RWBY (c) Roosterteeth
The city was in flames. Grimm ran rampant and unchecked through the singeing inferno that once stood proudly as the capital city of the Kingdom of Vale.
It, like so many other kingdoms in humanity's civilization, served as a monument to salvation, security, stability, and most importantly hope.
Now it lay abandoned, rank with death, misery and despair - a dark reflection of what humanity was now; a ruin.
The Kingdoms had fallen, Grimm ran roughshod through the once great fortresses and humanity's brief existence would return to the dust from whence it came. Only a few pockets of human life remained on the face of Remnant, and in good time those measly dregs would be exterminated by Salem's children.
Or perhaps they would rise again with a fresh new perspective of the world as so many of their forefathers did. Striving to continue an endless cycle of death and rebirth, destruction and recreation that has existed since times immemorial.
With the truth that Ozpin's clever web of lies had concealed from them exposed for all to see, truly it was their choice. And if they chose to fight again and again, to reach this point of inevitable fall once more? Then perhaps it would prove amusing. But the important matter was, the veil of ignorance spawned from the Wizard's arrogance was gone.
Once again humanity knew the cold hard truths of the world. And the world's truth would invariably devour them whole. The question remained, would they submit to their fate or cry out against it?
Salem couldn't deny the deep satisfaction as she stood on the roof of a commercial building that had served as part of Vale's central business hub. Nor did she stop the smile spreading across her lips.
Perched besides her with a head under its wing was a mighty dragon that served as her mount. Though not as grand as the beast that once slumbered under Mountain Glenn, it was still a vicious lethal creature with white bone carapace over its jaws, forelegs and spine - layered like armour.
Perhaps it was hubris, but part of Salem simply refused to let herself sit idle and await the destruction her shadow beasts caused from a distance. She wanted to crush Ozpin's legacy, wanted to see it personally, and most importantly, wanted him to bare witness to her victory. A victory which in turn served as his punishment for his petulance and conniving.
Her pale hand reached out, stroking the beast's snout almost tenderly as she peered below, before her eyes found their way to Beacon Academy. The relic Ozpin possessed had to be there, hidden in plain sight. She knew it in her bones.
After countless years of searching since the tower's demise, there was simply no other place it could be. Though her Grimm scoured the tower structure and ultimately found nothing, Salem had powers and abilities the soulless horde lacked. Whatever magics Ozpin used to hide the artefact away could not be used to conceal it from her eyes.
As for the Wizard himself? Cinder had claimed she killed the man, and that was true. Mortal men could be destroyed easily by the Maiden's magic, but the Wizard was no mere mortal.
Much like the Maiden's cycle, his powers and knowledge were not limited to a single shell, and would inevitably pass on to a successor when his mortal host died. To this day, Salem could not locate his inheritor.
Regardless of whatever satisfaction any victory she won may provide, she would not feel absolution until the Wizard's new host was found and safely in her clutches.
Her gaze narrowed ponderously, so caught up in her musings that she'd hardly noticed a strange commotion only a few blocks away. Gunfire, explosions, rubble collapsing and a myriad of other combative sounds emerged from that sector of the city. Without awaiting her bidding, a horde of Grimm poured through the snake-like streets towards the commotion in a wave of darkness. Nevermores and Griffons swooped from their perches.
"It seems they've placed their last hopes on this final desperate bid." She mused, at her merest thought the dragon Grimm at her side stretched out its wings and lowered its head, awaiting its master's orders.
Salem mounted the creature, hands placed in a delicate but secure grip around an outcropping of bone and the beast took to the skies with a mighty flap of its wings.
"Do you see, Ozpin?" She said to no one in particular. "The centuries of time and effort you poured into building your guardians and Huntsmen, and this is all they could offer."
Indeed, it was a small pocket of Huntsmen fighting a pathetic last stand against her horde, their forces supplemented by a legion of Atlesian mechanized soldiers, but they were fodder. Less than that.
From her vantage point in the sky, Salem could watch comfortably out of the reach of their weapons or semblances. Had they simply gone into hiding, perhaps they would have survived just a little while longer.
But in Salem's observation of humanity; there would always be those who'd prefer to die in the thrones of battle, rather than idly let death take them when their years were expended. For all her animosity, she couldn't deny their tenacity and stubborn will was an aspect worthy of admiration.
Sighting Salem from a distance the Seer Grimm hovered from its position, its tentacles lightly swaying like a jellyfish as it hovered up to her side, clicking and groaning in an unnatural register as it communicated with the Witch. Raising a pale finger to her lip, Salem's dark eyes narrowed contemplatively.
"So Ozpin's lieutenants seek to end the game where it started." Salem returned her gaze upward towards the ruined Beacon Tower.
Once a device from which they communicated with one another, it too was just an empty husk. And acted as a resting place for the great dragon until it awoke again from humanity's collective fear and negatively.
Were they attempting to repair the tower and signal for reinforcements? Was there another wing of fools eagerly awaiting death?
"No matter, reinforce the numbers here. If these Huntsmen are eager to meet their maker, than oblige them. I will deal with the interlopers at the tower." She instructed the creature, it clicked and twitched before setting off to convey her instructions.
Salem peered at the group of huntsmen once more, noting with some amusement that the Atlesian general appeared to be leading them. She truly wished she could see just how long Ozpin's tin soldier would fare against her Grimm, but other urgent matters required attending to.
The trip took less than a moment, and this close the decay had become quite clear. Years of neglect had allowed flora to grow through the cracks in the paths in an uncontrolled spread, event across the tower's support spires and base.
Salem frowned lightly. If the relic was indeed hidden magically, it would be under this very tower Ozpin once called home.
At an unseen command, the dragon mount roared, a ball of crackling energy forming in its gaping maw, firing rapidly at the tower base level.
Salem dismounted gracefully and sauntered in through the gaping hole in the side, the dragon's blast had shattered the opposing wall which contained the elevators. The entire housing had melted, revealing the deep shaft down through the earth. Traversing this obstacle was trivial, and with a simple application of dust on her person and her own magics, she arrived at the bottom floor, the vault that Cinder spoke of.
Where Ozpin had made his last stand. Salem thought with a sense of mirth.
Tantalizing at that thought was, Salem waved it aside and continued forward.
In mere moments, creeps, beowulves and other smaller Grimm would climb down and join in on the search, but Salem would definitely not need that long. Nor would she require their aid. A group of mere mortal huntsmen were no match for her ancient powers.
It was dark and smelt of decay. Salem's eyes would acclimatized to the environment soon enough, and in only a few seconds when the spellweaves would settle, she would be able to see as clearly as day.
A swish and a clang, a scythe's blade came bearing down on her. Salem was caught off guard, but only for a second. She'd raised her palm up and blocked the blow with her strength alone. Such a minuscule attack wouldn't cut her flesh so easily.
Salem glanced up at her attacker. He had a fine pair of red eyes and his short unkempt hair was a sterling silvery-white, just like Ozpin's used to be. Her eyebrows shot up in realization, then allowed a smile to play across her lips.
"So, you are the Wizard's chosen vessel?" Salem's hand was still raised, the tip of the scythe balanced so perfectly on her outstretched palm. Her eyes spying the cane still in his back scabbard. "You're playing with forces beyond your ken, child."
Her fingers closed around the scythe's edge, and the void energies at her command funneled into the blade. Dark red lines formed along the surface as the metal warped and cracked faster than the Huntsmen could release his grip. The void energies jumped, tainting his right hand with dark red lines.
At once, the scythe and his hand exploded in a mix of blood and steel. Shards of the weapon shattered everywhere, piercing floors, pillars and even the huntsmen's own flesh. A particularly large jagged piece slashed across his abdomen deeply, shattering his aura and another spike skid across his right eye.
Soaring from the blast, the Huntsmen howled with agony which was abruptly cut off with a sharp gasp when his back slammed straight into the pillar, knocking the air from his lungs.
Even now, his meager aura attempted to repair the damage but there was limits, and not even aura could regenerate a hand.
"How does it feel child?" The near maternal tone turned the dying Huntmen's stomach, all he could do was return with a defiant glare even as coppery red spilled from his right eye socket and the gaping wound across his abdomen. His sterling silver hair tainted crimson by an unseen cranial trauma.
Salem raised his chin almost tenderly, and something flashed across her features. It might have been pity. Hollow as it was. "Ozpin - The Wizard used and abandoned your kind, even now he exists as little more than a parasite that wastes your vessel away. Why do you continue to serve him?"
"I'd rather fight... in the name of an honourable man who fought for life, than the complete bitch seeking to end it." He spat.
"Honourable? You believe it's honourable to allow mankind to go through its existence ignorant of the world's greater truths? Of me?" Salem questioned curtly, rising to her feet and her hand folded in front of her.
The new Wizard gave a pained choking laugh without humour, "Hey, I ain't sayin' the Wizard's not flawed. No one's perfect." His eye became lit with fury. "But compared to the shit you've pulled? He's a goddamned saint. At least he fought for life, you'd rather see us ground to dust. Oz's world may be a lie, but it's still better than anything you've put on the table."
"Ozpin created with illusion, and you served as his agent to enforce it. I merely seek to shatter this veil of ignorance and remind humanity - the world, that greater powers will not sit idle by an-"
"Yadda, yadda, yadda…" The huntsmen groaned, then coughed as he forced back another wave of pain. "Save the 'holier than thou' riff for someone who's not dying and actually gives a crap."
Salem's lip twitched. "I do find your petulance amusing. It's a trait you and your master share. But speak to me in such disrespect again, and I'll surely-"
"You are a goddamned idiot." The huntsmen taunted again, swallowing and starting to pant a little against the pain.
Displeasure danced across the Witch's features. "Mind your tongue, boy." She warned sternly, "Your life may be waning, but whether its end is in moments or immediate depends entirely on your next choice of words."
The Huntsmen laughed again, harder this time despite the obvious anguish it brought him. "You can't seriously tell me you've forgotten old Oz's bag of tricks?"
"What are you playing at-?" The question died almost the second she'd thought to say it.
To their right, hovering under its own power was Ozpin's cane. The gears whirred spun wildly to life as it disassembled itself. As the gears and handle hovered apart for a few seconds, rotating harmlessly in the air before sharply reassembling themselves, the black staff narrowed into a point while the handle components assembled like the cross guard of a boardsword. The green gem that formed the pommel of the cane glowed a bright green before the cane plunged into the ground with a earth-shattering crack.
Around it, a segment of brickwork had crumbled and collapsed as if a the very foundations had eroded. A pillar of translucent green and blue light rose from the opening.
"The Nexus was here the entire time?!" Salem roared in outrage turning her head to the portal, "You… that's not possible, all the roots of Yggdrasil had been destroyed! Unless-!"
How? How did she not notice until now?! She couldn't even begin to register the possibilities before the form disappeared, leaving a green-grey dilated afterimage in his place. Salem tried to move after him, but found her body firmly locked in place. Or rather, it was moving, but at a thousandth of the speed she'd wanted it to.
A time dilation snare! How could she have been so foolish! Salem grit her teeth angrily. She'd underestimated the Huntsman, believed him a novice at the Wizard's power. But to trick her in such a manner - And not only that, but to open the portal? There was only one reason she could think of that the Wizard would dare risk such a thing.
Could it be? But that's impossible! Salem's brow knitted and she growled in sheer animalistic fury.
She wanted to savour this victory over Ozpin's legacy once and for all! She wanted to slay the Wizard once he'd been so thoroughly gripped by despair! Yet he throws his life away for some gambit?!
No! She wouldn't allow it!
"NO!" Salem roared in outrage.
A vast overflow of magic breaking the time dilatation. Her void bolts raced for the Nexus, but it was too late. Not only had her void spells rebounded, but the rift was already collapsing in on itself. Its vast green and blue energies already consuming the man the Wizard was squatting in, scattering his particles like dust to the wind.
That solitary red eye burned with pure hatred for the witch, a maliciously triumphant smirk splitting his blood-stained lips. His remaining hand raised in an obscene single digital gesture as his body was slowly dissolved into the closing warp.