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She is the leader of a cabal of people with malicious plans and operates out of Evernight Castle in the Land of Darkness. Her goals are to find the Maidens and use their powers to obtain the Relics from the Huntsman Academies.
In "War", it is revealed that the reason she intends on dividing Humanity is so that when the Relics are brought together, The Gods will destroy Remnant and in turn, break the curse on her allowing her to die.
She was a part of the original Humanity, before being cursed with immortality and falling into a Grimm Pool. She was married to Ozma before their ideologies tore them apart making them mortal enemies.
In "Ruby Rose", the first episode of the series, Salem serves as the narrator, giving the opening voice-over for the series, but credited only as the Mysterious Narrator in "Black and White" and "Breach" until her first on-screen appearance in the Volume 3 finale, "End of the Beginning". She is also the narrator of the first four RWBY: World of Remnant episodes.
Eons ago, Salem was a woman with fair skin, pale platinum blonde hair and light blue eyes. She wore most her hair in a half up-done bun style, with a small, simple bun on the top, and the remainder of her long, straight hair hanging at the bottom. Most of her bangs were tied back, barring several large locks that framed her face to her left.
She wore a white, two piece dress consisting of a sleeveless, diagonally overlapping white backless pleated top with a raised, pale blue halter-top square collar adorned with an aquamarine colored rhombus-shaped crystal on the clavicle, surrounded by two smaller white rhombuses. Her long, high-waisted skirt was white with a faint purple tint - adorned with white diamond emblems and white wavy lines near the bottom hem, ruffled around the waist and completed with a purple sash. For accessories, she wore gray, circular earrings, a pair of dull brown bracers, and a thin leather strip that holds the same crystal over the sash, and her long fingernails were painted pale lilac. If noticed carefully, she also has on faint purple heeled flats obscured by the skirt.
Original (Volume 3–6)
Salem's skin is currently a deathly pallor, with jet black sclerae in her eyes, and glowing crimson irises that shine brighter when she is agitated. While she initially retained her half-bun hairdo for her now bleached, pale white hair, she has since re-styled it into a larger bun with six offshoots wrapped together that also suspends several obsidian-colored ornaments. Over the passage of time, she has since grown dark purple veins that line her face and arms, and now has a black diamond-shaped marking in the center of her forehead.
She currently wears a very long, short-sleeved black robe that obscures her feet and partially drags across the ground, with its distinctive feature being a curved high collar with dark red trim bordering the outer edge of a narrow window exposing her bust in a vertical ellipsis resembling an eye, and completed with a long shawl emblazoned with three interconnected, maroon-colored vertical elliptic sigils resembling a trio of overseeing eyes above a series of maroon-colored diamond emblems. She also wears a ring resembling a beetle on her right middle finger, which now have longer fingernails with jet-black nail polish.
When Salem appears as an apparition through a Seer, most of her body appears to be covered in black and purple smoke. She is able to hover over the air, and towers over others. The center of her chest glows red. Beneath the smoke, she appears to be wearing a new outfit through the mirage, including arm warmers, and has her shoulders exposed.
Current (Volume 7–Current)
Following her arrival in Atlas, Salem dons a new set of clothes. She now wears a long sleeved, black partially exposed "cold shoulder" robe, ending in middle finger loops, with red trim flowing from her raised collar, bordering through the vertical window exposing her bust, to the sides of her hips and three crimson stripes flowing all the way down to the bottom hem of her robe. Additionally, she has ornate, gunmetal-colored bone-like arm cuffs on her upper arms, and an elaborate, cross-shaped brooch with a rhombus-shaped ruby gemstone atop her clavicle, closing her outfit and forming the aforementioned slightly wider, diamond-shaped window. Completing her ensemble is a similar black cape with matching red trim, with a couple additional red gemstones hanging from her bun.
Salem is insidious, patiently moving to undermine and destroy her enemies with cold, deliberate resolve. She is also highly intelligent, with a healthy respect for her enemy, mankind, who she recognizes as possessing both resourcefulness and ingenuity, acknowledging Humanity's capacity to draw strength from hope. 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 fail. During her attack on Atlas, she shows cruel delight that she can force him to watch as she destroys the Kingdom.
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 malignancy and cruelty among her associates. She is also seen tolerating her allies' unruly behavior to some extent, such as Tyrian Callows' maniacal tendencies and Arthur Watts' snide and condescending attitude. In "So That's How It Is", Salem shows her fairness when she only blames Cinder Fall, who was in charge of the mission, for their failure in acquiring the Relic of Knowledge during the Battle of Haven. She forbids Hazel Rainart from taking the blame, even threatening him when he continues to do so.
Salem knows how to manipulate people and has different methods to motivate each of her lieutenants. She is one who would make use of anybody to help further her goals, something Salem herself suggests when explaining her decisions to Cinder, but would later discard the people she uses if they become obsolete to her, which is later violently demonstrated when she uses a Seer to kill Leonardo Lionheart for trying to run from the Battle of Haven.
However, Salem is not above losing her temper, as she is particularly demanding when inquiring whether Cinder has truly killed Ozpin or not. This display of sheer dominance shows Salem's rather imperious and demanding personality. Her biggest displays of anger are shown in "So That's How it Is", when she first binds Hazel to the floor after he tries to cover for Cinder, and then when she destroys all the windows in her council chamber upon learning that Ozpin has already reincarnated and has acquired the Relic.
Due to the countless eons of walking Remnant, Salem is suicidal in nature. She wishes nothing more than to be rid of her immortality and has gone to great lengths to do. Even jumping into the Pools of Grimm could not kill her and instead only gave her control of the Grimm. It has also given her a low opinion of Remnant, deeming it a "ruined world". In the present, her goal is to divide Humanity and acquire the Relics so that when The Gods destroy Remnant, the curse on her will finally be broken, allowing her to die.
In the distant past, Salem was shown to be a kind yet lonely woman, but appeared to be slightly manipulative. This was shown when her beloved Ozma died of an illness, she tried tricking the Gods to bring him back and then later did the same to Humanity to turn against them, only for both to fail. After she jumped into the Pools of Grimm, she gained a destructive nature.
When she and Ozma reunited, Salem was shown to be truly happy and a genuinely kind and loving mother to their daughters. However, this did not stop her from murdering Ozma as well as their daughters in a rage when she learned they were trying to flee their home once Ozma realized the monster she had become. In "Fault", she conjured smoky images of her daughters, indicating that she still harbors lingering feelings towards them.
Powers and Abilities
Salem is a powerful individual capable of both wielding Magic and controlling the Grimm. Her power is equal only to Ozma in his prime. Because of this, she is undoubtedly the greatest threat to walk Remnant.
Due to her immortality, Salem does not bother to defend herself from attacks, focusing purely on the offensive. She also has a incredibly high resistance to pain, able to keep going even when dealt lethal blows.
Salem has lived for thousands of years, during which she acquired extensive knowledge of the nature of Aura and Dust, as well as an understanding of Human nature, society, and history.
Salem, being a member of the first wave of Humanity has access to Magic.
In battle, she commonly uses energy based attacks. She can fire large energy blasts from her hands, as well as generate electricity around her. In "Fault", she uses an energy beam to torture Oscar Pine for refusing to divulge any information. In "Witch", she makes use of several types of magic when fighting Hazel Rainart, such as summoning a large cyclone to both lift her and move around quickly, as well as firing a barrage of energy beams.
In addition to her other magic, she is able to project telekinetic force as seen when she crushed a Nevermore and shattered the windows in her council chamber in a fit of uncontrolled rage. Furthermore, she is capable of flight and possesses some form of superhuman strength, as she easily flips the massive table in her headquarters, all while seated. She also possesses clairvoyance, as she is able to observe a battle going on through her crystal ball.
She is capable of manipulating unconventional elements such as smoke to suit her needs. In "Fault", she conjures smoky images of her daughters, and in "The Final Word", travels as a cloud of smoke to quickly reach the Atlas Vault after reforming.
Salem was cursed with immortality by the Gods, making it impossible to destroy her. When the God of Darkness vaporized all of Humanity, her immortality allowed her to remain unaffected. This was further shown during her battle with Ozma, where she was reduced to a pile of ash, but reformed instantly. The time it takes for her to regenerate can vary, with the longest being a few hours.
She is not restricted in movement while regenerating. In "Witch", she immobilizes Yang Xiao Long while her chest is caved in. When Hazel blows her head off, she restrains him with Shadow Hands while it is reforming.
After the Gods destroyed the first Humanity and left Remnant, she jumped into the Grimm Pools in the Land of Darkness, which altered her body further and turned her into a "being with a desire for pure destruction". Raven Branwen reveals that Salem is the Grimm's master. As such, she can command them to do her bidding. The full extent of her control is shown both in "Midnight", when she uses the Grimm Liquid produced by Monstra to successfully break though the Hard-Light shield of Atlas, and later in "War" when she controls it to create an endless army of Grimm against the Atlas Military.
In addition, Salem has the ability to summon multiple Shadow Hands on command as seen in "So That's How It Is". Her preferred method is using them to restrain her opponents. The Shadow Hand she gave Cinder allows her the means to steal the powers of Maidens, a feat of which was never accomplished before. She can also cause the Shadow Hand to inflict pain on Cinder, as a means of punishment.
She possesses the ability to mutate and experiment with Grimm. She can alter the physiology of Grimm and graft Grimm parts to a Human's body or even create hybrids. She causes Beringels to sprout wings in "Our Way" and gives Cinder a Shadow Hand. She can also create Grimm that possess unique abilities, such as Seers for messaging or Monstra as a mobile battleship.
In "Witch", she makes use of traits found in different Grimm. She stretches her arms similar to the Shadow Hands in order to catch Emerald Sustrai as she tried to escape. She also uses a black tar-like substance to immobilize Yang and bring her closer, which is the same one found in the Beetle.
In "Fault", Salem states to Cinder that The Hound is an experiment. It is later revealed in "Dark" to have a Faunus as its core, most notably with a Silver Eye. This shows that Salem's experiments are creating Grimm hybrids using living beings as the core. The hybrid is shown to be extremely intelligent and possessing several traits, most notably the ability to speak as well as mutate its body to suit its need, from changing its shape, to growing wings or additional limbs.
- Salem alludes to the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. For more information on this allusion, as well as other choices the creators made for this character, see Salem/Behind the Scenes.
- Another allusion that Salem may be based on is she is the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella along with the witch from Hansel and Gretel and Rapunzel.
- There was a joke about Salem being one of Jaune Arc's sisters in the Volume 6 Opening before everyone knew who she was.
- RWBY: Fairy Tales of Remnant
- The World of RWBY: The Official Companion
- RWBY Volume 3, Chapter 12: "End of the Beginning" - Credits
- RWBY: Fairy Tales of Remnant
- RWBY Volume 6 Blu-ray Director's Commentary
- RWBY Volume 7 Crew Commentary - Chapter 8