Warnings: Mentions of child abuse in this and coming chapters because the Diaboys have bad childhoods.
A/N: Thank you for reading/following/favouriting HikO, Alba743, CaffeinatedSnail, gabyangel003, PhoenixAsh4722, and all of you other silent readers! And thanks again for leaving me a review, CaffeinatedSnail!
For those who are curious what the German title means, 'Heimat ist kein Ort' means 'home is not a place' :D This story starts pre-canon during World War I, but also covers the games eventually. So, Nika will meet the other future Mukamis, Sakamakis, Yui and Tsukinamis in the future.
Have fun reading Ruki's POV!
Ruki was freezing when something roused him from his sleep. A part of him had hoped that he would finally die somewhat peacefully in his sleep, but once again death eluded him.
He'd slept a lot these past few days in order to forget how hungry he was, but as his consciousness began to return, the hunger was clawing at his stomach again.
Ruki couldn't remember when he'd last eaten something.
Something warm was touching, poking his cheek, which had to be the reason why he'd woken up. Ruki shifted on the cold, hard ground but was not quite awake yet. Even on the edge of sleep his limbs felt numb and his whole body hurt from sleeping on the cold cobblestone.
"Hey," an unknown voice said from next to him – a child judging from the tone – and asked Ruki something in a foreign language he'd never heard before.
It was then that Ruki's eyes snapped open in alarm and he jerked away from the touch of the stranger, being instantly on guard when he realised the warmth on his cheek came from another person. He wondered if he was about to be beaten up again for being a former aristocrat and eyed the newcomer with suspicion and disdain.
Ruki knew better than to trust anyone.
It was dark in the alley, but the moon provided some light. It was just enough to make out that the stranger who had approached him had short white hair, a pale face, and was wearing dark clothes. The boy seemed to be around Ruki's age, perhaps a year or two younger.
However, what unsettled Ruki was the fact that the other boy had golden-yellow eyes, that seemed to gleam slightly in the darkness. Or was that just Ruki's imagination, or a trick of the light? Whatever the answer was, a cold shiver ran down his back and instinctual fear pooled in Ruki's empty stomach as he faced the stranger.
Something told him that the other boy was dangerous. "W-What do you want?" Ruki asked in an unfriendly manner, wanting nothing but to get away from the uncanny boy. His throat felt dry and his voice cracked after not speaking for a long time.
The stranger tilted his head and furrowed his brows. Perhaps he was unable to understand Ruki?
That assumption was proven right when the boy continued to stare blankly at him after Ruki repeated his question. A few tense moments later, the other boy narrowed his eyes, as if in concentration, and Ruki's head suddenly began to hurt. For some reason, the stranger held his head at the same time, as if it had begun to hurt, too.
However, as soon as the headache had appeared, it disappeared again.
"Your... assistance," the white-haired boy finally answered with a heavy, foreign accent, wobbling a little on his feet.
Ruki frowned. "Can't you see that I am in no position to help anyone? Who are you anyway?"
"...I don't know. That's why I want your assistance." The stranger spoke slowly and sounded as if he was trying the words out for the first time.
What was this nutcase trying to tell him? "You don't know... who you are?" Ruki asked incredulously.
The strange child nodded. "I don't remember anything."
Oh no, this was not just a normal weirdo but an amnesiac weirdo. Could it get any worse? Was this Ruki's punishment for his past wrongdoings?
He needed to get away from this spooky boy. Fast. His instincts told Ruki to play along for the time being, though.
The silence between them was interrupted by a loud growl that came from the direction of Ruki's stomach. He blushed in shame as the white-haired boy blinked at him.
"Are you hungry?" he asked Ruki.
Ruki wasn't hungry, he was starving, but he was too proud to admit it so he remained silent. He didn't want to be seen as pitiful even though he knew that he was. He'd rather die than beg or accept charity, though.
"Will you assist me if I find something to eat for you?" the amnesiac asked him.
"It's the middle of the night if you haven't noticed it," Ruki responded. "The grocery stores and the bakeries are closed at this time so you can't buy anything. Unless you want to be beaten to death, I wouldn't recommend breaking in and stealing from a store either."
Ever since summer 1915, the policemen in larger German towns like Mülhausen had to resort to harsh countermeasures to stop starving people from stealing the already sparse and overpriced wares. Meat, butter and eggs had become unaffordable for anyone who didn't belong to the upper class. Bread and potatoes were rationed, and even possessing ration cards was no guarantee that you'd receive a minimum quantity of them because there simply wasn't enough food to feed everyone anymore.
The food situation had only gotten worse since the past winter because the bad autumn weather had led to a poor potato harvest, the German military recruited farmers for the war effort, and the British Naval blockade prevented the import of food. This forced people belonging to the middle and lower class to subsist on turnips that were more weather-resistant.
Since his family had been wealthy and had belonged to the upper class before his father's business went bankrupt, Ruki had hardly noticed these things, only that there was less meat on the menu. But now the daily struggle for food affected him, too. Ruki didn't even have a ration card, nor did he have money to buy the cheap stew that was being offered to the poor daily around noon.
The queues in front of the food stores became longer each day while the people became thinner and the displeasure at the government grew.
"Why do the people in this town sleep at night? That's really weird. The sunlight irritates my eyes," the other boy mused.
Ruki stared at him in disbelief, confused by the change of topic. "...That's just the way it is. Most people aren't active at night like certain animals." He wondered if the amnesiac boy was able to recognize the hidden jibe at him.
It appeared that he wasn't.
"I came across fields and a forest before I entered this town. I sensed animals there..." the stranger trailed off and stared at the ground in thoughts.
"Are you going to hunt some wild animals?" Ruki suggested mockingly and in a dry tone, wondering how exactly the other boy had 'sensed' animals without sufficient light.
This was the strangest encounter he'd ever had.
"I have the feeling I can hunt," the stranger nodded thoughtfully, and then his eerie eyes were back on Ruki. "It's a deal then. I will find you something to eat and you will help me to figure things out in turn."
Before Ruki could protest, the demanding amnesiac had gotten up from his squatting position and had left the alley.
Ruki could only stare at the opening of the alley, where the white-haired boy had vanished.
What a troublesome weirdo, he thought, feeling very uneasy after the nightly encounter. I'll change my sleeping place, so he won't be able to find me again.
True to her word, Nika went out to the field and the adjourning forest where she could smell some animals. Once the smelly boy had gotten something to eat, he would help her without protest, so the quicker she was with hunting and giving him food, the quicker she would get some answers. She could have forced him to listen to her, but she doubted that he'd give his all to help her then. Making a deal where they could both gain something seemed like the best option.
The girl sniffed the air and followed a trail she picked up. The action seemed familiar to her, but it was strange to do it on two legs instead of four.
She stopped in her tracks.
Four legs? Where had that thought come from? Could she hunt on all fours?
There was only one way to find out. Nika inspected her gloved hands and placed them on the grass as she bent over.
Hmm, somehow this didn't feel right. Something was missing... she needed something... but what?
Did she require the strange energy again that she'd somehow assessed earlier in order to read the boy's mind and become able to understand him? Using it had hurt her head and had made her feel oddly drained, but it had worked even if she had no idea how and didn't want to use it again like that.
Maybe the energy could also help her in this case, though? It was worth a try.
Nika concentrated on her body to search for the energy within, closing her eyes in the process. Many seconds passed before she stumbled across the mysterious energy that was slumbering inside her.
A tingly feeling welled up in her when she touched whatever she'd found – magic, a voice whispered – and did something with it by instinct. The magic spread throughout her body and enveloped her from all sides, making her feel as if she was stretching out her limbs.
The next thing she knew was that she was staring at white, furry paws instead of gloved hands. Maybe this change should worry Nika, but she was feeling nothing but elation and pride at her achievement.
Yes, this was how it was supposed to be.
Ruki awoke suddenly when something heavy landed on his stomach, and quickly sat up in shock. There, in his lap, were two hares. Two very dead hares with broken necks. He could still feel the residual warmth of their bodies, which meant that they had been killed recently.
What...? How...? he wondered.
"There, smelly boy, I brought you not one but two rabbits to eat, so you better keep your word and assist me. It would've been faster if I didn't have to track you down, though," a familiar voice said.
No, no, no. Not him again, Ruki thought, but these days he never got what he wanted.
He also disliked being called smelly boy, even though it was unfortunately the truth. Living on the streets clashed horribly with body hygiene though Ruki tried to remain as clean as possible. A warm bath was just a fantasy now.
It was around sunrise, so Ruki was able to see more details than in the moonlight. Right in front of him stood the white-haired weirdo and was staring at him with eyes full of expectation. He was a little less creepy at dawn than during the night, but his eyes still looked eerie.
"I never gave you my word on anything," Ruki retorted, hist throat still uncomfortably dry, but the mere mental image of roasted rabbit was enough to make his traitorous stomach growl in want.
The stranger narrowed his eyes. "If you are unwilling to help me, I'm taking these rabbits back. I'll find someone else who will assist me in return for them." He reached out to take the hares from him.
Ruki held onto the animals on reflex and was surprised by his own action. Did he really want to live that badly? Had he not already lost his will to life because there was nothing there for him, nothing to look forward to?
Ruki had no home, no family, no money, and no future.
No one would care if he died. Not the mother who'd claimed to love him but left behind her only son in order to be with her secret lover. Not the father who hung himself from a tree after he'd gone bankrupt and his wife had eloped. And certainly not the servants who had ransacked the house for valuables and beaten him up as soon as Ruki's parents were out of the picture.
"Wait," Ruki pressed out and puzzled himself even further when he said, "...I'll accept the deal."
Maybe he still hadn't lost his hope yet despite everything.
The displeased expression on the white-haired boy's face was replaced with a satisfied smile. "Great. Hurry up and eat then."
Ruki wondered if he himself had ever been that bossy and snotty. He had to admit that yes, he'd been like that in the past, too, before he lost everything. He'd bossed the servants around as he pleased and physically punished them when they didn't do their job to his satisfaction, which was more often than not.
Judging from the weirdo's clothes and his behaviour, he might be an aristocrat like him, or rather, like Ruki had been. Still, Ruki definitely didn't like the way the other boy treated him though he had indeed done Ruki a favour by bringing him two rabbits. He didn't have any meat in a while and it was unlikely that he could ever afford it again.
"I can't eat these rabbits raw," Ruki pointed out.
This seemed to confuse the stranger. "Why not? I ate one earlier, too. They taste good while they're still fresh and their blood is still warm."
Ruki blanched at that response. There is something seriously wrong with this boy. He must have hit his head really hard if he consumed a whole rabbit completely raw, he mused, curling his lip in disgust at the disturbing mental image.
Was that even humanly possible?
The amnesiac might be dangerous indeed, like his gut has been telling him from the beginning. Ruki really didn't want to get involved with this kid, but his body couldn't resist a meal. And this wasn't accepting charity, because he'd have to give the other boy something in turn for the rabbits. It was a business deal and therefore acceptable.
"You'll get sick if you eat animals carelessly and without properly preparing the edible parts," Ruki lectured the white-haired boy in order to overplay his unease. "One should either cook the meat or prepare it before eating it. The skin, blood, organs, entrails, excess fat and other parts should be removed before consumption. Don't you know that? Anyway, I don't have any utensils to cook them, so I'll have to make a fire and roast the rabbits..."
He couldn't do that here in the alley. Not only wasn't there any firewood here but the other homeless people would also notice the smell of roasting meat in no time and would doubtlessly try to steal the rabbits from him. He'd seen homeless children from different gangs steal from each other before. Ruki didn't belong to any gang and was a former aristocrat, which only made him more of a target.
"There is enough firewood in the forest nearby," the amnesiac suggested, and Ruki begrudgingly agreed that it would be safest to eat the rabbits there.
Although being alone with the weirdo inside a forest might be just as dangerous... Ruki didn't have a choice if he wanted to eat something.
"Alright, then follow me, smelly boy," the stranger instructed him and walked out of the alley, Ruki trailing after him with a scowl.
The dark-haired boy had tucked the hares into his tailcoat to hide them from the people they passed as they left the town. They were beginning to rise from their sleep as dawn broke.
Ruki felt incredibly weak because of the lack of food over the past days and his hunger, but he refused to fall behind the shorter stranger. Sleeping on the ice cold ground hadn't helped his health either. His body and limbs were aching horribly.
It was a miracle that Ruki wasn't sick yet. The morning air was biting cold, too. He wondered if he would ever feel warm again.
"Don't call me 'smelly boy'. I'm Ruki," he said, trying to distract himself from his bad state of health and unease. Ruki also hated that one of his shortcomings was being constantly pointed out.
"Oh, fine, Ruki then. I think my name might be Nika."
"Isn't that a girl's name?" Ruki commented.
Nika shrugged. "That's the name that was engraved on one of the things I had on me when I woke up. I don't know for sure if it's my name."
What has Ruki gotten himself into?
A/N: Oh, my sweet summer child Ruki. This is only the beginning~!
Thank you for reading this chapter, I hope you enjoyed it and my characterisation of young Ruki and the historical setting! Let me know your thoughts :) Ruki's background is unfortunately canon.
Random fact: Any supernatural powers/creatures mentioned in this fic are canon in the games/anime/manga, too, so there'll be no mermaids, witches or angels or anything like that in this story. But Vampires, Vibora, Adler, Wolves, Ghouls, Familiars, Whatever-Kino-Is, Hunters and Founders will appear in this fic. There are certain characters who seem to be able to read minds in DL, so I thought giving Nika that ability wasn't too much of a stretch considering her background even if she had no idea what she was doing and is working solely on instinct :D
Stay safe and healthy in these difficult times!