Applejack held her head down as she cowered behind the stone altar, the wall in front of her being peppered with small explosions of dust that accompanied the loud bangs that were reminiscent of Pinkie's party cannon. Elena was crouched next to her, a black piece of L-shaped metal in her hands. On the other side of the altar, Applejack could hear screaming and crying out, along with the occasional angry or happy remark from Nathan or Sully. She felt a hand touch her shoulder, a small, delicate hand.
"It's going to be okay Applejack, We do this all the time," Said Elena quietly, but it did nothing to soothe Applejack's nerves. She curled tighter into a ball, her body shaking with terror. Tears were rolling down her face as she shook her head 'no' over and over.
"Ah want to go home," she whispered to herself. After some time, the noises stopped, all of them, even the voices of Nathan and Sully. Elena's hand was rested on her shoulder again, and this time, Applejack found the courage to look up. Elena's soft blue eyes met her bloodshot green ones, giving Applejack a feeling of calm that she hadn't felt since she had arrived in the strange place.
"It's alright Applejack. It's all over," said Elena, offering her a hand, which Applejack took. Hoisting her up, Elena led her back around the altar and Applejack let out a gasp. Throughout the chamber, bodies were strewn everywhere and copious amounts of blood were splattered all over the walls and pillars. In the centre of it all were Nathan and Sully; they were bent over a pair of bodies going through the pockets of their outfits, as though they were searching for something. When they noticed her, Nathan gestured to a pair of pants that were rested over a rock.
"Here, try these on. They look about your size," he said, and Applejack walked over and picked up the pants. They were heavy, and made out of some course black material. Both legs were lined with pockets and lining the inside was a rough yellow material that scratched her skin as she put them on.
"Thank you, where did you get these?" she asked, before glancing to her left and seeing a still form of one of Nathan's enemies, but he was distinctive in that he wasn't wearing any pants. The colour drained from her face at the thought of wearing a dead person's clothes, but none of the others seemed to mind. A white shirt was tossed her way, once again from a dead body. While she was pleased to have the some of the cold chill taken off, the thought of the deaths made her uneasy.
"Come on you guys, it's time to leave," said Nathan as he started to make his way back toward the entrance and the blown out door, Applejack took up the rear, behind Sully and Elena.
The few soldiers that they came across were easy to avoid, Applejack too scared to do anything besides follow her new companions. Outside of the ruined castle, the snow was falling with almost blizzard intensity, but she had been through worse during the Cloudsdale's weather factory training day, when teams of young pegasi would be tested in their ability to begin and maintain specific weather patterns and as a result, the weather for that particular day was erratic, switching from one extreme to the next. Four hours of silent sneaking and walking later, they arrived at a small village that consisted mainly of thatched roofed stone huts. Applejack followed the others into a hut that rested close to the centre of the small village and was by far the largest. Inside was a very simple living room that gave Applejack a sense of calm and even a depressing pang of homesickness. As soon as her eyes found a bed, Applejack headed straight for it, completely exhausted from the hike. She considered herself an athlete when she was a pony, but now, in this body, she felt very unfit. Her hair, devoid of its usual red hair-tie, was now drenched with sweat, clinging to her face like Fluttershy when she met somepony new. She flopped down on the bed, panting as the others sat down at a nearby table.
"Hey Applejack, come here and sit down, I think we all have some questions for you," said Nathan, which prompted both a groan and a nervous chuckle from the work horse. Reluctantly, she walked over to the wooden table and sat down on one of the rough looking chairs. Nathan, Elena and Sully stared at her, making her feel very uncomfortable. Nathan kept looking like he wanted to say something, opening his mouth to start, but quickly closing it. After a moment, he looked at Elena and shrugged. Elena just let out an exhausted sigh.
"Okay Applejack, since the boys are a bit useless; I'll start. So why don't tell us a bit about yourself," she said, smiling warmly. Applejack nodded once, running her hand through her hair and moving a few strands away from her face.
"Wh-Where do you want me to start?" she asked nervously, unsure of how to tell them the truth. They seemed friendly, and they had probably saved her life, but she had no idea how they would react to the news of her true identity as a pony. Did they even know of Equestria? Of Princess Celestia and the Elements of Harmony?
"Just start at the beginning," Elena told her.
"O-Okay, well as you know, my name is Applejack and-" she started, before Sully put up a hand to stop her.
"Look kid, that's a pretty name and all, but I think I would feel more comfortable if you told us your real name," he said gruffly. Ever since the incident with the element of honesty, Sully had been quite short with her, and on occasion even openly hostile.
"But that is my real name. Ah'm Applejack Apple," she said proudly, only to receive a snort from Nathan. Elena gave him a dirty look that silenced him.
"It's okay, just keep going,"
"Well, ah don't really know what else to tell you; Ah work on my family's apple orchard, ah live with my grandmother, older brother and younger sister. There isn't much else," Applejack lied, deciding it was best if they didn't know the truth just yet.
"But where are you from? Judging by your accent it has to be from southern America, but that just raises the question of how you got to be in ancient Tibetan ruins without any clothes on," Nathan asked, before getting to his feet and walking around the table to a kitchen where a small tin kettle had started to whistle. He poured the boiling water into four cups, one for each of them and set them down on the table in front of the others. Applejack took a sip of the sweet smelling tea, using the time to come up with some sort of explanation. She let out a sigh as she set the cup back down, the others looking at her expectantly.
"Look, all you need to know is that ah'm not from around here, far from it in fact. But I just really want to get home, I'm not meant to be here," She said, Elena and Nathan seemed satisfied with the answer, but Sully moved forward, lighting up another one of his pungent cigars and blowing smoke straight into her face, before gesturing at the necklace that was draped around her.
"So, why don't you tell us exactly what that is, because it seems mighty familiar," said Sully in a low voice, before he reached into Nathan's jacket that was hanging on the back of his chair and pulled out another golden necklace that was identical to her own in every way, except for the jewel. This necklace featured a red ruby in the shape of a single lightning bolt.
'That's the element of Loyalty, does that mean that Rainbow is here? In this place? No, it can't be, I was the only one sucked into Twilight's stupid portal, what is going on?' she wondered, reaching for the other element, only to have it snatched away from her.
"Oh no, I don't think so, you aren't getting this one. We worked much too hard to get it," Sully told her. Applejack scowled at him, before sighing once again and looking down at the table.
"That is the element of Loyalty, one of six pieces of jewellery that make up the collective Elements of Harmony. I carry the Element of Honesty and the one you have is meant to be worn by my friend Rainbow Dash, but I have no idea where she is. Last place ah saw her was back where ah come from," Applejack told them, before reaching for the element of Loyalty again. Sully just shook his head and smirked.
"So what are the other Elements, and more importantly, why are they significant?" Nathan asked, snatching the necklace off Sully and studying it.
"Well, like ah said, there are six Elements of Harmony; Honesty, Loyalty, Generosity, Kindness, Laughter and Magic. They are the most powerful force in the entire world, and Princess Celestia used them in the past to turn Discord, the god of Chaos, into stone and banish her sister, Princess Luna, to the moon when she went nuts and tried to put the world into eternal darkness as Nightmare Moon," Applejack Blurted, hoping to convey as much information as possible in the smallest amount of time. The others looked at her with blank expressions and she gave them an awkward smile in return. Nathan raised his hand, much like a young colt in school.
"Firstly, thank you for clearing that up, very helpful to know that I'm currently holding one of the most powerful things in the world. Secondly, you realise that I can't believe a single word of what you're saying," he said, chuckling.
"I know that here; it must sound ridiculous, but I swear, it's all true," Applejack told them, putting her hand over hear heart.
"I believe you Applejack; it's just that everything you are saying is just a bit too fantastic. Gods of Chaos don't really exist, a person can't banish their sister to the moon and how could something as simple as set of necklaces be the most powerful objects on Earth?" Elena enquired, leaning closer to Applejack as she started to shake her head. They needed to understand, needed to help her.
"Y'all don't get it. These things are magical, they work on the powers of harmony and friendship and as for Discord and the Princesses; they are very real where I am from, all too real and all too powerful. I need to get back there. The elements will only work if all of them are together and if something happens while I'm away, I will never forgive myself," she said, getting to her feet and looking each of them in the eye. Nathan hesitated, looking down at his cup of tea and staring into the piping hot beverage. Elena reached across the table, and gripped his hand lightly, telling Applejack all she needed to know about them. Nathan's lips curled into a small smile, and he looked back at Applejack, who was shaking slightly with nervous anticipation and worry.
"Okay Applejack, we'll help you. But I think that I'll need to get you up to speed on these 'Elements of Harmony' as you call them," said Nathan, getting to his feet and making his way over to the bed that Applejack had been resting on earlier. Picking up a leather knapsack, he retrieved a large, leather bound book from inside. The cover was gilded with gold, featuring an ornate pattern in each corner that pointed toward the centre, where a golden unicorn's head with a blue sapphire as an eye was prominent. Applejack knew exactly what this book was, even if the others didn't. It had been the source of their salvation at least twice now. It was the book on the elements of harmony. Inside was all of the information on said elements that had been accumulated over the millennia of Celestia's rule, stretching all the way back to the time of Discord.
"We found this in a temple at the centre of Ayres rock in Australia, along with that necklace," explained Nathan, placing the book on the table in front of her. "We can't decipher what it says though; it's in some strange language that seems to have no parallels anywhere else in the world. Man, what I wouldn't give for a Rosetta stone right now,"
Applejack sat back on the chair and opened the book. Pages and pages of Equestrian writing met her eyes and she smiled, her homesickness sated for the moment. Nathan had apparently tried multiple times to translate what was written, judging by the pen scrawls in the margins of each page.
"This book, 'The Elements of Harmony: A reference guide' has everything somepony has to know when dealing with the elements. Like here; this page tells of how Princess Celestia banished Luna to the moon, beginning the 'mare in the moon' fairy tale," Applejack revealed, pointing to the surprisingly detailed drawing of the mare in the moon.
"Wait, you can read this?" asked Elena, looking at her in surprise.
"Of course, it's the language from my home; Equestria," she explained.
"What does it sound like?" Nathan enquired.
"Apparently the same as yours. I'm fairly certain that I am speaking Equestrian right now,"
"Nate, come on!" groaned Sully, lighting another cigar and discarding the burnt stump of his previous one. "Are we honestly going to believe this… this whako? I mean; magic, Elements of Harmony and how convenient that she can read that book,"
Applejack glared at him, starting to get tired of his constant questioning and bad attitude. Sully walked around the table and bent down close to her face.
"Get that cigar out of my face," Applejack threatened.
"It's not in your face it's in my mouth," He replied smugly.
"Hehe, Sherlock reference," chuckled Nathan and both Applejack and Sully gave him a quizzical look. He smiled awkwardly and took a step back. Elena however, took a step forward, pushing the two away from each other.
"Sully, enough. Applejack knows more about what we are hunting than us, or even Krushchev. We can help each other out here; Applejack gets to go home, and we get the necklaces, simple," she said, trying her best to defuse the already tense situation.
"Oh, I'll be getting the necklaces," growled Sully, before grabbing Applejack's necklace and tearing it away. Applejack started toward him, her knuckles white as she clenched her hands into fists.
"Y'all better give that back!" yelled Applejack, stamping her foot on the ground. Sully shook his head and smirked.
"I don't think so girly, like Elena said, WE get the necklaces, and you get to go home, I'm just getting paid up front," he replied, tucking the element into his jacket. Applejack growled, before dashing forward and kicking him in the belly. Her heavy, black leather boot impacted his abdomen with a solid thud, causing him to double over. His cigar flew out of his mouth, rocketing across the room and colliding with the far wall. Sully's eyes crossed and he dropped onto his knees as soon as Applejack pulled her leg away. Neither Nathan nor Elena reacted; instead they both just stared at her with their eyes wide in shock. Applejack leant down and reached into Sully's jacket and retrieving the element. Placing it around her neck, a glow was emitted from the jewel, as though it recognised its owner.
"Never try that again. This is my element, and I won't let anypony take it off me. Not you, not Nathan, not that Kruschev guy, nopony. It's my only way home, and I will fight for that,"