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Protector of the Unheard

Chapter Text

Dimitri was seven when he first discovered the slums of his country. Specifically, the slums in his home city of Fhirdiad.

He was sharing a horse steed with his father as they were both mounted atop his father’s glamorous white horse, the horse that his father specifically used for riding throughout the country. His father had taken a day off from his royal duties and decided to take Dimitri out for a ride outside the city for a little while. The weather was practically perfect; the sun was out, and the sky was cloudless for the first time in a while. The temperature was also very pleasant - not too warm and definitely not overbearingly chilly. It was indeed more than a nice day to go horseback riding.

Dimitri was extremely joyous for getting to spend some quality time with his father, especially when it involved horseback riding - a favorite activity of the young prince. Granted, there were some knights trailing behind them to guard them. But he didn’t mind; he was just happy to be with his father. The past couple of weeks were harsh on his father, as he was constantly sought out to attend to various duties as the crowned king of Faerghus. As a result, Dimitri was not able to spend more time with his father outside of meals and occasional training. Although he had his friends, weapon trainers, and numerous other castle workers to occupy his time alone, the young prince greatly missed his father. So, when his father decided to take him horseback riding for the day, he was beyond ecstatic.

The father and son had just ridden back from a journey in the countryside. They entered Fhirdiad through an outskirt of the city. This particular outskirt was new to Dimitri, as he had never adventured through that side of Fhirdiad. Dimitri watched in awe as his father took the horse through this new route. Compared to the other outskirts they had been through, this specific one was quite… barren. Dimitri recognized some buildings and houses that shared similar features to numerous other structures he saw throughout other parts of the city. But the amount of those familiar structures was quite sparse. Same with the people; compared to other parts of the city, there were not that many citizens, either.

The young prince was quite intrigued; until now, he had never seen a part of Fhirdiad that was spacious and unoccupied. Typically, every part of the esteemed capital bustled with activity in some way - even on the outskirts. Yet, it was also strange to him; he was not used to seeing a part of the city this deserted. It was almost eerie to him, even if his father was right behind him, along with some of the royal castle guards.

Ironically, a gust of wind blew over Dimitri, and his sun-kissed locks ruffled in response; it was later afternoon, which meant that the temperature was starting to drop, despite the day overall being pleasant. The condition of the wind reflected this, as it was chilly in temperature. The temperature, along with the mysterious emptiness of this part of the city made Dimitri shiver. He leaned into his father for warmth. The boy felt his father’s chest vibrate as the man chuckled.

“Getting cold, are we?” his father commented with an amused tone.

Dimitri sheepishly nodded, before he quickly retorted, “I’m not that cold!”

He heard his father holding in another chortle as he replied, “If you say so, my cub.”

As they continued to ride through the area, Dimitri took in more of the views of this new place. The place was seemingly vacant for the next few seconds, until Dimitri saw some features that were quite… particular.

To his right, a couple of meters away, a group of more buildings appeared. And a sudden abundance of them. Dimitri was more than accustomed to seeing numerous buildings together. However, he was not accustomed to how it was formatted. Along with those buildings were odd-looking houses. They looked extremely flat, as if they were squished down from above.

Those buildings and flat-looking houses looked… ruined as if they were highly unmaintained. Many of the structures had patches and gaping holes on them; some were haphazardly covered up, while others were left open and exposed. Pieces of peeled wood and broken bricks hung loose onto the buildings, some threatening to collapse and fall. The windows of these structures were either shattered or grimy nearly beyond cleaning. The structures were packed closely next to each other, making the overall area dense; some of them practically had no gaps next to each other. The pattern of these structures continued far out eastward from Dimitri, practically standing out as a separate area within the city. Dimitri’s nose wrinkled, as he was able to smell the smoke from the area, along with some other vague stenches.

Dimitri noticed the knights that were trailing behind him and his father were suddenly riding closer to them as if they were expecting a sudden ambush of sorts. This had put him slightly on edge; he always felt safe around the knights and especially around his father. However, with the knights suddenly surrounding them, it was starting to unnerve him.

“Father?” Dimitri softly asked, straightening himself, “What is this place? Why do the buildings look destroyed?”

He then glanced up and behind his father with giant, curious eyes.

His father glanced down at him for a split second, before tearing his gaze away to stare at those structures as they rode on. Dimitri noticed how dim his eyes looked, losing that sparkle it had throughout the whole ride for the day. They now looked murky, almost distant. Almost ashamed.

His father answered, “That over there is the slum. They are…” He hesitates, as if searching for some correct words, but then settles with, “It is the poorer part of the city, you could say.”

“Huh?” Dimitri’s mouth was now agape in bewilderment. His head almost swung at his father’s words. The fact that there were impoverished areas in this city was a new concept for the seven-year-old to take in. He has read an abundance of glamorous stories of Faerghus, and especially of his home city of Fhirdiad. Stories of wealth, of successful merchants inhabiting the fine mansions, of plentiful opportunity for incoming citizens. Of its rich and lengthy history, and its lasting impact even up to today. Although he was aware that some parts of his country were not as ample as others - namely his friend Ingrid’s home territory - he was not expecting Fhirdiad to harbor any destitute areas. Not his home city, so close to the towering castle he lived in. Dimitri was even more shocked that his own father, of all people, would make such a claim. Only that a claim was an honest fact from the king of his country. In truth, it did make sense for his father to carry some awareness of the city, as he should be well-informed as a ruler. Yet, it still came out as a shock to now know.

Not only that but the young prince never fully understood why there were poorer areas within the country. He always thought that those in power would do their best to improve those situations as much as they could, and as fast as they can. After all, they have the majority of the wealth; they should use as much of it to help out those that are suffering in any way that they could, rather than hoarding it for themselves. He just never understood why some of those nobles would not tend to those that need aid the most.

So Dimitri decided to ask. He grasped the horse reign that was draped in front of him, squeezing it a bit with his tiny hands as he worriedly asked, “Father? Why are there poor areas in the country? Why are some of the lords not doing anything to help the poor?”

His father peered down at the small prince with a rather somber-looking expression. He was quiet for a few seconds. Dimitri couldn’t exactly tell what his father was thinking. Rarely has he ever saw him with such a serious look, especially when directed at Dimitri himself.

Dimitri gulped, squirming a bit under his father’s relatively rueful gaze. He was now frightened if he asked the wrong question to his father. In the past, he was lectured a few times to always think before he speaks, especially when it comes to asking questions; as a prince that is soon to be king, he has to be mindful of those he is speaking to. Yet now, he felt that he has perhaps spoken out of line towards his own father with those two questions. He was extremely worried that he may have disappointed or irritated him with such questions.

Dimitri was about to apologize for the question until his father responded with a grave tone, “My son… You will understand when you are older.”

Dimitri held back a sigh of relief, glad that his father did not scold him for the question; he was slightly anxious about tarnishing such a pleasant day with his father. The last thing he wanted to do was upset or enrage him, especially since it was the first time in perhaps weeks that he was able to spend time with him. Although, his father did sound saddened, his tone suggesting that perhaps Dimitri should drop the subject at hand.

Despite that, however, his inquisitiveness for the newly-identified slum has only intensified. The young prince glanced away from behind his father, placing his attention back to the slum and its ravaged-looking structures. He desperately wanted to see what was ahead of those wrecked buildings. He wanted to see the people that lived in a place that was deemed as “poor.” Maybe he and his father could offer some help.

And so, he quizzically but tentatively questioned, “Could we visit there one day?”

Behind him, his father responded, “One day, you will. But not now.” His answer was brief and cold. Perhaps colder than intended, especially towards someone as young as Dimitri. But it was as chilly as that gust of wind from earlier, nonetheless. He still sounded sad. At least not angry at him, but remorseful.

Dimitri simply nodded. The two of them were silent as they rode on. The section of buildings that indicated the area of the slums had cut off. Soon, the familiar, typical buildings that Dimitri usually saw started to appear, as if they were always there. He at least knew that they were indeed back in Fhirdiad. Yet, the blonde boy could not help but steal one final glimpse at the slum, which was now receding behind them as they rode further into the heart of the city. He wanted to know why his father was avoidant of the slum, while it seemingly tore his heart in some way. He wanted to know more about the hardships that laid ahead for the citizens in the shantytown. He wanted to know what he could do to aid those people.

But at such a young age, Dimitri still couldn’t exactly fathom why his father was being vague of the slum, as if he almost wanted to avoid it. The young prince still had questions, yes. However, he had yet to expand on them.

Ever since then, he hasn’t asked his father about the slum ever again.

~

He never thought he would stumble within a slum, after all of these years. Yet here he was, weakly trudging in as a runaway from execution. How ironic was it, for him to retreat into a slum in such poor condition. He did not imagine setting foot in the area under such circumstances. He had wanted his first direct visit to be with food and aid for the people residing within the shantytown; not as a vagabond with nothing but vile blood and flesh of his victims to offer.

As he staggered within the slum, Dimitri kept his head slightly bowed, using his overgrown blonde locks to further conceal his face; with an overly plentiful amount of people packed in such narrow areas, he would no doubt be spotted as the prince. He definitely did not want to start a commotion of any sort, especially in such a crowded place full of people; of innocent, suffering citizens. He would prefer to avoid the bloodshed of the pure and guiltless. Such slaughter was unnecessary, as he only required the blood of the sinful; of monsters who trampled on the weak. However, the immense amount of killing he indulged in on the run has certainly taken a toll on him. By now, his body was practically battered with countless old scars and wounds. He was wounded even at this moment, as he cradled a severely injured arm within his cloak. Although he had earlier on patched it up with some stolen vulneraries from the last group of bandits he murdered, the pain was coming back, stinging him immensely. Despite that, he still pushed on; after all, the dead still demanded vengeance. He cannot let them down.

Through his long blonde strands, Dimitri managed to get a few glimpses of the slums. The people there were in shapes that nearly reflected on the poor conditions of the slums in general. A good portion of them was garbed in clothing that was nearly tattered. Their clothing had holes and rips akin to the ruined constructions of the slums. Dirt clung onto the fabrics of their thin clothing, along with their skin, making them appear unwashed. Dimitri nearly scoffed to himself as he saw how unkempt these folks were. He remembered how those in the castle would constantly reprimand him for his appearances, often scolding him if there was just a minuscule smidge of grime on his overly pristine clothing, or on his smooth face, or in his shining hair. He held back a snort as he thought back to their earful of lectures and then glanced back at these people’s appearances. If those in the castle had made a huge commotion of the tiniest amount of dirt on the prince, then they would practically panic over these citizen’s disheveled appearances. Furthermore, they were extremely thin and lanky, as he vaguely remembered them to be. Dimitri managed to skim through what little markets of food the place had to offer; the foods offered were meager and frail, as a good portion of them were rotten and unfresh. Just merely glancing at the boxes of small food offered in what served as markets made him realize how underfed these people were.

After a few minutes of wandering through the main area, Dimitri stumbled into a dark, hidden alleyway. The sun was up, as yellow and shining as ever. But it did no justice to the darkness and coldness of the alleyway he was in. The blue-furred cape he snagged gave a little warmth, but he still felt the pinches of coldness sneak through the fabric of the cloak and the cracks of his stolen armor. As he lurched through the alleyway, he felt some of his old wounds ache. His vision from his right eye was quite hazy, a dull pain emanating from the scar that now covered his eyelid. A grimy mixture of dried blood and soil clung on parts of his cloak, face, and armor. Though the dried blood was almost as dark as the soil itself, making it seem as if Dimitri took a bath in a puddle of mud akin to a boar.

Before he found himself in the alleyway of a slum, he had been wandering aimlessly through the forests for goddess-know how long. It could have been mere days or weeks, or perhaps even months. To Dimitri, it felt like a lifetime of him meandering through the woods and remote villages. His memories of his travels were just as hazy; blurs of massacring countless groups of bandits and rogues were all he was able to recall. He also remembered ransacking their hideouts and even any items or weapons that clung on their corpses before making his way deeper in the forests or into a village. The vulneraries, weapons, and a miserable amount of gold he managed to scrape out from those rats were all stored within his massive cloak.

Dimitri snorted through his nose; how ironic he deemed those bandits as “rats,” when he was no different from one himself in the aspect of stealing.

The lost prince had no clue about the slum he was currently stumbling in. He did not know if he somehow managed to return into the slums in Fhirdiad, or some other slum within the country. Everything felt vague, as it all felt like he was going through a haze of sorts. Nonetheless, it was a slum; he could tell from the rickety buildings and the faint odor that resonated within the overly cluttered area.

A sharp pang of pain suddenly shot up in his left arm, causing Dimitri to grit his teeth as he remembered the last skirmish he was in. One of those marauders managed to graze his upper left arm. Judging from how sore the wound still was, the weapon used against him was most likely dipped in poison. Due to the recent loss of his right eye, he was forced to now accommodate through a narrower line of vision, constantly having to adjust. However, it caused him to lose track of his guard for a brief moment, thus resulting in that poisoned wound. He tended to it earlier, managing to ease the pain. But now, it was starting to come back with a vengeance of its own.

Dimitri felt himself growing extremely fatigued. With the combination of tiredness and soreness sinking in, he sagged down on the soiled grounds, his back roughly dragging across the walls of a building. He took in ragged breaths, feeling like death. Deep down, he was truly aware of the fact that he was taking poor care of himself. This was especially since no one was there to look over him anymore. No Mercedes, with her patient demeanor and baked sweets. No Byleth, with a sharply concerned glance tossed at Dimitri from time to time. And definitely no… Dedue. With his insistence of preparing a warm mug of relaxing tea or persuading Dimitri to rest.

Dimitri’s heart still clenches at the night of his escape from those cold, wretched cells. How Dedue pushed him forward and away as those guards that had turned their backs against the country rounded up on the Duscurian. How useless he felt as he left Dedue behind, letting his ever-so committed friend sacrifice himself.

And who’s fault do you think it was, to let his dear friend sacrifice himself for a meaningless beast like yourself?” Dimitri heard one of those ghosts hiss. A dull headache started to pound at his temples.

Soon, another one chanted, as if answering for him, “It’s all your fault.

A third spirit joined. It sounded like Glenn, “You aren’t even worth the sacrifice.”

Dimitri had indeed questioned himself at one point if Dedue’s sacrifice was even worth it for him. Ever since that cursed night, all he has done was wander through the wilderness, along with through various towns and villages, occasionally stealing food from his own people. The people he had once sworn over and over to offer aid and protect when he was able to claim his throne. How times have changed. Now, he was receiving various punishments for the sins he has committed in the name of revenge for the lingering spirits. He assumed that this very same wound that is weakening him each second was one of the many forms of consequences of the bloody path he has committed himself to.

With a heavy sigh, he decides to treat his wound yet again. He unclasped the armor pieces that clung onto his left arm, discarding the black metal pieces on the musty ground next to him. Even with what little sunlight peeked through the alleyway, Dimitri was able to see how red and puffed the wound was. The wound was emitting a strong stench that only added onto the already-long list of smells from the slums The crisp air it was exposed to caused it to pulse and sting even more. The wound was indeed a poisoned one - from the way it horribly ached, how swollen it appeared, and to even how ill it made him feel.

He brandished out the only antitoxin he managed to find from the last scuffle with those bandits from his cloak; antitoxins are indeed hard to come by these days, especially in times of war. The bottle he snagged was just half full of the venom-ridding medicine. Dimitri highly doubted it would be enough to fully rid himself of the burdening wound. He twisted open the cork of the bottle and dumped half of the contents directly on his wound, hissing as he felt the medicine sizzle on the wound. He then lifted the orifice of the bottle to his chapped lips, chugging down the remaining drops of the antitoxin. 

Dimitri discarded the now-empty bottle to the side, taking a look at his wound. He gruffed at the rather slow progress of healing that took place with the limited amount of antitoxin. Although the wound managed to lose some of its scarlet colorings, it still appeared inflated. It was as clear as the ice on winter days that the wound will take quite some time to heal up properly, especially without a bottle of antitoxin.

Wordlessly, Dimitri slipped back on the armor pieces of his left arm. There was not much else he could do to treat the injury. He did not even know any faith healing spells that would be sorely needed for such a wound. He sorely regrets not taking up time to study up on healing spells during his days at the academy; he ended up using all of his free time that could have been for studying the art of healing over intense training. Then again, he highly doubted he was even capable of healing when all he has done thus far was harm. Too much harm to the point of staining his hands scarlet-red with blood. What kind of beast would even dare think of ever being capable of healing with bloodstained hands?

After clasping on the last piece of his armor, he glanced to his left, where the alleyway stretched out into and beyond the darkness. Right near where he now sat was a puddle of murky water. Ironically, a minuscule amount of sunlight managed to pierce through the darkness of the alleyway, shining just a few inches shy of the puddle. It still provided an ample amount of light for Dimitri to use. Dimitri sluggishly leaned forward to the puddle, attempting to get a reflection of himself through the tiny pool. It has been a while since he had last taken a proper look at his appearances, as he seldom cared about it. As a result, he finds himself staring back at the reflection of one who has indeed lived up to such neglect.

His once shining blonde hair - the same hair he would constantly probe at and practically drown in oils to make it look presentable - was now dirty and gnarled. It was extremely messy and overgrown, reaching down past his shoulders to his mid-chest area. Blotches of mud clung onto parts of his strands, tainting its golden hue with dark brown and grey. There was no doubt that the strands were tangled in hidden knots, as he never bothered to brush it out, much less run a hand through them. His hair no longer represented his status as a prince that was soon to be king, nor did it represent what little humanity left he had tried to hold onto. Now, it represented a wandering beast.

His face was no longer glowing and healthy but was instead dull and brittle. It was quite dirty with splotches of mud. He would have dipped his face in the puddle he was staring at in an attempt to wash his face. However, even he was uncertain that he would be able to cleanse his face with the water that was perhaps even grimier than him.

His left eye had bags that were so deep and dark, one would’ve thought he never slept for a minute. It may as well be true; his ghosts often occupied his nights alone. In addition to his under-dye bags was this pink, grotesque scarring on his missing right eye. It was his very first time properly looking at the scar, and at the missing eye in general. He traced a gauntleted finger over it with as little delicacy as he could muster. However, he realized that he failed in that, as he felt a dull sting of pain arise from the old scar. With a groan, he lowered his finger away from his face, letting the pain linger before it faded away.

His reputation has certainly been on the rise among the rogues. This was due to the way he butchered those groups, for sure. However, his rugged appearance had also played a rather prominent role, as well. Due to those two factors combined, he has earned a few nicknames among the bandits: one-eyed demon, lifeless beast, reaper of death. Dimitri darkly chuckled at how fitting all those names are. He certainly no longer looked like the regal prince he tried so hard to be. Now, he is no different-looking than a corpse. He surely felt no distinct from one, either.

With a heavy sigh that resonated through his entire body, Dimitri leaned back against the harsh walls of the alleyway. Fatigue was starting to catch up on him - from the lingering pain of his wound, to actual drowsiness from nonstop battling and overall lack of rest. His eye felt heavy and was drooping, despite it being daytime still. However, the concept of time did not even matter to him, not especially since he had to endure the dead screaming for bloody revenge underneath so many starry-skied nights. As sleepiness continued to invade his sense, he heard the same voices of the fallen demand for him to get on his feet and to stop being such a “lazy burden” on them. Yet, for this very moment, he decides to accept his weariness and manages to fall asleep in the empty alleyway. He silently hoped that the effects of the poison would disappear.

Except that it didn’t.