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So you may prepare your guardians, build your monuments to a so-called "free world", but take heed... there will be no victory in strength.
~ Salem to Ozpin.

Salem is the main antagonist of RWBY. Originally serving as the narrator, giving the opening voice-over for the series premiere and the first four RWBY: World of Remnant episodes, she makes her first on-screen appearance in the Volume 3 finale.

Salem is a very mysterious figure in Remnant, highly knowledgeable and intelligent about the world and its forgotten history. She leads a group of people with malicious plans. Her goals are to find the Maidens, kill them and take their powers, and destroy the Huntsmen academies and kingdoms. She is opposed by Ozpin, with whom she speaks directly in "Ruby Rose" and "End of the Beginning".

In the English dub, she is voiced by Jen Taylor (who also played Cortana). In the Japanese dub, she is voiced by Kikuko Inoue.

Appearance

Salem's skin is a deathly white, covered with deep red and purple veins that run up her arms and face. The sclerae of her eyes are jet black and her irises glow red. She has a black diamond-shaped marking in the center of her forehead.

She wears a very long black cloak with red designs resembling eyes. The designs bear a striking visual resemblance to the markings found on Cinder's glove (it is assumed to be her emblem). She has white hair formed into a bun with six offshoots from which ornaments are suspended.

Personality

Salem is manipulative, patiently moving to undermine and destroy her enemies with cold and deliberate resolve. She is also highly sophisticated and intellectual, with a healthy respect for her enemy, mankind, which she recognizes as possessing both resourcefulness and ingenuity. She also acknowledges humanity's capacity to draw strength from hope, but she uses this knowledge to subvert and destroy them. She is also very sensible, self-assured and secure in her knowledge that she can best whatever Ozpin sends to stop her and her goals. She also appears to be sadistic for she seems to relish the prospect of watching Ozpin burn.

In contrast, Salem is also extremely fair towards her allies, giving credit where credit is due and showing genuine appreciation to those who are extremely demonstrative and loyal. In enforcing this atmosphere of fairness, she also discourages unnecessary malignance and cruelty amongst her associates. When Tyrian Callows returns after having failed to capture Ruby Rose, she merely tells him that he disappointed her and walks away.

However, she is not above losing her temper, as she is particularly demanding  when inquiring whether Cinder has truly killed Ozpin or not. Salem believes in the existence of the relics and is actively seeking them out to help her change the world into one that fits her desires.

Powers and Abilities

While her true power is left to be seen, Salem is known to have an extensive knowledge of the nature of Aura, Dust and the Grimm, as well as an understanding of human nature, society, and history. The only current outlook on her power and abilities is mentioned by Qrow Branwen as he claims that he has "seen the things she's made", and "they are fear".

History

Background

Salem is an individual of unknown origins, and virtually nothing is known of her past. She is highly knowledgeable in the history of Remnant and has an encyclopedic knowledge of many of the elements, beings and societies that exist within the world. It is not known when or why Salem embarked on her goal of destroying humanity, but at some stage she fell into opposition with Ozpin, who aligned himself with the humans and placed his faith in them.

Volume 1

In "Ruby Rose", Salem narrates the early of history of humanity, born from dust. She tells of their struggles against the Creatures of Grimm, their discovery of nature's wrath, Dust and the beginnings of civilization in the absence of the shadow of the Grimm. Salem ominously warns that "there will be no victory in strength". However, Ozpin replies that "Perhaps victory is in the simpler things that you've long forgotten. Things that require a smaller, more honest soul."

Volume 3

In "End of the Beginning", after the fall of Beacon Academy and the death and destruction that are wrought upon Vale, Salem's conversation with Ozpin is continued. Salem declares that this is merely the first step in her plan to divide humanity, to snuff out their source of hope and thereby destroy them. She claims that she will destroy everything that Ozpin has built, and she invites him to send in his Guardians, his Huntsmen and his Huntresses, and his "simple soul"; she will defeat them all and watch Ozpin burn.

Volume 4

In "The Next Step", after the Fall of Beacon, Salem holds a meeting with her subordinates in her lair. She orders Doctor Watts to meet with an informant in Mistral, Hazel Rainart to meet with the White Fang leader, Sienna Khan and Tyrian Callows to hunt down Ruby Rose whilst Cinder Fall stays at her side for "treatment". She claims Haven Academy will be the next to fall.

In "Of Runaways and Stowaways", Salem remains in her lair with Cinder as she receives her "treatment". Salem tells Cinder "it" can sense her fear and tells Cinder to make it fear her instead. A Seer floats into the meeting room and gives a message to Salem regarding the Grimm's lack of progress in finding the relic at Beacon Academy. Salem turns to Cinder and adamantly asks her for a final answer reporting on whether she killed Ozpin or not. When Cinder turns to Emerald to speak on her behalf, Salem angrily slams the table and orders Cinder to say it herself. Cinder reaffirms Ozpin's death. Salem orders the Grimm to reinforce their numbers at Beacon Academy, stating "The relic is there." She then mutters to herself, "What are you planning?"

In "Taking Control", Salem is seen training Cinder to control her Fall Maiden powers by pitting her against Grimm. Furious that Cinder continues to have difficulty using them, Salem asks Cinder if she lied about wanting power. Tyrian then enters the room and Salem asks if he succeeded in retrieving Ruby Rose. Upon hearing he failed his mission, Salem expresses disappointment in him before leaving the room.

In "No Safe Haven", Salem is seen watching Cinder train with more Grimm and smiles when Cinder mercilessly incinerates a vision of a defeated Ruby Rose created by Emerald.

Quotes

Legends. Stories scattered through time. Mankind has grown quite fond of recounting the exploits of heroes and villains, forgetting so easily that we are remnants, byproducts, of a forgotten past.

Man, born from dust, was strong, wise, and resourceful, but he was born into an unforgiving world. An inevitable darkness – creatures of destruction – the creatures of Grimm – set their sights on man and all of his creations. These forces clashed, and it seemed the darkness was intent on returning man's brief existence to the void. However, even the smallest spark of hope is enough to ignite change, and in time, man's passion, resourcefulness, and ingenuity led them to the tools that would help even the odds. This power was appropriately named "Dust". Nature's wrath in hand, man lit their way through the darkness, and in the shadow's absence came strength, civilization, and most importantly, life. But even the most brilliant lights eventually flicker and die. And when they are gone... darkness will return. So you may prepare your guardians, build your monuments to a so-called "free world", but take heed... there will be no victory in strength.''

~ Salem to Ozpin
A smaller, more honest soul. It's true that a simple spark can ignite hope, breathe fire into the hearts of the weary. The ability to derive strength from hope is undoubtedly mankind's greatest attribute... which is why I will focus all of my power to snuff it out.

How does it feel? Knowing that all of your time and effort has been for nothing? That your guardians have failed you? That everything you've built will be torn down before your very eyes? Your faith in mankind was not misplaced. When banded together, unified by a common enemy, they are a noticeable threat. But divide them, place doubt into their minds, and any semblance of power they once had will wash away.

Of course, they won't realize it at first. Like you, they'll cling to their fleeting hope, their aspirations. But this is merely the first move. So you send your guardians. Your huntsmen and huntresses. And when they fail and you turn to your smaller soul, know that you send her to the same pitiful demise. This is the beginning of the end, Ozpin. And I can't wait to watch you burn.''

~ Salem in "End of the Beginning".

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Trivia

  • The name "Salem" comes from the Hebrew word שלם (shalém), which means the state of being whole or intact. The name also has associations of witchcraft and the occult, due to the Salem witch trials, where many people were accused of witchcraft and executed.
    • It is also a cultivar of rosemary with pale blue flowers.
  • Given her name's association with witchcraft and her antagonistic nature towards Ozpin, it's possible she is based on or alludes to the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz.
    • Salem also shares a visual similarity with the Wicked Witch of the 1939 film; she appears to be dressed in all black.
    • Along with Ozpin, all the members of Ozpin's Group (which is dedicated to combating Salem) introduced so far allude to Oz characters; Qrow Branwen being the Scarecrow, James Ironwood being the Tin Woodsman, and Glynda Goodwitch being Glinda the Good Witch.
  • Her unofficial theme is "Divide" by Jeff Williams feat. Casey Lee Williams, which can be heard during the end credits of the Volume 3 finale "End of the Beginning", as well as on the RWBY Vol. 3 (Original Soundtrack and Score) album.
    • The song contains references to her character, quotes and perhaps even plans.
  • Until her first full appearance in "End of the Beginning", Salem was credited as Mysterious Narrator.
  • She is similar to a handful of currently existing villains:
    • Kathryn from Gotham:
      • Both serve as the main antagonists of their respective series, but don't appear until later (incidentally, the third season of both shows).
        • Kathryn, however, was later revealed to be a subordinate of the ShamanGotham's true villain.
      • Both are leaders of a secret society that serves as the primary antagonists of their respective series (Salem's faction and the Court of Owls)
    • Isaac Ray Peram Westcott from Date A Live:
      • Both are the main villains of their respective series.
      • Both have pale skin, souless eyes, white hairs and wear black clothes.
      • Both are responsible for several bad things happened to everyone.
      • Both want to obtain others' powers (While Salem wants the powers of the Maidens, Westcott himself want the powers of the Inverse Spirits).
      • Both served as the evil counterparts of the Big Goods (Salem to Ozpin, Isaac Ray Peram Westcott to Elliot Baldwin Woodman).
    • Wilhelm from the Xenosaga series:
      • Both are the main villains of their respective series.
      • Both have red eyes, white hair, and wear black clothes.
      • Both have a very excellent sense of knowledge.
      • Both are Affably Evil.
      • Both command a large army.
      • Both are skilled with magic.
    • Darth Sidious from the Star Wars franchise:
      • Both are the masters of a villain who was previously the Big Bad (Cinder Fall and Darth Vader)
      • Both seek nothing short of the death of their enemies (humanity and the Rebel Alliance)
      • Both are ancient masters with vast knowledge of the world and its powers (such as Dust for RWBY and the Force for Star Wars)
      • Both have a sickly pale skin complexion
      • Both appear as more of a friend than a master to their apprentices (though Sidious feigned his compassion all along, Salem's role as such is still up for debate)
    • Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter universe:
      • They both have pale chalk-white skin and red eyes.
      • They both dress in black.
      • They both hold a meeting with their followers at the beginning of an installment in one of their respective appearances, Voldemort's being the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Salem's being the first scene of the first episode of Volume 4.
    • Makuta Teridax from the BIONICLE series:
      • They both serve as the main antagonists in their respective universes.
      • Both control the large army of monsters.
      • Both have red eyes.
      • Both served as the evil counterpart of the Big Good (Salem to Ozpin, Teridax to Mata Nui).
      • Both are responsible for orchestrating major events throughout the series.
    • Hawk Moth from Miraculous Ladybug:
      • Both are the main antagonists of their respective franchises.
      • Both have vast knowledge of the world and its powers.
      • Both wanted to gain the powers of others (Salem wants the powers of the Four Maidens, Hawk Moth wants the Ladybug and Cat Miraculouses).
      • Both served as the evil counterpart of the Big Good (Salem to Ozpin, Hawk Moth to Master Fu).
    • Yellow Diamond from Steven Universe:
      • Both are main villains with a greater role in terms of influence (and even his first appearances were revealed in early 2016).
      • Both before appearing in the series, their existence had already been taken into account, including the population of their organization and intentions that propagate their own minions (in Steven Universe). The previous recurring antagonist who planned to end the mission of colonizing the planet earth was Jasper/Malachite, proving to be a rather lethal enemy to easily get rid of the chaos they have caused throughout the series, in RWBY Cinder Fall would have done the same. Finally both villains ended up being a minor threat, when they are defeated by the protagonists.)
      • Both plan to destroy humanity and populate it with species descended from its own creation (In the case of yellow diamond has its Gems Soldiers, Mutant Clusters and Corrupted Gem Monsters. While leaving have in their favor the Creatures of Grimm, her faction with the ally of White Fang).
      • Both served as the evil counterpart of the Big Good (Salem to Ozpin, Yellow Diamond and the Authority to Rose Quartz and Rebel Gems). Are opposed to the thoughts of their kindly counterparts, without caring about the rest of the life forms, rather than expanding its reign in rest of the world and take over control.
    • Bill Cipher from Gravity Falls:
      • Both revealing are hidden main antagonists in final episodes.
      • Both have needed the help of human henchmen as in the case of Gideon Gleeful and Roman Torchwick with Cinder Fall (the initial antagonists).
      • Both have been referenced in the first season, before reveals their identities in official debut and considering that they are behind all the catastrophes that occurred in both series.
      • Both have vast knowledge of the world and its powers, largely observing the environment where the series takes place.
      • Both want to obtain the power of their greatest enemies and use against to exterminate them, which are presented as wise and intelligent heroes (Ozpin and Ford Pines).