Jack and the four ponies journeyed in the direction Demongo had fled in his hasty retreat. Their path led them down to the rocky terrain, and it wasn't long before they lost sight of Star Swirl's meager house on the cliff. The earth itself seemed to fight their advance, the way forward twisting this way and that, but they quickly broke free of the crushing walls.
Finally escaping the maze of rock behind them, an ominous mountain was in sight by the edge of the canyon. Only a small barren plain separated them from their destination. Jack and the ponies were happy to be free of the quieting area behind them, and leisurely made their way to their true target.
The land itself seemed to gradually darken and become more sinister. The ground was pitch black in some areas, and the group carefully avoided what they could. As they made their way through the empty plains, even the dirt faded to a lifeless grey, and the air was still, devoid of any sign of life. Fluttershy was slowly becoming more and more apprehensive. Pinkie Pie picked up on her friends unease, and searched her mind for something to pass the time.
"So-oooo, Jack, was it? What's your story?" Pinkie Pie asked, focusing on the new member of their expedition.
Jack distractedly slid a hand down to the hilt of his magical sword, remembering the events that had brought him to this point in time. He looked ahead for a time, watching for any alien movement, before finally speaking as if in a trance.
"I... I am not from this time," he solemnly announced. The ponies stared at him in awe as he began his tale.
"Aku was a great evil plaguing my father's kingdom. His great army of evil swept across the land like a plague, and the shadows themselves spread his nefarious lies. With the help of this sword given to him by the gods themselves, my father drove back Aku's armies until there was peace once again."
"What happened next?" Rainbow Dash demanded as he paused. Fluttershy slowly forgot the terrors around them as Jack continued his life's story.
"After I was born, Aku wormed his way back into the kingdom by shape-shifting. He captured my father and renewed his reign of terror. I spent years practicing with the sword before going out to finish what my father had started." He balled his hand into a tight fist as he recounted the intense battle.
"With my father's magical sword I was able to defeat Aku, but before I could end his tyranny, he used something I had never seen or heard of before. Somehow, he used a spell to send me forward in time. Without me to stop him, he created his perfect world." He looked up, surprised they had almost reached their destination.
"Aku had destroyed my father's kingdom. Then he had gathered many minions together in preparation for the day I would return." He thought back to his latest encounter with his henchmen.
"Thankfully, Demongo was the last of them. With your help, Aku should fall quickly."
"Ah dunno, Jack," Applejack said. "Ah'm not used to this here Element yet."
The brave heroes had finally found the entrance to Aku's volcanic lair. A silence came over the group as they saw it. Etched in stone, the gate towered above them all, standing six ponies high, and ten across. Two large hoops were placed on either side of the solid barrier.
Applejack ran a hoof over the worn jagged edges, and felt a sense of apprehension wash over her. She didn't want the others to know, but she suddenly wondered if they were all going to get out of this alive.
"Applejack," Fluttershy whispered. The pony turned to look at her friend as she heard her name.
"Will we be okay in there?" Her apprehension spiked at her question. She was right. This was reckless. But they had no choice.
"We'll be fine, sugar-cube," Applejack comforted her worried friend with a hoof on her shoulder. "Trust me." Fluttershy quietly stared at her. She smiled reassuringly.
"Pinkie promise?" She nodded, going through the motions. Fluttershy felt much better from the simple gesture.
Applejack always kept her promises.
Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie were busy examining the door with Jack, wondering how they would get inside. Rainbow Dash was pushing as hard as she could on the heavy doors without success. Pinkie Pie bounced around her shouting words of encouragement.
"Any minute now! I'm sure you can do it!" She said, while Jack stared down at the ground. He knelt to touch the groove cut deep into the floor in a circular arc.
"It won't budge," Rainbow Dash exclaimed as she slumped down, taking a rest away from the door. "What now? Is there another way in?" She moved closer to the door, hoping to find some secret lever like the ones in her favorite books.
Jack gripped one of the knockers, and lightly pulled.The gate opened quickly under his efforts. A rush of hot air blew towards Jack as he pulled, and he felt a quiet whisper of maniacal laughter from deep within.
"Guys! It's open!" Pinkie Pie shouted, bouncing excitedly.
"Something's happening," Jack murmured as the gate shuddered. The ponies watched as shadows began cascading out from the blackened walls around the gate. The darkness fell to the ground in small clumps, before slowly coalescing together. The nearest puddle grew to Jack's height before a distinct outline was formed.
The monster was impossible to see, hidden behind a wall of jagged armor. A rugged helmet in the shape of a roaring flame shielded its head, and long jagged spikes adorned the thick suit. It held a thick broadsword as wide as Applejack's leg, and looked ready to be used by its owner.
"Inside. Now!" Jack barked out as he knocked away a heavy swing from the creature. The ponies rushed inside as more of the new monsters emerged from the ground. Jack jumped back, barely avoiding the edge of his adversary's weapon, landing inside the brightly lit tunnel.
The Heartless made no move to follow him. Instead of pursuing him, it only walked away from the opening, and out of sight. Rainbow Dash could still see more of them standing outside, waiting. It was as if they were only keeping them from escaping.
"Come on, guys," she said, motioning down the tunnel. "We're here for Aku, right?"
The group followed closely behind Rainbow Dash as she led the way, apart from a curious pony. As Fluttershy looked back towards the inviting exit, she saw the monsters silently standing there. She could feel its evil eyes boring into her, before it let out a wheezing sound that eerily reminded her of laughter. The doors slowly closed as it stood there, reveling in their inevitable demise, until the gate closed with a resounding snap, sealing behind the group. Fluttershy whimpered before running to catch up to her friends.
When she found them again, they were standing some way down the sparsely lit tunnel. They were gathered around something, but Fluttershy couldn't see what it was. As she neared them, Pinkie Pie turned to with a large grin plastered across her face.
"Fluttershy! I made another friend," she said as she grabbed hold of Fluttershy. She was dragged forward forcefully until this new friend was only steps away from her. "Hey, new buddy! meet Fluttershy!"
A short old hermit stood weakly in front of her. Fluttershy couldn't hold back a yelp of fright as she saw him. His shadow was enormous in the dimly lit cave. She had the strangest feeling that the shadow itself had eyes and was watching her as the hermit spoke.
"Nice to meet you, friend of Pinkie Pie," he muttered as the ponies stared at him with wide-eyed gazes. Only Jack was ignoring the hermit, opting instead to watch carefully for any more of the Heartless they had run into.
"Now. I can lead you to Aku if you'd like." Jack turned away from the unexplored tunnel as he heard the generous offer.
"Really? That's awesome! Take us there right away," Rainbow Dash exclaimed, as the others quickly agreed with her. Only Fluttershy was unsure about the hermit's true intentions.
"Wait." The group stopped their celebrations as she spoke. They were giving her confused looks, but Fluttershy only had eyes for the mysterious hermit. Something about his offer seemed false, but she didn't know why.
"Umm, how did you get in here?" She quietly asked. The hermit wave a hand dismissively at her, as if the question were only to sate her curiosity.
"That's simple," he replied carefully. "I got trapped in here just like you, by those big evil ninjas. I've been stuck down here for ages with no way out. I'm nowhere near as strong as you, so I couldn't fight them either." He quickly made his way down the spooky tunnel, away from his interrogator's questioning eyes.
"See, Fluttershy? Nothing sinister about a hermit who shows up to help us. After all, we're on adventure!" Rainbow Dash said, her doubts eased by the hermit's simple explanation.
"Aku will be waiting at the end of this tunnel. Now do you want to get out of here of not? I don't know how much longer could go without seeing my family. I went on a long journey myself, but I was just on my way back to them when I got trapped in here." They followed the deceptively fast hermit, unaware of Fluttershy's worried glances at the shadow dancing across the walls as they went.
Fluttershy slowly went over his explanation in her head, wondering what seemed so wrong about it. As the tunnel opened up into a deep cavern, a thought raced through her mind.
How did he know we were attacked?
"Ah," the hermit said as he walked forwards toward some unseen spot the others couldn't see. "We're here." Fluttershy heard the others gasp in amazement at where they were.
They had emerged at the bottom of the volcano. High above them they see the ridge of the mountain they were under, sheltering them from the sun. No light shone down on them, and Fluttershy noticed the only source of light cascading from below the wide path they were on. She curiously made to the edge of the walkway formed by one smooth wavy rock, and jumped back in fright.
The volcano was still active. She could see magma flowing far below her in a slow whirlpool around the tall mountain of cooled down lava they were standing upon. Fluttershy could feel the roaring heat from even this distance, and moved back to the group. Her feelings of security faded with the discovery of the source of meager light.
"Spread out, you guys," Rainbow Dash ordered her friends as she walked towards the only thing in the room.
Her attention had been spiked by the familiar door standing in the middle of the cavern. It looked exactly like the door they had passed through. She laid her hoof on the handle, but thought better of opening the door. They could see what was on the other side after they had dealt with Aku.
The hermit sidled up to Applejack as the ponies began looking for Aku. Only Jack had not moved. He was staring at the shadow creeping up on Applejack in fascination.
"So, Aku should be somewhere around 'ere, right?" Applejack asked the smiling hermit.
"Oh, I'm sure he's right beside you," he chuckled menacingly. Jack finally recognized what the old hermit's shadow looked like as the light from the magma cast it onto the wall behind him.
"Applejack! Get away from him!" Jack shouted as the other ponies whirled around.
"What in the hay? Why do you think-" As Applejack turned around, the innocent old man grab her, holding her high above his head. He let out an evil laugh as the others rushed towards him. She felt his hands shift into menacing claws that dug painfully into her legs as he shifted into his true form.
"This could not have been easier, Jack," Aku taunted his archenemy. Jack and the ponies quickly rushed over to Aku, and Rainbow Dash flew toward him, hoping to free Applejack from his deadly grip. Aku watched her as she dove towards him, chuckling as she closed in on him.
As Rainbow Dash neared Aku, he opened his mouth and roared. Black fire with deadly green edges spat out at the unsuspecting pegasus. The rainbow pony swiftly dropped towards the ground, avoiding the brunt of the attack. A few stray flames slammed into her body, throwing her in the direction of Fluttershy and the others. She fell to the ground and lay there, unmoving. Pinkie Pie and Jack jumped in front of Aku as Fluttershy knelt to check on the weary pony.
"Don't worry about me," Rainbow Dash muttered, wincing as she felt her singed wings grow back under the healer's tender care. "Save Applejack!"
"Fooling you has always been a pleasure!" Aku roared as he towered over Pinkie Pie and Jack. He savagely kicked at Pinkie Pie and she hopped around him, trying to somehow reach her captured friend.
She was launched backwards by the force he had put into his kick, landing beside the other ponies. Finally, only Jack stood against him.
"The darkness has made me more powerful than you can possibly imagine!" Aku gloated. Applejack let out a painful cry as his razor sharp claws clenched tightly around her. Jack swung his sword quickly as he saw an opening, dodging Aku's quickly aimed burst of fire. His sword sunk into the nearest leg, leaving a noticeable scar as he pulled away. Aku let out a grunt, mollified by the injury.
"Your father's magic sword is still a hassle, Samurai Jack," he said as he lowered his arms from above him. He grinned mischievously at Applejack.
"It looks like I must require the use of my hands to deal with you, after all. You shall receive my full attention as I finish what your father started."
He threw Applejack with his formidable strength over his shoulder. All eyes were on Applejack as she soared through the air, bouncing along the tough ground, until there was no where to go but down. Aku reveled in the ponies' screams as she plummeted over the edge. One voice was louder than the others.
"No!" Fluttershy cried as Applejack disappeared from sight.
"You promised me! You Pinkie promised me!" she shouted to the spot her friend had fallen. Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash could only stare in shock to where Applejack had been thrown down towards the deadly lava below.
She couldn't, she thought desperately. Not Applejack.
Aku only laughed at that terror running through her eyes. He held up a claw to his misshapen ear as they lay still, hoping against all hope that she had survived. They heard a quiet sound echo up from far below, and Fluttershy quickly devolved into tears. Her two remaining friends exchanged helpless glances before looking at Jack.
He shook his head slowly. Nothing could be said to comfort the yellow pony. Only time would help her now.
Jack ran towards Aku in the hopes of avenging his fallen comrade. Aku stood there patiently, laughing maniacally as his victory was almost at hand. He pulled his arm back in preparation for the solitary soldier.
"So this is how you end, Samurai Jack," he laughed as his sworn enemy closed in on him.
"Not so fast!" A voice boomed out from behind him. He felt a a rope wrap around his outstretched arm and tighten until it dug painfully into his shadowy form.
"Ah don't think ah'll just let you do as you like." The familiar voice confidently spoke out as Aku frantically clawed at the lasso that had ensnared his arm. No matter how hard he pulled, the rope wouldn't snap or unravel.
"Hurry Jack, ah can't hold him forever," Applejack spoke through clenched teeth. Aku was trying to wrench her lasso out of her hooves. She flapped her wings in an effort to keep the rope from escaping in a tug of war.
Wings? She remembered a flash of light and flying away from the lava, but what happened? She examined her Element. The chain had stretched to exactly the length she had needed to catch Aku's hand. Her hooves were clasped tightly around the grooves in the hilt giving her extra leverage in her efforts to hold Aku.
"Applejack. Focus!" Jack shouted as Aku's efforts to wrest his arm free proved somewhat successful, slowly swinging the captured arm at Jack to keep him at bay as he pulled on the unbreakable chain.
"Right! Mah bad."
Jack still had difficulty getting close enough to deal a crippling blow between the blasts of fire and swaying limbs. An idea popped into his head as he saw Aku's arm straining against the chain bound around it. He only needed an opening. He asked for her help again, as he maneuvered close enough for one more chance.
"Can you stop his arms again?"
"Ah'm on it!" Applejack yelled. She tugged sharply on her Element with the help of her new wings. Aku's arm noticeably bulged as he fought for the use of his arm. Applejack felt a slight ripple along the chain, and gave it her all.
Her horn glowed a dazzling orange as her Element responded in kind. The chain shone bright orange as she pulled as hard as she could. Applejack shouted as she felt Aku topple over in her direction, felled by her efforts.
Jack jumped at her signal. Sword in hand, he landed on Aku's chest and stabbed his weapon downwards as hard as he could, yelling at the top of his lungs.
"For my world!"
The sword plunged deep into Aku's chest, only stopping when the entire length of the blade was buried. Aku wheezed as Jack pulled it out, and tried to cover his wound with a shaking claw. Jack watched in fascination as the wound slowly spread along his body, leaving his face unharmed for now.
Aku coughed as the wound on his body broke down any part of him it came into contact with. He smiled at Jack as he mocked him one last time.
"Enjoy your 'beautiful' world, Samurai Jack," he spat as the wound finished its work on his body, and began eating away at his head.
"And may you never find your own time."
With that last taunt on his lips, Aku finally faded away. Only his last laugh remained, quietly echoing around the silent cavern. Jack stood there quietly considering the villain's final words, as the long quest he had been on for most of his adult life was at last over.
Applejack ran over to the other ponies, happy to see Fluttershy had healed most of their wounds. Only scratches and scrapes remained where there were broken ribs and bruises.
"Sorry about the scare," Applejack said in apology to her friends. "But ah knew Pinkie would haunt me forever if ah broke a Pinkie promise."
"That was awesome!" Rainbow Dash shouted. Applejack only chuckled before she felt her friend poking at her wings. "And how did you suddenly get wings AND a horn? My wings are only a little bit bigger!"
"Ah don't know," Applejack replied, confused. "Ah just remember falling towards the lava, and -- whoa, Nelly!"
She felt her head swim as she stood there, to be caught by Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. They carefully lowered her to the ground as the room spun around her. The ponies shielded their eyes as her Element went haywire, glowing too brightly for them to look at directly.
The light slowly faded, leaving a regular wingless, hornless Applejack below them. She tried to pull herself up on shaky hooves, but fell back down in exhaustion.
"Oof. Ah'm a little tuckered out all of a sudden." Pinkie Pie bounced up and down excitedly beside her.
"That's alright!" she said. "We're happy just to have you back to normal." Jack walked over to the ponies, quietly contemplating the ground.
"Hey, Jack," Pinkie Pie greeted him. "What are you going to do now that Aku is gone?"
"... He's not gone," Jack slowly muttered. The ponies all stared at him, confused by his words. Hadn't he just finished Aku himself? He saw their bewildered looks as he distractedly traced a hand along the edge of his sword.
"He sent me forwards in time, remember? I still need to find a way to get back there and end him there." He smiled at them reassuringly as their triumphant smiles faded.
"But today is still a good day." He gave each of them a long look, before bowing to them.
"Thank you for your help." Pinkie Pie jumped in before he could say another word.
"No problem! We'd love to help you again, of course! That's what friends are for!"
"Yeah," Applejack readily agreed. She pointed to the door that stood undisturbed, out of the way of their fighting.
"That's our way out of here. Ah don't suppose you could see us off?" The samurai chuckled.
"It would be my honor."
He helped up Applejack, and the group slowly made their way to the entrance of another world. As they arrived at the door, Fluttershy laid a hoof on the door handle.
"Everypony ready?" she asked. The ponies nodded their heads as Jack stood back, watching with interest the light that streamed from the doorway.
"On to the next adventure!" Rainbow Dash exclaimed, before pushing them all through the door.
The results of the ponies' latest triumph was projected onto the familiar stone table. Only two dark figures stood beside it, watching as events unfolded.
"Hmph. That big oaf was too arrogant to begin with. I'm not surprised he lost." A blue pony stood at the table, closely watching them defeat Aku.
"They'll be in for a surprise if they think they can beat the great and-"
"Enough, my apprentice." The second voice lashed across the table, as the first cowered in fear.
"I-I did not mean any-"
"And I do not care. You are too weak to fight them directly," the second voice interrupted. It was quiet as the figures watched Applejack transform.
"You will send them after the witch. They are not ready." The figure pointed towards Applejack. "But take her if you see the opportunity."