Dimitri clutched his forehead with one hand as he felt his head throb in sudden pain, causing him to grunt. The aches were resonating from his temples; it felt as if someone was relentlessly knocking at them from inside of his head. He hunched downwards from the soreness, his disheveled blonde strands framing the front of his face and the hand that attempted to cradle his forehead. More pained groans came out from his mouth, sounding hoarse and frail - quite contradictory to his tall and intimidating stature.
His headaches have been growing more severe than usual, especially for the first time in a while. Usually, they would dully pulse on and off throughout the days, along with the voices of the dead muttering vile words in his ears relentlessly. Most of the time, he would only hardly notice the pain. Other times, the pain would hinder him quite a bit. On luckier days, he would get no headaches, only having to deal with the voices of the fallen. On unluckier days, however, his headaches would practically cramp, as if something harsh was piercing through it.
Today was one of those unlucky days.
Based on his experiences during his time as a vagabond, he knew why: he simply wasn’t doing anything. Whenever his headaches were severe and the voices rang loud, he would seek out Imperial soldiers or lowly bandits to murder with his weapons and bare hands. The act of killing would soothe his monstrous bloodthirst, along with the headaches and the voices that cried for revenge. But ever since he reluctantly reunited with his class and his army, he and those very same people took shelter in what remained of Garreg Mach. On days off from battling, when those fools decided to stay back and clean up what was once an elite academy, he simply did not participate, deeming the act as “carefree” and “a waste of time.” While the boy he once was would more than eagerly offer his hand, the monster he was now would much rather use his time to hunt down those beasts. The vile beasts who claims to be human, but would still murder for the ideals of that woman.
For those slow days, Dimitri would just stand at the front of the cathedral, gazing at the ruins in front of him while silently tormenting himself to the voices of the dead. Over and over, they demanded blood, corpses, and justice. Oh, how he wanted to just leave and hunt down those beasts himself. How he wanted to grant the fallen the blood and justice they deserved. Yet, Dimitri found himself stuck in this cathedral. As much as he hated to admit it, he knew that he could not achieve as much on his own as an army can. Yes, he alone was able to endure and kill considerably more than anyone else on their own. He remembered the faces and reactions of many around him as they witnessed his brute strength and how he piled on corpses atop of corpses persistently; he remembered how their expressions ranged from shock and disgust, to horrified and even grief-stricken at what he has become, at what he truly is. However, even a vile thing like Dimitri himself was aware that the army can kill tenfold of those pests. He was reluctant to admit that he needed this army, even if they were careless and did everything at an excruciatingly slow pace.
The ghosts that haunted him seemed to heavily disapprove of this notion. They’ve shouted to him as much as they could. He can hear their snarls as clear as day, urging him to get out and avenge him. Belittling him of staying among these people. He tried to reason to them aloud to give him time. But they would not listen. As a result, he was forced to anguish through these headaches.
As Dimitri hunched over, he felt the top of his head lean against the rough rubble; a bunch of rocks in various sizes stacked upon one another, towering way above even the prince himself. The sudden contact of his head to the wreckage ruined what little semblance those rocks had; some of the debris cascaded from within the pile, dusting his furred mantle and matted hair. Dimitri took a step back away from the rubble, shaking his head in an attempt to get rid of the pebbles that landed in his hair. However, some of the detritus that he tried to shake off managed to land near his visible eye, stinging it. Hissing at the new irritation, he rubbed the area of his eye as gently as he could muster with his gauntleted hand.
Pathetic… he heard the voice of the fallen mock him. Glenn. You are growing weak and fragile from just standing around in this dusty place, doing nothing but wasting precious time.
“That’s not true…” Dimitri rasped.
When will you avenge us, then? Another voice chimed in. His father. Dimitri could have sworn, he could see the dead man’s silhouette behind him from the corner of his eye. He dared not look back as he heard him continued to ramble, Why are you waiting around for these pathetic lowlives? To stoop down to such a low level by relying on those vermin… You are a disappointment.
Dimitri gritted his teeth as the headache came back with a vengeance much worse than that of his offerings towards the dead as of lately. As much as he desperately wanted to avenge them, he also wished that he could silence their excessive shouting. They would get extremely out of hand, at times; his missing eye was a constant example.
The blonde prince then heard some voices right near him, murmuring among one another. Not from those of the fallen, but from the living around him; perhaps they were talking about some of the debris that had just fallen, but they sounded too close to him as if they were right near him. He felt his already-foul mood plummet even more as he took in a deep breath. He angrily wondered just how many times he had to tell these people to leave him in peace. He thought he had made it clear enough that he does not want anyone to approach him unless it was news regarding the Imperial vermin. Yet, a majority of those who approached him would try to spout nonsense not related to what he desired to hear; the professor and some of his former classmates urging him to eat or “rest properly,” the knights attempting to get him to stand away from the rubble he stood right in front of in fear of it tumbling down on him, the monks that recently came back pestering him about “moving on” and “leaving the dead to the goddess” or some rubbish - perhaps the most aggravating one yet.
Dimitri gritted his teeth as those voices continued to softly chatter nearby him, behind his right side. It was his blindside, which meant that he could not glance back at them; he’d have to physically twist himself to get a look at whoever it was behind him. He found out that merely glaring at some people would scare them off. For bolder ones, however - such as his professor, some of his classmates, a few of the monks and soldiers - he would snarl at them to go away. If that didn’t work, a verbal threat. Very rarely was he pushed into physically threatening someone to leave him be. Very rarely.
He sighed through his nose.
Even if he did not have the power to hush the dead, he can still hush the living.
And so, he will.
He turned around to the source of the voices in a rugged but rapid manner, his lengthy royal-blue trail of a cloak whipped behind him from the sudden change of direction. He opened his mouth, about to bark at whoever dared to disrupt his space to go away. Instead of locking eyes with that person, however, he found himself staring at... no one. No one nearby, at least. Dimitri’s eyebrows furrowed in mild confusion; he could have sworn he heard voices near him. It couldn’t have been a ghost; if it was, then they would have sounded louder and resonating as if they were speaking to him near his ear. The voices he heard were too soft to be a fellow ghost.
Dimitri huffed, concluding that he, perchance, had misheard those voices from a distance. He has a pretty strong sense of hearing; living on the run as a framed vagabond for five years has certainly contributed.
Before he had a chance to shift his gaze back towards the pile of debris, he heard one of those tiny voices again, sounding as if they were talking from… below him? This time, he was able to hear the voice speak, “Um…hello?” The voice sounded quite high-pitched and youthful, albeit shy. Dimitri glanced down at the source of the voice. His eyebrows now raised in admitted surprise as he found himself staring down at…
No, there were two of them. A boy and a girl. Children.
They were incredibly tiny; even though they stood a bit more than an arm’s length away from him, the prince could tell that they were only a little bit taller than his knees. They were staring up at him with rather wide eyes; the girl had eyes as blue as the sky, while the boy’s eyes were the color of a grassy field. The girl’s caramel-brown locks were secured in two messy pigtail braids, while the boy’s chestnut-brown strands trickled down at the bottom of his neck.
It was the first time in a while that some children had bothered to approach him, ever since coming back to the cathedral; he wasn’t aware that even some of them had come back to the battle-ruined area. Looking at the youngsters before him, he felt what remained of his heart twinge slightly within the hollow emptiness of himself. Even after his crazed descent into darkness for years, he still held onto a soft spot for children, especially towards orphans. He had no idea why that is the case for him, but he vaguely remembered the boy he used to be years ago harboring an abundance of sympathy for children; how he adored their earnest yet innocent nature, and how he loathed the idea of them losing those precious to them at a young age as he once did. Up to now, he still had a strange attachment to the notion. During his vagrant days, he had made some efforts to avoid spilling the blood of younger ones. However, there were instances where the bloodthirsty beast within him got the best of him, which unfortunately resulted in rather regrettable outcomes.
He saw the children flinch under his gaze, just a slight flinch; it reminded him of how some of the little children he would pass by while wandering through various villages and cities would cry at the mere sight of him. Though, there was oddly a good amount that was bold enough to approach him, like the two before him. Dimitri attempted to soften his gaze at them. However, with how much was going on on his face - his neutral scowling face, dark under-eye bags, black eyepatch, and unkempt hair around his face - he found it difficult to do so. He was also aware of his rough way of speaking, so he opted to hold his tongue back. He instead hummed in response, which came out like a soft grunt. Better than a snarl.
One of the children - the girl - took this as a cue to exclaim, “Hey, mister! So we’ve been helping out with the garden house by planting and all, right? W-We were able to grow some flowers with fruits and veggies! This morning, we got so many good things from it - ”
Dimitri just stared at her as she babbled on and on about the crops and flowers. He found himself hunching a bit as he looked at her. The girl went on with a quiver in her speech; either she was anxious, like the boy next to her, or it was just the way she spoke. Either way, her voice was quite shrill, nearly resonating through the area of the cathedral. A rather giant smile was planted on her face; an expression that was surely difficult to find in an area and time like now. The boy, meanwhile, quietly stood next to the girl with a more minuscule smile. However, he was slightly trembling, like a gentle wind rustling a tiny tree with summer leaves. He was scared of him. Despite that, his smile was still as genuine as that of the girl’s.
The girl continued to cheerily explain, “We got so many flowers, too! And so many colors! We even found one with the same color as your cape! Henry has it!” She enthusiastically nudged the boy - which Dimitri now knows is named Henry - as she excitedly requested, “Henry! Give him the flower!”
Dimitri’s eyebrows once again rose, this time in mild surprise. If he could, he would have laughed. A flower, gifted by those pure moppets, to a bloodstained monster? He could practically hear the dead chortling at him, as if they were agreeing with him. However, he just stood there, his arms hidden in the cloak that wrapped around a majority of his body, and his single eye glued to the children. He watched in silence as the boy’s right hand appeared from behind his back. His tiny hand was clutching a stem of two flowers. The petals’ color was indeed reminiscent of Dimitri’s cape: a deep, smooth royal blue. The color of his class house, his country, and his people.
The same class, country, and people he has turned his back against in favor of appeasing the dead with bloody-red revenge.
Dimitri heard the boy with the flower nearly squeak, “Here it is!” His small hand clutching the flowers was visibly shaking, but he still had a small smile. Though his eyes had much of a pleading shimmer within them, it also held a vibrant glimmer of genuineness. The kind of glimmer that only children seem to be capable of bearing.
The girl next to Henry must have also noticed the boy’s apprehension, as she drew in the boy closer to her with her right arm wrapped around his frail back. Then with her left hand, she grasped the boy’s hand that held onto the flowers with a tremble. Their minuscule fingers fumbled as they wrapped them together. Soon, their palms were folded together, with the flower in between both of their hands. The boy’s hand no longer trembled as they both held the flower as high as their short arms could muster.
With that same broad grin of hers, the girl nearly squealed, “It’s for you!”
Dimitri just continued to stare down at the buggy-eyed children before him. From the outside, he had the same neutral grimace on his face. His head was slightly bowed down as he had to physically look down at the short kids, his disheveled blonde strands covering parts of his face. On the inside, however, he was in a bit of disbelief. He felt his headache come back as the ghosts within him continue to mock him; though the headache was significantly dull, the haughty comments from the dead were still as relentless as ever:
You don’t deserve that flower, nor do you deserve those children’s kindness.
What are you doing, wasting time on these brats? You should be out, hunting for those beasts.
When can I rest in peace? You are letting me down by dawdling in this place.
He felt his hands ball up into fists within his cloak upon hearing those voices. He then gazed back at the two beaming youths with that flower. A soft grunt - his signature way of speech - escaped his mouth. Saying nothing, he then started taking some steps towards them, slow and striding. He felt many pairs of eyes on him as he approached the children. Mainly, he felt Felix’s watchful glare practically burn through his back. From the corner of his eye, he saw some monks at a distance - huddled together, glancing worriedly between him, the pair of children, and themselves while whispering to each other. However, they stayed glued to where they were standing, by the pews. They knew better by now to keep their distance away from the merciless prince. Yet, Dimitri couldn’t help but tsk to himself at the irony of this situation; how weak and pitiful of adults like them to cower away from him, while mere tiny children were able to approach him without fear.
Now, he closed the distance between him and the children, standing a couple of feet away from them. He practically towered over the tiny tikes, his shadow cast over them. As a result, he had to hunch down a little to properly look at them. He stared at the flower that was in their hands, slightly swaying in the air. He thought back to the numerous times his classmates tried to give him various offerings: Mercedes with her signature tea, Annette with her baked sweets, the professor with any freshly-made meals, Ashe with his books about chivalrous knights. He refused all of them and their gifts, constantly growling and even yelling at them to leave, which they all did eventually. He hardly touched any of their offerings, the most being the meals. Even Sylvain had dared to approach him with an offer of “taking him out for the night,” perhaps in an attempt to rile him up in a way it would for the boy in the past. It took Felix dragging him away from the blonde to truly get him away.
Yet here he was, slowly reaching out a thickly-gauntleted hand towards the flower. The children - and possibly many other people in the cathedral - gazed at him with their eyes glimmering and wide, and their tiny mouths agape. He grasped the thin stem with his thumb and index finger in a pinching motion, attempting to put in as little pressure on it as to not crush it. He pulled his arm back towards him, giving the flower that was now in his hand a scrutinizing look.
“So…” the girl started, clasping both of her hands together over her dirtied dress, “Do you... Like it?”
The children watched as the blonde man twisted the flower within his grasp, still staring down at it with a rather unreadable expression. Though his headache still throbbed lightly, he was able to keep his eye glued to the flower. Up close, the flower’s color really did look extremely similar to his cape.
As if in an attempt to muster a proper response, Dimitri did his best to hum in approval. It came out like his usual grunt, but somehow softer. The children perked up upon his reaction.
“Emi. I think he likes it…” Dimitri heard Henry whisper to the girl next to him. The girl - now known as Emi - once again grinned broadly in return, showing off a missing tooth. She first grinned at Henry, and then at Dimitri. The boy meekly smiled in return.
Seeing the two children beaming together and at him, along with the gift of the flower, stirred an odd feeling with Dimitri. It made him feel… an emotion that he can’t properly grasp. An emotion that he has not felt in a while - other than anger, pain, and numbness. It was some sort of satisfaction. Not the twisted monstrous kind, where he got temporary glee from maiming and murdering his foes. No, this kind of satisfaction was… something entirely different. It was a feeling of contentedness. A feeling of ease. A feeling of warmth. It felt so foreign, yet familiar. He cannot remember the last time he really felt at ease, after five years of nonstop bloodshed and migrating across lands. But he knew that he had once felt warmth and contentment, even if it was only to some degree.
You do not deserve those flowers… a voice repeated as it hissed in Dimitri’s ears, sparking his headache up for just a second and souring his mood. He felt all of the warmth and soothing feelings he had immediately vanish, his whole body practically tensing up, as that damned voice continued, You bloodstained beast. His teeth gritted, as a result. They were right. He is a bloodstained beast, unworthy of such gratitude and feelings. Unworthy of this delicate gift and kindness.
Henry and Emi gasped, seeing the man suddenly tense up and baring his teeth out. They both shivered in slight fear.
“Whu-What’s wrong?” Emi was first to speak up, her voice now sounding extremely worried and soft.
“ Why? ” Dimitri asked, his voice sounding rather grave, amidst his dark confusion. The children looked even more muddled, in return. “Why did you bother to gift me this?”
Despite the heavy tone in his question, Emi managed a giggle as she brightly answered, “We said it earlier! It’s because it reminded us of your blue cape!”
Dimitri huffed to himself, remembering that comment. Such a simple, kind-hearted and pure reason from those children, as expected. Yet, it did nothing to alleviate the echoes of the dead, nor did it shake off the idea that he is undeserving of these children’s care and company.
And so, he voiced out those very thoughts, “Children like you two should not be spending precious time around vile beings such as myself.”
“Vile beings?” Henry softly echoed, “Why would you say that?”
“Yeah!” Emi spoke up, her voice threefold that of her friend’s, “I don’t think you are a bad person!”
Dimitri just peered down at them. Those children had no idea how much of a monster he truly is. They are blind to the mountainous amount of slaughtering he has done in the past five years. How he has severed, maimed, and murdered hundreds of those beyond explanation. How his hands - the very same hands that are now clutching the thin stem of their flower - are stained a deep red with the blood and rotten flesh of countless lives, impossible to scrub off and clean. But perhaps they were better off not knowing that.
The little girl continued, “Besides, you got this monastery back. Now everyone who does not have a place to go back to can come here. Including me and Henry.”
That response made Dimitri perk up. He thought to himself, What does she mean by that?
Henry meekly explained, “Before we were able to come here, we didn’t really have a home.”
“Yeah…” Now Emi’s voice was practically muted as her mood suddenly dampened down. She wrapped an arm around Henry as she now sadly glanced at her feet, “Me and Henry lost our homes and mommies and daddies a long time ago. Our homes were… Raided, I think the word was?” She mused over for a bit. Henry nodded with a frown.
Dimitri grimaced as he realized what the girl meant. These two children had no home, nor did they have a family. It was taken away by the flames of war, leaving them alone and defenseless.
They were orphans. Just like him, they have experienced unnecessary sorrow and pain at a tender, young age. They were unfairly robbed of close family and friends. They did not deserve that. Not at all.
A part of him felt his blood boil; he did not know whether it was Imperial beasts or those rats of thieves that caused this upon the children. Regardless, it still fueled his intense hatred towards both of those groups, and reminded him of his goal of bestowing them the agony they’ve inflicted on others. To give the dead the justice they deserved. Yet, another part of him also felt crestfallen for these kids in front of him, for having to suffer through the actions of those vermin.
Emi continued, “It was hard for us to find a proper home. Everywhere else was full of people who did not have much more food or shelter.” Her eyes then glimmered, not in sadness, but in hope, “But when we heard that the monastery was open and accepting anyone, we were so happy! Happy that we can finally have food and shelter.”
“Yeah!” Henry nodded along, “And that’s all thanks to you, mister!”
Emi beamed as if she had never told Dimitri their story in the first place, “Yeah! No bad person would do that! You’re a good person, a great person! So thank you, for giving us a place to eat and sleep!” She attempted to bow her head properly as she added, “We are… Thankful.”
Henry snorted next to her, “I think you mean ‘grateful.’ You don’t need to say ‘thanks’ twice.”
“Wh-Whatever, Henry!” Emi rose her head up to look at her friend. With a rather playful scowl, she stated, “It’s still the same thing!”
Dimitri just watched them as the children now started to bicker on about words and such. He wanted to scoff again at being called a “good person” for how ignorant it truly sounded. But hearing it from those children had again gave him the same warm, soothing feeling he felt earlier before the chatter of the dead robbed it away with coldness and headaches. It was almost different to hear him denied being a monster from children - who did not know much about the cruelty of others - as opposed to those that were older. To hear them practically sing phrases for him supposedly completing a good task, among all the atrocities he has committed. To hear him actually… do something good among all the bad.
His head was now swinging, between the whispers of the dead berating him for being an undeserving monster stained with blood beyond redemption, and the children’s optimism of him granting them a new haven. Deep down, he indeed felt irredeemable; no amount of good deeds could simply wash away the amount of blood he spilled, nor could it justify the lives he stole from the fuel of hatred. He really was nothing more than a lowly beast. Part of him did not care, as he was already aware; he was just a soldier of the dead, a living corpse here to avenge them by claiming the head of that woman.
Yet, when he heard those words from the children, and practically see them staring up at him with bright, honest enthusiasm, he felt… Different. As if all of the hatred he once harbored within him was almost gone. Not completely, as if it was still lingering. The boy within him was now back if only briefly, feeling sympathetic for children such as the ones in front of him; a very rare emotion he would feel as of lately. That odd notion he had with them was making him unable to bring himself to threaten, scare, or harm them. He found himself staring at them, frozen in place, hands still holding onto the frail flower - their gift of gratitude. He found himself longing into doing something for them, wishing that they do not turn into monsters like he is. Deep down in his state, he was fully aware of what it was like to have those precious to him taken away; each second, he was reminded of those he lost in the infernal flames. He was constantly reminded of the pain and trauma. The boy within himself wished for none of the children to ever go through what he barely survived through himself. However, he knew that it was inevitable, and had only an abundance of sympathy and a wish to help them.
He then did the unexpected for many of the spectators before him, and a little bit even for himself. He reached out his hand towards the children - who were still bubbly quarreling in front of him. It patted both of their small heads, ruffling their already-messy hair with what limited affection his gauntleted hand could offer. He heard the dead mock him for using those same bloodstained hands on those children. He heard the monks gasp and feverishly whisper among one another. He managed to ignore them all in favor of seeing those moppets grin even broader and even hear them giggle from the sudden gesture of kindness.
A faint smile spread across Dimitri’s face. For the first time in a while, it wasn’t one of malice, but one of hidden warmth.