It is the Red Wolf Moon and winter’s first snow has fallen thickly over the Tailtean Plains. Dimitri has just escaped from his execution in Fhirdiad. He has lost the crown, his eye, and his pride; all he has to his name are the clothes he is wearing, the armor and lance that Dedue had managed to pass onto him, the paltry supplies he took off of the soldiers he had killed while making his getaway, his ghosts and his memories. He does not know where to go nor what he should do – he isn’t sure there is either a place or a purpose for him anymore.
As Dimitri stares over the white expanse in front of him, Felix’s voice surfaces in his mind. The last time that they had spoken was the day before the invasion of Garreg Mach; they had crossed paths by chance late into the evening and Felix steadfastly refused to meet Dimitri’s gaze.
“I don’t even want to see your face right now,” Felix had said, scowling deeply. Even so consumed by revenge, still Dimitri thought Felix looked lovely, touched and yet ever unchanged by evil. “Get lost.”
So that’s exactly what Dimitri does: he gets lost.
Winters in Faerghus are bitterly cold, so Dimitri burns his memories for warmth. He dwells on them as long as he can, until they turn to ash and are no more. And then when he exhausts them, he forgets.
After walking the empty plains for a span of time that feels both pointless and empty, he finds a door. The only feature of the door is that it is featureless; his vision slides off of it whenever he tries to concentrate on the frame.
Dimitri knows he must be seeing things, but he puts his hand on the door and tries to push it open anyway. The door doesn’t budge; instead, he falls through it and is engulfed within the first door.
A ceremony of succession for Felix is held not long after the western rebellion is put down. He is fifteen and the shape of beauty is beginning to make itself known in the structure of his cheekbones as his body slowly sheds the baby fat that had so endeared him when they were children. The teal and celadon shades favored by House Fraldarius become Felix despite his overt unease with that which he must inherit. Both Felix and the cut of his clothing are elegant and austere all at once; it is the first social event in Faerghus’s upper echelons where Felix is undoubtedly the crown jewel of the night, but Dimitri thinks it will be far from the last.
Dimitri attends, of course; he hopes to reconcile but does not expect anything. He tells himself it therefore doesn’t hurt when Felix refuses to even so much as greet him.
How do I look? Felix does not ask Dimitri.
Like I would regret ever letting you go, Dimitri does not answer.
Instead, he stays at a careful distance and hears Felix complain to Ingrid about how little he enjoys being paraded about like a sideshow attraction. Later that evening, while Dimitri is half-listening to Count Charon talk at him about pseudo-political theories on governance that Dimitri would have no power to implement even if he should believe them (he does not), he overhears Felix confide to Sylvain: the clothes are so uncomfortable – they were refitted for him at the last minute, there are still pins carefully hidden in the fabric – they were once Glenn’s, they were supposed to stay Glenn’s.
Dimitri clutches his glass a little too hard and it shatters all over his hand, spilling sparkling grape juice over both him and Count Charon. It stains the white sleeve of his ornamental jacket. When he returns to his accommodations, Dedue tells him that it can be washed out – Dimitri pretends not to hear him and Dedue understands what his silence says.
The jacket is quietly removed. Dimitri never sees it again.
He burns that memory and it warms him for another night, though he does hesitate for a moment before he puts it to the pyre. Yes – Felix had looked stunning that night, and Dimitri had dwelled upon the sliver of bare wrist between Felix’s dress gloves and the cuff of his shirt for many days after. But that was Felix chained by expectation and muzzled by circumstance. There are other memories he prefers to keep, so this one must go while it is still relatively easy to choose.
Dimitri hunts and gathers. He does the latter more than the former because he feels uncomfortable setting fires. Before, when traversed the plains, he worried about attracting attention; now that he’s wandered into Faerghus’s central woodlands, he worries about waking up to a forest aflame around him.
And when he is alone, flames always threaten to morph into something they aren’t; Duscur’s unseen scars reveal themselves. This is why he must burn memories when the sun goes down: it is less dangerous for him to consume himself than to let something else consume him.
He digs through the snow and chews on chickweed. He thinks about the foreign plants Dedue taught him to identify and the times Gustave or Rodrigue had instructed him on the careful task of foraging. Given the straightforward task of staying alive long enough to find his next meal, he does not permit himself the space to worry about other problems or listen to the voices of the dead. All the while, he wanders vaguely westward as if struck by arctic hysteria: he follows the path of the sun during the days and wraps himself up to endure the nights.
The next time he sees a door, it is in the middle of a forest clearing. Next to it is a tree, strong and young: winter persimmons grow on its branches. He picks one and eats it, hoping for sweetness but expecting nothing – he spills fruit seeds onto the snow. Then, without hesitation, he passes through the second door.
The bad memories are searing hot but burn out fast; Dimitri has no choice but to torch through several of them whenever he has to scrabble for kindling. They do not take to fire easily, perhaps because they are already so volatile – these are moments he remembers in snippets and bursts, not scenes and stories. He pitches them into the firepit one after another, so that they blend together strangely into something greater and more than their parts. They become as narrative, constructed from truth and yet false as a whole.
Dimitri knows that should scare him, the same way he should be scared of the fact that his voices are getting louder and louder. But neither do.
Gustave picks him out of the rubble of Duscur and he is delivered to House Fraldarius for protection as he recovers: the bloodline that prides itself on being stalwart companions of the royal family would be the last to take advantage of Blaiddyd’s vulnerable heir, let alone its final one. After Dimitri finally begins to talk again, Felix sneaks into his room from outside: he climbs the tree next to Dimitri’s window and jumps through it.
Felix trembles even after he lands. Dimitri knows Felix is scared of heights.
“Please tell me how he died,” Felix says; his voice is unshaken yet his eyes plead desperately. “My father won’t answer me, so – please, Dimitri. Tell me.”
It is the penultimate time Felix will call him by name, although he himself already has begun to feel that name merely labels the body he happens to reside in and not the soul within. Had he known, though, he would have treasured the moment more than he does.
“I didn’t see,” Dimitri replies. He breathes in slowly and feels ashes scorch the lining of his lungs. His throat stings no matter how much water he drinks. “I didn’t see. But – ”
“Just tell me what you know,” Felix says. He steps closer and tentatively puts his hands on the side of Dimitri’s bed. Though he hasn’t grown any taller since the last time Dimitri saw him, he no longer has the look of a child to his gaze. Dimitri supposes that must be how people feel when they look upon him now as well.
“They were burning people,” Dimitri answers flatly. It is as if somebody else is speaking through him. “They were cutting the flesh… and then burning the wounds shut. He hid me and told me not to move until he came back, and then – they took him to do the same. They were… just beyond the wall… I could hear them talking. About how they should torture him next. But…”
Dimitri knows he should stop talking. But he doesn’t.
“He died quietly. He didn’t scream. He didn’t pray. He didn’t curse the Goddess either. I can only suppose… he hoped I wouldn’t notice his suffering,” Dimitri says. “I waited. He didn’t come back.”
He watches as Felix grits his teeth. Tears gather at the corners of his eyes. Unlike Glenn, Felix can’t stop himself from crying out loud. He clutches Dimitri’s hands in between his own clumsily and says, “I shouldn’t have done this to you. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m
sorry,” Dimitri says hoarsely.
“This isn’t something that can be fixed with an apology,” Felix replies. He puts his face in his hands and shudders with his entire body. “I can’t simply – unsee the things that you did, Dimitri. The way that you tore into their flesh… as if you thought they were born for you to brutalize. And here you stand before me, covered in their blood… Look at yourself and tell me – is yours the face of a human being?”
Dimitri looks into the mirror. He tries another smile – this time he lifts the left corner of his lips a little higher than the right corner. He remembers his stepmother once told him that the lopsided way he smiles is so delightful that when she sees it, she cannot help but smile too. It doesn’t seem right somehow; it is out of balance the same way that his existence is.
Dedue says that his expressions do not look unnatural and Dimitri trusts Dedue’s judgment more than he trusts his own, but Dedue has never known a Dimitri who did not have to think before rearranging the features of his face. So he must keep practicing. He needs to relearn his human faces before he leaves for Garreg Mach. Even though Felix will be able to tear through them like the paper-thin masks they are, Dimitri has to believe that it would be better to pretend than it would be to reveal who he really is, not only to Felix, but to everybody else: merely
a beast, craving blood,” Felix sneers.
“A beast craving blood, am I?” Dimitri replies. “I assume you're speaking of the events two years ago. Last time we met outside the academy?”
fine,” Felix snaps. He pushes Dimitri away from him and winces – his wound has opened up again. Blood soaks through the bandages around his shoulder. The javelin had come close to piercing Felix’s heart and Dimitri had stood transfixed as he’d watched the enemy flier throw it, unable to make himself move until it had already stabbed through skin and flesh.
That lance, he thinks. It is the same as me.
It was neither personal will nor innate desire that led the javelin to hurt Felix; on its own, a weapon has no inherent intent. The moment that the lance had left its wielder’s hand, it was merely a matter of momentum and gravity: the laws of nature compelled it towards Felix, to try to meet him viscerally and mark his heart irrevocably.
He is uncomfortable with that realization. He does not know how to hold his newfound awareness.
“You would rather suffer unnecessarily than accept my help?” Dimitri asks.
“Don’t ask questions that you don’t want to hear the answer to,” Felix replies.
“Please let me help you. I don’t know what other words to speak that might have you change your mind other than the ones I speak to you now,” Dimitri says. His desperation is so palpable that it feels like it is about to force itself out of his throat and take on an existence of its own. “So, again… please. Felix.”
Felix looks at him severely. “You just want to make yourself feel better,” he says slowly, enunciating each syllable with serrated sharpness. “I won’t allow you the self-satisfaction of going along with your play-acting.”
It’s not like that, he does not say. Instead,
he lowers his head. The sky is clear and the moon shines bright. Dimitri is certain that many students will remember the night of the ball as one of the happiest moments of their life but he himself remains unblessed by the starlight. Felix is by his side yet feels more distant than ever. He is growing into that severe beauty which Dimitri had recognized two years ago – still the remnants of familiar, comforting childhood cling to his face.
Felix does not often meet his gaze, which hides the fact that it is sometimes difficult for Dimitri to look at Felix. He is all the loveliness of Dimitri’s life before he understood the dimensions of the word tragedy and also the charm of one growing into his future allure – knowing that Felix’s eyes are on him feels wretched.
“Are you,” he asks, “… scared of me, Felix?”
Felix laughs harshly and answers, “I’m not scared of animals. Do you want to know why? It’s because animals are driven by their instincts. What is there to fear from creatures who aren’t in control of the way that they react?”
His answer sparks an unexpected understanding within; somehow, it comforts Dimitri. He is either a beast, in which case Felix does not fear him, or he is not – in which case Felix acknowledges him.
Felix points to the Goddess Tower and says, “Go away. I
don’t even want to see your face right now. Get lost.”
“I am,” Dimitri says. “What now?”
Let us now delve into the question of where reality ends and perception begins. We take a threefold approach and triangulate.
- It is not possible, of course, for a warm-blooded organism to survive below-freezing temperatures for extended periods of time without proper supplies and preparation. We entertain the idea that the principal actor's short term recollections are compromised. Memories may warm the soul and give reason to live, but memories are not – in the literal sense – sustenance. The fires they start are purely metaphorical.
Or are they?
In Volume XVII of his series on the mechanics of magic, the preeminent late scholar Lord Theophilus von Hevring proposes the following theory: every particle in the world is capable of conducting magical reactions. The problem is not innate quality but that different particles require different methods of activation. If his theory is correct, then very few phenomena would be truly impossible. The paradigm of the miracle would completely reverse itself, changed from event to methodology. No outcome is a miracle. Finding a means by which the outcome will result – that is a miracle.
Very few copies of Volume XVII exist. Theophilus von Hevring himself collected as many copies as he could find and burned them.
“That bizarre theory is what nearly cost me my entire reputation,” he is reported to have said to one of his students. “Sixteen volumes of highly-regarded work – and two pages of whimsy could have destroyed it all. Is it not ridiculous? What possessed me to even publish it?”
Nothing has proven the so-called seventeenth theory.
But nothing has disproven it either.
- On the matter of doors: Faerghus is not the kind of country where doors are simply built in the middle of nowhere for no apparent practical purpose. Neither is Faerghus known to contain any ruins, labyrinths, or similar ancient structures that could be mistaken for free-standing doors. We therefore suggest again the possibility that these doors are purely metaphorical.
However, we immediately counterpoint that a door need not be a physical entity. When a child begins puberty, for example, do we not suggest that they are “opening the door to adulthood”? When an unexpected opportunity presents itself, do we not say, “a new door is opening”? These are events with the quality of a door. The important features are the act of passage, the fact that passage is not always possible, and a definite transition from one state to another.
A metaphorical nature, therefore, does not preclude them from being true doors. Perhaps the more worthwhile consideration is the fact that we cannot be certain where these doors lead to – the end state is unknown. But that question would leave the realm of truth-versus-perception, so we shall instead move swiftly onto the third cornerstone.
- We end on the most delicate and ambiguous aspect of our argument, concerning the thoughts and feelings that our principal actor holds with respect towards Felix Hugo Fraldarius.
Dare we argue that it is love at the core of both?
Would it be either equally cruel or kind to suggest that it is instead self-gratification?
He remembers, after all. He remembers a time when everything felt simpler. They called each other best friends. Felix was, to him, everything Felix’s name suggests he should be. He remembers that Felix used to be scared of lightning; he had held Felix’s hand and promised to protect him from it. He remembers Felix casting Thoron’s runes in Remire Village – he had happened to brush against Felix and static electricity caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up. But he does not have any memories that would explain the gap between that scared child and this young soldier.
We posit that our principal actor himself does not know. Yet this does not necessarily excuse us from also claiming ignorance. For example: He does not know that Dedue Molinaro is not dead, but we do.
Here we encounter the limits of reality. We do not have any manner of recourse but to leave it to the lens of individual perception to focus our field of vision. Perhaps to you it looks like love. Perhaps to you it looks like gratification. Who’s to say that either is wrong or that both cannot be correct all at once?
In conclusion, our results are inconclusive. But we hope you accept, or may come to believe eventually, that ambiguity need not always be frustration. For our principal actor, wandering alone through the wilderness of Faerghus, it is also protection.
The memories of the everyday persist the longest because Dimitri is most reluctant to set them on fire. They make his existence feel more human-shaped than the one-off recollections of celebrations or feasts. Once he burns them to ashes, he wonders if he will lose the frame that has kept his delusions at a careful distance from his core being.
The nights get colder. The voices get louder – harder to ignore. He begins to forget peoples’ names and faces; they are replaced with ghosts.
Winters in Faerghus are a month longer than they are in the rest of Fódlan, and springs a month shorter. Not that the length of the season matters – Dimitri cannot sense how long it will be until the snow finally starts melting because he has long stopped tracking the passage of the days.
He wakes up one morning and finds his crude encampment circled with the corpses of winter hares but does not know how they got there. He finds it less strange to think they murdered each other while he was sleeping than to think that he killed them and forgot. He was taught to be a respectful hunter.
Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, he who retains Dedue Molinaro, was taught to be a respectful hunter. He wouldn’t kill animals without reason. He would do it carefully so that he could retain their furs to wear, their bones for soup, and the meat for consumption.
Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, the last rightful prince of Faerghus, wouldn’t mutilate corpses, mangle bodies, and crush skulls.
Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, the one whom Felix Hugo Fraldarius once called his best friend, wouldn’t kill needlessly – he would consider even the life of the smallest woodland creature.
He realizes he doesn’t know who he is anymore.
You are our revenge, his ghosts whisper.
That doesn’t seem right, but it sounds more fitting than his previous name.
He likes to watch Felix eat. Of course, there is pleasure in seeing Felix relish in what he’s eating. But there is also something terribly enjoyable about seeing slivers of Felix’s teeth as he masticates. Whenever the professor asks the two of them to eat with her, he always offers Felix a cut of the meat on his plate. Part of it is that he wants Felix to eat well. But most of it is that he wants to watch Felix eat for a little longer.
It makes the fact that he can tell Felix has figured out he can no longer taste anything worthwhile. The satisfaction in spectating Felix’s consumption outweighs his sense of shame that Felix has seen through his pretending.
He tries to not think about why he enjoys it so much.
It is what it is, he tells himself. There is no need to label it.
But he knows what it is.
He wanders back into open land. The snow blanketing the ground is untrodden upon. There are no indications that there are any paths or markers that might lead to a village or city. That suits him.
He keeps walking, leaving behind a solitary trail of footprints.
The sun comes out and stays unclouded – blue moons must be less occurrences than sunny days during a Faerghus winter. When it is directly overhead, he sees the third door. He approaches but does not cross through it. Instead he waits and contemplates. He hopes to have an epiphany but does not expect one to come.
It is another sleepless night. Instead of lying in bed, ******* walks downstairs and along the perimeter of the dorms. He passes the greenhouse and stands at the end of the little dock for the fishing pond. ******* looks up at the sky but does not stargaze: it is the space in between the stars he watches.
******* slows his breathing and closes his eyes. He doesn’t relax because he never truly does, but manages a nearby state.
He opens his eyes suddenly when he feels somebody jerk on his arm by the crook of his elbow, pulling him away from the edge of the dock. It’s Felix.
Felix looks more surprised than ******* is but there is something else in his expression that ******* can’t read. “I thought you were about to jump,” Felix says, even before ******* can ask him what he’s doing. He sounds devastated. It is not the emotion that ******* expected to hear.
******* could point out that the fishing pond is too shallow for any accidents to occur. But it does not feel like the right response. He tries to search for something better to say and falls short.
“I wasn’t,” he says instead. “I’m sorry if I worried you, Felix. I couldn’t sleep, that’s all.”
Felix lets go of *******. Only then does he realize Felix had been clinging to him. “Don’t do things like that,” Felix says. “Don’t ask me why, just don’t.”
Ah, so that’s what it is, ******* thinks. I remember this look. You look like you’re going to cry, Felix.
He wants to kiss Felix and make him promises that ******* knows he can’t keep because he wants Felix to worry about him. That would be proof that he, ******* ********* *******, is still alive in some meaningful way.
“You should go to bed,” he says instead – quietly, very quietly. “And yes, I’m aware – so should I.”
“Then walk away and I might follow,” Felix replies.
He doesn’t know what Felix means precisely. But he decides to take his chances.
He knows this isn’t what Felix meant.
He passes through the third door. On the other side of it, unexpectedly, is spring.
He realizes that the area is familiar to him. He was here once, years ago, to put down the adoptive father of a friend. He does not recall the man’s face or the name of the boy anymore, but he knows that the boy had both a kind face and temperament – and it had been a foggy day when the man had died.
There is a sizable town a half day’s travel away. It is one of the poorest areas of the country but that makes it all the better to make a temporary hiding spot. His ghosts do not disagree, so he decides to walk in that direction and see what comes to him next.
He has survived winter. Now he must do as all wolves will during spring and carefully regain his strength. He hardly has any memories left to burn – it is fortunate that temperate days are coming. But next winter, he will only have thoughts of vengeance to keep his blood running hot.
He wishes somebody would call him by name, even if it isn’t his own. The naming of things is important, after all. It is recognition; it is identity.
If somebody would call him by name, perhaps then he could be found.
For now: he remains still lost.