Chapter 16: Purpose
Ruby hung in the air, helplessly staring at Salem's red and black pupils. Her feet dangled uselessly above the floor and the witch's hand grasped around her throat. It was becoming difficult to see with the blood pouring into her eyes from the wound in her head, but Ruby did her best to glare nonetheless.
It was all she could do, right now.
"Dear child, I see you're dying to tell me something." Salem's voice was so sickeningly calm and collected, like slaughtering thousands of humans and faunus was just something she did between lunch and dinner. The hand that wasn't busy strangling Ruby carefully caressed her face. "Do speak up."
Ruby struggled for air, narrowing her glare and trying a kick at the woman, which failed to even reach her. For all her growth spurt, Ruby still wasn't Yang or Blake.
"Screw… you…" she croaked out, and the amused twinkle in Salem's eyes just poured oil onto the fire in her soul. The Grimm Witch cocked her head slightly.
"Let us see then. What will it look like… once your soul burns out?"
"Ruby…" from the side of the room, Oscar groaned helplessly. He was covered in bruises, and the tentacles of the Seer Grimm tightened around his torso when he tried to move. Completely paralyzed and unable to help. They'd been severely outmatched.
Nobody else was coming. Qrow was hurt, Jaune was down, and those who remained standing were busy keeping the Ancients off of Salem's hideout.
To pave way for them. To allow Ruby, and Ozpin, to finish the witch off.
Each and every hope, future, life was put in their hands, and they'd failed as miserably as that day on top of Beacon tower. Ruby's jaw ached from the strain of her clenched teeth, she was starting to feel light headed. Crescent Rose lay on the ground beneath her, all but useless against a foe she couldn't hit. If only she could control those stupid eyes—
"Oh?" Salem's sudden interest scared her, though she refused to let it show. The witch leaned closer, as if she'd seen something interesting. "Is that the key, then?" Her hand squeezed harder and Ruby gasped for air, failing to pull any in.
Her gaze was blackening at the edges. She'd failed, just like Cinder had said she would. She'd ran right into the hands of the enemy, just like Qrow had warned her about. She'd thrown her life away, just like—
A familiar heat grew in her chest as she gasped uselessly for air. Her eyes prickled, and she willed it to come, begged for it to just listen, for once, this one single time and never again – and as her heart beat oddly and her mind blanked with a shuddering last breath, brilliant white light burst out and engulfed the room.
And Ruby's head burst with it.
Lighting struck from the sky over Vale. If Remnant's entire supply of lightning dust were ignited at once, the effect may have been something similar. A massive forest of crooked light struck the ground. Brighter than daylight, it fiercely burnt through clouds of black dust and Grimm alike. Everything evaporated within a single second. Those stranded around a crashed bullhead suddenly found themselves with no Grimm to fight; the Beacon grounds cleansed in a heartbeat; the Emerald Forest and Forever Fall washed of any lingering darkness.
Twisted limbs and spiked skin burned away to searing agony; a giant dragon roared in blinding pain as its body turned to dust.
A few seconds of blitzing fire engulfed the kingdom. Then silence fell. A few lingering drops of water dripped from roof edges, harmlessly splashing to the ground to join numerous sparkling puddles free of the oily colour it'd had moments before.
Above, the sun warmed from a clear sky.
Ruby groggily opened her eyes. It wasn't so much a struggle as it was agonizing; her head felt like it was stuck on the sharp end of one of Raven's poles. If she really had been beheaded though, the rest of her body must be one heck of a phantom pain.
Blearily staring at a ceiling through lidded eyes, she spent the next eternity not thinking at all. She'd woken up like this before… more than once, actually. Last time was…
She weakly raised a hand to her head, and the ruffle of blankets must have been loud enough to attract attention. Blake's face was above her within a heartbeat.
Worried amber locked with stupefied silver.
"Blake…? What's…" Ruby winced as she tried to move, and Blake put a hand on her shoulder, holding her down.
"Don't move. You're in no shape to sit up yet."
Feeling very much like she was right, and having no energy to fight the hand on her shoulder anyway, Ruby slumped back down.
Blake stared at her, chewing on her lip. "Do you… remember anything at all?"
"I remember… Weiss and I were going into the forest…" she scrunched her eyebrows. "There was a strange voice and… some light." She should remember more, knew she should, but the memories throbbed in the back of her mind and refused to surface. "Something happened…"
Blake let out a slow breath. "You could say that."
Ruby weakly turned her head. They were in Signal's infirmary. Several more beds lined the room, and there were even mattresses and blankets littering the ground. More than half of them were occupied, but no familiar faces that stood out.
Right, there'd been a Grimm attack… and something else.
Ruby struggled to get her thoughts in order.
"Where's Weiss… and Yang?"
Blake's fingers dug into her shoulder painfully as the faunus averted her gaze.
"I… don't know how to tell you."
Ruby's eyes widened. Suddenly, she felt wide awake. "Oh no." Tears clouded her vision. A twisted arm. Spiked skin covering a familiar face. A magnificent and terrifying dragon.
"I…" she grimaced, tears trailing unhindered down to her pillow. "I didn't…"
"The Grimm's… gone. All of them. But Oobleck says the infection hadn't yet eaten them up. Not really. So, they were shipped off to Atlas as soon as possible. Weiss was, her arm is… gone, and she's got burns all over her body. It's… bad. And Yang is…" and now Blake was crying to, tears falling upon Ruby's chest. "S-She's barely even alive, Ruby. They tucked her in a tank, or what's left of her anyway. I don't even know… what they can do to save…" She sank down, until her forehead rested against the hand clenching Ruby's shoulder. "I don't know what to do…!"
A cold hand gripped Ruby's heart. She barely felt her hand rise to pat Blake's head, and the motion felt completely devoid of meaning. For a long while they stayed that way, two broken girls trying somehow to stay glued together by the shared sorrow they felt.
Then, Ruby shifted, and tried to sit up again. This time her arms listened, and her vision only swayed twice before settling.
"R-Ruby, what are we going to do?" Blake tried to dry her tears, only for more to come.
Ruby looked at her, and despite everything, forced a small smile onto her face. It carried no happiness at all.
"Blake… what do you think Yang would do if it was you?"
Blake sniffed. "She'd – come with me. If – if you were going, I guess. She… she never wanted to leave you behind, Ruby, I swear…"
"Well," Ruby tried to smile, and failed. Instead, she looked down at her hands. "I guess that answers that."
Blake blinked at her.
"If… if anyone can save them, it's Atlas. So… I'm going to Atlas. To Weiss and Yang. Even if I can't do anything… even if they don't want me there…" tears continued falling from her eyes and she sobbed. "It's the only thing I can do. So… will you come with me?"
It took a second for the words to process and then Blake pulled Ruby into a tight hug.
"Ruby, I'm so sorry! Thank you, thank you for coming back—!"
"Don't say that. Don't thank me!" Ruby cried. "I just messed everything up!"
Blake squeezed harder, then released her, eyes downcast. "This… wasn't your fault, Ruby. We… I was so blind. After everything that happened, I didn't even think that something could be wrong with you, of all people. I'm… sorry."
Even if she wanted to say otherwise, Ruby found no strength to open her mouth. Every muscle in her body suddenly felt like lead.
They sat there in silence as tears continued to fall, for neither knew what more to say.
The setting sun cast Patch and Signal in the warm hues of autumn. Ruby leaned back against the tree trunk, staring at the sky overhead as the first stars slowly twinkled into existence.
A shadow appeared above her and she blinked, turning her head.
"Hi, Ruby." Oscar's timid voice accompanied his uncertain gaze. Eyes flickering this way and that as he shuffled his feet. He sported a fresh cut over his right eye, along with several small bruises. Ruby stared at him for several long seconds, until he squirmed and spoke up again. "Um, c-can I sit?"
Ruby blinked slowly. "There's room."
"Uh, right." He sat, legs crossed, facing her but not meeting her eyes. "I… heard you're leaving for Atlas tomorrow."
"Yeah… dad too, and Ren's coming along with Nora." Her eyes glazed over. "I just… need to be with them. I dunno if I can help, but… I have to try."
"Um, it's - it's probably the best bet, I mean, sending them to Atlas. I'll… be going there too, as soon as I can. But…" He bit his lip.
"Yeah… Atlas isn't exactly in the best place right now either." Ruby slumped further. "And we still have no CCT… but I can't just sit here and do nothing. The Grimm… are really gone."
They sat in silence for a minute, neither looking at the other. Then, finally, Oscar shook his head and straightened, fixing his eyes on her.
"If anyone can do something it's you, Ruby. Ozpin always had high hopes for you!"
She blinked, then averted her gaze. "Some hope that turned into."
"I mean it!" He leaned forward. "You're only eighteen, Ruby! You've already done so much for Remnant, more than a wizard a thousand times your age could do! Of course there had to be some hiccups!"
"Some?" She asked incredulously.
"We – we could all be dead," he muttered, blushing more and more as his words felt like bricks clumsily stacked on top of each other. "And – I wish things were different, but… they're not dead."
She looked away again. "…many are though. I – killed and, on the ship, Ilia and so many others were… even Qrow, he's hurt because of me. They got infected because I messed up!"
Actually he'd gotten hurt protecting Oscar, but he figured saying that would only make Ruby's guilt grow even more.
"Well… their infection was stopped before it could really take hold…"
"That doesn't make it okay!" Ruby cried, grabbing her head. "I ripped their bodies apart, there's nothing good about it, I just messed up so badly and now—" she cut off, sobbing as tears began trailing down her face. "I can't save anyone…"
Oscar fiddled with his hands. "It might take some time… but I'm sure you can—"
"Oscar, just… shut up." Ruby's voice was so drained and tired that he stopped talking out of concern.
Silence enveloped them again, the last rays of the sun slowly vanishing over the school's rooftop. Ruby still had her head in her hands, and Oscar fidgeted beside her, before finally scooting closer. Not close enough to touch. But he didn't want to leave her alone like this.
The silence shared between them felt like a blanket of companionship, ragged and full of holes, but still present.
It was a long while later before he chanced to use his voice again.
"I know this isn't the time… and it never might be, but I've been meaning to tell you something." He glanced at her from the corner of his eyes, but Ruby hadn't moved. Slightly encouraged by the fact that she didn't immediately shoot him down, he tentatively pressed on. "Remnant's struggles aren't over. I believe… and Ozpin did too… that with the Grimm gone, with Salem out of the way, other things will emerge – things that never could before. I believe that huntsmen and huntresses will be in great demand, and we can't afford to stop developing our skills. After all, Remnant is an unforgiving place." He glanced up at the shattered moon which barely had become visible in the dying sunlight. "And, if nothing else, I want to rebuild Beacon for that purpose. When you… when you're ready, if you ever feel like it… I'd love for you to join me in that. A-As a colleague, I mean! If – If you want."
No answer. And now his stomach dropped. Shaking with nerves, he started getting to his feet, only to be captured by two arms. Startled, he fell back into the hug, and flushed crimson as Ruby pressed her face into the crook of his neck.
It was no promise. No declaration of love. Just a thank you.
It was all he could hope for.
As he stood to leave, he could only hope. Whether it take months or years… He hoped that a new purpose would one day find its way back to the girl he loved.
A/N: And here we are.
Ever since Pyrrha's last line at the end of volume 3, "destiny" has been a topic which I'd love to see explored deeper in the RWBY-verse. This was my take on it, from Ruby's perspective. I believe the actual show will give us a far more epic and satisfying story than what I can do here – none of this has any basis in real canon events, of course. That is the beauty of writing, you get to use your imagination.
I'm glad to see they're expanding Ilia's character, since I really like the idea of her and Blake being good friends. Whether or not that friendship is redeemed or not in the actual show remains to be seen.
The goal of this story has been "completion": get it done, get it out. That's why this is not a story of epic proportions. It also means there've been less focus on going in-depth and more focus on pushing the plot ahead. That has had upsides and downsides, an experience I'll bring with me onwards. I wrote this story within the span of a month and spent a little more on editing and posting. My goal has been reached this time.
Until next time!