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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27. Chapter 27 - Innocence Lost

Ander drew in a sharp breath. He had to cover his face with his hands to keep from making a conspicuous sound.

"What?!" Reynick cried, stuttering. For a second, he forgot to lower his voice. "Zia, it is mine, isn't it?"

"Of course it's bloody yours!" The girl scoffed, unimpressed. "Who do you take me for?"

Ander had never seen the calm and reserved man look so distraught. It was a face of fear that he doubted could even be replicated in the heat of battle.

Reynick almost choked on his words, "I'm.. I'm going to be-"

"A father."

"I'm going to be a bloody father!"

"Rey, didn't you ever get the talk as a child?" She sighed exasperatedly. Ander could practically hear her rolling her eyes. "Look.. I'm sorry you had to find out this way.. Just, I felt it right. Keeping it from you would be worse."

"O-Of course.." He agreed quickly. His tattooed hands were visibly trembling as they supported the mysterious orb. "Is.. There anything else I should know?"

"I'm only a month or so gone, the healers say. Our parents are insisting that we finish off the move together to the Knight upper quarter once you return, and rush the wedding ahead.. More for their good name than ours, I assume. And so you must come back. Soon."

And that was when Reynick fainted.

Ander cursed and dashed forward just as he collapsed, the blue orb falling noiselessly to the ground and dissolving into smoke at Ander's feet. Just as the room was engulfed in darkness, the man landed with a low thud, his head smacking down heavily onto the floorboards.

Ander knelt quickly, gathering Reynick's head into his lap and tapping at his cheeks. He stirred a little, but didn't wake.

"Reynick?" He asked, becoming a little more persistent when he didn't respond. His eyes narrowed unwittingly. "Reynick.. Come on, you son of a bitch.. I need answers!"

He sat him up again and shook him at the shoulders, his head jolting back and forth until his eyes started to flicker. His head wasn't bleeding when he reached out to support it, which was good at least. He didn't completely knock himself out.

Ander sighed deeply. He pulled out his candle, thumbled about for his match to give the room some much needed light, then set it down in a holder on Alec's table before returning to the half conscious man. He was coming around slowly but surely, back to the ground but propped up on his elbows.

"Hm.." He mumbled, as his cat-like eyes began to focus again. He blinked fast, brow working into a frown.

"I.. I fainted, didn't I?"

"What the hell did I just hear?" Ander demanded, sinking his fingers into the hollows of Reynick's shoulders. He winced and looked confused a moment, making Ander scoff at him.

"Congratulations on the baby!" He sneered. This visibly woke him up. "Let's hope it doesn't turn out a dirty traitor like its papa."

"Oh, stara's mercy.." Reynick breathed, his eyes wide and still unfocused as they flitted nervously about the room. "I'm gonna be a-"

"Put that aside for one minute, and tell me what this damned 'mission' was you kept bringing up! Because, I could have sworn that ended when you found your 'sorcerer' friends mangled corpse back at the ambush island.. You have about ten seconds before I yell for help, and you've seen yourself what that can cause."

"Ander, I can't!" He cried, gripping his shoulders so that he visibly recoiled, "You have to believe me, I did it only in the interest of building a life for my family! For Zia's future!"

"Sacrifice one person for another, right?" He scowled bitterly, and crossed his arms in annoyance. "That's so typical. But you did call me collateral damage, after all."

"That's not true. Who.. Said anything about sacrifice?" Reynick breathed. His hands were shaking, but he grabbed Ander's in his own and held on against his fighting. "It was supposed to be easy! Until.. You said you were my friend and.. and.."

"Reynick. Shut up." He breathed, mostly because he was right. And that hurt. Ander had began to consider him a friend, ignoring the warnings of Samson.

He felt, without exaggeration, betrayed. "Just.. Shut up.."

Reynick did. He looked down, seemed to register that he was sinking his nails into Anders hands, and released them slowly. Ander couldn't ignore the crazed look in his eyes, that seemed rooted to the fact that his master plan had been foiled simply by his lack of stealth. His left eye kept twitching.

When he thought he could bear it, he looked at him again. And there were bags sitting heavily beneath those chocolate brown eyes that made him look so much older now, where they had once given him an air of childlike desperation. They created pity, working in his favour. And Reynick couldn't shake the feeling that it was that same child he had deceived.

"Just.. Explain. I'm not going anywhere until I at least understand."

"I told you, I can't! If I tell you.. It has to stay between us. Because Hunter will kill me! And the mages are bad enough; considering they'll find out I told! They have ways! And then it won't just be me getting the punishment.. Ander, the child. That unborn child in Zia's womb! I have them to protect now too!"

Ander thought back to the others. To his new friends, who had all suffered so much and seen friendships turn sour before. He didn't want to keep it from them. He knew that if he found out, whatever it was, he wouldn't be able to put Reynick before them.

Because lies and secrets often had far too many loopholes. They required commitment, dedication. Ander wasn't sure that dishonour was worth all the effort.

"No," he said, shaking his head. "Reynick, I can't put you first.. For the same reason you didn't put me first."

And as he stood, Reynick's wild eyes widened further. He darted out a hand to catch Ander's leg, clinging to the fabric of his trousers. "Wait! Ander, please-"

"Don't, make me call out.." Ander threatened, his voice so laced with venom that Reynick felt guilty tears prick at his eyes. The boy had been so calm, so reserved. So quickly he had broken through that.

He didn't want to, gods he didn't want to, but he was in a corner; wasn't he?

Ander tried to step away, to find himself pressed against a barrier. One of Reynick's dirty little tricks. His eyes immediately flared with red hot anger, and he kicked Reynicks arms away so harshly that the toe of hit boot connected with his jaw, sending him flying. On the backs of his hands, a small branch of the runes were glowing faintly with the effort of setting up the field.

The boy thumbled along in the dull light, but it was like a glass wall cutting across either side of the barrels, ceiling to floor, blocking him in.

"You bastard," he breathed, whirling on him with clenched fists. "You might think you've got me, but they'll come!"

"And do what?" Reynick retorted, still on his hands and knees with one hand massaging his swelling jaw. There was a waver to his voice that was apparently more psychological than physical.

Ander's bitten fingernails sunk into his palms, a tic throbbing in his jaw. He stepped forward, knelt fast, and slammed him hard into the floorboards with a knee on his stomach. The man gasped with the impact and then hissed in pain, fingers brushing the hands clutching fistfuls of his shirt.

"I dare you to stop me beating you senseless. Wave your fingers like the coward you are if you so wish and drown me in fairy dust! Reynick, you now have royally ticked me off. I've met a lot of bad people, but traitors will always top the charts."

"And I don't blame you for that.." He replied, fighting to keep his words gentle. He exhaled shakily. "Fine.. Ander, I'll.. I'll tell you everything. Just for the love of God, don't let me die. Not until I see my child's face, Ander. Please.." Reynicks eyes weren't thin and crafty anymore, they were almost like Alec's. The innocence of his request shone through, glistening with the beginnings of tears. "Please.."

Ander bit down hard from the inside of his cheek to keep from back handing him out of sheer anger. He forced himself to let go of him, staying over him for one moment to face him, his fist pressed to the ground beside his head. "If I see even a dust grain light up under your sleeves, you'll know about it in advance."

He tilted his head hopefully, blinking catlike eyes that were beginning to resemble him more again. "Are.. You going to get off me now?"

Ander scowled at him, but grunted and stood, reluctantly offering a diplomatic hand.

Reynick shook his head, shuffling back against the wall instead, so Ander leaned back against the barrier Reynick was maintaining to keep a good metre between them and folded his arms across his chest. "Fire at will."

"The higher ups want you for something. I wasn't informed of what.. But it was my job to trick you into going to them by any means at my disposal. You're an excellent judge of character from what I can see, Ander. I won't insult your intelligence by lying to you any longer."

Ander bit down hard on his lip, fighting the rising urge to claw at him and see if he'd be able to sense his blood, too. He nodded gruffly for him to go on, and Reynick's hands were ready on his bent knees as he spoke.

"The prophets had your whereabouts determined, and I was sent to intercept you. I didn't lie about Marxan Knight, the 'mage' we found dead. He was a close friend of mine and whilst his brother was incapacitated I went in his place to track him down.. It was one of the reasons I volunteered to take on the rest of this mess as well; because it made sense. Logistically."

"You didn't lie about one thing, then. That sure fixes everything.."

"No, Ander.. Look-"

"Samson was right.. You're a snake, Reynick."

Reynick's lip curled. He looked down at his knees, averting his eyes, though Ander's stayed focused bitterly on him.

"My guess," he went on, slowly, "is that it is something to do with the fact that you are the last first blood. If it's true that your blood can cure vampirism entirely.. Well, a lot of people will want to know. My people are researchers at heart. They are, though they claim to hate them, fascinated by vampires. The combination of magic and science that seems to keep your- sorry, their immortal bodies functioning, without a heartbeat."

"Weren't the mages the ones who told them that the blood of a first would make them human again in the first place?"

"Yes.. They did. I wasn't aware that it was possible, personally. It must be a well kept secret."

"And now they want me, exclusively?"

"I told you; I really don't know.. But like I said, you're part of a near extinct breed. Two newbloods find it considerably harder to have vampire children than two firsts or a mixed couple might, so it could be a while until another emerges."

"I can't be the only-"

"Only living known one that can actually be traced to the census record and located. You were raised very much like a human, after all.. Others born of the massacres survivors by some miracle were likely told of what they would become and put into hiding, and the survivors themselves.. They lost everybody they ever cared about. I wouldn't be surprised if they ran straight into the hunters swords and impaled themselves on purpose. Prophets have tried looking for others, of course, but even the strongest at our coven can't run a worldwide head search. The last person they found was killed by hunters before she could be reached."

He frowned, watching as the boy buried his fingers in his hair in distress, tugging on it and pacing along the barrier. He sighed heavily. "Ander, I'm sorry this information is useless.. They didn't share everything with me. I could be killed just for telling you this much. They'll probably check me when I return, poke around my head for signs of treachery to them.. Yet I am choosing to clue you in. Does that mean nothing to you?"

"It undoes very little, yes! Looks like you'll be a traitor to both sides! I suppose whoever is more merciful decides your fate now."

Reynicks stomach plummeted. He bit his lip, half out of guilt for driving him to this state and half out of fear for his own wellbeing. "Ander, I.. I truly am sorry that it was you.. You that I had to deceive. When you called me your friend, I felt genuinely happy. I've never had many that I could call friends.. I didn't lie when I said I'd protect you."

"You never said that."

"Not to you," he smiled weakly, "Because I am - to quote the blond - an arrogant son of a bitch."

Ander's eyes were still so empty, struggling to focus. He spoke in a tone of hollow realisation. "You know Samson suspected you all along, and I pushed him away."

"You can't tell him. The man isn't all there as it stands; he'll hang my guts from the crows nest."

"Oi! You wouldn't be in the best working order if you endured what he did!" Ander barked back defensively. "I won't have you badmouthing my close friend too.. Just keep telling me what I need to know and I'll keep telling myself not to choke you. Or, I might just forget."

"You're made of tougher stuff than they think.." Reynick appreciated quietly. "You'd do well as an interrogator. Interpret that as you will, I suppose.. Now, I have another theory you might want to consider, beside the lone wanderer thing. You've been entering the between even without being in close vicinity to me, correct? Which means, to put it plainly, that you're tuning into it under your own steam.. That definitely isn't normal for someone lacking Mage blood. It might not even be coincidence that you found yourself there the night I arrived. You could have entered before, but thought it was a normal dream, because you were unable to interact with it then. The council could know about it all somehow, and know why."

"If it was that, why would they have to send a messenger and lie to get me there?"

"You never know their intentions, Ander.. But I promise you, though primarily I must put my family first, I will do my best to keep you from harms way. I will make this up to you whether you want me to or not."

"Right, right, say what you will.." Ander scoffed. "I know the drill. Feign guilt, create guilt, save your skin. Believe it or not, you didn't invent it."

"I don't expect you to trust me! Just believe me when I say I care about-"

"Just stop, Reynick!" Ander snapped. Reynick shut his mouth, and stared at him in muted confusion.

He stepped closer, so that he was standing right in front of him, then knelt to look him in the eyes. His were glistening with tears. "You know who said he cared?"

Reynick blinked. Anders lips pricked with the ghost of a hurt, bland smile. "Stara. God himself. We used to walk into our forms at the orphanage in straight lines, holding scriptures, reciting the words and asking Stara to preserve us. We recited it so often that the words became hollow to us; natural. A daily drone second only to please and thank you and sorry. I can't summon even an ounce of passion when I say them now. We gave our childhoods to an entity that let us lose our families, because we were desperate, and the priests were too bothered with asking a ghost to help us than they were with feeding us themselves. Our parents said they cared, then the empire said she cared, then the priests said they cared, then Stara said She cared. Yet then I spent two years on the streets and wound up facing a noose in front of a thousand more people yet to realise that.. So I don't care if you say you care."

When Ander turned, the barrier by the hatch was gone, and Reynick was staring at his back rather than at the ground. He glanced over his shoulder before he dared to leave.

"This stays between us, but I can't stop the mages finding out you betrayed them when you return alone. I'll just protect you from the Captain. Not for you, though, no; for the baby."

"Why would you help it?"

"Because I know what it's like to lose a father. That child shouldn't be punished for your mistakes."

And on that note, Ander crossed over to the hold, leaving his candle behind.

*

"You're back," Alec looked up with a smile, when he emerged from the cabin quarters.

To Ander's amazement, Ransom looked almost worn down after their training. Using 'almost' lightly, considering that it was mainly psychological.

(If it was possible for it to be physical, he had no doubt it would have been.)

Ander gave a small nod at that, and the boys smile immediately vanished. He handed his weapon back and quietly thanked Yates, who actually smiled at him, then clambered over the barrier of the ring to get to him.

"What happened with Reynick?" He asked quietly, tilting his head to look up at him.

Ander tensed, and Alec picked up on it. "Ander," he repeated sternly, "Don't baby me. I'm technically older than you."

"And why would I do that?" Ander smiled quickly. Too quickly. Alec gave him a droll stare, which made him falter.

"Alright.." He sighed, "It didn't go great. He was acting like a pretentious ass. Hiding away, insisting I invaded his personal space.. He's nothing but a pampered prince."

Alec scratched his head awkwardly. Ander was glad, at least, that he hadn't picked up on the lie.

His dark curls were becoming a little unruling, stretching down his neck enough for him to tie into a low ponytail; which meant his hair and nails definitely still grew, though no other part of him did.

"He helped me when I was ill," he sighed, lowering his voice and leaning in, "But.. He still scares me a little. Mages don't seem all that friendly.."

"I can vouch for that.." Ander smiled weakly. He ruffled the boys hair. "But I've spoken to him.. And you should be able to clean out down there now. I'll come help later, once the air is cleared."

Alec nodded happily. He started to turn, but Ander caught his shoulder.

"If he throws another temper tantrum or tries to kick you out again.. Remind him that you have more authority than he does. And tell him Ander said that."

Alec gave him an odd look, as though to question why he thought he had enough authority himself to say that, but he nodded and collected his things anyway.

Ransom turned to face him from the ring. His lips curled into that not-quite-a-smile, cheeks dimpling. "You handled our six foot problem, I assume?'

"I suppose.." Ander groaned, and slumped over the barrier. "I think I have leverage over him, somehow, like you said."

"Leverage?"

He nodded. The man frowned at that.

He was clearly overheating as much as everyone else, because his scarf was out of sight and his coat was discarded. He was wearing only a partially unbuttoned baggy black shirt loosely tucked into his trousers, his ruby necklace concealed under his clothes so just the chain brushed over his collarbones. Still, his hair hung over the left side of his face as a protective curtain, though more of his scar was visible than usual.

In warm weather, below deck was transformed into nothing short of a greenhouse. Nobody particularly wanted to be down there given the option, but direct sunlight was no better. Across the deck, Quill was leaning over the edge, as though seriously considering diving in and taking a swim.

"Take a break," Ransom said, "I have some things I need to do myself. I suggest you go assist Samson, since he's been staring over here like a lost puppy the entire time you were below deck."

Ander stifled a chuckle. At least he knew Samson was a loyal friend. "Fine.. Thankyou for the merciless beating."

"You're welcome."

And he got a half smirk. That was it.

The day he made that man laugh he'd class it as a personal achievement.

Ransom nodded to him and headed to the upper deck to speak to Hunter, only to be stopped by Davelynn part way, who was just on her way out of the kitchen. She caught his arm, swinging him back around to face her.

Ander smiled a little at how his eyes sparked at that.

Now he knew how young Ransom really was, he was starting to notice the little things that made it believable. For one thing, if he didn't brood so much and shroud himself in a cloak of doom and gloom, he might have looked innocent. His eyes shone when he smiled, like some kind of happy puppy.

Except, he very much doubted 90 percent of the time that Ransom was happy. If he was, he did a poor job at showing it.

Around Davelynn, though, it shone through. If only a little.

He headed over to Samson, who was standing about level with his shoulders on the rigging chipping away at one of the wooden supports, apparently filling in where the wood was rotting away before it could become a problem. A rope was slung around his waist tied to the post loosely, incase he was to topple back when the ship rocked.

He was dressed in only his white vest and dark brown slops, which ended just below his knees, with a red scarf slung over his head and shoulders to block out the intense head of the sun on his scalp. It was wrapped around his neck a couple of times to keep it in place.

His feet were also bare, toes curled around the rope expertly to keep him in place.

"Liking the carpentry position?" Ander asked hopefully.

Samson scoffed, without looking down from his work. "I'm practically wearing a turban."

"I wasn't aware there was a uniform," Ander teased, "So you brought that one on yourself."

Samson rolled his eyes at that. "Might as well be, in this heat.. Hand me that flat tool there?"

"There are seven."

"Seriously, anything with a sharp edge will do."

Ander scoffed and passed the nearest up to him, leaning back against the railing opposite. He had to squint to look at him, the sun just behind the man's blond head. "Anything I can do to help?"

"Course. Keep me company. And put something over your head before it goes red raw, I'm sweating just looking at you."

"I don't have a hat.. Besides, it'll just make my head hotter. Pities sake, Samson," he chuckled, "You sound like my mother."

"Whatever you- shhh-ugar!"

The ship abruptly jolted, making most everyone on board stumble aside. Ander went off balance a moment, but he quickly gripped the railing and steadied himself after a moment, his eyes flitting about in alarm.

Samson grabbed onto the rigging for support. He double checked the rope around his waist, then cursed loudly when the ship was tossed up by the waves a second time, like something directly underneath them was delivering headbutts to the hull.

His feet slipped, and he almost went flying back into Ander, until he managed to grab onto the rope and pull himself back up; wrapping his arms around the rigging.

"Stara's mighty tits!" Gillian barked from somewhere across the deck, now on his hands and knees like many of the others.

Ransom looked up at the Captain in alarm, unknowingly gripping Davelynn's wrist while she clutched at his elbow, steadying each other. Hunter was supported from falling by only the frame of the wheel.

Ander moved forward quickly to help Samson down, but the moment his feet touched the ground it moved again.

This time they were both sent hurdling across the floor, landing side by side on their hands and knees.

"Damn!" Samson hissed, leaning on Ander's shoulder to push himself up before yanking him up with him. He latched onto the nearest rope.

"Are we under attack or what?!"

"Far from it." Hunter responded calmly. At the sound of his voice, the noise ceased.

"We're just sitting on a bloody whale.."

Ander breathed a sigh of relief, though he wasn't sure why. On any ordinary ship, that might have been very bad news. Except he didn't doubt half of the crew would be able to take on something that size single handed.

Well, perhaps not single handed..

"Got us all worked up for nothing," Ruth murmured, and a few other deckhands mumbled in agreement.

Samson rolled his eyes. "You idiots did that for yourselves."

"Oi!" She barked back, getting to her feet with a murderous glare, "Who are you callin' a-"

Bump. Another quake, and Ander barely stayed on his feet. Samson had to yank so hard on the rope to keep himself from swinging that it was a wonder he didn't pull it from its knot.

"I'm.. gonna heave.." Quill groaned, now leaning over the edge so far that Gillian had to grab his collar to pull him back.

"Come on, big guy.." He sighed shortly. "No falling overboard on me now. There's some nasty stuff down there."

"How long will this last?" Ander groaned, drawing Samson's attention a moment. The man had been looking distractedly overboard, so he had to blink a few times to get the image of the sun from the back of his eyes.

"Ah.. P'raps an hour max. Depends really."

"On what?"

A smirk teased at his lips, and he snorted with the beginnings of laughter. "If the nasty little bugger follows us."

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