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This is the beginning of the end, Ozpin. And I can't wait to watch you burn.
~ Salem.

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 goal is to destroy the secret cabal and system of Hunter Academies created by Ozpin, her archenemy with whom she speaks directly in "Ruby Rose" and "End of the Beginning". She serves as the Bigger Bad of the Volume 1-3

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 an extremely manipulative person who patiently moves to undermine and destroy her enemies with cold and deliberate resolve. She is highly sophisticated, intellectual, and healthily respectful for 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 them and divide them. She is also very sensible and self-assured 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 has a discouragement for unnecessary malignancy 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. Qrow Branwen claims he has "seen the things she's made," and "they are fear". Later, in "The Next Step" Grimm are seen being birthed from pools of black liquid outside of her home. This does not directly look as though she created them, but their association with her is implied. Her authority over Grimm is established in "Of Runaways and Stowaways" where she is shown commanding them.

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.

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 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; 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" as well as 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 on the RWBY Vol. 3 (Original Soundtrack and Score) album.
    • The songs contain 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.
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