This chapter is the second part of Salem and Jaune's discussion on Magic, the Silver Eyes, the Hounds, stuff like that. This chapter is going to include a lot more head-canon, given that a lot of where I'm going with this story plot-wise hasn't been covered in the canon of RWBY, so I kind of have to make it up as I go. Thusly, this chapter.
Hope you like that!
Start Chapter 32
Jaune isn't entirely certain what emotion it is that's running through him in that moment, as he hears the identity of the Big Bad Wolf, the creature staring at both he and Salem from the back of its cell, which they are both stood within.
It is a cold, icy thing. Like fear and disgust have mixed into one; like his heart has been frozen over, reduced only to an unfeeling, unmoving stone inside of his chest. He wants to vomit, but finds he does not have the strength to do so. He can barely stand, in truth, seeing what he sees in front of him and knowing that it is Ruby's long-lost mother, she who had died so very long ago.
"…Why?" He asks first and foremost. "Why did you… why would you do this to her?"
"Hm… that is a complicated question, in truth." Salem speaks, her voice quieter than usual, not as booming or commanding. "I believe you are asking it from the lens of a good person, and I would be remiss not to point out that I have long-since ceased to be as such."
Jaune swallows on nothing at that, even as Salem continues.
"Have you any inclination as to the power of the silver eyes? That which Summer and Ruby Rose possess?"
"I… Ruby used them to face Cinder. It… the battle burnt away a good half her body. She nearly died."
"Mm. That would be because of the Grimm parasite that lurked within her form at the time. The Silver Eyes, you see, are the very antithesis of the Grimm. They are light in its most pure incarnation, that which burns away the darkness. As I'm sure you are aware, the Grimm are that darkness."
"Yeah, I'm aware."
"That power is enough to vaporize most Grimm the very moment it touches them. Across the eons, there have been many Silver-Eyed warriors, some mighty, and some weak. Some who could barely utilize the power, and some who could channel its energy into weapons, into their very forms, become Hunters of the Grimm in the truest sense of the word. Summer Rose was one such woman. Perhaps the second strongest I ever faced."
"Who was the strongest?" Jaune finds himself asking, despite all the other questions he feels should probably take precedence.
"The first to use them. The God of Light himself."
Jaune gives a quiet hum at that, amazed to think that Salem had quite literally lived through such a thing.
"Summer Rose was capable of utilizing them in a way that I had never seen before. She was a prodigy among prodigy's – the kind one only sees every few thousand years or so. She was not alone in such a position, either. She, and her teammates, one of whom you may be familiar with, were a thorn in my side unlike any other I have faced two decades back, now. The Branwen twins, with their ability to transform gifted to them by Ozma, and their semblances, each unique, but varying radically in terms of usage. The final member of their team barely needed to exist for them to be truly formidable foes, even for one such as I, and yet he too was no slouch, able to match my enforcers in skill, and with a semblance that made dealing with him quite aggravating."
"If Team STRQ was Ozma's greatest tool, then Summer Rose was the tip of the spear. She and her teammates slew eight of my enforcers across her campaign against me, and I have still yet to fully recover my numbers since then. Eventually, despite Ozma's inclinations, Summer Rose and Raven Branwen sought to strike a fatal blow. They had a plan that would utilize the full, ultimate might of Summer's Silver Eyes against me."
Jaune finds himself gazing at the Big Bad Wolf out of the corner of his eye, seeing the beast watching them intensely, its posture never quite relaxing, despite being hunched over. it still towered over both of them, standing a good three and a half meters tall even then.
"Do you know what she meant to do to me? What her eyes could do to me?" Salem shakes her head, letting out an almost fearful gasp, and Jaune finds himself shocked that Salem is capable of such emotions. "On more powerful Grimm, ones that are not instantly annihilated from this world, the Silver Eyes will petrify those struck by their light. She holds the power to turn anything Grimm into stone. This would, of course, be fatal to anything that could die. But I?"
Salem laughs, then, but it is a cold, mirthless sound.
"I would simply be trapped within a form that could not breathe, and suffocating. Inside a form that could not move, and struggling. Inside a form that could not speak, attempting to scream out against my confinement. I would be trapped for all eternity." Salem lets out another breath. "Forgive me for wanting to prevent such a thing at any cost."
Jaune can't exactly blame Salem for such a thing, simply from a self-preservation point of view. He knows that she is ostensibly the villain in this tale of theirs, and yet, what can he say? That she should simply allow herself to be trapped as such forever? He cannot. He will not.
"Alright… I guess I get it. Or I would, if you'd just killed her," Jaune says, shaking his head as the logistics of his own words wash over him. "I can't believe I just said that, but… regardless, you know what I mean, don't you? Why did you turn her into… this."
"That… is a rather complicated question, my descendant."
Jaune had a guess "Are you trying to reverse engineer your own transformation?"
"Not as such. Although that is a decent assumption." Salem speaks, seemingly denying his accusation. "I figured out that my transformation was permanent long ago. I wouldn't mind learning new things about it, but I do not think I will find any way of reversing it."
Jaune nods, even as Salem's eyes droop somewhat; continuing to stare at the Wolf sat in the back of its cell. Or perhaps her cell.
"It is funny, truly." Salem doesn't sound particularly amused, despite her words. "I only ever jumped into the Grimm pools in a foolish last attempt to be with my Ozma. I had hoped... that the very culmination of the God of Destruction's power might mete out my end. That a concentrated, raw magic might overcome my curse... but all it did was curse me further. Mark me as a being of evil and disgust. Turn me into one of them."
Salem shakes her head, even as she sighs out, a horribly frail thing.
"I suppose you could say I have lived up to that, as I am now. I am no better than a Grimm."
It is hard for Jaune to truly refute her affirmation. She is, after all, attempting to destroy and recreate the world. Or, well, that's what Cinder has told him she's attempting, anyhow. She might actually want something completely different; Jaune has no real idea. But he knows she is at the very least attempting to wipe out a good majority of life on Remnant. And yes, perhaps that makes her no better than a Grimm, in the end.
"But, you asked why I did this to Summer Rose, correct?"
Jaune nods his head, and Salem answers.
"I have told you that the Silver Eyes first wielder was the God of Light. I should clarify that to him, they were not any sort of ability, or special thing. They were simply a manifestation of his innate power. He looked at those of darkness, and they melted away before him. It was an ability unique to him, or so I'd thought some hundred-thousand years ago. Perhaps it has been longer, even, than that, or shorter. I've no real concept of the time, these days."
Jaune finds his brow furrowing at that.
"Somehow, that ability passed down to mankind. It might seem a simple prerogative. Perhaps the God of Light gifted it to his people. Perhaps he sired a child among the mortals. Given his stupidity and arrogance, that would surprise me little. And yet, as far as I am aware, the God of Light never had offspring. He never had human or faunus children. But the Silver Eyes, his calling card, exist within both races to this day. I study them in an attempt to learn why. Or perhaps better put, how. I have no answers as of yet, nothing concrete. But I suspect that the Gods have not stayed nearly as absent as they claimed they would when they abandoned this world."
Jaune finds his eyes widening. "You mean…"
"I mean I believe that the God of Light, at the very least, came back to Remnant at some point in time." Salem clarifies, and Jaune finds himself following, albeit with some small skepticism. "I believe he either gifted the power of the Silver Eyes to a group, or perhaps a single person. As to his reasoning, I've no idea. Perhaps he was being kind, or perhaps he was simply an insufferable degenerate who wished to mate with one of his creations. I've little clue as to those sections, and history is vague, at best, on when the first Silver-Eyed warriors came into being."
"You don't know when they came into being?" Jaune finds that hard to believe, given Salem's been around longer than Remnant has been… well, a remnant.
"I myself have not always been… active amongst the world of Remnant." Salem explains. "Neither I nor Ozma. We have each had short periods of time where we have ostensibly ruled this world, but usually, there is a sort of middle ground, like what you are living through now. Neither of us making any dramatic moves – the destruction of your school notwithstanding – and simply amassing power. And sometimes, the two of us simply desire to rest. I am able to do such things far more easily than Ozma, given my cradle of power rests quite literally at the end of the world. I have slept away centuries inside of Evernight, simply to recharge myself. During one of those periods of rest, the first of the Silver-Eyed warriors became active."
"As in important enough for such information to be conveyed to me." Salem explains. "His name was Enkidu. He was a servant of the then Lord of Vacuo, the King Gilgamesh. It was said Enkidu's eyes could burn away all darkness, and scour the very Grimm from the lands. It was what allowed Vacuo, or as it was called back then, Uruk-El, to be colonized in the first place. I used to grow rather bored, and would occasionally birth larger and larger Grimm simply to test and experiment with my own limits. Oftentimes, afterwards, when I had tired of such things, I would send my creations there, to the deserts of north-west Sanus. And yet, one day, suddenly a good half of them had been killed all at once."
Jaune finds his eyes widening. "He did that much?"
"Enkidu was perhaps the most powerful non-god wielder of the Silver Eyes to ever live, even if Summer Rose wielded her own with far more precision, skill, and poise; ultimately making her far deadlier to one such as I." Salem says, and at Jaune's slightly confused expression, she seeks to clarify her statement. "If Summer Rose were a – what do they call those new-fangled magnetic cannons? Ah, yes – a railgun, striking lethally quickly and utterly annihilating anything in her direct path, then Enkidu was a wildfire. He simply burned away anything around him with reckless abandon. He was not truly able to focus his power, or direct it in any meaningful way, however. He was the first, and was thusly possessed of all the raw, uncontrollable strength without a master to help him hone it. Or I assume so, anyways. I suppose I've no idea the truth. I had no idea what it was I was dealing with at the time, but soon I learned that Ozma, the then King of Eastern Sanus – he's always had a liking for the area – had contacted Gilgamesh in an attempt to gain access to Enkidu, and research his gift."
"So Ozp– Ozma," Jaune corrects, and Salem nods. "Doesn't know where the Silver-Eyes came from, either?"
"For all I am aware, he does not. Then again, given his having access to the Relic of Knowledge, I would be surprised if such was still true to this day. At that time, however, we were both in the dark. In my haste to stop Ozma from obtaining a powerful force to wield against me, I sent an agent of mine to Uruk-El, and he successfully assassinated Enkidu in his sleep. In a fit of rage, Gilgamesh declared war on me after learning of my existence; I assume my agent was captured and had the information tortured out of them, but I am not certain. Ozma could have simply informed him. Either way, Gilgamesh attempted to sail his way to the Grimmlands with an army a hundred-thousand strong at his back."
Jaune can't help but feel this story won't end well. "And…?"
"And less than ten-thousand even reached my shores." Salem speaks, her voice sounding almost bored. "The desert was a good place to send experiments I had finished with, but that was only because I had already exhausted the oceans around my land; run out of room. There are creatures beneath the waves around the Grimmlands that I do not believe you could comprehend were you to see them."
Jaune finds himself swallowing nervously at Salem's words.
"Either way, none of Gilgamesh's army made it anywhere near me, and he was slain himself by my then right hand just off the shores of the Grimmlands. And so ended the illustrious tale of King Gilgamesh of Uruk-El."
Jaune frowns. "I've never heard of him. Gilgamesh, I mean. You're saying he was a king? Why don't we know about him nowadays."
"This was tens of thousands of years ago, child. There have been more Kings, Queens, and Emperors upon this miserable rock than you could possibly imagine. Trust me when I say that a King whose only claim to fame was that his lover could disintegrate Grimm with a single look was not worth recording for most."
"Enkidu and Gilgamesh were lovers?"
"I assume so." Salem shrugs. "That was what I was led to believe, anyhow. It explains why he attempted to kill an immortal being without even the aid of his servants eyes after said servant was slain. I certainly haven't heard of any other kings that would go to war over the death of a slave. As I was saying, however, he did clear the deserts of Vacuo, but his reign lasted only four or five years. Such is barely a blink in history. I only remember him as well as I do because it was the first time I had ever been faced with the Silver Eyes."
Jaune nods. "Makes sense, I guess."
"I am glad you agree." Salem says, before letting out a sigh and turning back towards the other end of the cell they stood within, gazing at the Wolf, still bent, and hunched over in the corner. "Now, back onto the topic of Summer Rose."
The creature – the Wolf – growls under its breath as Salem takes a single step towards it, immediately beginning to rise up out of its position on the floor.
"Most like this one, that which I have turned the Silver-Eyed Warriors into, have become subservient to me. They have been made into mindless husks, that serve me as any other Grimm would. They retain some human abilities; they can speak, and reason, and even gain some of my own abilities, the power to command lesser Grimm. And yet this one alone has somehow managed to resist. I have been curious about the how of such things for nearly a decade and a half, now, and yet no answer has ever come."
Jaune finds himself watching as the Wolf's head twitches, and its jaw – making up a good half the length of its body – parts.
Jaune feels chills run up his body, even as the creature snarls, shaking its head back and forth as if trying to dislodge something stuck to it. It claws at its own skin, ripping large chunks out of it which fall to the ground, melting into black, gooey sludge that has Jaune close to vomiting again.
"Ruuuu... by... RUuUBYYy!"
Jaune takes a step back almost out of instinct.
"How strange." Salem speaks, and it sounds like she is genuinely quite surprised. "She has never said such things in my presence before now. I have only heard her speak on a few occasions. And yet the moment I bring you here, she becomes so very loquacious."
Jaune has no idea what it is he's supposed to make of that – nor what the hell loquacious means – yet when he looks at the beast in front of him, the monster in all but name, he cannot help but see a mother longing for her daughter.
"You should let her go free."
The words slip from his lips before he can so much as consider them, and his face pales as Salem turns to look at him out of the corner of her eye, her brow furrowed. Jaune realizes that he probably needs to go about explaining himself, so as to not be eviscerated.
"I just… look at her." Jaune says, and he gestured towards the Wolf weakly. "She's not… anything. I mean, when was the last time you actually came down here and researched her?"
"Ten or so years ago, I believe." Salem states, although she does frown. "But that is not so long for one such as I."
"Yes, but clearly, you don't have more than a passing interest in her at this point, given that you've almost ignored her ever since she first came here. And… she's suffering. That's clear. I think that if you're not going to let her go, and you can't reverse this transformation, then… then you should put her out of her misery. She deserves at least the dignity of that."
Salem scoffs. "You mean to make orders of me?"
Jaune must be angered by that more than he thinks, because he retorts instead of backing away.
"She is suffering, much like you suffered. In fact, in the same way you suffered." Jaune had a guess as to just what it is that had happened to Summer Rose, and so he decides to say it. "You dipped her in the pools as well, did you not?"
Salem's eyes widen, which confirms for Jaune, at least, that he is right.
"Then… you should be able to empathize with her, at least a little. Is she really any harm to you in this state?"
"Not truly. She cannot use her eyes, if that is what you are asking."
"Then I guess I'd ask if you couldn't try and do something to help her."
Salem sits and stares at the Wolf for a long while after that. Jaune imagines she's pondering, but then, he can't exactly know for certain what it is that's going on in Salem's head. Perhaps she thinks completely differently than Jaune does himself, completely alien to a mortal being such as he.
"Humor me; which would you choose?" Salem finally confronts him after a while. "Free her in this form, or put her suffering to rest?"
"I… that's not a decision I have the right to make."
"And who should make it?"
"Ruby Rose." He states firmly. "Her daughter."
Salem's raises an eyebrow, and she looks at him with some odd amusement that he cannot fully decipher.
"You continue to surprise me, my descendant." She shakes her head, even as she steps towards the great beast and kneels in front of it. "What say you, Summer Rose? Have you an opinion?"
The Wolf either doesn't have an opinion, or doesn't comprehend Salem's words at all, for all it does is let out a bellowing noise from its chest; sounding somewhat reminiscent of an alligator.
"I suppose not." Salem concludes after another few seconds. "I must say, this has been quite the little adventure, hasn't it? I had almost forgotten what it was like to do things purely because they intrigued me."
Jaune finds himself curious. "What is it that intrigues you about this specifically?"
He finds his eyes widening as Salem turns and looks directly at him.
"You are quite interesting, my descendant. You are the first of my line that I have met – or perhaps the first of my line that I know exists, I should say. I recall that I may've once warred against Ozma while he employed a clan known as the Arcs in his service."
Jaune can actually remember his great grandfather having served alongside the King of Vale in the Great War, and judging by what Salem had said earlier in regards to Ozma often taking up that role…
Well, it certainly fits.
And then a voice calls out his name, and Jaune finds himself surprised to turn around and see–
"So here's where you were," Cinder lets out a breath, sounding almost relieved from her spot in the doorway, looking out of sorts. "I couldn't find you anywhere."
"Oh, yeah, sorry." Jaune smiles for her sake. "I didn't think to tell you that I was going to talk with Salem."
"It's fine." Cinder says, before approaching a bit closer and seeing Salem herself now. "Mistress."
"Hello, Cinder." Salem states, even as she begins to make her way out of the Wolf's cell, and gestures for Jaune to do the same. "You've come seeking your soulmate, I assume?"
Cinder doesn't say anything, but the answer seems obvious enough even without her doing so that Salem doesn't pressure further.
"Well, I've just finished with him regardless, so I will hand him off to you. My descendant, know that while you are technically allowed to come down here, I would not do so on your own. The Wolf is liable to strike at anything in an effort to escape."
"And… what will you do? In regards to her, I mean."
Cinder looks confusedly between the two of them for several seconds, until eventually Salem hums something beneath her breath.
"We will have to see. For now, I have other things to consider. Information has been fed to me that will aid you in your next assignment. Soon, we shall make a move on the second of the four relics. Perhaps after that, I will further think about what shall be done with her."
And with that, Salem departs. She floats out of the room, her feet never touching the brimstone floor, leaving both Jaune and Cinder alone in the dungeon beneath Evernight.
"Are you alright?" Cinder asks him after ten or so seconds spent silent. "She didn't attempt to hurt you at all, did she?"
"No, no, I'm fine." He assures her, smiling. "I asked her about the magic I used back on Menagerie."
"She didn't really have anything concrete for me. Just conjecture. Apparently this hasn't exactly happened very much at all."
Cinder frowns. "That both does and doesn't surprise me. Then again, I'm not certain she would share the information with you if she did know."
"I'm not exactly sure of that either." Jaune admits, even as the two of them begin to make their way back towards their rooms in the upper sections of the castle. "I guess I'd like to hope she would, even if I'm not really convinced either way."
Cinder gives a quiet nod of affirmation, and the two of them cease to speak for a few minutes as they climb the seemingly endless stairwells to make it back to the surface level of Evernight. It is rather hard for Jaune to comprehend just how deep they'd been within the crust of Remnant beforehand. It had felt like an easy hundred or so meters down, but perhaps it had been farther, still.
Beacon had had its own vault, buried deep within the earth, nearly as deep as Salem's dungeon had been. Perhaps the immortals, with their magics and their lack of fear for their own lives, could make such things. Such terribly large structures, that wound deep into the earth.
As they finally make their way to their rooms, Jaune finds himself yawning, raising his arms above his head, and stretching himself out somewhat. Cinder looks over at him with a small bit of curiosity playing about her lips.
"Are you tired?"
"Yeah, I am." Jaune admits. "There was an… awful lot today."
"Will you tell me of it?"
Jaune loves the way that Cinder's lips turn upwards somewhat at that. It is the barest of smiles, and yet, it assuredly exists, regardless.
They'll both be sleeping in Cinder's room, in all likelihood, but given that there's only one shower – and Jaune's feeling particularly generous this evening – he decides to let Cinder take the bathroom first. She nods her head, promises to hurry, and disappears up another flight of stairs.
That leaves Jaune standing on his lonesome in one of the upper corridors, surrounded by his teammates doors. He thinks about going to visit someone, and decides that that sounds pretty nice, actually. It will make for a nice change of pace. He's been hanging out with Cinder ever since they got back – discounting the time he'd spent with Salem this past while – and while he's enamored with her and always happy to spend time with her, he doesn't want to neglect his friends, either.
And yet, he feels a certain… pinging emerging from one of the rooms. It is an odd thing, something he can't entirely describe, but it feeds from the same bank of magic that some other things he's been feeling recently have been.
He's grown quite used to trusting said feelings.
It's coming from Emerald's room.
And so, without really stopping to think about whether or not barging into a girls room that he really only barely knows is a good idea or not, or if this is actually a pretty massive breach of privacy, Jaune walks over, feeling a small anxiety building in his chest, and pushes open the door.
He has half a mind to turn around immediately, but unfortunately for him, the other half of his mind has reacted by standing entirely still.
The scene in front of him isn't indecipherable, by any stretch. He's almost positive he knows exactly what's happening here, and that's sort of the problem. Because there, laid on Emerald's bed, is the woman herself, with her eyes as wide as saucers, a pale face, and several hickeys lining her neck.
Atop her is her soulmate, one Ilia Amitola, with a few lipstick stains along her lower face, and a few more adorning her neck.
They're both clothed – thank the gods for that – and yet Jaune's not entirely sure the scene he's walked into is made any better by that fact.
"Uhm…" Emerald coughs forcefully, looking between him and Ilia several times as she seems to try and formulate some excuse. "…This isn't what it looks like?"
"Emerald…" Jaune can't help but sound just the smallest bit tired as he addresses her.
"Please tell me that you didn't smuggle your soulmate all the way from Menagerie to the literal end of the world without telling anyone at all, including the immortal woman who rules the literal end of the world, so that the two of you could make-out more?"
Neither Emerald nor Ilia speaks at that. Instead, the two simply look at each other, then back to him, then back to each other. This cycle repeats several times over the course of the next five or so seconds.
Then, finally, Emerald attempts to say, "…I didn't smuggle–"
And Jaune just groans as he puts his head in his hands, wondering just how he's going to go about explaining this.
End Chapter 32
Oh, Emerald. We've all made terrible decisions in the heat of the passion before, but this one's particularly egregious.
Anyways, see you all next time!