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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24. Chapter 24 - Half Of His Heart

Among the havoc on deck, Ransom gazed at the island they had arrived at. It was new to him, completely forested and damp looking. Un-mapped, by them, at least.

This way, the hunters wouldn't be able to ambush them again following the stolen map. But, the possibility still lingered that they wouldn't be alone.

"Prepared?"

Ransom turned on his heel to face Hunter, and leaned against the railing, squaring him. He nodded a little, stiffly. "Aye. Someone is staying with Alec, yes?" 

"Yates and Reynick will take care of him. I plan to watch Ander, I'm taking him with me."

Ransom tensed when Hunters eyes lingered on his face. He hoped that he wouldn't realise the lack of blood drive; what the two of them had done.

"You're looking well." The captain commented dryly. His hooded eyes, only a dull green, were narrowed a little, intense. Ransom attempted to mirror his expression and stare him down, folding his arms. "Thank you, captain."

"Hm.." He grunted, then adjusted his hat and left swiftly to put down the ramp.

He exhaled.

"Ransom!" Davelynn called, arriving from the hatch with a smile on her lips. She moved to his side, hands entwined over the sheaf of her sword at her hip. "Alec's condition has improved slightly! The blood we bring back will finish it off."

"Very good." Ransom smiled, with just the corner of his mouth. "Did you by any chance encounter Ander on your way up?"

"I suspect he's still getting dressed? Samson is with him, though. Is.." She glanced over her shoulder, and lowered her voice to a whisper. "Is the captain suspicious?"

"I've been contemplating the repercussions of gouging my own eyes out.." Ransom muttered. "He's going to be supervising him on the island, as well. All signs point to Armageddon.. I'll surely be mince meat if he drags it out of him."

"Not if you insist that he was willing, Ransom! From what you've said, the boy practically forced himself on you!"

Ransom glanced away from her, hoping that his hair concealed his suddenly burning cheeks. "Please avoid putting it that way.."

Davelynn smirked a little to herself once she caught on, and chuckled. "Oh, dear. Now that's a mental image.."

 A minute or so later, Ander and Samson emerged from the hatch, and Hunter was on him like a magnet.

"Ander." He said briskly. His eyes grazed over Samson a moment, studied his eyes, then settled and returned to the boy. "Are you doing alright today?"

"Uhm.. Yes, Captain."

"What about you, Reynick?" Hunter called, looking to the Mage stood by the masting without turning his head.

Reynick quickly swallowed the mouthful of bread that he was eating, forcing a very large and toothy smile. "Fit as a fiddle, sir. Rat bit me in my sleep, though. Nasty little bugge-"

"I am glad." He interrupted. He seemed unsatisfied. His voice was flat, his eyes dark behind the ominous green.

Ander bridled a little, staring down at his hands instead of at him. Samsons eyebrows were raised.

"I, well, ought to help with unloading.. G'day!" He excused himself cheerily, then dashed away. Ander almost glowered after him. The dirty traitor!

"Well, Ander, I will be accompanying you today. This island is un-mapped and therefore potentially dangerous; and protecting you is our current priority."

"Won't you be-"

"No."

He shut his mouth. The captains intimidating gaze seemed to be compressing him. Into a tin can, no less. His eyes were purposefully searching him. He couldn't recall any reason for concern, but they lingered frustratedly over the dark red scarf that he had wrapped around his neck, tucked into his waistcoat. Then they moved down to his wrists. 

Ander tugged at the edge of his creased sleeves, which were already unfolded to reach past his knuckles. His left wrist beneath was still bandaged.

Ander remembered. His mental danger alarm started blaring. Was he suspicious of Ransom already?

"Shall we?" Hunter asked casually. Ander nodded fast.

The rest of the crew were heading onto the narrow stretch of shoreline before wild forest consumed the island, taking a few empty barrels with them. Ruth was with Samson, but she purposefully didn't look Ander in the eye. He shifted uncomfortably.

With the captains eyes trained on him, everything seemed far more awkward than usual.

"Mornin' cap'n." Gillian grinned, passing them with a faulty salute. Quill followed suit, mimicking him. Hunter sighed, between his teeth. "Morning. Keep Quillan in your sight, Gill."

"Rightio!" Gillian guffawed. Quill didn't complain at the order. He had been working to make up for falling to Antanio's manipulation ever since Hunter spared his life, and this was nothing compared with the back-breaking menial labour he had signed himself up for.

Ander stepped onto warm, soft sand, and the sensation of being on something un-moving made him relax noticeably. He allowed himself to smile a little at the sheer bliss.

He didn't understand how the crew coped, being at sea constantly. It wasn't that he was sea-sick, but it wasn't his comfort zone, either. He supposed that they'd had plenty of time to adapt.

When he looked back to the beach, it was only he and Hunter standing on the stretch. He had to blink twice to check that his exhaustion wasn't simply setting in. When driven, they were so much faster than usual, and that was a statement in itself.

"We may stay here if you like," Hunter said, the sea breeze tossing his dark hair across his face. Ander glanced longingly at the water, wanting badly to tug the boots from his blistered feet and run at the waves like you'd run into the arms of a lover; but he resisted to save his dignity.

"Is a stroll in the forest too risky?" He asked instead.

Hunter smiled archly. "Ander, if they were going to smell you, standing here wouldn't save you so much as give you a watery grave. A stroll is a good idea - you can trust my protection."  

 

*  

 

The forest was still, quiet. Between the gentle rustling of the trees in the breeze, birds chattered back and forth between the thick canopy, but scattered into the air at the sight of them.

Ransom and Davelynn were hunting. They broke branches, wearing down the ground beneath their fast moving feet, but the crunches and snaps were far behind them by the time they reached their ears. Ransom ran, feet pounding against the mud, then he stopped.

He closed his eyes, and tilted his head upward, sniffing the air cautiously. Though the cold sensation that had filled his nose as he sprinted against the harsh wind was overpowering, he could still smell it clearly. The metallic, intoxicating scent of blood.

He could hear it now that he was driven, sense it. Pulsing, moving, fresh. It flowed so cleanly, he was almost overcome with temptation. Shuddering, he opened his eyes.

Davelynn was watching him, stood with her hand against a nearby tree. Her hair moved in the breeze, flying out past her. His own fringe shifted, but stayed in place, however the odd lock would fly free. Davelynn had such beautiful hair, so beautiful it momentarily distracted him. Falling in long, un-ruling curls, so dark that if edged on ebony; yet almost streaked with mahogany at her roots. He watched the strands caught in the breeze, and she frowned at him.

"Ransom? What is it"

"Nothing, I.." He quickly averted his gaze, reminding himself that staring wasn't appropriate. He ran a hand back through his dark hair. "I'm just drawn East, aren't you?"

She nodded curtly, and stepped past him, before breaking into a wind defying run once more.

With a deep, embarrassed sigh, Ransom followed.

They pursued the trail, following the scent. Ransom inhaled deeply, drying his mouth with the rush of air that entered it. He was drawn by the thick aroma that made his mouth water, but Davelynn caught his eye.

How concentrated her face looked, eyes narrowed slightly, biting her lip unconsciously. Yet, stomach twisting with hunger, he hastened eagerly past her.

For a second, Davelynn looked at him with distant surprise, but then she grinned, or more smirked at him, before turning back to face the trail. Speeding up just a fraction, she began to overtake him.

Ransom frowned as he noticed, forehead furrowing. But from the look on her face, the grin she pointed his way, she was challenging him. Challenging him to beat her.

He couldn't help but to smirk back at her a little, resisting a chuckle at the childish notion. Arms pumping fast by his sides, he pushed himself further, and pulled back ahead.

Davelynn released a laugh. She grew faster, and so did he.

They raced, side by side, pulling back and around the other. Davelynn stuck out her foot so fast he hardly noticed it until the last second.

Reactions triggering, he dodged fast and scowled at her half-heartedly. "Gah- You little cheat!" he cried, words almost lost in the wind at the speed they sprinted.

Davelynn just chuckled at the sky and ran on. He shook his head, smirking, then without even a second thought, he launched craftily for her. Ransom caught her momentum with his heel just infront of her toes, stopping her abruptly, and he wrapped his arms around her middle from behind. He skidded to a halt, his boots uprooting soil, then laughed cruelly.

He had her with her arms confined by her sides with his. She released a gasp at the shock, colliding with his front before rebounding, then she groaned loudly in realisation. "Ransom! Release me!" She whined.

"You cheated, so will I!" He retorted with an uncharacteristic grin, linking his hands together tight against her front to hold her still.

Davelynn struggled, kicking her heels at his shins and grumbling. He merely chuckled at her resistance.

She scowled at him over her shoulder. "I don't like losing, Coulder."

Ransom felt a smile pull at his lips uncontrollably. "Nor do I, Davelynn. And so we tie."

She sighed deeply, and relaxed, ceasing her struggling. But for a long moment, Ransom didn't withdraw his arms. He held her, kept her there in front of him with his arms wrapped around her. Davelynn didn't pull away, either. Nothing stopped him. He didn't feel strange in her close presence as he often did, he didn't even consider it. He felt comfortable, relaxed, almost. But his senses came to him.

He dropped his arms suddenly, and stepped back. Davelynn turned promptly to face him again. She was blushing, her shallow cheeks flushed with colour. Clearly, she hadn't noticed, but her smile was an uncharacteristically shy one. "You've never held me before.." She said, quietly.

He frowned, confused by the statement. "Why would I?" He asked.

Davelynn smiled sheepishly at her feet. "Yes, why would you?"

Her warm eyes met his. Something flared. Then, quiet suddenly, his arms were pinned to the tree behind him on either side of him, holding him to it with his back flat against the bark. He gasped out, surprised.

Davelynn grinned at him mischievously, her bright eyes lively and full. "Ransom, now we are tied."

He shook his head, looking up in humiliation. "You tricked me."

"You look rather helpless, it doesn't suit you much."

He breathed another exasperated sigh, hardly bothering to struggle. "Release me, then."

She chuckled innocently, and dropped his arms, leaning back away from him again. But Ransom caught her wrist.

He drew her back in, shifting his weight so that she was pressed to the spot he had been. She didn't fight. Though her eyes widened a little; she seemed oddly curious.

Ransom leaned his arm just above her head against the bark, standing close without touching her. He gazed down into her lovely green eyes, and he was momentarily entranced. Davelynn stared back at him.

He wasn't thinking. All he could see was her, Davelynn, and he found himself leaning unconsciously closer to her. His hand faltered over her face, barely brushing her cheek, and his lips froze ghosting over hers.

He stopped. He couldn't. Suddenly, he couldn't bring himself to.

He couldn't bring himself to make such a situation happen. He was conditioned to control himself and this was no exception.

To kiss Davelynn was the least logical thing he could do. The risks combined seemed too great.

Ransom drew back slowly, his head clearing the space, and he removed his arm from where it rested above her head to step back. He looked away from her, biting his lip in frustration at the saddened look befalling her face. But Davelynn understood.

She looked down to her shoes, cheeks flushing, but she asked no questions. She opened her mouth to speak, however for a short moment, no words came out.

Then she managed to muster a sentence. "It is alright, Ransom."

Ransom looked up with distress, working to keep his face neutral and cold. The sun filtering through the thick trees cast diverse and intricate shadows across the littered ground underfoot, leaf like shapes attached to the lengthened branches, everything stretched and expanded abstractly. He focused on them, rather than her. "I am sorry, Davelynn, I shouldn't have done that.." He started, but quite suddenly, she cut him off.

Davelynn lurched forward and wrapped her arms around his middle, her face buried in his chest. He frowned in surprise, jolting at the impact, then froze still as she hugged him. He didn't touch her at all for the time she held onto him, he denied himself the need to, keeping his aching arms firmly by his sides. But nor did he pull away, he allowed himself that much.

Instead he let her hold onto him, her fingers sinking into his coat. "I need nothing more than this." She breathed, voice muffled by his shirt.

When she drew away she dropped her arms, stepping back a couple of paces, and unconsciously tucked her hair behind her ears, which was tousled by their embrace. And as she did, he allowed himself to watch her a moment longer before turning away. "Let's go, you must be hungry.." He said briskly.

As she spoke her voice was flat, emotionless. "You're right, we should hurry."

"I'm.. Sorry." He said again. He was praying for control, for his selfishness to go away. Because that's what a relationship between them would be; purely selfish.

Davelynn, looking back over her shoulder, smiled weakly. "I'm not."

When she turned, and vanished into a blur through the trees, Ransoms cold cheeks burned.

 

*  

 

Ander was silent as he and the Captain walked together. Hunter moved in a proud stride, his shoulders back and his long legs taking double the steps that Ander did. He had to power walk to keep up.

"Tell me," Hunter started casually, and fixed his piercing eyes on the boy. "Are you afraid of immortality?"

Ander hesitated. Honestly, he'd considered it, and past it's glamorous fortay it terrified him beyond belief. Living among humans would be impossible - or at the least unbearable - because lifetimes wouldn't waste him away. Yet, they'd grow old and wither and he'd be left alone..

His mind felt like a swirling black hole of existential dread, yet he tried to appear confident as he stared back at him. "Only a little." He lied.

Hunter appeared unchanged, but he halted, folding his arms and facing him. "You are lying."

"U-Uh-"

"It's only natural to fear it. Death itself is a fearsome thing, but it's something we all accept. Having to embrace the inevitably of not having that.. It's like being told that your infertile. It's like being told that any home you find will be burned to the ground. I don't believe that it's just the blood thirst that separates us from humans," He drawled, and Ander hung on his words. He smiled dryly. "It's the inability to truly live."

"Aren't you glad for your life?" Ander asked, a little taken aback. Hunter started to walk again, now, and chuckled. Only a little. He had a pleasant sounding laugh, but it seemed far too estranged from his voice to be anything but forced.

"Ander, have you ever been in love?"

The question surprised him. He slowly shook his head no.

"They preach about it like it's something beautiful. It is, but not in an orderly way. Falling in love is ripping your heart out of your chest and entrusting it to somebody else, blood and all. Yet humans treat it like a rite of passage; like if you don't want it, there's something deeply wrong with you. I used to be like that."

"I'm.. Afraid I don't understand, Captain.." Ander said, looking at his boots as he trod through the thick undergrowth. "Why are you telling me this?"

"I don't want to share too much about myself, as I'm sure you respect. But I never was a traditional child, a lot like yourself. I was born of a woman barely out of her teens, and her rapist. She got rid of me the first chance she got; because she couldn't even look at me without thinking of him. I didn't believe that love could exist in a world so cruel."

Ander was starting to run out of condolences. He didn't think that Hunter would want them. Instead, he just nodded for him to go on.

"I met Octavia when I was working for a mercenary guild. She owned something precious, that I never asked her about further. An heirloom or something of somebodies, I suppose. I was ordered to steal it."

They stopped beside a large boulder, and Hunter dusted away the fallen leaves to sit down. Ander hurriedly leaned against a tree opposite him.

He smiled nostalgically. "I climbed inside her window, and guess what? I couldn't do it. I lost all will to. Kissed my payment goodbye. Kissed her later, mind.. She was beautiful, and lovely, and I was young."

Ander tensed. He knew what became of her. He almost didn't want to hear it. "She changed my life. Sometimes I wonder what kind of a person I'd be if I'd left. I loved her so entirely, and she loved me back, so when I set sail she came with me. I.. wish she'd stayed home."

"Captain-"

"She died so simply, so quickly that I thought that I was dreaming. She didn't deserve to go out like that.. She deserved so much better than the fate that being with me brought her. I kept thinking; what did I do to anger the gods? There was a lot to name, but she didn't deserve their wrath for my mistakes."

Ander's stomach twisted. He had to blink several times to clear his vision. "Neither did you." He managed.

Hunter smiled blandly at him. "I thank you, but you know nothing of my past. The things I have done could make me a villain from many angles, Ander. Perhaps for some, a tragic hero. For others, a martyr. That's putting it kindly. Perspective is key, you see. It is the same with love."

Ander wrapped an arm around a low hanging tree branch, leaning on it. "I, don't-"

"It's easy for someone in my position to say that love is cruel, that life is hard, that the wants of humans are hollow and the void is inevitable. But that's because I've suffered. An optimist is somebody who looks past those things.. Perspective is everything."

The man had the soul of a poet; Ander could tell. But he had never understood poetry. At his blank expression, Hunter smirked to himself. "Perhaps I'm dodging the topic.. I just want you to find your own perspective, Ander. Soon, you'll be living on borrowed time. And a hell of a lot of it. Use it for something that matters to you."

"You.. You speak like you're dying! You can find that too! I don't mean to sound insensitive, but don't you think your wife would want you to find new love after all this time?"

Hunters eyes flared a little. He stood up, towering over him. "What about you? Why were you so intent on living in the past, that you'd steal to find your absent father? Because of love, Ander! That is the same reason why I mourned her for all of a century. There will never be another for me. Not because I can't get over it, but because like I said, I gave her a part of my heart. And it died with her." Hunter laughed that forced, estranged laugh again, though gentler. He looked up at the sky a moment. "I do not want to give half of my heart. Why would anybody want that?"

Ander looked shamefully at his feet again, but was quickly alerted to Hunter when his hand was taken, and pressed to his own chest, over his heart. It was beating alarmingly hard.

Thud-thud-thud.

"What's that?" He asked lowly, his hand overlapping Ander's. "A heartbeat. Does it determine goodness? No, we are not poets or philosophers. I use the heart as a metaphor. Your real heart pumps blood. When you become one of us, it won't need to anymore. But it will not change the true heart I have seen in you. The one I refer to; the soul."

"Captain-"

"You care about my men. You are selfless even in the face of danger, and you have saved the lives of many of them. I know that you gave Pete a mercy kill, and it was the right thing to do. You are good, Ander. Better than most. If you want your mission to be finding your lost family, then pursue that. But you have all of eternity to waste; so find more ways than one."

He then stepped back, dropping Ander's arm by his side. "That is all."

"I.. I want to find my father first.." Ander decided aloud. He clenched his fists. "I want closure. Then I want to do something about the hunters that slaughtered Pete and William.."

The corner of Hunters mouth lifted. "Terribly clique of you. But is it vengeance?" He asked, turning on his heel to walk on. "Or survival?"

Ander considered this a moment. The answer came out steady, and sure. His eyes sparked as he stared after the captain, his nails digging into his palms. "Both."

Hunter stopped. Though Ander couldn't see it, he smiled. "Come," he said. "We'll head back to the beach. I fancy a spot of relaxation for a change."

Ander started to follow after him, when the shout of alarm came echoing through the trees.

"Samson!"

It was hard to make out the voice, but Ander stopped in his tracks when he heard it; back at the edge of the forest.

Hunter twisted his head. "Stay here," he ordered, charging past him, but Ander grabbed his sleeve before he could leave.

"I'm following after you," he said. Hunter narrowed his eyes, yanking his arm back. "If you disobey, I'll be forced to-"

"Captain, you won't wait that long. Samson may be in danger."

Hunter didn't miss the manipulative glimmer in his eyes. Ander was very aware of his words and Hunter hated to admit that he was right.

He clenched his fists, and left fast, sprinting in the direction of the shout.

Smug, Ander followed behind at a far inferior speed.

It didn't scare him, really. Samson would be fine, wouldn't he? Second to only maybe the firstmates, he'd never seen a fighter quite like him.

Yet, still, it ate at him as he ran, stumbling through the outgrown grass and widespread tree roots in an attempt to speed up.

There was another shout, this time, from Hunter; and close.

"What in Stara's name?!"

Ander's heart gave a thump. He had never heard him sound like that. It wasn't fear, not quite, but bordering on it. That much was enough to frighten him.

He leaped over a fallen tree-trunk, giving himself splinters on his knuckles as he stumbled past the tree closest, and continued on wearily until he reached the clearing.

He froze at the forest edge, and his breath hitched.

Samson, unconscious with blood dripping down his lips and chin, was floating.

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