As they had arranged, the High Priestess and her daughters met Jack at the side of the road two days before Night's Rise. They exchanged pleasantries, then Jack asked the needed question. "How did your congregation take your revelation?"
"Poorly," she admitted. "But they have accepted it, mostly. They all have darksuits now, and through their darkness, we can, with time and effort, share our experience of Aku's touch. That has been enough so far to convince the recalcitrant. But we have other concerns, much more important. We must go to the city, get books on childbirth, and supplies to see us through the winter and the early spring."
He nodded to that. "That is wise. And when the babes are born?"
She did not sigh, her mask helping her to stay composed. "We will do our best to raise them as we should have raised my daughters. Their lives will be strict, hard, demanding. They will grow up in darkness, but they will not grow up in darkness alone. They will have the forests, and whatever love we can give them, and they can give each other. And they will have lessons in many things my daughters never had."
Jack smiled faintly. "That is good, and I wish you well in this goal." Then he grew more serious. "It has occurred to me that if you have Aku's powers, you should be able to create time portals. I must ask a favour of you…"
Aji cut him short. "No. Not until we do some serious research into time travel and its consequences. You might not want to go back, or we might not be willing to send you. We don't know, and we won't know, for months. Jack, please. You've waited decades, you've slain Aku, you've finally gained some measure of inner peace. Wouldn't you rather know what you're getting into before you try to change what was? Not suffer another failure or risk catastrophe?"
"Some fool fled back and changed the past, and madness took his kin, remembering what now had never been. Time ripped loose around the qualur, judgement day most dire; all of Gate-spanned time convulsed in frost and wind and fire," Ami sang. "A bit of a song we came across when we were learning to read. Jack, do you really want to risk that? Please, give us time. Just a little."
His heart nearly tore itself from his chest, his anger surging. How, after all they had done, could the girls deny him this one last step? Yet… they were right. He sighed heavily. "Very well. After fifty years, three months is endurable. I will meet you again when the pass to your temple is clear."
The girls' masks smiled slightly. "Thank you Jack," Ashi said. "I promise, we'll do everything we can to learn about this." Ami shed her mask, and kissed his cheek quickly before they parted ways once more.
The months came and went, and Jack received, to his surprise, a letter.
The sisters have been delivered of their babes, and the little ones are thriving, even in the darkness of the temple. We are well, and have over the months convinced the sisters that yes, Aku was evil. The idol remains, as we have yet to finalize the plans for its resculpting and removal, but we will remove it over time.
By the time you receive this, we will be well to the north. Meet us there as soon as possible; your menpo can locate our masks. We have very important news for you, and feel it best to deliver it in person.
Yours in care and affection,
The other girls' signatures followed, and Jack frowned in puzzlement. What had the girls learned? He would learn that here, and so he donned his armour once more, and rode north, following his mask's locator. At last, he found the girls, gathered around a tree's base. They did not look to him, their attention focussed on the tree, and he followed their gaze. Adi hung from the tree, body pressed against the trunk and arms stretched along the limbs, and he grasped his sword hilt before Aki laid her hand on his.
"No, Jack. Don't interfere. Let Aji tell you what's going on."
Jack subsided, but his face was hard and eyes narrow. Aji sat before him, and he too sat, then she began to speak.
"Are you sure about this?" Ashi asked, for the tenth time at least.
Adi sighed, "Yes. We have to be sure," she told her sisters. "After all Jack's done for us, for everyone, we have to be sure, and this is the best way."
Ashi hugged her. "All right. We'll make sure you're kept watered, and we'll keep the scavengers off."
She smiled. "Thank you," she said softly, and they went to the ash tree so carefully chosen. There, Adi mounted the stepladder, and carefully wrapped her wrists with the ends of the rope, using the bindings they'd learned about in the city's library. Her sisters checked rechecked their tools: the large buckets for water, the apparatus, essentially a watering can on a pivot, that would let them get the contents to their suffering sister. They were ready, and and her nod, pulled the ladder away. Adi fell, jerked a bit against the ropes, and whimpered slightly. "Remember: do no cut me down. Not while I have breath in my body." They promised her they would not.
"For the last three days, she's hung there. We keep her watered, watch her constantly. The instant…"
Adi walked the glorious streets of the Realm Eternal, beside her a great man with a broad-brimmed hat, worn brown cloak, and an eyepatch.
"I know what is your heart, Adi Akisdottir," the god-man said. "It is the way of gods to grant boons to mortals of courage, and I will tell you what you wish to know."
"She's stopped breathing!" Ari cried out," and Aki swung her sword at the rope, and their crucified sister fell. Avi caught her, laid her down.
"Aji, breathe for her," Ashi commanded. "Ari, reawaken her heart. I will join my darkness to hers and call for her spirit." And as the girls moved with blinding speed to save their beloved sibling, Jack watched, helpless to aid them. Long seconds passed, then Adi coughed, hard, and vomited up… nothing, really. A little bile, a lot of water. She slowly, carefully, sat, then stood, her hand pressed against the ash tree.
"It worked," she said. "He spoke to me." She saw Jack then, and fell to her knees, face pressed to the ground. "Oh, Samurai, please, I beg you, forgive for what I must say," she sobbed as she pressed her palms together as though it prayer.
"Ah… I forgive, you," he said, and the distraught girl spoke.
"You can make time portals, yes. But the Samurai's quest is not possible, for one cannot change what has already been. Tell me this," he asked in his deep, gentle voice. "If you were to send the samurai back to his own time, how could you send him back?"
Adi considered that, slowly sorting it through. If they sent him back, he would kill Aku and free the world. But if he killed Aku, there would be nobody to sire them, and thus, nobody to send him back. Her head started to hurt. "I… see. Then we will simply continue to protect this world, and to help our sisters in worship find the light."
The god smiled slightly to her. "Yes. As will your mother. It is rare for a god to tell a mortal of the future, but I will tell you this: you and your sisters will have long lives and difficult, but there will be enough joy that you will count your lives good."
"Oh, Samurai, I would rather be given to Aku as a burnt offering than tell you that, but…" and she completely broke down.
Jack fell to his knees, and moaned out a denial. The girls eventually helped him and their sister to stand, and led them to the nearby cabin. They quickly lit a fire, not for warmth but for the simple, atavistic comfort, and started a kettle of tea. They helped Jack out of his armour, and piled themselves upon him and upon their sister. Safety, shelter, touch, fire, the most primal comforts, these were the best things they knew how to give the tormented pair.
Over the next few days, the six helped the two as best they could to come to terms with the unwanted truth, and finally, it was Ari who asked the needed question.
"Is it really so bad, Jack?" she asked as she and Adi lay against him before the fireplace, the night filled with the soft sounds of insects beyond the cabin walls. "You have a place here; the world mostly loves you; Aku is gone; and in us and our mother, you even have a family of sorts. You've helped us so much, please, let us help you."
And though it hurt, Jack agreed.