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Author's Notes: Yes, yes, I should be working on The Minstrel Boy or Oistin, but Julian snuck into my head after a year of randomly popping in and out, and this time he brought a damn horde of characters demanding to be written. Thus, Vials of Wrath has become a story. There are even straight couples in this! *shakes head in shock*
Warnings: There will be angst, violence, death, shounen ai, and heterosexual pairings in this story.
Summary: Set over fifty years after the Uprisings, when the humans enslaved the demons and annihilated the peaceful Bellus, Julian lives in a peaceful town. However, he finds himself drawn into a chain of events that will decide the fate of every creature on the world. With humans, half-demons, and even those with Bellus blood lingering in their veins joining him in his quest, Julian must put aside his pacifistic ideals and become the hero he has to be.
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Vials of Wrath
Cinaed, Born of Fire
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Chapter One: The Pioneers of a Warless World
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Life was good.
Not very many people could say that in the age after the Uprisings. After all, despite the utter eradication of the Bellus and the thralldom of the demons, half-bloods and many other 'tainted' ones continued to fight against the rule of the humans. The military quickly put down most of the rebellions, but humans died every day from random attacks, especially in the cities.
It was that final fact which had caused Julian's parents to send him to an understanding aunt in a small, peaceful town called Grecian. Grecian had never seen a half-blood of any sort in its midst, and probably never would if the townspeople had their say. Still, despite the increasing oppression of even passive half-breeds, Julian lived well and happily.
He had been thirteen when the demons had originally begun to rebel, some forty years after the initial Uprisings. It was the second generation of demons that fought against their oppressors, really. Their parents had been beaten into submission or sent over to the other continent so that they couldn't whisper words of wisdom to their offspring and tell them to simply let the humans destroy themselves.
In Grecian, the boy had thrived under the kindly gaze of his aunt. She had allowed her nephew to run free for the most part, and had encouraged any friendship that he had managed to wrestle the other children into. Even seven years later, his aunt Minda still was leery of only one friendship: the alliance between her nephew and the young Taliesin.
It wasn't that she /disapproved/ of Taliesin. The brunet had been raised by a respected couple, and was very capable at his occupation as a hunter. He never failed to bring in a prize. There was just something about Taliesin that made the middle-aged woman uneasy. Time and time again Minda had to mentally scold herself. After all, the huntsman did not have tainted blood, and he was always pleasant and respectful to her and anyone else he happened to meet. Nonetheless, the aunt watched the brunet with a cautious eye whenever he and Julian came over for an evening meal.
She still didn't understand why the two young men had moved into together as soon as Julian had turned eighteen. It was just /unnatural/, and the townspeople were still murmuring about it behind the duo's backs. Minda sometimes suspected that there was something more to the friendship, despite the fact that Julian had assured her that they were simply friends. Not to mention the more important fact that the young carpenter would never lie to her.
Despite her reservations, Aunt Minda kept up a smile whenever the town gossips came up to her on the street. She usually avoided the questioning looks and turned the talk onto a much more important topic: whether or not there had been any further bloodshed caused by the demons. The Grecian townspeople knew that the military was creating plans to eliminate any demon that dared raise a hand against a human, but no one was quite certain how. It was the topic of conversation in every town, village, and city. Half-breeds and others with demon blood in their veins were often being attacked by angry humans before the 'vile monsters' could do anything to anyone untainted..
While others suffered under whips and cruel taunts because of their lineage and still others were chased down and hanged before they had even been old enough to finger a spear and consider causing someone's mortality, life was good in the town of Grecian. Who would have guessed that that was all about to change?
Julian locked up his shop, which made the faintest of clicks as he fumbled with the dead bolt. The click was followed by the off-key strains of a popular drinking song when the carpenter attempted to sing to himself. The skies were darkening, the clouds turning purple with the threat of rain, and Julian would have to hurry home if he didn't want to be drenched.
Still singing to himself, he danced down the pebbled sidewalk, ignoring any odd stares he received. He'd been here for seven years, after all; the townspeople should have gotten used to his odd quirks.
Besides, today was a good day. He'd finally finished Taliesin's present! He was only a little remorseful that he hadn't finished it before his best friend's actual birthday. (That had been a week before, making the hunter twenty at last.) Julian was too busy imagining the brunet's expression of delight to care about any disapproving looks. He'd have to think up an excuse for Taliesin to visit his workshop, since the present was too large to carry home by himself. He'd think of something, though. He always did.
The song faltered on his lips when a water droplet landed on his upturned visage, the liquid getting into his left eye. Yelping quietly, Julian hunched a little and quickened his pace. His small house was a little ways away, and the carpenter didn't want to endure Taliesin's wrath by coming in the front door soaked.
The purple clouds let a few drops trickle down towards Grecian, and most seemed to splatter against Julian's slender shoulders. Luckily, the rain was very light. He was only damp when he came to the gate that kept him from the walkway which led up to his house. Despite the rain, he paused, and his dark brown eyes took in the familiar scene.
The view was quaint, and would have been sniffed at by any city-dwellers. White rocks that had been collected by hand now layered the walkway which led up to the pale green door. Julian had tried to find a green to match Taliesin's eyes, but had found that impossible. The sage green color didn't seem to work as a shade for anything except the hunter's irises. The tiny house was painted white with the exception of the pale green shutters and the door. Wisps of gray smoke drifted from the chimney, signaling that his best friend had beaten him home.
"Tal!" The carpenter waltzed upon white stones, his lanky frame seeming to skim the ground as he made his way to the front door. His loud call earned a disgruntled shout from within, and then the front door swung open to reveal an exasperated face.
"Julian, come in before you manage to step in a puddle," Taliesin ordered, although there was a hint of a smile on the young man's lips. "I told you it was going to rain."
"I know, I know," was the cheerful response while Julian stepped into the homey abode, taking in a deep breath. The smell of something roasting filled his senses, and the carpenter beamed. "You're cooking venison?"
"I managed to catch a buck around midday. It should be enough to last us for a few weeks." There was the faintest hint of pride in Taliesin's voice as the brunet handed his companion a cloth to dry himself with.
Still grinning happily, Julian dried himself off, coaxing the dampness from his shaggy, golden-brown locks. The tendrils turned a little frizzy, falling in front of his dark eyes while he arched an eyebrow at Taliesin. "A buck? There hasn't been a deer seen in weeks!"
The huntsman smiled proudly. "What can I say? I'm very lucky. The buck just sort of wandered into the clearing while I was resting.. He seemed to beg me to shoot him."
"Yes, we must love suicidal deer," Julian agreed cheerfully, shaking his head to make certain that he had gotten all of the water droplets out of his hair. The dampness had settled into his cotton shirt, and he'd need to put on a dry top.
"Come on, go get changed. I'll have dinner ready in a moment." The carpenter was gently nudged in the direction of his bedroom while Taliesin smiled at him. The candles that lit the small hallway made his handsome face glow and caught the reddish highlights in his light brown waves. "Just don't come to dinner shirtless. I don't want our curious neighbor to spy you through the window again."
A tinge of pink graced Julian's cheeks, and he fidgeted in place. "All of my shirts were dirty since you refuse to clean my clothes! And she shouldn't have been glancing through the window anyway."
"We know that and she knew that, but that didn't stop her from peeking. Now, go." Taliesin flapped his hands at his friend. "And remember-I only cook for us because you're such a horrid chef. I refuse to be the maid of the house."
Still blushing, Julian handed the wet cloth back to the hunter and entered his bedroom, trying to fight back his embarrassment. Not that Taliesin knew it but that evening the carpenter had had three clean pairs of shirts. Was it Julian's fault if he was simply very bad at attempting seduction? Luckily, the huntsman seemed to be oblivious to his best friend's infatuation, assuming that they were living together because Julian didn't want to burden Aunt Minda anymore.
Changing into a dry white shirt, Julian sighed. Well, maybe he could figure out a way to seduce Taliesin when he gave him his birthday present. Hopefully, he wouldn't manage to fumble with his words then. The flush fading from his cheeks, he took another appreciative whiff of the venison- laden air and hurried to the dining room where Taliesin was waiting.
Sunlight slipped through the window, warming Julian's closed eyelids. The carpenter frowned a little, draping an arm across his eyes to shield himself from the faint heat. Tossing a little on the bed, the brunet tried to sink back into the realm of deep sleep, but the sound of someone singing roused him.
Luckily, Taliesin was a much better singer than the woodworker, and the cheerful tenor lyrics coaxed a smile onto the carpenter's lips as he opened his eyes. His mind was hazy with sleep, but he could still grin sleepily at the sound of his friend's joyful singing. It was an old-fashioned love song, one of Taliesin's favorites.
"My love lies o'er the mountains, my love lies across the bay. My love lies o'er the mountains, but she is coming back today.."
Rubbing at his eyes and yawning, Julian fell out of bed, sprawling gracelessly on the floor while his best friend continued to sing. He could hear the soft footfalls of bare feet as Taliesin passed by his door.
"My love lies o'er the mountains; my love's so wonderful to me. My love lies o'er the mountains, but she's returning back to me.."
Julian personally didn't think much of the lyrics, but it was the exhilarating notes that soared and enraptured him. (They captivated him especially when his best friend sang them.) Still drowsy, the carpenter lurched to his feet and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Totally forgetting Taliesin's comments from last night, he wandered out of his bedroom both shirtless and barefoot.
"My love lies o'er the mountains, my love lies o'er the tor. My love lies o'er the mountains, but she's come back forever more!"
The final strain of the tune filled the house, making Julian smile even while he stretched and heard a pop as something cracked in his back. Taliesin was beginning to hum once more, an old sea chantey this time, when the serenity was shattered by an insistent knock on the front door.
"I'll get it!" The hunter's call seemed to echo through the small hallway, and there was a blur of light brown as the brunet hurried to the entrance.
Having only taken a few steps out of his bedroom, Julian was content to lean against the wall and squint in that direction. He was too tired and lazy to actually join his best friend at the front door.
"Can I help you, sir?" Taliesin's tone was polite but almost distant. Then again, they usually didn't get visitors so early in the morning, and the huntsman never had enjoyed people invading their home.
"Yes. I was told that two young men live here. You would be Taliesin or Julian, correct?" The knocker was male, with a strong, cheerful voice that carried easily to the carpenter's ears.
"I am Taliesin. Do you need to speak to us?"
Julian frowned a little and swiped at his itching eyes, trying to get his sleep-dulled brain to wake. Maybe then he'd be able to understand why his best friend's voice now sounded so guarded. After all, the man at the door seemed like a nice fellow.
"Well, Taliesin, I don't want to take up too much of your time, but your town is in the middle of a momentous occasion. General Haddon has decided to grace Grecian with his presence, and as a member of his personal guard, I've been recruited to interview every man and woman in this lovely little place." The man was still cheerful, but his words began to make the carpenter a touch uneasy.
General Haddon was one of the most decorated military officers in history. He had been putting down demon rebellions for as long as they'd been occurring, and the general was well-known for his ruthlessness. Why was a man like General Clasbant Haddon in Grecian?
Vignus mentally sighed. He had /told/ the general that the people of Grecian would be suspicious, but of course Haddon hadn't listened to him. After all, what did a former herb peddler, now a soldier who could barely wield a pair of throwing knives, know about Grecian?
Running a hand through his brass-yellow locks, he ignored the fact that they shimmered in a blinding way and probably hurt the young man's eyes. Still, the former herb peddler forced a courteous smile on his face. He had learned how to sell herbs with a charming smile and polite manner, and he was going to use those same tactics while speaking to the Grecian townsfolk. In particular, Vignus would have to use those tactics on the muscular, handsome townsman who was now frowning at him.
"Why are you interviewing every man and woman in Grecian?" The young man with unusual sage green eyes sounded mistrustful, and Vignus couldn't really blame him. "If this has something to do with needing more soldiers, Julian and I are both devout pacifists. We will not raise a hand against anyone, demon or otherwise."
Well, that put an interesting spin on things, now didn't it? Keeping the fake smile on his face, Vignus quirked an eyebrow in the young man's direction. "Well, we're simply checking to see if Grecian would be prepared for an invasion by the demons." The lie came easily to his lips, but for some reason, the falsehood seemed to make this Taliesin fellow even more suspicious.
"What's going on?" The sleepy inquiry came from a shaggy-haired youth who Vignus guessed to be Julian, the other member of the pacifistic duo. Julian seemed to be half-asleep, trying to peek over Taliesin's shoulder and smiling unfocusedly at the soldier. He reminded Vignus of a puppy who'd just been roused from a nap. Of course, no one minded if puppies were shirtless, but if a human was shirtless, it was really quite distracting. "Something about General Haddon?"
"This soldier just wants to ask us some questions to see if we'll be prepared should there be a demon attack upon Grecian." Taliesin's tone was dry and almost scornful.
Julian blinked dark brown eyes, and then smiled a little, apparently amused at something. He leaned against Taliesin, lowering his chin to rest on the other man's broad shoulder, the gesture seemingly innocent.
"I for one would die," was the cheerful response. "Or I could huddle behind you, Tal. I'm just a carpenter. I suppose I could wave a saw at them.." He trailed off, and yawned. "They'd probably just kill me with the rusty piece of shit though."
"If I could come inside?" Vignus interjected smoothly, wondering if the two were lovers. They certainly didn't look like they were related. "I just need to ask you both a few questions." He would just neglect to mention the test could possibly earn one of them a compulsory assignment in General Haddon's personal army.. After all, no one had mentioned that to him, so why should he give these two any favors.
"Of course!" Julian beamed at him, ignoring the scowl on his fellow brunet's face. "I don't think breakfast is ready yet, though, so we can't offer you anything to eat."
Taliesin looked as if he wanted to comment, but instead glared a wordless warning at Vignus and offered him a curt nod. "Come in and make it quick, then."
"Tal, be nice! We never get visitors because you're /mean/!" The playful scolding didn't seem to lighten the brunet's mood, and those sage green eyes continued to eye Vignus warily. Why did the former herb peddler get the feeling that Taliesin knew exactly why he'd come to the tiny house?
"I'll only take a moment of your time," the soldier promised them, flashing Julian a smile. He could easily use this one's naiveties against him. "We'll just go through the questions as quickly as possible and be finished."
Taliesin continued to glare at the newcomer. He didn't trust this man with such a warm smile, or his bright eyes which seemed more silver than gray. There was just something about the soldier which set off a wave of uneasiness in the pit of the hunter's stomach.
Nevertheless, he stepped aside, half-dragging Julian along since the carpenter continued to rest his head on the huntsman's shoulder. He watched the soldier while the blonde entered and glanced around. "I don't believe you gave /your/ name?"
"It's Vignus. Former herb peddler, now full-time soldier, at your service," declared the solider, smiling that easygoing smile of his once more and offering them both a mock-bow. "Is there anywhere we could sit down and talk?"
"We have a tiny room that has a table and a couple chairs. We could use that," Julian suggested. Taliesin fought back a wave of irrational jealousy that swept over him at the bright smile the carpenter offered Vignus. Julian was just being friendly.
"Is there a chair with a cushion?" The hunter was taken aback at the wistfulness in the blonde's question. Noticing Taliesin's puzzlement, Vignus suddenly looked sheepish and a little uneasy. It was as if the soldier was apprehensive at the thought that he'd let something so personal slip from his lips. "General Haddon thinks wooden chairs build character.."
"We have plenty of pillows," chirped Julian, beaming and not seeming to notice the tension that was thick in the air. Then again, when was the woodworker /not/ oblivious? "That's why we have no character, I suppose." The brunet began to lead the way. This time it was his turn to drag Taliesin along, who couldn't keep from looking smug, his eyes meeting the blonde's.
The soldier seemed to smile the slightest bit, the corners of his silvery- gray eyes crinkling. "I can't say I know you well enough to judge if you have the sort of personalities that the general would approve of."
The hallway wasn't that long, and so the trio found themselves at the doorway of the dining room with only a few steps. The space was crammed with furniture that had been in total disrepair and abandoned by their owners. Julian had fixed them using his carpenter skills, and now they cluttered the small room. The table was cherry. One of the chairs was mahogany. Two other chairs were pine, and there were many more made of trees from other areas of the continent. However, every single one of chairs had a cushion on its seat. A brightly colored pillow, in fact. Lemon yellow, royal purple, sky blue; the carpenter had had any color he'd found in the nearby fabric shop made into a cushion for the chairs.
"I'm a carpenter," Julian explained to Vignus, and the hunter glanced over to notice the blonde's startled expression. "I like to fix broken furniture, and we usually end up keeping the chairs."
"I see." The soldier's voice was neutral as he settled gingerly down upon the mahogany one with a deep lavender cushion, not seeming to notice Taliesin's scowl. The huntsman mentally growled. That was /his/ chair!
Ignoring his best friend's glower, Julian towed Taliesin over to the two pine chairs, collapsing gracelessly onto the one with the lemon yellow cushion. Feeling sulky, the brunet sat down on the lime green pad. Well, at least the two chairs were close enough so that the still-shirtless Julian could lean against him. That meant he was still free to glare protectively in Vignus' direction.
Not noticing his best friend's fierce look, Julian smiled at Vignus. "So what sort of questions are you going to ask us?" His curiosity was killing him, and he resisted the urge to wiggle with excitement as his head finally cleared of sleepiness.
The soldier looked thoughtful, seeming to mentally sort through the queries. "Well, for starters, how old are you both?"
The carpenter opened his mouth to respond, but Taliesin interjected before Julian could speak. "We're both twenty." The brunet sighed and relaxed against his friend when the blonde asked another question and Taliesin answered for both of them. Well, if the hunter wanted to be overprotective, Julian wasn't going to argue with him in front of a guest.
Vignus asked several questions, most of which revolved around their occupations, backgrounds, and families. Julian didn't see how that affected their chances of surviving a demon attack, but perhaps the general knew something he didn't. Julian only half-listened, leaning against his best friend while the other young man spoke. After all, he already knew that Taliesin's parents lived a little ways away from the small house. The huntsman's father was a respected philosopher who preached nonviolence, and his mother was a schoolteacher.
The soldier smiled faintly when he came to what seemed to be the final question. "And both of you are pureblood, correct?"
"We're both pureblood," Taliesin agreed, although he was gazing at Vignus in the /oddest/ way-as if he expected the solider to smirk and declare him a liar. Those sage green eyes flickered with suspicion and another emotion that the woodworker couldn't quite place.
Of course, when the blonde responded to the challenging gaze by wearing a ghost of a smile on his lips as if something had amused him, Julian was clueless. The carpenter glanced between the two, his bemusement making him frown. What did those two have against each other?
"Well," Vignus stated, standing and brushing an errant lock of brass-yellow away from his face, "that'll be all, I suppose. Just let me give you both these papers to read in case of an attack." As if by magic, two white pieces of paper appeared in the soldier's hands.
Paper was a precious commodity, and no matter what the letters said, the carpenter was going to keep his in a special place. Julian immediately grabbed his document, frowning in bewilderment as he realized it was blank. He glanced up, puzzled, just in time to hear a startled hiss.
"What the hell is this?" Julian cringed away when Taliesin surged to his feet, crumpling his piece of paper in a trembling fist. A piece of paper which had, the woodworker was startled to notice, changed from white to a myriad of sapphire blue, malachite green, and ruby red swirls. The huntsman's expression was a mixture of rage and alarm.
Vignus offered them both a bland smile that suddenly didn't seem quite as warm as it had once been. "You're not one for surprises, are you?" Even his words had lost their warmth. Instead his tone was curt and almost pitiless, making the carpenter want to shiver. "I'll just be leaving now.."
He nodded to them both before Vignus turned to head towards the hallway that would lead him to the front door and down the pebbled walkway. Julian had just been about to take the paper from his friend when the soldier's final words drifted to their ears and made them both freeze in place.
"Oh, but I'll be taking Taliesin with me."
(Author's Notes: Vials of Wrath comes from the term 'to pour out the vials of wrath' which means to take revenge. The title of the chapter comes from Albert Einstein's quote, "The pioneers of a warless world are those who refuse military service." Please remember to read and review!