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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4. Chapter 4 - Bilge Rat

Several hours after the incident, Ander lay awake, thinking.

So many questions were left unanswered - About Ransom, about firstbloods, about this 'rebirth date.' Why he was even here to begin with rather than deep underground.. And he couldn't comprehend how anything he had witnessed could hint even slightly toward solving these things.

So many questions...

He sighed, brushing his hair back from his eyes between his fingers. It felt greasy, unwashed for well over a week.

Suddenly, he heard movement, and opened one eye, now lay with his arms behind his head. The shutter to the upper deck was open, and warm sunlight flooded the room. People hopped out off their hammocks instantly, as if on a mental clock.

Ander frowned, and got up slowly. The muscles along his back ached, probably from yesterdays swimming. They twinged as he bent down to get his boots. And his neck hurt, too, stinging dully. Ropeburn.

"Hey," Came Davelynns voice above him. Ander looked up at her. Pete flanked behind, a somewhat concerned expression on his face.

Davelynn had crossed arms, but her face was neutral, biting her cherry red lower lip as if to keep herself from saying something. "Are you.. Alright, after last night? We don't want you getting the wrong idea." She said, saying 'the wrong idea' slowly, tentatively.

Ander raised an eyebrow, smirking a little by force of habit. "The wrong idea?"

Davelynn stepped back one pace as she switched hips. "As in; We're not all going to try to rip your throat out.. We aren't monsters. Gillian is a more, recently changed newblood, atleast compared with the rest of us. The fresh meat find controlling their vampiric nature the most difficult."

"Oh?" Ander said, sliding his foot into his boot and shifting over into it. "Well.. Thanks, for telling me that. Good to see somebody isn't blaming me.."

"Blaming you?" Davelynn asked incredulously.

Ander lifted his knee and began to lace his boots, avoiding her catlike eyes. "It's like they're blaming my humanity, with their eyes."

Davelynn scoffed. "They're tense, that's all. Humans aren't usually on board. I think you're misreading signals."

"It's, understandable." He shrugged, and stood slowly, minding his back. "However misreading signals, nah. I'm generally pretty accurate in that aspect."

Davelynns eyes sparked, intrigued. Her face softened a little.

Pete looked at him from over Davelynns shoulder. "Guessing you need a shirt, lad? That one should smell like salt, I imagine. There's clothes in your sack." He spoke in a strong irish accent.

"Yeah, thanks." Ander said again, giving him a half smile, then he turned to the sack dangling from the boarding of his hammock and pulled out a baggy blue button up patched with black material over the elbows, and a black waistcoat fastened with chains. He tossed them over his arm.

Davelynn still stood by his hammock, arms crossed. Ander raised both his eyebrows at her, chuckling, and her mouth formed an 'O' shape in slow realisation. "Ah, I forgot you're quite the milk-drinker." She jostled, turning on her heel.

Ander grinned, pulling his shirt over his head once Davelynn turned to face the wall. "But, you should know." She said after a couple of seconds. "I did help Ransom get you here, we have very few secrets."

He frowned, pausing on the last few buttons of his shirt. "You've both been invading my private business, then? That damned stubbon son of a -"

"Respect your superiors, lad." Pete said, sharply but without venom, like he had to try hard to sound authoritive.

Davelynn made a confirming sound. "He saved your life, you can't blame him if he had no time to explain every little detail during that period."

Ander scoffed, stepping into a pair of loose fitting drawers. "He's had plenty of time since-"

Davelynn turned, crossing her arms again and frowning. "He's the second in command here, cooper. Stop acting like a child and don't bother him, it will come in time."

She then turned and marched away, boots soft on the wooden flooring. She picked up her dark blue coat then ascended to the upper deck.

Ander worked to unclench his jaw, frustrated as he fastened his waistcoat. The chainwork ended just below where his ribs began but the lapels carried on in the style of a regular coat.

"Lad." Pete said, leaning his elbow on the frame of Anders hammock. "You can't expect everyone here to be so willing to provide you with information openly."

"What if it is information on meMy past, my present and my future? I want to know what my connection is to this ship, Pete!"

"It isn't my place to tell you.. All I'll say is that this may be centered around you, but I believe you are simply to means to achieving a more selfish end." Pete said slowly. He gave a warm smile, almost in pity, and began to walk away.

Ander didn't stop him, saying nothing. He found it difficult to close his mouth, momentarily frozen in perplexion.

You are simply the means..

After everyone had dressed, the other crew members began filing to the deck. Ander waited a minute before he joined them.

He was welcomed by a cooling blast of sea air, and warm sunlight. There was noise everywhere, but it was somewhat harmonious. Across the deck people were already getting to their menial tasks. He spotted Samson, Quill, Cyro, and to his surprise, Gillian, along with several others, attending to the sails and masts. Davelynn was shouting orders to them already. Ruth was stood by the cannons to the side of the ship, checking the rope work, and hauling barrels of what looked like gunpowder to be tied up beside them.

To the higher deck above the direct door to the captains quarters, was the wheel. Hunter stood with his hands rested on the polished wood, staring out, from what Ander could see. There was a hat on his head, a pointed black thing that looked tattered at the edges, a red feather clipped to the material.

Ander knew little about pirate culture, but he did know a pirate captains hat was symbolic. A sign of status amongst sailors.

Hunters was ancient.

He glanced up, and remembered suddenly. His own job wasn't here; Cooper. Lord of the barrels. He sighed between his teeth.

"Ander." Somebody said behind him. He turned - And as expected, It was Ransom. He was frowning, causing wrinkles to form across his forehead. "Where are you supposed to be?"

"This a test of my intellect or a display of authority?" Ander snapped, feeling anger welling up inside him as his many questions formed at his lips but didn't quite come out.

You are simply the means..

"Remember who you're talking to!" Ransom snapped, then regained his calm. "You, are supposed to be in the bilge."

"Yes'sir." Ander muttered, with no sincerity. He passed Ransom, but as he did, he leaned a little closer and whispered the one thing he could muster. "You still owe me answers, Coulder."

He then shouldered forward, ignoring the way Ransom tensed with concealed anger.

"Ander.." Ransom said. He ignored him, stepping forward to the hatch once more, furious.

"Ander!" He said, harsher now. Still, Ander ignored him, and decended down the ladder to the lower deck. Random did not follow him.

Ander breathed out a sigh. He knew he'd make him regret challenging his authority later, but for now, he wanted to make him guilty. He wanted Ransom to have to think through the day, about keeping him in the dark about his own past and future, until he sympasized.

He stepped out from the great quarter through the door on the right, to the hold. Barrels were lining the walls in sections, grouped together, probably sorted by containment. Some would contain gunpowder, some fruit and tins of food, some would be the sustenance all vampires needed ; Blood.

But he had to go lower, to the very bottom of the ship. The bilge, like a dirty rat. Where they'd keep the disused barrels or the least important goods. The plunder, if these vampires had any, would be kept safe in Captain Hunters quarters, he imagined.

He reached the next ladder, and heard humming. A light, childish sound that seemed strangely out of place.

Ander frowned, straightening curiously, and descended slowly, listening.

The humming grew clearer until he could make out the words to a song, light and happy, the voice high pitched but distinctly belonging to a boy. A child.

"A Little Boy Blue come blow your horn,

The sheep's in the meadow the cow's in the corn.."

Ander listened still as he approachd the source of the song. The bilge was small and cramped looking, but barrels were piled to the ceiling, forming small walls and a narrow, twisting walkway.

"But where's the boy who looks after the sheep?
He's under a haystack fast asleep.."

There was very little light, only what was provided from candles hanging from the ceiling in their glass containers and the daylight through the hatch. The singing was coming from the other side of the barrel wall.

"Will you wake him? No, not I - for if I do, he's sure to cry.."

Ander frowned slightly. He glanced back up at the hatch, then carried on along the walkway until he turned a cover.

The small, blonde boy who had been in the great quarter was stood with a mop, still humming to himself the rhthym of the song, completely unaware of Anders presence. He wore a pair of drawers far too big for his small frame, rolled over messily to his ankles, and a creased white button up with the sleeves pushed to his elbows.

Ander felt instantly stupid for being apprehensive. He smiled a little, and spoke up. "Uh, hello?"

"Gah!" The boy yelped almost girlishly, ceasing his humming, and turned around sharply, brandishing the dripping mop like a cutlass.

Ransom raised both his hands quickly, chuckling. "Woah, take it easy!"

The boy blushed, "Oh, right, it's just you.." He sighed, leaning his mop against the nearest barrel.

Ander chuckled. "That could be taken as an insult.. Little jumpy, aren't you?"

"I suppose.." The boy mumbled, still flustered. "I.. Uh.. Don't get visitors much. I'm the swabby, bilge rat, whatever you like."

Ander raised his eyebrows. "You call yourself bilge rat?" He asked incredulously.

The boy smiled a little, scratching his head through his blonde curls. "Yeah, I suppose. Don' mind it, really!"

Ander tilted his head, smiling uncontrollably. The boy was appeared innocent, he seemed fatally out of place. "Do you have an actual name, or do you go by a common insult?"

"Alec." He smiled, extending a scrawny hand. "Mccallis."

Ander shook his hand gently, as though the small boy might break, with slightly raised eyebrows. "Alec Mccallis.. That has a ring to it. I'm Ander. Are you, even old enough to be at sea?"

"I don't think there's a law for that.." Alec said, blowing air into his cheeks so they filled like a hamsters for a couple of seconds. "The imperials don't care enough. But I'm 13; I'm guessing I would be!"

"C'mom.." Ander smirked, rolling his eyes. "You must be older than thirteen really. You're a vampire, like all the rest."

Alec started to blush again, the flushed pink reaching beyond his cheeks to his ears and the bridge of his nose.

"Yer', well.. Actually.. I'm one of the oldest people here. Just apparently all that time didn't change my station so much as boost maturity.." He gave a nervous, high pitched laugh, before meeting Anders blank eyes again.

Alec coughed, "Yes, well, uh.. Story for another time. You're high king of the barrels now, right?"

Ander sighed. "I go by lord. Is that an on going joke or something?"

"Well they called Thatcher that, then Petey after he left.. You know the culprit barrel is still over there somewhere!" Alec said, in a tone that sounded like the narration of a fairy tale.

Then it struck him. Thatcher? Lockisis' advisor, whom Ransom had killed with an arrow through the heart only two days earlier?

He had been on the Eclipsium since the beginning, since the curse was placed. One of the men who had fled.

But he hadn't seen through their trick, he hadn't known Ransom at all.. And he hadn't recongised him as not being the captain either.

Still, it must have been an extremely long time since he had seen him, and the two did look very similar.

"Yeah.." Ander said, "So, can I ask something, since you're so old and wisdomous?"

Alec chewed his lip. "Huh?"

"Was Ransom Coulder on this ship from the start, like you?" He asked. The question was out before he could think of something more important to blurt, and he had to close the mental flood-gates to keep himself from spilling all his other questions too.

Alec frowned. "No.. He came a couple of decades later, like most of 'em. Mind you, my sister and I are originals! First-stringers! Why would you need to know that?"

Ander smiled a little from the satisfaction of finally filling one blank. "Pure curiousity.."

He sank back onto one of the closed barrels like a stool, and Alec sat opposite him, putting down his mop and rolling back his shoulder as though to relieve an ache.

"Why are so little of the original crew members left?" Ander asked, following example and rolling his sleeves up.

Alec frowned, looking at his lap and folding his hands together. "You are curious..."

He realised he'd been asking alot to someone he'd just met and looked apolagetic. "Sorry, I'm.. Not very informed, I'll stop."

Alec nodded, and his small smile returned to his face. "That's alright. Anyway.. Your job is to transfer the goods and supplies from the sacks-" He gestured to the dirty looking sacks leant against the furthest wall, then to a portion of barrels opposite. "-into the barrels. Organize them as well as you can and make sure they're fastened and secured nice and tight! I'll clean up if you spill anything. Oh! And If you find a rat I'd, steer clear. I hear they carry all sorts of diseases that are dangerous to humans! They're cute fellas' though, aren't they?"

Ander stood once more with a sigh, cracking his knuckles. "Thanks for the warning.."

A ship full of vampires keeping some secret plot from me, and I'll be concerning myself with rats?

***

Ander approached the barrels with a deep sigh, wondering what he'd got himself into. "I don't recall signing myself up to be Ransom Coulders servant.."

He wrinkled his nose at the distinct stench of fish emanating from the nearest barrels. He'd heard tell of the nightmarish conditions of ships, here was where this one went sour. Those tales had always seemed like horror stories - filthy, disease ridden, full of rotting food..

"He did save your life, din't ee'? Besides, you're more a servant to cap'n hunter. And you couldn't be in better company!"

"Ha-Ha.." Ander grumbled, still a little freaked by the idea that some-how everyone knew what Ransom had been doing. He lowered his voice. "I still don't know why he did.."

Alec chuckled lightly, like he hadn't heard the latter comment. "What did you used to do then?"

Ander reached into the barrel, recoiling, and fished out a handful of what appeared to be salmon, still completely intact. "I used to be a bakers apprentice.. I spawned a few overcooked loaves of bread, but mainly carried the sacks of flour from out back."

"I find the smell of fresh bread quite yummy, you're lucky!" Alec said, smiling broadly, as he began to scrub the grime from the very deepest edges of the room.

Ander dropped the heap of salmon into an empty barrel, seperating the occasional green fish into another. His hands felt slimey and moist.

"I'm having a hard time recalling that smell with a handful of dead fish.. Are the pink things poisonous?"

"Eh, I wouldn't chance it. For yourself, I mean. We're immune to toxins." Alec said off handedly, without looking up.

Ander flicked the unknown pink fish into a barrel he plotted to dump over the edge later.

He flicked his head back to get his fringe out of his face, looking up at Alec. "I don't get it. Do vampires even need to eat?"

"We don' really need to.. But many of the men here like to eat it anyway, to experience it, y'know?"

"Really? Honestly if I had a loophole out of eating this rubbish I'd take it.." Ander frowned.

Alec shrugged his shoulders. "Any sensation is something."

They didn't speak again for a fair bit of time. Though after a while Alec regained his earlier humming, and Ander felt glad to have earned at least that that much trust.

Then again, he was 13 years old in spirit and body. It wouldn't have been so difficult.

Like Quill and Ransom had said, everyone here had their own secrets. It was going to prove more difficult than expected to get the information he craved all at once.

"C'mon." Alec said at last, putting down his brushes. He had no idea how much time at passed, and frowned, scraping the left over mush from his hands into the waste barrel. "Finished?"

"Take a break! Let's go up for a bit."

Ander looked dumbfounded. "We're allowed breaks..?"

"You've clearly 'urd a lot of pirate folklore in Zafflen." Alec chuckled. "People are nice 'ere!"

Something brushed Anders foot, and he flinched, looking down. A small grey, foul looking furry creature was resting by his boot, nudging at a lump of cod he had dropped.

"A rat!" Alec gasped.

Ander recalled a rumour that rats were the source of the plague that had only recently passed, and kicked it away quickly, wide eyed. "Gah!"

It flew through the air then hit the wall, before hitting the ground hard. It attempted to scramble away.

Alec was a blur. One second he stood at Anders side, the next he sprinted to the injured creature and grabbed it in his fist. Before Ander could process what he was doing, having assumed it was just a capture, it was raised to the boys mouth..

Anders eyed widened. Two long, pointed white canines protruded from Alecs upper lip, rounding on the rat.

He looked horrified. "H-Hey, don't eat tha-"

"Have some standards, Alec!" Snapped a disappointed third voice. Davelynn emerged from the other. Her hair hung in its frizzy curls to almost her waist, carelessly messy, and held her coat over one arm.

Alec froze, but didn't lower the rodent from his face. "Davelynn! I'm starving!" He argued. There was a tint to his blue eyes, a golden orange sort of colour striping his irises like a crosshatch.

Davelynn glared at him. "We're docking later today, you'll get your bloodshare then!"

Alec looked angry for the first time. Actually, it was a first for Ander to see him anything but cheerful. Then the emotion receded, and he breathed out a sigh, putting the rat down. He stroked it's head with one finger, then rose from his knees.

Davelynn smiled. She stepped past a shellshocked Ander, barely acknowledging him, and looped an arm around Alecs shoulder. Alec looked down, ashamed. his eyes had returned to their ordinary green shade.

"I'm, sorry.. It was bleeding, Ander kicked it and-"

"Just try to think next time. It would only provide a moments relief and then you'd want more. As little as it would personally affect me if you were to eat Ander, I think the Captain would have something to say about it." She smirked down at him, and Alec chuckled quietly.

She then looked at Ander. "Ander, you stink of.. Salmon?"

Ander rolled his eyes, snapping his gaze from the shaking rodent on the ground by the barrel to Davelynn. "No thanks to you lot. You two are brother and sister?"

"Noo, it's just affectionate nicknames." Alec teased sarcastically, regaining his small smile.

Ander smirked a little. "Adorable. You just, look nothing alike."

"Different mothers." Davelynn said expressionlessly. She patted her brother hard on the back, making him jolt, and began checking Anders work.

Ander followed close behind her, hands folded together. "You both seem, close." He commented, after a minutes awkward silence.

She cast him a stupid look. "Being stuck together for a century tends to have that affect."

"One hundred years, eh?" He asked, wide eyed.

She tilted her head. "Well.. Roughly. Good work by the way. Just one thing - why did you put the shrimps in with the rubbish?"

Ander groaned loadly. "Those ugly fish noses are a food? Alec!"

Alec looked just as shocked as he did. "Don't blame me! You're the baker!"

"Last I checked we didn't bake shrimp!" Ander cried.

Davelynn laughed shrilly. "Nevermind. Pick them out, they'll be fine if you scrape 'em, right?"

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