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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.|
|“||The ability to derive strength from hope is undoubtedly mankind's greatest attribute... which is why I will focus all my power... to snuff it out.||„|
|“||This is the beginning of the end, Ozpin. And I can't wait to watch you burn.||„|
|~ Salem's most infamous quote.|
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, take their powers, use them to retrieve the Relics from the Huntsman Academies and weaken humanity by snuffing out their hope. She is the archenemy of Ozpin, with whom she speaks directly in "Ruby Rose" and "End of the Beginning".
She is voiced by Jen Taylor, who also voiced Cortana.
Salem is an individual of unknown origins, and virtually nothing is known of her past. It is also not known when or why Salem embarked on her goal to gather the Relics and weaken humanity.
All that is known is that she is thousands of years old and that she has a strong connection to the Grimm and is described as their master. She is also 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.
At some stage she fell into opposition with Ozpin, who aligned himself with humanity and placed his faith in them, and was also cursed by the brother gods to remain on Remnant through a reincarnation cycle, which made him a consistent form of major opposition for millennia to come.
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."
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 which they draw strength from. 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.
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.
In "Dread in the Air", Salem and a recovered Cinder are contacted through a Seer by Watts and Leonardo Lionheart. Lionheart informs Salem that Qrow Branwen had arrived at Haven Academy with Team RNJR and told them he believes the Spring Maiden is hiding in Raven's bandit tribe. Pleased at this news, Salem instructs Cinder to travel to Anima with her team to meet with Watts and convince Raven to cooperate with them. Once they have the Spring Maiden and use her to retrieve the relic, Cinder will then contact Hazel and fulfill their promise to let the White Fang destroy Haven Academy. In the meantime, Salem assigns Watts to begin work on a new tail for Tyrian, who lost it in battle with Qrow and Team RNJR, before ending the call.
Salem then listens to Cinder vent her frustrations about working with bandits and keeping Ruby Rose alive. Salem tells Cinder not to underestimate the usefulness of others, using Lionheart as an example, and warns Cinder that if Ruby has learned to harness her powers, she must make sure to protect her own. Before Cinder departs, Salem requests that she informs Tyrian she wishes to have a word with him.
In "Haven's Fate", when Professor Lionheart attempts to gather items in his office and flee the losing battle at Haven, Salem contacts him through the Seer and asks Lionheart where he was going, to which Lionheart can only stammer. Salem then asks him if there was something he wanted to tell her, to which he tells her that Cinder was to blame for deviating from the original plan. When Lionheart begs that he could flee to her location and prove he still has use to her she replies with nothing but silence. Realizing that Salem has no intention of letting him live, Lionheart tries to destroy the Seer only for Salem to have it knock Lionheart's weapon away, after which Lionheart attempts to run away only to be grabbed by the Seer and while begging for his life and contentiously telling Salem he could still be of use to her, Salem has the Seer viciously stab Lionheart to death. After killing Lionheart, Salem looks through the Seer and disgustingly notes that Lionheart was a coward.
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.
|“||Salem's smart. She works from the shadows, using others to get what she wants, so that when it comes time to place the blame, we can only point at each other. She's trying to divide us - humanity, and so far she's done a pretty damn good job.||„|
|~ Qrow Branwen describing Salem.|
Salem is a highly insidious and manipulative individual who patiently moves to undermine and destroy her enemies with cold, deliberate resolve. She is also highly 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 humble enough to recognize that there are limits to her abilities and that she can only do so much for her subordinates.
She is very confident and self-assured, secure in her knowledge that she can best whatever Ozpin sends to stop her and her goals. She also appears to be cruel or sadistic, for she seems to relish the prospect of watching Ozpin burn.
In contrast, Salem is also fair and collegial towards her allies, giving credit where credit is due and showing genuine appreciation to those who are 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. She is also seen tolerating her allies unruly behavior to some extent, such as Tyrian's manic tendencies and Watts' snide and condescending attitude.
However, Salem is not above losing her temper, as she is particularly demanding when inquiring whether Cinder has truly killed Ozpin or not. She later became angry with Lionheart after he started to become less afraid of her and be more outspoken in her presence.
Both Qrow and Raven describe her as someone who would make use of anybody to help further her goals, something Salem herself suggests when explaining her decisions to Cinder. Raven states that she would them discard the people uses if they become obsolete to her.
Salem is actively seeking out the Relics left behind by the brother gods. Her current goal is to acquire all four Relics as well as the power of the four Maidens, needed to unlock the chambers containing the Relics.
Powers and Abilities
While her true power is yet to be seen, Raven Branwen reveals that Salem is the Grimm's master. As such, she can command them to do her bidding and even create them from black liquid outside of her home. Salem has lived for thousands of years, during which she aquired extensive knowledge of the nature of Aura and Dust, as well as an understanding of human nature, society and history.
Salem is also very effective at getting others to follow her orders through fear. She controls Tyrian with statements of approval or disapproval and controls Lionheart and others by conveying their well-being is contingent on cooperation.
Qrow Branwen claims he has "seen the things she's made" and that "they are fear". She also possesses knowledge on how to steal the powers of Maidens, a feat of which was never accomplished before according to Ozpin's group.
|“|| 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".|
|“||I see no reason for your cruelty towards young Cinder. She's become our Fall Maiden, destroyed Beacon Tower, and most importantly, killed dear Ozpin. So I'm curious, to what failures are you referring?||„|
|~ Salem to Arthur Watts, on Cinder's preceding accomplishments|
|“||Because of your efforts, Beacon has fallen. And Haven will be next.||„|
|~ Salem, adjourning her group's meeting.|
|“||Do you feel it? Don't fight it, girl. It can sense your trepidation, you must make 'it' dread you.||„|
|~ Salem encouraging Cinder.|
|“||Cinder, I am going to ask you this one more time, and I expect a clear answer. Did you kill Ozpin?||„|
|~ Salem telling Cinder to be truthful.|
|“||NO! I want to hear you say it.||„|
|~ Salem shouting at Cinder.|
|“||Reinforce our numbers at Beacon, the relic is there.||„|
|~ Salem to the Seer.|
|“||What are you planning?||„|
|“||I thought you were the girl who wanted power. Did you lie to me?||„|
|~ Salem to Cinder|
|“||The last eye is blinded … you disappoint me.||„|
|~ Salem to Tyrian, after he failed to retrieve Ruby Rose.|
|“||Leonardo, do you remember the first time we met? I remember. I remember your fear. But, since that day, you’ve been extraordinarily brave. I won’t forget all that you’ve done for me. Do not forget everything that I can do to you.||„|
|~ Salem threatening Professor Lionheart through the Seer Grimm.|
|“||You will have the power I promised you, when the time is right. But remember that it comes with a cost. If Ruby Rose has learned to harness her gift, then you must take care to protect yours. There’s only so much I can do to aid you.||„|
|~ Salem to Cinder.|
|“||Leonardo, do you have something you wish to tell me?||„|
|~ Salem asks Leonardo the current situation through the Seer Grimm.|
|~ Salem to Leonardo's demise.|
- 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 infamous 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 is possible that 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 of 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, Glynda Goodwitch being Glinda the Good Witch, and Ozpin alluding to Oz himself.
- Her unofficial themes are "Divide" by Jeff Williams featuring Casey Lee Williams, which can be heard during the end credits of the Volume 3 finale "End of the Beginning" on the RWBY Vol. 3 (Original Soundtrack and Score) album, and "When It Falls, the opening theme for Volume 3 that can also be heard as well as on the RWBY Vol. 3 (Original Soundtrack and Score) album.
- The songs contain references to her character, quotes from her, and her plans.
- Until her first full appearance in "End of the Beginning", Salem was credited as Mysterious Narrator.
- In the Japanese dub, Salem is voiced by Kikuko Inoue, who also voiced I-No, Virgilia and Grace O'Connor.
- In an interview with Afterbuzz TV, writers Miles Luna and Kerry Shawcross revealed that Salem's concept was done before the concepts for Team SSSN. At the first RWBY Panel at RTX 2016, they estimated that she was the ninth character designed (after Teams RWBY and JNPR).
- Writers Miles Luna and Kerry Shawcross have confirmed that any visual resemblance between Salem and the original Winter Maiden (from the RWBY: World of Remnant episode "The Four Maidens") was a coincidence and unintentional.