Waiting for Freedom
It was yet another nightmare that woke the vulture from his sleep.
The contents of it long forgotten, his eyes—once wide with fear—slackened in their effort to close, again, on the world that was dark. He listened to nothing, and, for a while, waited for sleep to return.
For the common person, sleep was heavy in its grasp but for Vaughn, it was evasive; as everything else was in his world, they slipped out of his grasp.
Vaughn waited for it to return but it didn't. And after some time of refusing to acknowledge this common occurrence, he sat up, hair falling all over the place. Too long, and too hot. Time showed itself on the digital clock by his bedside table, just alongside his silencer. It was for comfort that he placed it within his reach, for who knew what might come in the night?
The darkness was uncertain; as it was, as always, and Vaughn didn't want to take any chances. The worst way in which death could come was when it wasn't himself that pulled the trigger but someone else. A fear of being determined.
The bottom of his feet touched the floor that was ice, shivering a little from the chill of night. He thought of taking a bath but it wasn't feasible; not with four more hours to spare. Class was not until eight in the morning and Vaughn had nothing to do, nothing to be.
Assignments due weeks later were completed within a day's focus and boring entertainment. At least there was something to distract him with but now?
Now, in the heart of the night where the sun had yet to rise, Vaughn felt as though he was nothing—left alone to himself: the scariest thing of all.
It was the danger of mind. The phantom of thought.
Thinking was precisely what made Vaughn afraid of himself in the night. What was an empty darkness could be made into something at the end of the hallway, hiding underneath the stairs or below his bed—anywhere. He was not safe in his mind.
Vaughn had to do something to distract himself.
He felt for the light switch; vision poor under such circumstances. It blinked, like an eye and he had to wince from the glaring lights. The vulture found, however, some kind of comfort in the light that filled his dorm. A dorm that was far too big for a single person's occupation.
Nox grunted, opening an eye to greet her Winged. She was a tad too used to such midnight adventures and interruption of sleep. Nightmares were not uncommon for Vaughn.
"Sorry," He said quietly. Nox was the only one who often heard his apologies; whether it was in his mind or aloud like the dismissive ones that just passed his lips.
Vaughn descended the stairs and took to the kitchen where he sought the company of his refrigerator. Cold air hit him in the face but it was not this that brought a sooth to his erratic heart. It was, instead, the sharp scent of spice that sparked his senses—dull, on usual days—into a growing appetite.
He spotted the transparent container filled with kimchi tucked into the corner of the second shelf. That would have to do.
Chopsticks and a bowl, he transferred enough to fill the latter and placed the container back into its rightful position. He paused;
Then began to feed.
There was talk of the boy first thing in the morning. He was everywhere.
"Diurnal and Nocturnal."
"Predator and prey at the same time—how is that possible?"
Vaughn wasn't aware who or what the subject of such conversations were; in fact, he was never part of such talk. More precisely, he had no one to speak to.
They talked of him in his first lesson. Then his second, and his third, and his ears that were, initially, immune to what they heard, were forced to listen and register the identity of this mystery Winged. Though Vaughn was part of the council, he never really felt like he was part of them. Most of what they knew, he didn't. School affairs were pretty much none of his business; they were not of instrumental value.
"Iolani Tori; do you think he will be transferring tomorrow?"
"I doubt. They haven't officially announced him yet...he needs to be coronated."
The sparrow—coronation? This was all very confusing for Vaughn and he needed someone to answer his queries although he was pretty sure that the headmistress did not exactly have the time for him. No one else did, either way.
To be coronated would mean that his Winged was one of high status. It was simply illogical for a sparrow to be coronated.
He passed the phoenix on his way to the next class; supposedly arithmetic, his worst subject but even though he saw her, she didn't seem to see him. He couldn't find within himself the will to stop her. Or speak, for the matter. It was simply one of those days where his heart had closed up and shrivelled along with his existence that was, in itself, a horror.
She stopped him, however, at the very last moment before they passed each other.
"The council meeting is at ten."
Vaughn paused to turn, unsure if he had heard her right and whether these words were, indeed, coming from her lips or merely spoken through her disturbing ability to invade the thoughts of any diurnal. He could, gratingly, feel the needle-like sting that ran across his back in the form of a burn.
It was her doing; but was it, entirely?
After all, had it not been the vulture himself who had chosen to dive between his friend and her flame?
It didn't have to be him.
And it was in Vaughn's nature to rethink his reason for action before arriving at a useless conclusion yet again; one that tasted so much like bitter regret and dull disappointment.
These however, did not register completely but faded along—with his withering.
"Those in favour of the sparrow's coronation, free of conditions, please raise your hand." Had a meagre response of three which included the single representative of prey. Jing was another.
"And those in favour of the sparrow's coronation, on the condition that he take the predator's pledge and remain loyal to his people without, on any occasion, compromising their primary interests?" More.
This appeared to be the popular option—the safest, as a matter of fact.
"And those in favour of silence?"
It was a word that meant more than it held. The concept of silence was one that implied a conspiracy; lying by omission. Darkness was where the light could not reach its arms to touch, where the shadows lay in the quiet, where the quiet existed only in the absence of sound, so natural. Silence required not one, but many. It was the workings of a world so false in its surface that all things were hidden under its cloak of darkness—where light could not reach.
"Silence has been casted as the highest vote. Ten to nine of the second; to three of the first. Are there any objections?"
The phoenix was not one to use her veto power in the council. It was difficult for her to attribute a concrete feeling to things at times for they often slipped out of her grasp and they all turned, merely, into weight—iron on her feet.
"I object," She said carefully. Vaughn who sat beside her wearing a false smile, scoffed to himself.
"And why is that, my dear?" The headmistress asked pleasantly. She had recently purchased a sweeter form of words that came along with smiling eyes and lips that were far more adaptable in their purpose; and to her delight, she had found that such a disposition made others more inclined to give in while questioning their own conscience. "Do share."
The phoenix felt slightly restricted by the use of a foreign language and she so wished to speak in her native tongue but knew that even if she did—and expressed herself well—they would not understand. She noted to herself however, that it wasn't as though speaking in any language could really close the gulf between her and the rest of the world.
She did not belong.
"My opinion is that we might not be making a well-informed decision to the best of our interests. We must weigh the value—" Jing could hardly believe the words coming out of her mouth, "—of Iolani against the cost of not acknowledging him as one of us."
Lies; but what could she do? Lies were the only way to change their mind.
"Fairly put dear, but how do you propose we weigh his value, if any at all?" V asked sweetly, as though genuinely considering the offer.
"We would require the help of Lord Falrir," Yes. Falrir would help. Surely, he would take a liking to the sparrow who was now more than he was. "Perhaps his Order, as well." Jing was entitled to one—an Order—as well, but she could not do with humans. She seemed to stand apart from them like an eyewitness who could merely watch as everything passed; slowly.
"Falrir? Ah," This was easy for the headmistress to refute. "Surely, you are aware that he is away? Unless we delay this till the next Winter Solstice..." Which would be an entire year.
"His Order will be sufficient," the phoenix reasoned. "I propose they come down by the end of the week to speak to Iolani before informing us with his proper value. It is so that we do not make the mistake of making the wrong decision with a rash vote." These were words almost memorized but the speaker herself was entirely aware of their lack of truth. But of what purpose was truth in the world that was a lie?
Words served no purpose for truth but merely for the sake of effect.
She was a little uncertain however, when Vaughn decided to speak in support of her proposal.
"The Order will be able to make an appropriate assessment." He was the first person she thought would object; and the last to concur. The reason for his support however, was in fair contention with Jing's. He believed that the Order would decide against Iolani Tori who was clearly not of any instrumental value to the class of predators seeing his independence of thought and action.
He was so hard to kill.
Fortunately, the headmistress had similar sentiments.
"Well then are we all in favour of this apt suggestion?"
There was a brief but stern exchange of wary looks and wavering gazes. The room was uncertain in their decision and it was clear that this was not an offer they could instantly agree upon.
"We need proof," Alfred folded his arms, turning to the table in general but speaking to a single person only. "Just because he looks different doesn't mean he is the one we're looking for."
"Indeed," V smiled wryly.
No one expected Callaghan to voice the obvious. "The mirror would do," he posited quietly, speaking his mind without permission; to which his predator responded with a bemused expression.
The room was quiet.
"Wint," she began rather lightly—sweetly gentle. "You spoke out of turn."
The widowbird lowered his head anxiously. "I...I apologize."
"He has a point, V." It was Faustes who spoke languidly, as though this was not something of such importance that required the minds of many. "Let the Order come. Let them see him, with the mirror, and we can decide from there whether to treat him like new or old. Done?"
Callaghan would have reminded his colleague to be careful with his tone but it wasn't the right time and place; and even if he would have done so, Faustes wouldn't have listened.
Alfred scoffed with a vague smirk that was almost condescending. "An overtly simple solution. Then again, I'm not surprised."
Faustes appeared unfazed by any form of sarcasm, in which he responded to with a smirk of his own. "Thanks."
"Enough," the headmistress drew her lips into a thin line, turning from Callaghan to the rest of the table with narrow eyes. "We will go with this. Slight digression yes," she was referring to the additional work of inviting Falrir's Order over, "but manageable."
Time was the limiting factor and it was tight—but what did that matter? It failed to rule out the fact that her duties had to be done.
Time, or no time.
She looked up wearily, eyes lacking their usual lustre. "What is it, Vaughn?" It was her sigh that gave way to the exhaustion hidden behind a pair of reading glasses that sat atop her nose. Dark eyes resumed the task of reading the papers on her desk.
"You were not at dinner," He phrased in a manner that made it seem less like an intruding question. "Are you feeling unwell?"
"Not at all, dear."
She closed the subject with a firm shake of her head. There was little argument to be made over such a matter and Vaughn knew that if he were to probe into her thoughts at present, she would snap with speed.
"Why did you support her proposal?" His mother questioned in a tone that was rather cold. Vaughn couldn't tell if it was merely her usual tone that she was using; or that she was, indeed, upset that he had done something without her permission. "We have so much on our hands and I daresay the Order will take none of it."
"I apologize for speaking out of turn," Vaughn began with little remorse in his tone. His eyes betrayed him. "Having dealt with the Order once more than her, I would...I had believed that they will allow no exception of the rule. Iolani Tori was registered as a prey."
"Yes I am aware of that," The headmistress said sharply, dipping her feather quill into a bottle of ink. The former had looked strangely like the tail of a widowbird. "There is, however, a fair possibility that they will. We must consider the broader picture, Vaughn—Falrir's Order might end up liking the child. They might make an exception; we never know. We cannot afford to let our guard down."
They were quiet, except for the scratching of pen on paper. The tip of her quill was sharp.
Vaughn saw that his mother's cup was empty and sought to refill it with the black, abysmal tea that she always found so endearing. She had once said that it was his father's favourite as well.
Verity Ann's gaze rested on the tea cup that was filled, before the reflection of her face in the dark liquid repelled her immensely and she turned away.
"Thank you dear."
"You scared your mother this afternoon," She continued after a while, pausing as the tip of her quill refused to move accordingly. The things inside her head were beginning to fall out of place. "Did you know that?"
Vaughn swallowed a raw sadness that rose in his throat.
"I'm sorry mother."
"Don't do that ever again," She pushed herself out of the chair she had been sitting in for hours and straightened to meet his eye. Verity held the sides of his face and searched the only soul left that she could trust. "For a moment there, I thought—"
"I know, mother."
"I thought he had bought you over," She finished with eyes lowered in disbelief. "Tell me. You have not changed, have you? It simply cannot be that you have decided to choose the sparrow over me, Vaughn—it cannot be. You have not, have you?"
The air was still when the vultures had stopped speaking. Vaughn did not dare look in his mother's eyes for fear that he would be found out. No; no, nothing was to be found. Vaughn had not changed at all for how could one who found change so repulsive fall ill to change itself?
It was simply not the kind of mistake he would make.
"No mother. I have not," He smiled a little in assurance and was certain he looked perfectly ugly in that moment.
His mother laughed anxiously. "Your father said the same thing."
"Yes. And he went back on it soon after." It was said rather lightly; far from severe when it should have been so. There was a form of immunity in her words. "That is why you should never change for someone else Vaughn. Do you recall? The things I have said to you."
It was hard to warm up to the fact that her son was taller than her—although this had been for almost three years—and she found difficulty in kissing his forehead like she did when he was younger. Or was it his brother?
"Do not be bought by anything."
"Of course," She nodded. "There is nothing in the world that should buy you over, Vaughn. Not love. Not friendship. Not anything—not any other human; or heart—never sell yourself to someone else. Who do you belong to?"
"Yourself." He answered promptly. He had heard this since he was eight.
"Yes, you do," She nodded once more. "And the only person worth fighting for is yourself; isn't that right?"
He nodded without a word. His mother was right. And he understood that there were times when his mother would be unable—or become unable—to protect him from the rest of the world and the only way was to teach him how to protect himself.
The world was a horrible place for a child to be. He had come to this world only to become one of the demons that society bred.
"I would hate to see you hurt, Vaughn."
The black vulture left his mother's office with a pace so pleasant, he didn't recognize as his own. He considered returning to dinner in the main building but the thought of noise repelled him from this decision. There was a further point to be made: that he had missed the predator's timing and would have to dine, instead, with prey were he to make his way to the hall at present.
Iolani Tori was the last thing he wanted to see and so was Pipa Felice.
There was no particular reason for this sentiment.
Perhaps he could attribute this to his hatred for people who were so naively happy in a world he regarded so dark. Vaughn wasn't sure if this was the entire cause however; so he opted for a simpler—more passive—way of accounting for his feelings.
He wished to avoid them. That was all.
Vaughn preferred to think that he did not have any feelings. It was simpler; and way, much easier.
It didn't take him long to decide upon his next course of action and that was to return to his dorms. To retreat, yes, to his fort where he would wait for his mother to come home from a day's work. She had, before his departure, suggested a home-made supper of chicken soup that had been absent from their lifestyles for longer than he could recall.
The vulture had missed his mother's cooking thoroughly but it wasn't as though she had the time for him so often; and these were one of the days—the rare, opportune days—where he would have the pleasure of reliving the memories when he was younger. Where things were so much simpler; and the world—so much smaller.
Now, it was so big.
Full from the hearts that it had swallowed and ate; grown, as though it had fed on what was left of humanity.
She promised that her work would be completed by ten in the evening. A late supper, yes, but the mere prospect of it occurring was far too pleasant for Vaughn to miss. He agreed to wait for her. He counted the seconds.
Half-past seven. And he was hungry.
But he didn't want to eat with the prey.
But he was hungry.
But he didn't want to face anyone at this time.
But he was hungry.
His feet carried him towards his dorms, free from thoughts that plagued his mind. They went against each other—a conflict of interest—as they were, at most times. He wondered if this was the time to listen to his instincts of hunger or the horrors of reason that prioritized first his pride, then his beliefs, before anything else that was required of the human heart or body.
Naturally, he chose the latter.
Very naturally as well, he found himself opening the door to his lonely nest, void of company or any homely sentient at all. It slammed shut behind him, the sound filling the place that was so large—reaching the loft where his bed of darkness rested in his stead.
Vaughn's first instinct was to take a shower after a protracted day and it was no surprise that for the vulture, every single day was as protracted as the last. There was no end. No end to the darkness in which he was.
He navigated in his socks, climbed the stairs while shrugging off his coat, pausing to hang it on the coat rack that stood, rather awkwardly, beside the entrance to his bathroom. His tie followed suit, and then his unbuttoned shirt that was folded—along with his dress pants—neatly into a basket that was on a shelf beside the washing machine; which was supposed to be in the kitchen.
Bare, he stepped into the shower room and closed the door.
The tap was turned. Water fell.
It was cold.
He turned it off. Stepped out; checked the heater. He had forgotten to turn it on.
Dripping wet, he turned it on—stepped back in. Waited for the water to turn hot.
The blast of the hairdryer seized his ears and the heat slammed into his face without a moment's hesitation. He ran a brush through his hair that left dark patches on the back of his shirt, waiting for it to dry under the heat. He waited more.
But there was no end; and it wasn't long before he gave up halfway and put the hairdryer back in the drawer where he kept his electric shaver as well. There was not a single day where he would actually finish the process.
The vulture descended the stairs barefooted, a towel around his neck. Hunger prevailed—the kitchen was next. It had to come.
He checked the cabinet that was filled, on normal occasions, with stacks of instant noodles he ordered by post. They were directly imported from places in which he never went but would love to go, but for now it was enough that he could have something to feed upon.
A pot was filled—three-quarters—before being placed on the electric stove that he was now accustomed to; and while that was being heated, he produced a bag of bok choy from the refrigerator and began to separate each stalk from its cluster.
The rattling of the pot told him the water was boiling and that it was time for him to add the noodle block; in which he did, before adding the flavouring almost instantly since that was what he had been accustomed to for the longest time. He placed the lid back in its rightful position and decided against the extra portion of rice that he would opt for on a normal basis.
After all, he had to ensure that there was room for chicken soup later in the evening.
He cooked the greens separately—in another pan—while constantly lifting ramen in the pot before finally turning off the heat, arranging the leaves with a pair of chopsticks for presentation; then cracking an egg that turned white within seconds.
The vulture stood apart from his half-creation, acknowledging that it was decent in its appearance but not entirely his best. You might wonder why he would make the effort of presentation—ah, but Vaughn did so only for himself. This was not for other eyes to see; only his own.
But even if it wasn't for the world to witness, he somehow felt the small attempt of order his only form of existence.
And while waiting for the noodles to cool—he would, on normal circumstances, stand and watch the steam rise—he set up a foldable table in the middle of a large open space between the kitchen and the living. Chairs, placed at the opposite ends of the table, were removed from where they had been lonely under the stairs and Vaughn stood back to admire his work.
In a moment, this was where he would be having supper with his mother.
Vaughn thought he might as well use it first. He glanced at the time.
When everything was finally in place and he was sitting, for the first time in months, on a chair with a table before him, alone, he began to eat.
Dinner was a matter of minutes (in which Vaughn took less than ten) for there was nothing else to distract him from it except his mind and his mind, for some reason, was awfully well-behaved after speaking to his mother.
In fact, Iolani Tori weighed little on it and that was a rare coincidence for the vulture. The entire morning had the sparrow ease his way into Vaughn's mind and it was no pleasant experience; he was on the tongues of so many and they spoke nothing—those words were empty and they meant nothing to Vaughn.
But perhaps it was precisely because they meant nothing to him that made the vulture so invested for it seemed as though the world was hiding something from him and he knew not what.
Iolani Tori cannot be a predator.
He simply could not be;
There was no possibility.
There must be something wrong with the world; or perhaps just something wrong with him, the sparrow. Surely, someone had to be the cause of this wrong. It simply wasn't right.
And that was when he heard something in his mind, a voice that haunted his heart.
Surely, something not being right doesn't necessarily mean that it is wrong
As Io would have said.
He tossed the matter aside, washing it down the drain that stood between the mind and the heart—a gap that was never to be closed. His hands were wet from doing the dishes but he dried them with tissue. There was nothing however, to dry inside. He was already dry; there was not a drop of life left within.
He glanced at the time.
Assignments were next. They were a duty to be completed and Vaughn was never one to be late in handing in his assignments; it was the order in which he was guided by and there was no other structure that could replace the dull course.
He began with German. It was an essay, fitting for his mood in which he planned to spill in any form of a narrative. Plot. Structure—yes, it was well within his comfort zone but that didn't necessarily mean that he was good at it.
Vaughn was never good at organization.
He was the Disorder
in a life he desired so much to be orderly.
That, he completed by nine and was, still, restless. His feet ached to move, but he had not the mind to do so. It resumed its state of direction, attempting to complete the task at hand which was a tutorial for his next Biology class. It was simple, much easier than Flight theory in fact, and yet he had not the devotion of mind towards it.
He glanced at the time.
It was half-past ten before he knew it and he had planned on finishing his tutorial before checking on his mother, or perhaps waiting by the window for her Avian. Though things were not going according to plan, he decided upon the disorderly sequence.
He turned to Nox for an answer, in which she responded with an abrupt turn of her head.
She has not called.
His gaze resumed the papers on his desk and the light was cast upon it so blindingly that he was, all of a sudden, tired. His feet begged for music.
He pushed the thought aside with little ease; then glanced at the time.
Not a minute had passed.
Vaughn found himself nauseated with the rising discomfort within. He had looked at the clock twice—within a minute; twice. It was disgusting.
His desperation was. And it creeped within his cage with a prowl.
He sent his Avian to her office in attempt to calm the noise in his heart and the desire for something that was orderly. Noise, to him, was lacking in what music had and that was structure. A verse; a chorus; a bridge; a beat; a time—form was instrumental to his attraction to music. Or so he thought it was.
And he waited.
The vulture was never one to be fond of waiting.
But he waited still,
And wait he did—
But his mother never came home.
A/N: Gosh! What a wonderfully angsty start to the second book! HAHAHAHAHA and what awfully negative foreshadowing it is for the cover of this book to be the blood moon!
What a happy book this is going to be :DDDD
Alright I'm just kidding :> I love you, and I love my little birdies too much to make them suffer the lot. The prologue is just a little glimpse at how Vaughn feels by the end of the first book because I didn't really deal much with how complex his internal suffering is, but only had enough time to deal with Io's. In this book, I hope to bring suffering as a common ground for the characters to come to terms with beside their experience of happiness and joy.
We also get a glimpse of what is to come for Io as a predator now, and what the council has decided upon for him. Ah well, he's never one to abide by the rules either way *v*
Interesting things to come! And gosh so much things to analyse in this single chapter but I'm not sure how I can break it to you /.\ there are still so many themes and symbols I have yet to point out from the first book but I think I'll be dropping a chapter or two on interpretations again soon!
Thank you so much for being here, still. You have my heart in your hands.