The final saga of the Celestial Edition storyline is told here!
Goddesses, Part 4
By Shawn Carman
Edited by Fred Wan
The inside of the temple was absolutely still, and had been for almost an hour. Togashi Satsu clenched his fists so tightly that he wondered if he would be able to feel anything when and if he ever unclenched them again. The earth shook periodically from the might of the battle that was going on nearby, a battle nearly unprecedented in the history of the Empire. Somewhere nearby, the mortal forms of the gaijin demon-goddess Kali-ma and the dark lord Fu Leng were locked in a combat to the death, destroying everything around them in the process. And nipping at their heels a vast force of demonic beast-men, the vassals of Kali-ma, were surging toward the temple, eager to taste the blood of an Empress. They were held in check only by the valiant forces of the Shogunate, headed by the Shogun himself, Moto Jin-sahn. Satsu knew how important it was for the Shogun to be defending the Empress, but he could not help but wish that he was still within the temple. He did not doubt his own prowess, but the circumstances in which he found himself were exceptional beyond all measure.
Next to Satsu stood Iweko I, the Divine Empress of Rokugan. Nearby, on the ground, was the unmoving form of Susumu, the Imperial Advisor. Satsu was still unsure if Susumu was still alive, but he thought he had seen movement once or twice since he was struck down. But by far the greatest concern Satsu had was the man in black who sat in the courtyard near them, holding the Empress’ wakizashi.
Daigotsu, Dark Lord of the Shadowlands and unquestioned master of the Spider Clan, had been sitting for nearly an hour, his head cocked slightly to the side as if listening. Finally, he nodded. “All is in readiness,” he said. “I have conducted all the communion I require.” He held the wakizashi before him and regarded it with disdain.
“The Empress is prepared to accept your seppuku,” Satsu said.
Daigotsu looked mildly irritated. “I do not do this for you. You are not worth my life. There is but one who is worth such devotion, and it is for him and him alone I do this.” He held the wakizashi out before him, then looked up at the Empress. “We will speak again soon.”
The Dark Lord of the Shadowlands plunged the blade into his own heart.
* * * * *
Elsewhere in the temple, Hiruma Akio’s eyes fluttered as she awakened and sat up suddenly, groaning and clutching her head as she did so. “Easy,” she heard Yoritomo Saburo telling her. “You need to sit still for a few moments until the worst of it wears off.”
Akio shoved the Mantis aside angrily and struggled to her feet. “I do not need anything from you,” she sneered. “Idiot. All of you! Idiots!”
“Yes,” Akodo Shunori agreed mournfully.
“I do not understand,” Isawa Kyoko said, shaking her head. “How could we have been so foolish? What could have compelled us to behave in such a manner?”
Despite herself, Akio forced an explanation through clenched teeth. “Furumaro. He confessed to me that he had been clouding your minds, compromising your judgment.”
“How could a simple monk do such a thing?” Mirumoto Ichizo wondered.
“He is no monk,” Akio said morosely. “He is Fu Leng.”
There was a moment of absolute silence among the others, but ultimately no one seemed surprised by the truth that permeated them. “What have we done?” Doji Ayano asked quietly.
“No,” Saburo said vehemently. “This is my doing, not yours. I opened the scroll. None of you are to blame for this. I will not see you shamed.”
“You have no say in the matter,” Utaku Kohana observed. “If absolutely nothing else can be said, the truth is that we did not stop you from committing the act, and that in and of itself is an act of damnation.”
“Agreed,” Kakita Hideo said morosely.
Saburo opened his mouth to say something else, but his counterargument was lost. A sudden breeze cut through the corridor, carrying with it the strong scent of blood. A woman was suddenly there, wearing white trimmed with red. Her face was streaked with tears, tears that were an alarming hue of crimson. She stood among them with an aura of power that commanded respect. “Give me the book,” she demanded.
“Iuchi Shahai,” Kohana said quietly.
“I am no Iuchi,” the woman said forcefully. “The book. Now.”
Akio lunged at her, swinging her blade to take her head. Shahai stepped forward and slapped the younger woman across the face with such force that she was thrown to the stone floor with force enough to crack the plates of her armor.
“I will not give you the book,” Isawa Kyoko said defiantly. “We have been party to far too much blood sorcery for one lifetime already today.”
“Maho?” Shahai said. “Is that what you think this is about? Simple blood sorcery?” She shook her head in disbelief. “Little girl, if I simply wanted to cast a spell, I would slaughter the lot of you and do it regardless. I think you know I am fully capable of such a thing.”
Kyoko looked down and nodded mutely.
“I do not know the depth of your collective stupidity,” Shahai continued, “but there is a battle among gods taking place a short distance away, and the possibility that Kali-ma could emerge victorious is very real. If that happens, your Empress and her Empire die today. Nothing will be able to stop her, certainly not simple blood sorcery.” She gestured toward Kyoko again. “Nothing except perhaps that book.”
“I do not believe you,” Shunori said flatly.
The tear-streaked woman turned on him with a terrible expression of wrath. “Did you misunderstand the part where I can kill you and take it if I want?”
“Then why haven’t you?” Shunori returned.
Shahai’s eyes narrowed. “Why aren’t you afraid?”
“I am a Lion,” he said. “I do not know how.”
She maintained her wrath for a moment, then withdrew somewhat. “I do not know if I can do what must be done alone,” she confessed. “Not after… not after losing…”
“Even if we believe you do not intend to indulge in maho, which is not something that I personally think is the case,” Saburo said, “then what can you possibly hope to accomplish here?”
Shahai pointed to the book. “That is the Tao of Fu Leng. The repository of a god’s wisdom in the mortal realm. Its purpose is to contain the essence of the dark god. It is a vessel for divine power, and I can use it to steal away Kali-ma’s power before she becomes too great a threat. I can make her mortal enough to die.”
“And take her power for yourself in the process,” Kohana snarled. “You profess to eliminate a threat when you only become a greater threat in the process.”
“The only man worthy of my love is dead!” Shahai shouted. “I do not care about power! I only want to punish Kali-ma!” She stopped and covered her eyes with her hands for a moment. “I do not even know if I can do it,” she said. “It was not my destiny, it was his, but now he cannot.” She looked up at them defiantly. “If you doubt me, then stand by my side in the ritual. You will know for certain what is happening, and if you find it not to your liking, you can kill me and end it.”
“Never,” Kohana said, with murmurs of agreement from Ayano, Kurumi, Ichizo, Kyoko and Hideo.
Shunori drew his blade. “I will stand beside you, if only to ensure that the Empire is saved rather than imperiled.”
Saburo nodded. “This is my fault,” he said. “I hold responsibility here. I must do whatever I can to ensure that no further harm comes to the Empire.”
“What you are doing will cost you your soul,” Kyoko warned.
“It seems a small price to pay,” Saburo said.
* * * * *
Moto Jin-sahn rolled through the dirt and came up on his feet, swinging his scimitar with as much force as he could. He disembowled the creature that had knocked him from his horse, scarcely even noticing the deluge of viscera that covered his legs from the knees down. He looked for his horse and saw it a short distance away, rearing on its hind legs and striking out at another of the beasts.
It might as well be on the Mantis islands for all the good it would do him. There were simply too many of the beasts. It seemed that no matter how many they killed, their numbers did not falter, and Jin-sahn was beginning to wonder if somehow their proximity to their blasphemous goddess was reanimating them, or if perhaps they simply sprang into existence in her presence. Neither idea was particularly comforting.
Jin-sahn turned to see Shiba Danjuro behead one of the monstrosities with a naginata before pointing to the northern plain. Jin-sahn followed his gesture and his heart sank. Assembling in the north was a large contingent of warriors, a Spider banner fluttering above them. “What should we do, Shogun?” Danjuro asked.
“If they attack us, we die,” Jin-sahn said flatly. “And we kill as many of them as we can in the process.”
“If they attack the demons, what are your orders?” Danjuro pressed.
Jin-sahn hesitated for a moment, uncertain how to respond. “Damn it!” he finally swore. “If they attack the demons, just leave them be!”
“Are you sure?” Danjuro asked.
“Leave them be!” Jin-sahn cursed, and threw himself at another of the creatures.
Michio, grand master of the Order of the Spider, watched as Fu Leng battled the usurper for dominance, and the legion of horrible beasts that clustered in her wake like weakling mewling for the attention of a stronger creature. “Slaughter everything that is not human,” he commanded. His forces moved to obey his command at once, but he remained.
He watched the battle between the gods with great interest.
The two gods had been battling for what seemed like an eternity to those mortals looking upon their conflict, but which had passed in a handful of moments to them. The demon goddess’s multiple arms tore at Fu Leng’s scales with their talons, and the dark god ripped enormous pieces of flesh from Kali-ma with his draconic fangs. The blood of gods stained the earth in a vast circle all around them, twisting and deforming the landscape all around them. The demoness screamed in rage and agony as Fu Leng tore flesh from her ribs, exposing bone.
Sensing advantage, Fu Leng wound around his enemy, twisting around her torso and constricting, hoping to crush her beneath his coils. The goddess struggled against him, but was seemingly incapable of breaking free. Sensing victory, the dragon coiled tighter and lunged for the throat.
The goddess laughed.
Tearing free from the coils, Kali-ma used two hands to seize Fu Leng by the neck and pull his head back. The dark god, weakened from battle and lacking the vast majority of his power, struggled but was unable to break free from the much stronger enemy. She briefly held him aloft, then wrenched his body so that the snap of his back breaking was like the sound of thunder across the plains. Laughing with a sound that made men weep, Kali-ma reached down and tore the throat from her enemy with her fangs.
Fu Leng thrashed and died, and the universe around him responded. The air grew hazy and distorted as if stretched too thing, and a wave of sickly energy emerged from the site of the god’s death. It coursed over the landscape like a tsunami and rushed toward the men fighting against the goddess’s forces. Moto Jin-sahn and his command staff faced it, unafraid, knowing that it would corrupt their souls utterly and they would be lost forever. They faced it, proud to die in service to the Empress, even if their bodies continued. The wave rushed across them… and nothing happened.
Jin-sahn looked to the others, then at his own hands. He had known without question what would happen to him, and yet nothing had happened. He felt a moment of confusion, and then his attention was drawn to the temple in the distance. Even at this great distance, he could make out the forms of the Empress and her Voice atop the temple. The Empress held her hands out, radiating a simple light toward the battlefield. Even from here, it felt warm and comforting. With a shout, Jin-sahn and his men redoubled their efforts, rejoicing in the blessings of their Empress.
Her joy at victory rapidly fading, Kali-ma shook the corpse of her enemy, as if trying to wring something from it. Sensing something amiss, the goddess screamed in absolute rage. The sound rolled across the plains like a thundercloud. Among the samurai fighting against Kali-ma’s forces, some fell dead where they stood from the sound of it.
* * * * *
“It’s working!” Shahai shouted. It was half-laughter and half-sob, with more of the crimson tears running down her face. “The vessel can contain her power!”
Hideo looked at the others. “Kyoko?”
“I can sense great power flowing, yes,” the priestess said quietly. “It is dark… so terrible. It does not appear to be going to Shahai, however. I believe… I think she told the truth. The book is the target of the energy, not her.”
“I do not find that in any way comforting,” Kurumi whispered.
“Suffer, slattern!” Shahai shouted at their unseen enemy. “I will kill you for what you have taken from me!”
Shunori, standing near Shahai, wavered slightly and fell to one knee. “I… I feel… weak…”
Saburo, pale and unsteady, nodded. “When will the ritual be complete?”
Shahai grimaced. “The vessel can contain no more power… not unless…” she smiled slightly. “Well, sacrifices must be made, must they not?”
“What?” Kohana demanded.
Shahai laughed again, and Shunori and Saburo both groaned and fell to the ground, their flesh gray and desiccated. “What is it your commander said? A small price to pay? Indeed it was!” She laughed again, intoxicated with the act of channeling the power. “All will be as he promised! All will be…”
The statement was cut off sharply with a resounding crunch and a brief spray of blood. Shahai fell to the ground, her skull shattered completely. Hiruma Akio swayed on her feet, her bloodied weapon held at the ready. “Never… never suffer the darkness to live,” she said, wiping her own blood from the wound on her brow.
Kohana moved to steady Akio while Ichizo inspected the two fallen samurai. His face grim, he shook his head slowly. “They died to stop Kali-ma.”
“Assuming this had any effect whatsoever,” Hideo observed bitterly.
“And what of that?” Kurumi demanded, pointing to the Tao of Fu Leng where it rested on the ground.
“If anyone touches it,” Akio said, “they die.”
* * * * *
Kali-ma’s howl of rage continued to echo over the land, lasting so long that it seemed as though it might endure forever. Just as it finally began to recede, the earth shook again, and with far more force than it ever had as a result of the battle with the gods. Try as they might, the combatants around the demon goddess were unable to keep their footing. Man and beast alike were thrown to the ground as the earth rolled and pitched like a ship on the turbulent sea. Then, as they watched, the ground beneath the demon’s feet began to fall away, tumbling out of sight and into the depths of the world.
Even as the earth shattered, the air above the battleground tore open. It seemed as though the universe itself was bleeding, and somewhere in the distance it sounded as if a chorus of demons were howling in a combination of ecstasy and agony. Kali-ma howled again, but the sound was lost in the roaring that accompanied the inexplicable transformation the land seemed to be experiencing.
Emerging at once from the ground and from the air, something huge and black manifested. Its shape was like that of a phantom, with a white horned face that was both terrible and beautiful. One massive, taloned hand reached down to caress the forever still form of the dragon Fu Leng, and everyone within twenty miles heard a terrible whisper in the back of their mind, a whisper filled with such sorrow that many were moved to tears despite their horror at what was happening.
Energy coursed from the dragon’s corpse into the massive phantom, increasing the sense of presence and power that permeated the entire region. Kali-ma shouted her rage, but her presence seemed increasingly diminished with each passing moment, as if her power were being stolen away by something no one could see. She lashed out at the phantom, but her attacks seemed to make no difference to the manifestation whatsoever.
The entity held aloft one of its taloned hands and regarded the goddess with absolute, unwavering contempt. This is my Empire, the voice spoke again in tones that could be heard for miles and which caused nosebleeds and headaches for days after it was heard. I will burn the world to protect it.
The ascended avatar of darkness plunged his claws into the chest of the demon goddess Kali-ma, and tore her still-beating heart from her body.
Among the decimated remnants of the Spider ranks, one samurai stepped forward. His markings identified him as a junior officer, but he ripped his helmet away and threw it to the ground. Daigotsu Tenbatsu, gunso of the Spider legions, dropped to the ground as tears flowed freely from his eyes and he tore his shirt open to reveal his bare chest. “Daigotsu-sama,” he sobbed. “My life for you!”
As one, the remaining Spider bent knee.
* * * * *
“What has happened here?” Togashi Satsu demanded, his voice thick with authority and disapproval.
Ichizo rose from where he knelt by his fallen comrades. Kyoko continued her prayers for their souls. “It is a story of some length, Satsu-sama,” the Dragon warrior offered. He glanced around. “If I may be so bold, my lord, where is the Empress?”
“Safe in the protection of her Guard,” Satsu replied. He looked at the withered forms of Shunori and Saburo, and at the sickeningly damaged corpse of Shahai. “The Empress commanded me to find you here. She indicated your role had not yet been played to completion.” He glanced around. “For your sake, I would hope it has. I do not think you could endure much more than what has already happened. Tell me, and briefly.”
“The monk traveling with us was apparently the mortal form of Fu Leng in disguise,” Doji Ayano said. “Those words sound preposterous even to my ears, yet I know them to be true. He… he deceived us. By his own words he clouded our minds and manipulated us into opening the Black Scroll so that he could feast on the energy contained within.”
“The fault is mine,” Ichizo said at once. “I advocated the idea. Whether it was Furumaro’s trickery or not, the responsibility is mine.”
“You opened the scroll, then?” Satsu asked.
“No,” Kurumi said. “That was Saburo. He would not permit anyone else to do it.”
Satsu looked down at the dead Mantis. “He has paid the price for his actions, I see. Still, to accept responsibility for such a thing to spare others… it would be no mean feat.”
“Shahai appeared,” Kohana said, gesturing to the other corpse. “She conducted some manner of ritual with the Tao of Fu Leng. It appears to have weakened Kali-ma. Can she be defeated by the Shogun’s forces, Satsu-sama? Did it work?”
Satsu shook his head. “From what I have seen, she has already been defeated, but not by the forces of the Shogun.” He held his hand out, palm down, toward the Tao. “Yet I feel that same power radiating from this. I believe it does carry her essence, as you said.”
“We are all prepared to accept the consequences of our actions,” Akio said firmly.
Satsu’s gaze did not waver from the Tao. “Your actions may have saved us. The result remains to be seen. That will be for the Empress to judge.” Akio nodded in response, and Satsu began to say something else, a recrimination concerning the folly of youth, but the words died in his throat as his eyes widened in shock.
Behind the young samurai, the form of Susumu appeared from the courtyard. His robes were still dirty from having lain on the ground, but all signs of the wounds he had received earlier were gone. His flesh was almost entirely white, flawless in every respect. His hair was arrayed as if it had been attended by the Empress’ personal handmaidens, but his eyes were as black as his tresses. He approached seemingly without moving his feet. “The Tao, please.”
Satsu was on him in an instant. He delivered a whirlwind kick that struck the Advisor in the jaw with enough force to shatter it, then followed with a series of devastating palm strikes to his abdomen. Any normal man would have had his innards ruined and perished instantly, but Susumu seemed to take absolutely no notice of the attack. “I am beyond injury,” he said, his voice strangely hollow and echoed. He held out his hand and the Tao lifted from the ground and drifted toward him like a leaf in a stream.
“No!” Akio shouted, and threw herself onto the tome. All her weight seemed to mean nothing, and the book continued its path despite her struggling to wrest it to the ground. When the book finally reached Susumu, he gently lifted Akio into the air as if she were a child and took the book in his hands. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, and a wave of nausea passed over the group. Each of them struggled to maintain their footing, and most were forced to place their hands over their mouths in an attempt not to become violently sick. And just like that, the sensation was gone. All sense of power and majesty was gone, and the book was simply that again… a book.
“It is done,” Susumu said. “I must speak with the Empress.”
* * * * *
The expression of the Divine Empress Iweko I, Child of the Heavens, did not waver as Satsu returned to her side, followed by the enigmatic presence that had previously been Daigotsu Susumu. “Empress of Rokugan,” the former Advisor said, his tone booming, “I would hold parlay with you.”
“The Empress speaks not to those who are unknown to her,” Satsu answered immediately. “You are no longer Susumu. Speak your name or begone from her presence.”
“I am Susumu,” the other man answered, “but more than before. I am the vassal of the Dark Lord, the supreme power of Jigoku, master of the Realm of Evil. I am the Voice of Daigotsu, just as you are the Voice of the Empress, for who could be worthy to hear the words of the true Dark Lord?”
“The actions of the Realm of Evil are anathema to the Celestial Heavens,” Satsu said, “and thus are not known to the Empress. She has no means of verifying that which you say, and would hear your explanation.”
“My lord Daigotsu’s soul was long ago consigned to Jigoku,” Susumu answered. “He embraced this fate, rather than flee from it as so many weaker, unworthy men have done. His lord Fu Leng, brother of his flesh, knew that defeating the demon goddess Kali-ma could not be done by physical might alone, and so as my lord Daigotsu passed across the veil to the Realm of Evil, the Fallen Brother ceded all power to his most loyal, most deserving follower. As it should be.”
“And from Jigoku, Daigotsu usurped from Kali-ma what had been once usurped from Fu Leng?”
“That, and so much more.” Susumu’s smile was terrible. “As the vassal of the Heavens, you are bound by the will of Tengoku. Daigotsu-sama would never endure such a subjugation. As you are bound by the Heavens, so now is the Realm of Evil bound by the will of Daigotsu. He no longer serves it.” Susumu paused and licked his lips as if remembering something utterly delicious. “It serves him!”
“The ascendance of a mortal to power in the Realm of Evil does not concern the Empress of Rokugan,” Satsu said.
“Then you are a fool!” Susumu barked. “The Heavens have thrown out the influence of mortals, and so the greatest mortal of all has turned and seized the Realm of Evil! Better to rule in hell than reign in the Heavens!” He chuckled darkly. “My lord Daigotsu will now hear the terms of the previous arrangement.”
“The terms remain.”
“Unacceptable,” the Voice of Daigotsu replied.
“Recant your agreement with the Empress if you wish,” Satsu countered. “The beasts of Kali-ma have fled. The Shogunate can eradicate the whole of your remaining forces in one fell swoop, if you have no regard for the terms of your agreement. All will be killed on sight forever, and your son will gain nothing.”
“All Spider will be pardoned,” the Voice said, “and their status shall be that of a Great Clan, not a Minor Clan.”
“The Empress refuses,” Satsu said at once.
Again, Susumu laughed. “There is more to be offered, if the price can be paid,” he hinted.
Satsu glanced at the Empress and frowned. “Speak, then.”
“The Master of Jigoku can withhold the blessings of his realm from mortal souls,” Susumu said. “Agree to his terms, and my lord Daigotsu shall permit no human within the service of the Empress to suffer the blight you call the Shadowlands Taint unless they willingly accept his blessings.”
“There are scarcely enough Spider remaining to comprise a Minor Clan, much less prove worthy of the title of a Great Clan.”
Susumu scoffed. “Was such true of the Mantis when they ascended? Hardly.”
There was a moment of silence from the Empress and her Voice. “The people of Rokugan would be spared the Taint forever, then.”
“So long as our agreement stands,” Susumu confirmed.
Another silence followed. “For the sake of her people, and for an end to war, the Empress agrees to your terms. Exactly your terms, and nothing more.” Satsu seemed so weary that he might collapse. “Her interpretation thereof is above question, however.”
Susumu’s smile widened. “The Dark Lord has no fear of your interpretations,” he said. “Be warned that those born of Jigoku who possess free will, the oni, may reject the Dark Lord’s commands. If that is the case, they will flee to the mortal realm to escape his wrath.”
“They shall be dealt with,” Satsu said. “Seal the portal to the Realm of Evil that has just been opened.”
“The death of a god is a powerful thing,” Susumu observed. “It is not within my lord’s power to do such a thing, assuming he even wished it. No, I fear your Empire must endure a second festering pit now, one born in its heartland. But surely your honor will protect you from the worst of its influence, yes?” The former Advisor laughed. “This vessel has served me well! Susumu and Shahai, both valued servants, shall descend to the pits of evil and serve my lord as the first of his Dark Fortunes. Susumu, Dark Fortune of Deception, and Shahai, Dark Fortune of Blood. Inform your priesthood of these developments as you like. Perhaps more of your people than you imagine will embrace the kiss of Jigoku.”
“The faith of the Empress in her people is unwavering,” Satsu said.
“We shall see if such faith is misplaced,” Susumu said, and then his form fell to the ground, dead and cold.
* * * * *
Hours later, the surviving forces of the Shogunate were assembled around the temple even as more and more loyalist forces arrived with each passing moment, driven by instinct to converge upon the temple. The forces of the Spider, what pitiful few remained, stood apart, closely guarded but not disarmed. The nearby wailing of the portal to Jigoku was silenced momentarily, but none had doubts that it would resume, and quickly. For the moment, however, a relative calm had descended upon the area as the Empress stood on the temple steps, regarding her assembled followers with great love and kindness.
“The Destroyer is dead!” Togashi Satsu shouted out, to great cheers from the exhausted forces assembled around them. “She has left her mark upon our Empire forever, however, and many of her forces still wander our lands, deprived of her guidance and leadership. These shall be dangerous days, but know that the faith of the Empress in her loyal samurai is absolute!”
The assembled warriors cheered again, but the generals who stood at the bottom of the steps seemed too weary to join in. The simply bowed before their Empress and remained stoic.
“Much has happened,” Satsu continued. “Much has changed, and changed forever. The Empire we once knew is no more, and a new Empire must be forged from it… a stronger, more noble Rokugan than has ever existed throughout history. The gratitude that the Empress holds for her generals in this conflict is without measure, but their duties have not yet been completed. Akodo Shigetoshi and Utaku Yu-Pan, it shall fall to you and your clans to assist the Shogun of the Empire in driving the last remnants of the Destroyer Horde from our land, or in crushing them beneath your boots. Their stain must not remain upon this most sacred land.”
The Lion Champion and the two Unicorn all bowed deeply. “I will be greatly honored to have such fine warriors fighting at my side,” the Shogun said.
“Even as our enemies are crushed and driven before us, the retaking of the lands lost shall be a grave undertaking,” Satsu said. “It is the wish of the Empress that her loyal vassals among the Phoenix oversee the purification of our lands, and that her brave, proud servants among the Crab and Scorpion see to it that the land is rebuilt, and that this new, deadly threat in the Scorpion heartland is as well defended against as the Shadowlands to the south.”
Hida Benjiro and Bayushi Miyako both bowed. “Your will, Empress.”
Satsu grimaced. “For their role in the defense of the Empire, and for the ongoing safety and security of the souls of her people… the Empress confers Great Clan status to the members of the formerly outlawed Spider Clan. All members are granted full amnesty, and holdings for the Spider are to be allowed to be constructed in the unaligned lands, pending approval by the Imperial families.”
A murmur of confusion rippled through the assembled samurai, but none spoke out against the Empress.
“Those among the Spider who subject themselves to inspection by forces from the Jade Champion, the Asako Inquisitors, the Kuni family, or the Kuroiban, will be permitted to remain within the borders of the Empire of Rokugan,” Satsu continued. “Those who refuse, or who are determined to possess the Shadowlands Taint upon their souls, will be placed under the supervision of the Empress’ former clan, the Dragon. These forces will be sent out of the Empire’s borders to join the Mantis in the distant realm once known as the Ivory Kingdoms, where they…”
Satsu’s voice trailed off as the Empress laid a hand on his arm. He blinked in surprise, then bowed sharply and took a step backward. The Empress stepped forward to stand on the very edge of the steps. Her gaze fell upon the assembled forces of the Spider, some of whom flinched beneath the intensity of her scrutiny. Greatly diminished in number, they stood and waited for her judgment. She seemed to examine them for several minutes, and then the Empress spoke.
“Go forth,” she commanded the Spider in strong, pure tones, “and conquer in my name.”