbreaking. He was so young. Too young to be so chased by shadows.

"You.. You know that I'm right." He said softly.

Samson did. And that fact was making his chest hurt.

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