"Haven's a long way to go."
Only now was she realizing what an understatement that was.
It had been months ago when Ruby had said those words. Almost half a year, actually. Half a year since she left that note for Dad to find, already long gone. Half a year since the tower fell. Since she last saw Yang.
A slight breeze rustled the surrounding foliage pulling Ruby from her thoughts. She sighed, thankful at the sight of leafy trees billowing above.
She was glad winter had passed.
Ruby didn't hate the season so much as it made her melancholic. The winter came with bare, empty branches dusted with white. It brought with it a biting chill in the harsh wind. It made the world hazy from the veil of soft snow and overcast skies.
It reminded her of Mom.
Ruby looked up at the horizon. It was early morning, the sun just now peaking behind the mountain tops. They had just left the previous town, checking out of the inn and now back on the road once more. Up ahead, her companions were talking amongst themselves, unaware Ruby had fallen behind while lost in thought.
Jaune and Ren were huddled around the map, discussing possible routes and areas with less concentrated Grimm. Meanwhile, Nora babbled away, jumping from topic to topic. Ruby didn't know if the other girl was thinking aloud, or if Nora was truly unaware no one was paying much attention.
Ruby tuned them out.
Maybe she was just imagining things, but she felt distant from the others. And although grateful for her friends company, there was still this itch in the back of Ruby’s mind that suggested she was somehow unwanted. Kinda like she was a piece of a puzzle that didn’t exactly fit. It hadn’t really bothered her before, only recently.
Ruby had first noticed the itch when the topic of “a new team name” came up a few days ago.
Ruby at first objected. It felt wrong. She already had her own team. At least she was supposed to have her own team. Besides, she didn't want-- she wasn't meaning to--
Ruby would never replace Pyrrha.
And she wasn't trying to.
"There are more members of team JNPR here. I don't see why Ruby should be the leader."
Nora probably didn't mean anything by it, but it still felt like a slap in the face.
This was her mission. Ruby had invited them along. So why did she feel like the odd man out...?
She shook her head, pulling her cloak tighter around her.
It wasn't good to think like this.
It's not like she could do anything to change the situation anyways. It's best to keep moving forward. At least that's what Uncle Qrow had always told her.
Either way, Ruby really needed to get out of her head, it wasn’t doing anything to help her. Just spawned negative thoughts and frequent nightmares mostly.
Ruby tried to concentrate on her companions. So far it seemed Jaune and Ren were still talking navigation, discussing something about swamps and rocky terrains. “There’s another path that curves around...” Ren trailed off, pointing to something on the paper.
A foot behind the two was Nora, currently expressing her disappointment in the lack of pancakes at the previous inn. "I'm just saying, if a place is going to serve breakfast, then they should include real breakfast food!" Her arms waved around dramatically as she spoke.
Jaune sighed, finally looking up from the map. "Nora, porridge is a real breakfast food. Besides, it's not exactly like they had a ton of food to spare."
Nora pouted a bit, her arms dropping to her sides. “Yeah, I know...”
The previous village had suffered a Grimm invasion before the four had arrived. While casualties were minor, the people had lost many resources in the attack and were barely scraping by. It was a miracle they even offered the group of travelers a meal.
Call it optimistic, but Ruby couldn’t help feel as if someone was looking out for them. Even though the majority of Grimm had migrated towards Vale, the four still hadn’t run into as many Grimm as they probably should have.
Regardless of the reason why, Ruby was grateful. With everything they had been through, it was a relief to have one less thing to worry about.
“Alright, I think if we keep heading northeast we’ll make it to the next village before midday.” Jaune announced. He handed the map back to Ren who folded up it up, slipping it into his bag.
Nora’s spirit quickly returned. “To the next village!” She exclaimed. The girl then pointed her index finger outward and proceeded to march forward with new determination, Ren and Jaune following suit.
Ruby took a step forward but stopped, turning around to gaze at her surroundings once more.
Behind them, the sun had fully risen above the mountains, radiating warmth and casting long shadows across the dirt road. A single bird flew overhead, disappearing into the thick of the trees.
Haven’s a long way to go indeed.
However, if it meant getting answers...
It was worth it.
Ruby took one last glance at the scene before running to catch up to the others.