LAW OF CONSERVATION OF SOULS

Disclaimer: I don't own Samurai Jack. At all. If I did, the finale would have been a two hour special. Minimum.

Disclaimer II: Yes. Yes, I am salty. Saltier than a sailor with a fetish for the girl on cartons of Morton's

salt.

Disclaimer III: If Jack acts out of character, it's because losing a loved one, especially a spouse-to-be, is not something you shed a single manly tear over and mope about. It is a heart-shattering event and to treat it as any less is a slap in the face to anyone who has lost a lover.

The Thing That Should Not Be, The Master of Masters, The Shogun of Sorrow, etc. etc. slammed his gargantuan hand down a few precious seconds too late.

Ashi and Jack were gone.

The survivors of his defense against the united, last ditch effort to buy their savior, Samurai Jack a second chance, watched as the despoiler and tyrant that had ruled since time immemorial processed his failure to stop their hero and a girl in a skin-tight black outfit from disappearing into thin air. Most were too focused on either surviving the next barrage of unholy wrath or mourning their dead to process what had happened.

The once cocky/irritated look that was Aku's face shifted to one of great concern, as if, for once in a lifetime of unchallenged superiority flecked by only token resistance, something had gone very, very wrong.

Aku stared into space, no longer looking merely annoyed or amused. The surviving armies watched the immortal, unstoppable oppressor of all life's expression shift from deep concern to despair.

"Oh, no." Aku croaked.

He stood there, motionless, shocked. Survivors waited for another assault, but nothing came.

The massive black demon with flaming eyebrows looked like he was either about to start screaming in terror or… cry.

"HA!"

The ethereal blue spirit that was the great warrior known only as the Scotsman rose up to Aku, the latter not even seeming to notice the jeer, staring at the horizon with a broken and despondent empty gaze.

"Ye lost, ye stoopid flamin' eyed babeh! Yeh've been done in by yehr own han', havin' Jack at yer mercy and then sayin' to ever'one he e'vr gave a helpin' han' to, 'COME AN' GET ME, I GOT YOUR HERO RIGHT HERE, AND I'M GONNA SPEND MINUTES DECIDIN' HOW TA KILL 'EM!' Ha HA!" The Scotsman jeered. "You know what yer biggest trouble is, yeh big flamin' eyed babeh? It's not us, it's not Jack, it's not even his sword, it's yeh! Yeh prance about like a vill'in in meh dear mum's bedtime stories, saying 'Ah'll do this evi' thing, this evi' thing ah'm doin' right now, and nobody's go'in the stop me!' And then, then! Someone does stop yeh, and yeh just stare at them, like, 'Oh Christ! How the feck did tha' happen?' It's like yo' been holed up in your crib so long, yeh forgotten what actual havin' to fight is like, you sniv'len cowardly piece o'-"

"YOU- FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLS!" Aku screamed in panic. "Do NONE OF YOU understand what you've DONE?! IF HE GOES BACK AND CHANGES THE PAST-"

"Then we may not exist." Sir Colin Bartholomew Montgomery Rothchild III said wearily, as he climbed out on too-old arms and way-too old legs of the remains of his hovering liftcraft. "We know that. But…" and in an act of defiance that cost him borrowed time, the wounded canine archeologist lifted his cane, wobbly gesturing to threaten the towering demon, "…neither will you."

Aku surveyed the wounded and living, looking for one who shared his terror at the thought of ceasing to be.

All around him were faces stern and ready, glaring down the eldritch horror having an existential meltdown.

His irises narrowed in horrified understanding.

"You don't care?" he asked, hesitation in his voice.

"We do care." Said one Spartan, holding a now dead brother in arms. "We have sons, daughters, wives, husbands. We have homes. We all said our goodbyes. But whoever takes our place… whoever exists instead of us… they will not know the horror of living under you. And that is worth any cost."

"For the Samurai." A wounded girl, clutching her broken arm, staggered forth to glare down the tyrant.

"For the Samurai." Repeated the Scotsman's daughters in unison.

And the horrible thing that was Evil itself looked on the righteous spirits of its feeble enemies, saw the fire that burned in their hearts, and in that moment, he saw-

-a thousand burning cores of white fire, growing furious at his actions, each one ready to be forged into a sword if the first Samurai fell-

A thousand Samurai Jacks, and they didn't even know it.

The moment Jack had shown the world that Aku could know fear, the moment he had put out reward posters- a subtle admittance that this Samurai was a problem he could not deal with himself, he'd lost.

A thousand fiery souls, each saying NO MORE.

He'd lost.

In millennia past, a final blow was struck.

Aku felt millennia of tyrannical rule unravel in his memories, and looked at his now non-existent hands…

And the last thought of Aku, shape-shifting master of darkness, the Shogun of Sorrow was, So this is what terror feels like.

The future that was Aku vanished into white nothingness.

"…um. Hello?"

"Oy. You there, ye' diggin' doggy?"

"I'd rather you call me a canine archeologist. But yes, I'm here."

"I'm here too." another voice called. Male, older. A Spartan.

"But you're dead." Another confused voice, belonging to the Spartans, sounded confused.

"Um. Anyone else see nothing but white?" asked a very confused raver.

"Preeeeetty." Said the odd jumping man.

Silence.

"OY! AKU, YOU PIG-FECKING BABEH! IF YOU'RE HERE, SAY SOMETHIN', YOU COWARDLY, THUMB-SUCKIN', SULKIN', BUTTER-KNIFE FEARIN', WEAK-WILLED, HIT WITH EV'RY STICK O' THE UGLY TREE, ENOUGH BRICKS UP YER ARSE TO REBUILD A COUNTRY, PIECE-OF-BAD-HAGGIS SON OF A HORSE'S BROWN EYE!"

Silence.

"I think 'e's gone." Said a very confused Scotsman.

"Was all that vulgarity really necessary?" said an abashed Rothchild.

"Yes." Replied the Scotsman after a minute.

"All right, um. Huh." Rothchild sounded perplexed. "Can… can anyone move their legs?"

"I don't have any." Called one voice.

"No arms." Affirmed another.

A collective murmur affirmed that no one in the unseen multitude had any legs, arms, or even the need to breathe.

"This is rather awkward." called a Triseraquin.

"Aye." affirmed The Scotsman. "I expected not-existin' to, uh… be more… non-existent."

"Perhaps our souls are all that remain?" hypothesized Rothchild.

"If that's the case, then we need to work out what exactly we can and cannot do, before we go mad from this." Asserted a Triseraquin.

Silence.

"Better than Aku!" said a raver.

Laughter erupted from infinite blankness.

"Okay, okay." Rothchild said as the laughter died. "On more serious notes, how do we-"

The whiteness disappeared.

The dead and living of the rebel army stood floating in a vast cosmic sea of stars, now clearly identifiable.

Before them stood, radiating divine authority and holy majesty, gargantuan giants.

A many armed blue man, clad in gold and blue armor, holding a bow…

A massive white-gold warrior, holding a trident, one eye black and dead, the other radiating blue light…

A golden man with the head of a falcon, holding a curved staff…

There was no question. They were righteous, powerful and just, the antithesis to Aku.

Gods.

"FEAR NOT." Said the bearded giant. "YOU SHALL NOT BE CAST INTO OBLIVION."

"YOUR SOULS WILL SLEEP FOR A WHILE. BUT YOU SHALL BE BORN INTO A NEW ERA FREE OF THE DEMON LORD." Affirmed the bird-headed man.

"BE AT PEACE. YOU HAVE FOUGHT VALIANTLY AND EARNED YOUR FREEDOM." Spoke Rama gently.

There was cheering, deafening and unanimous. Hugs. Kisses. Shouts of unchecked rejoicing. They would not cease to exist, there would be a new world!...

"What 'bout Jack and girl?" asked the grey-bearded Tree-man. The White Monkey tribe looked up as well, curious about the warrior who had taught them to fight back against invaders.

That question brought a silence. What would become of their savior and the girl that had managed to fight off Aku's influence, and in a Herculean feat of will, turn his own power against him?

The Falcon-headed God (which all seeing him now knew in their hearts was Ra) slashed down his cane…

A portal opened, and they saw him strike the final blow, destroying Aku once and for all, and they cheered.

They saw him and the girl that had helped him escape, who whispers affirmed was named "Ashi" help to rebuild the shattered empire, restoring it to a pristine glory, nobleman working alongside peasant to rebuild homes and temples, the Samurai working as diligently as any other, and they smiled.

They saw the gathered teachers who had taught Jack, who they now knew to be named "Jakurou" (which made a few ravers laugh), and they saw them gather to celebrate his marriage to Ashi, walking down the isle, and they cried with emotional joy…

Then she staggered, and they gasped.

Jack/Jakurou ran to her side… and she vanished.

They watched him beg a pile of empty clothes to come back, horrified.

They heard him scream, calling her name as Jakurou's mother ran to his side.

And the savior of the world gave a heartbreaking roar of despair and fell to his knees, weeping horribly.

The Spartans, hardened men and women, who had seen every horror and endured them all the same, stared with mouths open in horror and eyes damp with tears.

The Triseraquin were in a state of denial. This couldn't be. This simply could not be the reward for their hero…

The ravers looked in mute horror at the cruel twist of fate.

The Scotsman gave a weak, barely audible "…no." as his heart broke for his brother in arms.

His daughters wept with horror.

The Monkey Man stared in disbelief. "Jack friend… go away?"

Amid the weeping and confusion, the Monkey Man looked up at the Gods, Odin, Rama, and Ra, and asked, with sadness and confusion…

"Why?"

"SHE WAS BORN OF AKU. WITHOUT AKU, SHE DOESN'T EXIST. IT IS NO CONSEQUENCE." Ra said simply.

"DO NOT GIVE IT TOO MUCH WORRY. JAKUROU IS STRONG. HE WILL OVERCOME AND HE-"

"He's strong?!" the Scotsman interrupted angrily. "He's STRONG, so yeh're fine that his WIFE JUST DIES IN HIS BLEEDIN' ARMS?!" he asked, incredulous disbelief turning to fury.

"TECHNICALLY SHE DID NOT DIE." Rama amended. "SHE SIMPLY CEASED TO EXIST AND-"

"THAT'S EVEN FECKING WORSE, YOU SIX-ARMED COLD-HEARTED FREAK!" The Scotsman roared with appalled horror.

"OUTRAGEOUS!" screamed Rothchild. "Outrageous! Both of them deserved better! BOTH OF THEM!"

"SHE WAS OF AKU." Insisted Ra.

"And she did good, not bad!" stated the Tree Man angrily, eyes wet with tears.

"THE LAWS OF TIME CANNOT ALLOW HER TO EXIST." Stated Odin with finality.

"Then why are we here?!" demanded a raver, prompting cries of affirmation from his fellows.

"BECAUSE THE LAW OF CONSERVATION OF SOULS STATES THAT THOSE WHO EXIST, EVEN IF THE PAST SHOULD CHANGE, WILL BE ALLOWED TO TAKE SIMILAR FORMS." Explained Rama.

"Then it's only fair Ashi be given the same treatment!" screamed a Triseraquin, and others angrily shouted their assent.

"HAVE YOU NOT FORGOTTEN SHE WAS TAINTED BY AKU'S POWER? THAT SHE WAS SATURATED WITH-" Odin chastised, but he was interrupted…

"WE. GET. THAT!" roared the Scotsman. "We get that she was Aku's daughter n' she was train'd t' kill Jakkoru or Jack or whatever his name is, but SHE! SAVED! US!" bellowed the red-haired warrior. "She overcame evil from within and from without, she fought back against Aku, she sent him back t' the past to stop him, but most importantly, HE LOVES HER!"

"IT IS TRAGIC." Agreed Rama. "BUT JAKUROU IS BLESSED WITH IMMORTALITY. HE WILL FIND MANY OTHER LOVERS-"

"Hold on a second." Said Rothchild sharply, canine eyes widening in horror. "…From what we know, his sword was made by the gods, he has said so himself. I assume he means you three. Yet, throughout all of this, through nearly a century of conflict and catastrophe, not once have you helped us directly. Yet he, with a single mission, has time and time again sacrificed his own goals to keep us safe, standing between us and unspeakable horror!" the ancient dachshund's voice began to tremble with anger as he spoke.

"Throughout that, never has he had a companion that was always at his side, or a lover. And after going to every manner of hellish nightmare, he found someone who would follow him into hell and fight at his side, who filled the cracks and gashes in his heart and made him whole. Now, he's back in his own time, his lover, the one woman he wanted to spend his life with, is… gone, not dead and waiting for him on the other side but truly gone forever, he's immortal due to… whatever madness the time portals caused… and you… you think this will please him?!" There was disbelief and revulsion in the archeologist's voice.

"IS IT NOT THE DESIRE OF MORTALS TO BECOME LIKE GODS? HE HAS ACHIEVED-"

"You're insane." Rothchild said venomously. "You are mad. If you can look on this… this horrific tragedy and say that somehow he is better off, then you are as devoid of compassion as Aku!"

There was silence, and the divine aura burned with scorn.

"HOW… DARE YOU." Odin said, with trembling anger, raising his trident. "HOW DARE YOU COMPARE US TO THAT ABOMINATION, THAT STAIN! FOR YOUR INSOLENCE, YOU SHALL SHARE AKU'S FATE- DEAD AND FORGOTTEN TO TIME!"

Rothchild regarded the raised weapon burning with the omnipotence of divine indignation, intent on erasing him from existence, and…

…removed his hat.

"Go ahead. Do it." He said with dignified resignation. "It's what I expected to happen when we set out, and it's what Aku would do."

The blazing, iridescent weapon stopped centimeters from Rothchild's head.

"After all," the dog-scholar said, closed eyes dripping with tears, "you are content to let perhaps the strongest, bravest woman and lover to our savior cease to be. What's one more son of a bitch?"

And being made of Truth, the gods could not reject this Truth.

"TIME OUT." Rama spoke, and the flow of time halted, leaving the three deities to speak.

"Well, shit." Odin said, taking a more informal tone. "It's like that hippie with the hand piercings said. No one's happy."

"I really hate it when he's right." Rama sighed. "We'll never hear the end of it."

"Well, they do kind of have a point. Save the world after that kind of journey and know your wife's not waiting for you in the afterlife, and sooner or later he's going to realize he's still not aging? That's a kick in the balls." Ra concluded.

"He'll get over it." Odin shrugged.

The other two looked at him.

"…right?"

Ra reopened the portal, viewing Jakurou as he was now.

Still clad in ragged wedding clothes, he lay weeping on a bed, clutching Ashi's empty wedding dress, muttering her name softly.

"That…" Odin brought a hand to the back of his head, observing the unbreakable man having finally broken. "…that's not good."

Ra closed the portal, unable to look any longer. "…when he finds out he's still unable to age… he's going to be pissed. Really pissed. We do not need him as an enemy."

"Well, what the hell are we supposed to do?" Odin asked, exasperated. "Her father was Aku. In order for that future to not exist, Aku has to have died in the past. No Aku, no Ashi."

Rama held his chin in thought. "No… no Priestess and no father, no Ashi."

Odin looked at his six-armed ally. "…you can't be serious."

"If we deny the Law of Conservation of Souls to one, that sets a very dangerous precedent." Ra mused. "Annihilation is a punishment reserved for the worst blasphemies or the very worst offenses, like that Adolf asshole. If we say annihilation is acceptable for someone who- let's remember this- used the power of love to overcome the mind control of a nigh-omnipotent evil in order to save the world, then what's the point of free will?"

Odin started to speak, then faltered. "Then what do you propose?"

"A second chance for the 'mother of the year' candidate."

Odin sighed , a sign the other two knew that meant he had mentally exhausted all other options.

"Okay, fine. But we make sure that this job is patched up nice and cleanly. We don't want another paradox like what happened with Atlantis."

The other two groaned. "Too right."

Odin snapped his fingers.

Out of a burning portal fell the prone, smoldering form of the High Priestess of The Sisters of Aku.

"Aku? My lord? Have you come to rescue-"

The demasked, now fifty-one years old black and grey haired assassin priestess looked up to stare at the three antitheses of her deity.

"…oh, crap." She said resignedly.

"YOU HAVE COMMITTED GREAT AND TERRIBLE TRANSGRESSIONS." Boomed Odin. "YOU HAVE FAILED MISERABLY IN MATTERS BOTH MORALITY AND MOTHERHOOD. FOR SUCH EVIL, ONLY CONFINEMENT IN THE BURNING WASTES OF HELL CAN SUFFICE…"

"Can we please skip the booming voice thing?" Ra said. "You know, just give it to her straight?"

Odin stopped. "…you guys okay with that? It really hurts my throat. We good? Okay. Right. Ahem." He turned back to the now confused, distraught woman staring at them, both relieved at no longer being made to writhe in a sea of black fire for all eternity and scared to death by her immortal enemies casually regarding her.

"Okay, to the point. You are not the mother of the year. Not even close. We could blame the fact you drank Aku's… whatever that was (I really hope it wasn't what I think it was), but that doesn't change the fact you deprived seven little girls of a normal childhood, and put them through hell to try and please Satan's college buddy."

The High Priestess stared.

"She's not going to get the reference." Rama noted.

"You have two choices. You can either be sent to a time of antiquity, where you will marry and raise your daughters right as atonement, or you will pay forever in the black burning pit of hell, screaming for a master who forgot about you like a drunken one-night stand."

The High Priestess considered going through a septuplet birthing again versus the joys of having her soul set on fire.

"You'd get to make them the fun way…" offered Ra.

That, it seemed, was the deal-maker.

"Very well." She said, bowing in supplication. "…can I still turn them into ninjas? I won't even do the death courses or the Darwinism."

Odin shrugged. "Eh, sure, why not."

Jakurou opened his tear-drenched eyes to see the three deities he'd hoped to never see again.

"What do you want?" he asked brokenly, holding Ashi's clothes. He'd been breathing her scent, trying desperately to remember her…

"So, yeah." Rama said with a shrug. "I'll get to the point. We can bring back Ashi-"

Jack's posture immediately was one of supplication.

"YES, YES I'LL DO ANYTHING, JUST PLEASE BRING HER BACK-"

"But you will age normally." Odin spoke solemnly.

Jakurou stared, waiting for some other terrible condition to be stated. "…that's… it?"

Odin looked at his other fellows in confusion. "You don't consider losing eternal life to be a heavy cost to regain your lover?"

Jakurou looked at them, blinking, holding the clothes of his non-existent lover, silent for a minute until he realized they were being serious. His right eye, red from weeping, twitched.

The cacophonic guffawing that issued forth was not mirthful. It was wracked, wretched and sarcastic, poisoned with the madness and pain that the final hammer blow that had been the complete and total loss of his beloved.

"You have no idea, do you?" he said, false laughter suddenly fading. "No. Of course not. Eternity for a human, watching everyone you know die… that's not a blessing. It's a curse. And to spend it all knowing that the only way out is through a violent end, and that even then, she won't be waiting..."

Time and time again, the Samurai had found his inner fire, kept himself going through sheer willpower. There were no more surges of heroism left. All that remained were scars, mental and physical, and now there was no one to hold when the nights were colder than usual.

Now they knew, without a shadow of doubt, that they had taken the resilience of the human spirit for granted. There were only so many tragedies and hardships you could heap on someone before they finally broke.

If Odin had been a crueler god, and demanded that for one year with Ashi, the Samurai offer up his life afterward… there was no doubt Jakurou would accept.

"Then let it be done." Ra said finally.

A disturbing thought hit them all at roughly the same time as they left the Samurai…

What if their notions of what humans needed were wrong?

"TIME IN."

Time resumed its normal flow.

"YOU HAVE MADE… A VALID POINT." Odin conceded with humility. "TO DENY ASHI OR ANY SOUL EXISTENCE THROUGH INACTION WOULD BE UNJUST."

"WE WILL AMEND THIS." Vowed Rama.

Rothchild opened his eyes. "Thank you." he said genuinely, without sarcasm.

"BUT NOW, YOU MUST SLEEP, FOR TO SEE THE TIMELINE CHANGE SO DRASTICALLY IS TO INVITE MADNESS ON THE SOUL." Ra warned.

"Tha'… that's al'right." Said the Scotsman. He was restored to his prime age, but weariness from decades was evident in his face. "After today… after today… I feel like I could sleep forever…

One by one, calm took the members of the rebel army.

Jakurou held Ashi in his arms.

"Are you alright?" he asked concernedly.

"…s-sorry." Ashi said embarrassedly. "Just nervous."

"It happens." He reassured her.

For a brief moment, something resonated in the two lover's minds- some terrible feeling that everything had gone wrong…

He helped her to her feet, the gathered crowd relaxed and smiling with understanding and relief.

Akari watched her daughter be wed to the man she, in another timeline, swore to kill.

She looked so happy, and her daughters, while respectful, smiled and cried, not jealous but overwhelmed with joy…

Ashi was going to be happier than she ever would have been. All her daughters would.

Akari felt her husband, a balding but loving man, grip her hand softly, a firm but loving hand that had…

-held her, through love, through sickness, through childbirth, through hardship, through prosperity, and when the emperor's son asked for their daughter's hand in marriage after he, with her help, slew Aku-

So much had changed. She had trained her for war, and from a young age she had been the prince's friend, rival, and crush all in one, and when he had gone away to train, Ashi had wept bitterly, but threw herself back into her ninjutsu…

…with the massive changes to the timeline, she didn't know all the details, but she knew enough.

Aku never knew what the hell hit him.

She looked at the powerful woman she had raised, and pride swelled in her heart as her vision blurred.

…why was she crying?

"Pretty anticlimactic." Rama asserted.

"Maybe." Ra nodded. "But maybe a hero's journey doesn't need to end with a bitter taste or ultra-violence. I think… I think if anyone has earned a 'happily ever after', it's them."

"However, there's nothing we can do about letting everyone he helped remember him." Odin said. "It's too much of a strain on the mortal mind and the timeline."

"Let's remember his goal- to undo the future that was Aku." Rama raised one of many fingers. "I know we must reevaluate our knowledge about the mortal mind and what they need, but I think, from what he has shown us, he would want nothing more than a future that didn't need a Samurai Jack."

They viewed the wedding as it unfolded. Decorum lasted until they were pronounced husband and wife, at which point both unabashedly seemed determined to devour each other's face, to the cheers and gasps of those in attendance. The Emperor and Empress smiled and shared a knowing look.

It was very evident that the want the two shared for each other was very quickly becoming a need. They knew enough that the exact sequence of events would eventually end with both clinging to each other, exhausted but happy, but they did not need details…

"We should give them privacy." Odin concluded quickly, halting the vision. "Let us see how the future fared…"

And they watched.

The Spartans, free of a need to wage an eternal war against undying machines or minions of a demonic overlord, built grand cities.

The Triseraquins' city never sank, and so they were just another one of many races that populated the future earth.

Kevin never was forced into slavery and thus never broke free to join the white-ape tribe… but instead became their most prominent researcher, spending years learning their culture, which included, of course, 'how to jump good'.

The Scotsman, with no need to fight, opened a massive distillery…

The ravers danced to their own beat…

And Sir Colin Bartholomew Montgomery Rothchild III, canine archeologist extraordinaire, opened an exhibit featuring treasures of the past, including one katana named Tengokuken, or "Heaven Guilded Sword".

"…belonging to the Kengu dynasty, it is said that this sword was forged from the emperor's spirit, and used by his son to slay a great demon that had control over time and nearly conquered all of Japan."

Ruefully, the dachshund smiled. "We, of course, could not verify such claims with Japan's historians." Polite tittering from the gathered crowd. "What we do know is that the metal from which the blade is constructed matches no other metallurgical samples from this world, or any other explored star system."

"Sadly, what we do know of the last supposed wielder, Kengu Jakurou, is that after his supposed victory, he and his chosen empress died rather young. Tuberculosis, if records are accurate. Neither of them lived to sixty. The Empress, Kengu Ashi, died shortly before her husband. To honor her death, Jakurou wrote a poem in a jade tablet left at her grave. Out of respect, we have only a transcription."

"Translated, it reads thusly."

"Do not wait for me

Go fly among the heavens

I will see you soon"

"After he passed away, his son, Shiyu, took the throne, and while his reign was much less eventful, he was an extremely fair and just emperor who put the needs of his country before his own."

"But what about this story about a demon lord?" asked one curious reporter. "Was it a warlord, or a bandit leader?"

Rothchild offered an apologetic shrug. "From what little accounts remain, it's said that it was a bona fide, born of hate, living, breathing demon with - and I swear by my twenty years in archeology I am not making this up- flaming eyebrows." More polite laughter. "What this could have been, we sadly don't know. But we must remember, before we dismiss it as mere myth…"

"…even legends have some basis of truth behind them."

Jakurou lay on his sickbed.

The best doctors all had the same prognosis- the disease was too far progressed, grim shaken heads as they consulted on how to ease the pain, his son's head bowed to accept the inevitable.

The hero who had slain Aku was dying to the same illness that claimed his wife. Maybe it had been tearfully hugging her as she wasted away. Maybe they both contracted it. However… whenever… those were irrelevant, now.

His son knelt at his side. "Father…" Shiyu said gently, not knowing what to say. He had his father's face and his mother's eyes. He wasn't a warrior, but he was just and intelligent- two virtues the new emperor would need to keep the country prosperous.

Jakurou forced himself to smile. "You're ready." He said calmly. "You're ready to take my place."

Shiyu shook his head desperately. "No, father… let me find more doctors… there is a man they say, in the eastern province, who can-"

"…he… will not get here soon enough." Jakurou said calmly, covering his mouth as he coughed flecks of blood. "…and besides… your mother… your mother is lonely."

Shiyu, at a loss for words, could only hang his head. "I will honor your legacy, father. I swear it." His eyes misted over. It was said a Samurai was to be stern and stoic at all times, but what cold-hearted fiend could not mourn his father, much less the savior of Japan?

With what remained of his strength, Jakurou reached up to touch his face. "You… al…ready… ha…"

His next breath died in his throat.

The sad news went across the seas, to all who could afford to come. Some had heard that Ashi had fallen to sickness, and while tragic, that Jakurou would fall shortly after was not surprising-

-after all, how long can a man be expected to live, when his heart is ripped out?

They buried him next to where his wife lay.

Vikings, rogues, warriors, gladiators all wept as they bade their greatest student and champion goodbye.

"So, uh… Jack. Wanna open your eyes?"

Jack did so.

He stood in a vast white emptiness. Before him was the guardian of the time portal back when…

"Why am I here?" He said, looking around. He looked down- he was dressed in his old gi, sword absent. "I was in bed, and my son…"

Even with his eyes obscured by red glasses, the blue giant's face was solemn. "They say no man knows the hour or the day. Well, man..." he sighed. "Yours is now. Sorry Jack. Not a thing I can do."

"Ashi-"

"She's waiting, she's waiting. I just…" he rubbed the back of his neck. "I just wanted to say I'm sorry. I thought I had seen the plan laid out- you'd get strong enough to beat me, you'd go back wearing a crown and all that, but Aku had the great idea of just sending everything at once at me. I put up a fight- I think the final total amount of damage I cost him was roughly 4 googolplex, but…" he sighed. "Sorry to let you down, and I'm really sorry your life had to end like this."

Jack shook his head. "Don't be. I met a wonderful woman. I had thirty years with her, and we raised a wonderful son who will lead a wonderful country. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that you could have eternal life, and never really live a single day. My son is ready to move forward. So am I."

The Guardian smiled. "No hard feelings, then?"

"None." Jack smiled.

"Well, let's get going. There's a whole lot of gods, goddesses, sons of gods and heroes that want to shake your hand, and Ashi wants… well, you know what she wants."

Jack tried to suppress a grin that threatened to cover his entire face and failed. He missed her touch, her voice, her everything…

He opened a portal to a realm of pure light, free of darkness and disease. Both legends walked through.

And one by one, when they got old, when their time came, those who had taught Jack joined him in the heavens, and they watched as the world they had saved flourished.

The sword called Tengokuken was never again used, kept in a display case as a reminder of the great emperor's courage in the darkest times, but that was a step towards the world they wanted.

A world where weapons weren't needed.

LAW OF CONSERVATION OF SOULS

No soul shall, by means of chronological revision by means mundane or divine, be subject to annihilation except explicitly for punishment of the most grievous offenses unto life itself.

A soul's name may change. Its body may change. The position it has in life and where it is born may change. But let it be affirmed that all souls inherently have the right to exist.

FURTHERMORE, annihilation via paradox or punishment shall not be applied to those born of such persons punished simply because of familial ties. Bloodlines may be revised, but the sins of the father or mother shall not condemn their offspring's souls to annihilation.

We say this is Truth. Let It Be So.

-The Gods

"So that's it?!"demanded Aku, or, rather, the vestigial speck of a mote of darkness that was Aku, decimated to mere speck of a shadow…

"Yes." Said Odin. "That's it."

"B-b-but where's the tragedy? The final cruel twist that denies the hero happiness? The realization every ally he ever made ceased to exist? WHEN DO I GET TO WATCH HIM SLIT HIS STOMACH OPEN AND BEG FOR OBLIVION?!"

What was once a mighty and imposing voice was now squeaky and small, befitting a small fly- which was roughly how much space Aku could occupy on a good day, now.

Odin glared at the speck. "There will be no tragedy. Fool that I was, I believed once that a touch of misery to the hero's ending would make it poignant. It did not. I see now that someone who has sacrificed so much and fought so valiantly deserves a happy ending."

"But that's NOT FAIR!" protested the sadly shrunken Shogun of Sorrow, bound to his Celestial Prison. So fettered by their chains and broken by human righteousness, there was no more expanding his mass to engulf the land. No eye beams. No shapeshifting. He didn't even have his flaming eyebrows. All Aku possessed now was an annoying, whiny little voice and a dot-like body.

The Gods were not content, it seemed, to simply let him cease to exist. Odin wanted him 'alive' enough to understand with total clarity, for all eternity and then some, that his being reduced to such insignificance that he couldn't corrupt an amoeba was a consequence of his own hubris and flagrant stupidity.

Through his one eye, a blazing blue star of holy wrath, Odin glared down at the occupant, shackled by divine law and powers so vast and numerous, Aku could have been at full power and had aeons to study each failsafe and still never breach the first layer.

"It is fair." Odin said with finality. "And that is precisely why you are upset. But go ahead, feel free to rant and rave about the injustice of it all… for all eternity."

He left Aku screaming impotently in an infinite white abyss.

WRITER'S CUT #1:

"…how long have they been in there?" asked the emperor, now slightly worried.

"Two days." His wife said with a shrug.

Out of privacy, the guards had abandoned the wing where Jakurou and his Ashi now allegedly "slept".

Except the creeking, vulgar words, gasps and giggling indicated that there were no restful activities taking place.

Kengu Matasune sipped his tea. "Should we-"

"No." his wife said.

"But they might-"

"No." she insisted. "You remember our wedding nights, right?"

"Well," he said, rubbing the back of his head. "That was different."

"Different how?" his wife asked mischievously.

"We agreed to take breaks for food and water!" he said, slightly worried for his son and daughter-in-law's health.

A particularly loud squeal from Ashi put to bed any concerns that Jakurou might be clueless as to a husband's duties.

He and his wife looked at each other. "Three days?"

She nodded. "We should get them canes as well."

Then, after sipping her tea, she added "and maybe we should have the carpenters make sure the supports are still good."

WRITER'S CUT #2:

"This is inhumane!" protested Aku, concerning his eternal prison.

Odin looked at him, blazing blue starfire of an eye radiating indifference. "You have no room to talk about humane treatment."

"Eternal nothingness? You would do this to anyone, and not even grant the mercy of annihilation?!" he protested, now genuinely afraid.

"Okay, fine." Odin said curtly. "You can either spend eternity here… or spend eternity as an un-promotable retail worker."

A minute of silence passed.

"Wow, this place is really comfy." Aku commented.

WRITER'S CUT #3:

"So we're locking you in a Celestial prison for all eternity and then some, because you're a douche."

Aku glared back with all the hatred and spite a fly-sized speck could muster. "Someone will let me out. That's how it always works. And then, I'm going to take that spear, and shove it up your ass. SIDEWAYS."

"However, it would be cruel to leave you with nothing but silence… so we're leaving you some… music."

"Wha?" Aku asked, confused, as Odin snapped his fingers and disappeared.

From the infinite edges of white nothing, a song began to play.

It's a world of laughter, a world of tears, It's a world of hope and a world of fears…

"Huh." Aku said, as It's a Small World began to play. "That's… not so bad."

THREE MINUTES LATER

"Okay, okay, you've made your point, you can turn off the music now." Aku said derisively.

It's a small world after all, it's a small world after all, it's a small world after all, it's a small, small, woooorld…

"Seriously this is just stupid. Who the hell writes this crap?... I mean I would have hired them and made them play this on repeat in the pit of hate… ooooh, that would have been a good way to torture the Samurai… slowly break his… mind…"

The penny dropped.

"Oh, nooo…"Aku gasped as the song repeated, getting faintly ever so louder.

TEN MINUTES LATER

IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL, IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL-

"OH FOR THE LOVE OF THE GODS KILL ME NOW! SAMURAI JACK! SAMURAI JACK! FOR THE LOVE OF MERCY, END IT! END IT! I'M HELPLESS! YOU WIN! JUST MAKE IT STOP!"

IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL, IT'S A SMALL, SMALL, WORLD…

THREE DAYS LATER

IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL, IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL-

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH! AAAAAAAH! AAAAAAAAARRRRRGHH! AAAH! AAAH! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! AAAH! AAAH! AAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"

ONE YEAR LATER

Aku vowed on every last star in the cosmos when he got out, he was going to force feed Ashi to Jack. Piece. By. Piece. Or maybe feed the two to each other, deep-frying toes and fingers first…

IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL, IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL-

THREE YEARS LATER

The universe was a mistake, his right eye had convinced him. After all, how could any creation that allowed something like this to exist not be a horrible abomination.

His left eye had agreed, and said that if he was to atone for his wickedness, he needed to erase all of time so that this could never happen to anyone ever again.

TEN YEARS LATER

The music was deafening.

Oh. Oh, if only it were deafening.

When he broke out, he would eradicate the very concept of sound.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER

"SATAN?! ARE YOU LISTENING!? I WILL GIVE YOU MY SOUL, MY ENTIRE SOUL, IF YOU WILL JUST MAKE ME DEAF!"

TWO HUNDRED YEARS LATER

"ODIN? RAMA? RA? JESUS? ALLAH? MR. ROGERS?! SOMEONE MAKE IT STOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP!"

AND A WORLD OF FEARS AND A WORLD OF FEARS AND A WORLD OF FEARS AND A WORLD OF FEARS AND A WORLD OF FEARS AND A WORLD OF FEARS AND A WORLD OF FEARS AND A WORLD OF FEARS

EXACT TIME UNKNOWN

In the beginning, there was Aku.

And the world was stupid and ugly, so Aku destroyed it, and - never existed ever.

Then Aku realized he really wanted mozzarella sticks, so he recreated the world.

But when he made mankind advance to the point their creation of fried mozzarella had reached it's pinnacle, a foolish sword wielding a samurai dared to suggest ranch instead of marinara.

For this heresy, he destroyed the world again, and no one ever made terrible songs ever.

In the beginning there was Aku, and he was very very sorry.

He promised to never, ever do bad things again, if the gods would let him sleep forever.

In the beginning there was Aku, and the pain never ended.

In the end there was Aku.

Aku created a small world.

Aku deserves this.

Aku is the small, small world.

The song can't stop, or Aku will stop. And if Aku stops, no one will ever try to stop the song again.

In the beginning there was a foolish Aku, who unleashed a speakable evil.

And the samurai killed Aku, because that was Aku's plan all along.

ADDENDUM:

We the Gods hereby decree the use of the song "It's a Small World" for more than ten minutes maximum to be an act of unspeakable cruelty, to never be used as a punishment on anyone.

Besides Aku.

WRITER'S CUT #4 (Okay I'm really done)

"So after I killed her sisters and left them for dead, Ashi tried to kill me again, but we were swallowed by a gigantic monster. I chained her to my back, and then she tried to kill me again and again as we made our way through the monster's belly. Sure, we had a few setbacks, especially the needle rain, remember that, honey?"

"Oooh, yes. We did that again on our wedding night, didn't we?" Ashi giggled.

"Ha ha, good times." Jakurou smiled. "So, after spending an hour removing sharp needles from your mother and myself, we rode massive parasitic creatures to escape a gigantic pit of acid."

"Then your father was nice to a ladybug, so I decided not to slit his throat… and later, I decided to follow him after he was so upset he wanted to kill himself in front of an evil ghost, so I used rocks and water to scrub off magical ashes that had been burned into my skin!" Ashi leaned against her lover.

"And that's how I met your mother." Jakurou said, nuzzling his bride affectionately.

Shiyu, five years old, decided that celibacy was looking better every minute.