• Published 11th Aug 2015
  • 8,745 Views, 540 Comments

Home is Where Your Curse is - SFaccountant

Ranma Saotome has been brought to the fanciful land of Equestria, and finds himself surrounded by its majesty and wonder. He is not happy about this. Equestria isn't very happy about it, either.

  • ...


Home is Where Your Curse is

a My Little Pony/Ranma 0.5 crossover fanfiction

by SFaccountant

Chapter 1


"Yes... at last, we've found it. After so many months of searching..."

Two figures stood at the crest of a hill, staring down at a chaotic landscape filled with overgrown ruins. Huge blocks of crumbling cement and badly corroded metal were blanketed with moss and vines, and the humid air was thick with spores. Only the prevalence of broken walls and the curiously geometric shape of the paths between them belied the fact that the current vegetation sat on terrain that wasn't entirely natural. Stretching high above the ancient rubble on either side were vast bluffs that cast the great valley into shadow and would have surely hidden its contents from the casual overland traveler. And so it was that this place had lain mostly undisturbed and untouched by the hands (so to speak) of the oblivious civilizations above.

It was not ENTIRELY undisturbed or untouched, however.

"It must be here. The journals have led us this far."

The individuals overlooking the ruins were both unicorns, though aside from their horns and hooves their features were largely obscured beneath thick wool cloaks. One was clearly larger than the other, and its grim, baritone voice identified it as a stallion. Dark red fur was visible beneath his hood and over his hooves, and a long dagger was slung over his saddlebags.

"This is SO cooooool!" squealed the other unicorn in a high-pitched, feminine giggle. She was a much smaller pony, and the bits of her fur that were visible were a bright, emerald green. "We're actually standing on the ruins of a long-lost civilization! I am SO excited!"

The stallion smirked. "Indeed, there is much history to be found here. But don't forget, Swan Song, that we're here to MAKE history too."

The unicorn mare nodded seriously, and her posture straightened. "Yes, Mister Rite, Sir! What first?" Her horn lit up with a soft yellow glow, and a pen and note pad levitated out of her saddlebags.

Rite's eyes tracked to the side, noting some flattened patches of foliage. "Let's head to the center. But be careful! These ruins are not completely deserted."

Swan and Rite crept down the side of the hill, descending into the ruins proper.

The area was divided into a grid, to a great extent. The numerous walls, having borne the passage of time rather poorly, boxed in great heaps of ancient rubble and the occasional tree growing within the protective, crumbling barriers. The walls were separated by what had obviously served as roads at some point. Oddly enough, however, there were numerous large mounds scattered around these paths, most of them covered over with mosses and ferns. They were clearly not simple boulders, being too uniform in shape and size.

As Rite trotted quietly down the road, Swan paused next to one of the strange mounds, poking gingerly at it with a hoof. The material cracked with very little pressure, and she pulled her hoof away to observe a bit of brownish-red dust on the tip.

"Rust? These are metal, then?" She started taking notes as she backed away from the mound, glancing at the others. "Why would there be so many metal things sitting out in a road?"

"Dusty Digger's journals provide a few theories, but they're all basically wild guesses," Rite mumbled as he stopped at an intersection and looked around, "the objects in this place were too old and badly corroded. And she guessed that even before then, most of them were damaged somehow. She did, however, discover that there used to be quite a lot of metal all over this place before it fell. These ancients had very enthusiastic blacksmiths, it would seem."

Swan clicked her tongue before she caught up with her companion. "Why aren't there any detailed records or artifacts recovered from this area? These objects are large, but it wouldn't be THAT hard to move them."

Rite snorted. "She didn't get a chance to try. Miss Digger encountered some considerable difficulties in exploring this place, and even greater difficulties making her discoveries public."

Swan cocked her head to the side. "Wait, but-"

The mare yelped as her companion suddenly leapt on top of her, shoving her to the ground and pinning her down next to one of the metal lumps.

"Sssssh!" Rite hissed.

After a few seconds, Swan Song heard the shuffle of nearby foliage parting, and a deep grunt nearby.

Heavy footsteps plodded against the ruined road, coming from the other side of the rusted mound. After a few seconds they stopped, and Swan's ears twitched as she heard a deep snort come from the as-yet-unseen creature.

Rite's horn glowed as he cast a simple cantrip that he had researched specifically for this purpose. A foul, acrid smell floated around the ponies as the unseen beast sniffed several more times. Another snort came a few seconds later, this one distinctly annoyed. Then there were more footsteps, this time moving away from the huddling unicorns.

Swan Song shifted so that she could look around their current cover, and her eyes widened as she got a good look at a manticore's hindquarters. The monster was moving away at a brisk walk, its curled scorpion-like tail swaying overhead.

The beast sped up, running down the ruined street and leaping back into the tree cover. Within seconds, the rustling of foliage had died down, and the ponies were once again alone.

Rite let out a deep breath as he pushed himself up, quickly removing the spell that had disguised their scent.

"There are manticores around here?" Swan whispered nervously.

"Oh, there are all sorts of nasty monsters in this place," her companion mumbled back, "this valley leads up into the Everfree Forest. Manticores, wyverns, serpents, slimes, cockatri... cockatrices? Cockatrici?" the stallion frowned as he tried to work out the plural form of the word. "Well, whatever. There's more than one."

Swan Song nodded quietly as she looked up at the sheer cliffs, and the darkened trees that stood atop the edges. "I suppose the Everfree's magic leaks into the valley over time, and it gets concentrated down here. That would attract a lot of monsters, even though there probably isn't as much prey."

"Yes, perhaps," her companion offered as he led her down the street, "or maybe the magic from here emanates up into the forest..."

The two ponies crept down the streets, their movements noticeably more cautious after having a close brush with a vicious wild animal. Eventually Rite paused before a one of the walls, his eyes narrowing. They focused on a set of deep claw marks set into the corroded stonework next to a doorway, and then the large skeleton lying on the ground below it.

"Ooh! Owlbear!" Swan Song whistled as she jotted down some more notes. "Looks like it was fighting something before it expired."

"Or trying to escape something," Rite replied, "come on. And step LIGHTLY."

The ponies walked through the wall, which hid a funnel-shaped passage leading underground. Rite stopped at the edge of the decline, growing more nervous as they approached the entrance. Glancing left and right, he stepped forward and peered into the tunnel.

"Stay close to me, and stay absolutely quiet," the stallion hissed softly.

"Oh, wow! Look at THIS bone!" Swan shouted from a far corner of the ruin. Rite leapt up into the air, his ashen white tail flipping up his robe. Reflexively, he slapped a hoof down onto the cloak before it could hike up above his flank and expose much of his rear leg.

"The shape looks vaguely simian," Swan said obliviously as she poked at a cracked skull settled under some vines, "do you see any more bones? I should recover a sample for analysis when we get back to civilization."

"Swan Song!" Rite hissed under his breath as his eyes darted back and forth. "Pay attention!"

The mare swung about, snapping to attention with a very serious expression on her face. With a quiet sigh, Rite led them both into the basement tunnel, his hooves stepping lightly against the ancient concrete and hard-packed soil.

It did not take long until the ponies were engulfed in darkness, having traveled far beyond the reach of the light from above. Rite's horn glowed briefly, and another spell took effect as their eyes became windows of shimmering magical light. Swan blinked rapidly as her vision turned to shades of green. The effect was disconcerting, although the monochrome vision was far better than having a small light source.

"A darkvision spell," Rite whispered, "now be absolutely quiet. I have little idea what sort of enemies we may face, but-"

A loud crash came from the side, and again the stallion yelped in fright. Whirling around, he saw a cloud of dust spilling away from a doorway that had been partially buried by rubble. A moment ago the door had been there too, largely intact. Now it was not. "Swan! What are you doing?!"

"Ooh, this place is great!" the mare called from the next room. "Mister Rite, check this out! It's more metal things! And more bones!"

Rite suppressed several curses under his breath as he scrambled through the doorway after his companion, carefully deciding along the way what would be a fairly safe volume at which to berate her. When he entered the room he beheld a vast room full of heaped, crumbling furniture and strange, ancient objects in various states of decay. In the center of the room, laying within a crude circle of battered and rusted lockers and metal desks, was a nest made of bleached bones and gold. Actual gold, in the form of bits and bullion. It was hard to tell with the monochrome palette of the darkvision spell, but he was certain that the pile of treasure would be positively blinding in actual light.

"Is... Is this..." the stallion gulped and started looking around frantically.

"Neat, huh? It's a real dragon hoard!" Swan Song chirped as she trotted up to the nest. "I told you I'm good at finding relics and stuff! Not that it's hard in place like THIS." She giggled as she levitated her notepad again, and then paused as she squinted at it. "Hmm... it's going to be hard to sketch like this. A light spell would have been better after all."

Rite was sweating fervently as he looked about the room. This area was quite large, and while there was obviously nothing else in here with them right now, there were several large holes in all four walls that led into other parts of the ruin. "Swan! Do you understand what that is?!" he hissed.

"Of course! Dragonology was my minor, you know!" the green unicorn said as she closely observed a locker beneath her. "This nest probably belongs to a dragonspawn. Not a real, intelligent dragon, but a sort of monster with draconic blood. See all the bones? Real dragons don't leave garbage in their gold stashes."

"And what does your extensive knowledge of dragonkind say about the possibility of that dragonspawn being nearby, and willing to kill anything that gets near its nest?" Rite asked, keeping a tremor out of his voice.

"Very, very likely," Swan mumbled as she started sketching. Then she paused. "... OH. Okay. Now I get it. Should we leave?"


"Should we take some of the treasure with us?"


"Not even the large, obviously magical, and probably very important gemstone right here?"

"NO! We have to get-wait, what?"

Swan Song put away her sketch pad and then reached into the locker under her with her hoof. She pulled out a sparkling, radiant-cut gemstone. As soon as it was free from its confines its glow pulsed through the room, and Rite had to squint as the magical light interfered with his darkvision spell.

"That... Is it really...?" the stallion nearly tripped over his own hooves as he staggered toward his companion, his eyes fixed on the jewel. His horn flickered, and then he jerked his head back as he felt an enormous surge of power come from the jewel. "It's true... this is it!" His voice started to rise in pitch as he struggled to contain incredulous laughter. "I can't believe it! We've really found it!"

"And after barely five minutes of searching," Swan cheered, "I told you I was good at this! Finding ancient relics is, like, my fourth special talent!" Then she paused. "So... what is this, again?"

"It is the key to the future," Rite said as he took the gem from Swan Song's hoof, "the one artifact with the power to tear down the corrupt magical order of Equestria and set right the tyranny of the sun." He grinned, and the stallion's hoof almost trembled in contact with the artifact. "At last, it is mine! The MacGuffin Stone!"

Swan Song pursed her lips as Rite held up the gem. "They, uh... they really called it that?"

"The ancient peoples were very silly," Rite admitted as he lost all sense of awe and anticipation, "but anyway, the important thing is that it works."

"So, how do we test it?" Swan asked, taking a step back.

"Under very carefully prepared laboratory conditions, of course," Rite scoffed, "the sort of magic contained within the MacGuffin Stone has the power to bring nations to ruin. It cannot be used lightly!"

"I think we should test it now," Swan mumbled. She was now actively backing away from the other pony.

Rite stared at his companion, and then twisted his neck to look behind him. A massive, lizard-like beast stood behind him, its forked tongue flicking out between jaws full of needle-like teeth. It was easily four feet tall while resting almost on its belly, and probably three times that from nose to tail. Large, red eyes blinked against the glow of the gem, which perfectly illuminated the two intruders even if it had been otherwise unable to see them in the dark.

"Oh, for the love of Discord," the stallion sighed.

The dragonspawn snarled and snapped forward, its jaws opening to engulf the pony entirely. Rite's horn flashed brilliantly, and in a puff of glimmering white magic he blinked away from his imminent demise and reappeared next to Swan Song.

"I don't suppose your studies in dragonology taught you how to chase off draconic beasts?" Rite asked he took up the MacGuffin stone in his telekinetic grip. The dragonspawn rounded to face them, snarling angrily.

"It was just a minor! I only studied it out of personal interest!" Swan cried as she backpedaled in terror.

Rite groaned as the dragonspawn lunged. "All right, then. MACGUFFIN TESTING TIME!"

Power surged into the stone as his horn flared again, and the monster's charge seemed to slow down as arcs of power lashed about the ancient artifact. After a few seconds, it was obvious that the dragonspawn actually WAS moving more slowly due to the pulse of force from the MacGuffin Stone, as if it were trying to swim against a current rather than run across rough ground.

"Okay! I think I've got this!" Rite said, his voice shaking slightly. "There's WAY more power in this thing than I'm used to, but I think I have this under contro-"

An ear-shattering BANG came from the MacGuffin Stone, and Rite was hurled back as a sphere of glimmering force was launched in the other direction. The magic bolt slammed into the dragonspawn, which screeched in pain as it was flung into a wall.

The monstrous predator shook off the blow quickly, but was hurt and very confused by the small equine's ability to throw it around with bolts of light. It scurried away toward an adjacent tunnel, its razor-tipped tail whipping about behind it.

Rite groaned and pushed himself to his hooves, although he was stunned senseless when he faced forward again. Not at the retreat of the dragonspawn, which didn't quite rise to the level of "shocking", but rather at a completely different and unexpected horror that was pushing itself up.

It was a little under six feet tall, and, judging by the way it quickly snapped upright, evidently bipedal. Largely hairless flesh covered smooth, lithe muscle on a body considerably larger than a pony, if not exactly monstrous in size. The top of the creature's head had a bushy head of hair which was tied in the back into a short braid. It had no tail of any sort, and was obviously male.

That final observation was quite apparent thanks to it being utterly naked, not that the ponies thought anything particularly strange about that. Rite's eyes grew wide as he stared at the new creature, and Swan Song gasped and stepped up behind him.

"Is that...?"

Ranma Saotome blinked repeatedly as he stood upright, his head spinning and his eyes swimming in flashes of color. His head also throbbed painfully, which was plainly the result of having been used as an improvised projectile very recently; he was intimately familiar with the sensation. He couldn't make immediate sense of his surroundings, and his reflexes were on autopilot to keep him upright and mobile while his brain kicked into gear to figure out what was happening to him.

"By Celestia! It's a mutant ape!" screeched a feminine voice speaking English.

Well, he wasn't alone, at least. He didn't really know if that was good or bad yet, but the presence of other people gave him some options.

Blinking his eyes rapidly, they quickly adjusted to the gloom, and then Ranma turned toward the only light source in the area. He blinked some more, and this time it had nothing to do with the light.

"... A unicorn?" Ranma mumbled in Japanese, completely flummoxed.

"Where did it come from?" Swan asked, shivering as she stood next to Rite.

"It appeared right after the stone discharged!" the stallion replied.

Ranma blinked some more. "A talking unicorn?" He was still speaking Japanese, although this time his voice came out at a normal volume.

"Is it... speaking to us?" Swan Song asked in shock.

"Don't be ridiculous. That gibberish could never pass for an actual language," Rite scoffed as he backed away.

"... A racist talking unicorn," Ranma said, still speaking Japanese, "man, I get all the weird mythical creatures."

"Okay, it doesn't seem to be hostile. Let's walk back into the hall, nice and slow, and get out of here," Rite said as he levitated the MacGuffin stone over next to him, "it's just a dumb animal; it's probably even more confused as to what it's doing here than we are."

"I can understand you, you know," Ranma said in English as he crossed his arms over his chest, "I may get lousy grades, but I'm actually real good at speaking English."

The ponies froze stiff, and Rite's concentration slipped out of pure shock, causing him to drop the MacGuffin Stone onto the ground again.

"... Although, if we're being honest, I am confused about what's going on, actually," Ranma admitted after an awkward pause. Then he glanced down at himself. "Also, why am I naked? I don't really remember the last thing I was doing, but I'm pretty sure I didn't pass out in the bath!"

"It can talk! It really can! This is the most mutated ape I've ever seen!" Swan Song said, her eyes growing wide. Much to Rite's unease, the fear that had dominated her voice previously was now giving way to excitement. "Ooh! Do you think the residual magic modified its brain chemistry? Can I check? Oh! Can we keep him, Mister Rite? Can we?"

"No, you can't keep me!" Ranma growled. "And stop calling me an ape, you dumb horse!"

"Ooh, it's feisty!" Swan grinned as her horn started to glow. Ranma took a step back as a familiar tingle crawled down his back.

"No, Swan Song!" Rite barked as he levitated the MacGuffin Stone again. "Leave the monkey freak alone! We have the MacGuffin Stone, now let's go!"

"MacGuffin Stone? What kind of a name is-" Ranma's eyes widened as several memories rushed back into him all at once. "HEY! That's Gosunkugi's stupid rock! Gimme that!"

"Never! Back off, ape!" Rite snarled, lowering his body into what Ranma supposed was some kind of combat pose. "Do you have any idea how long I've searched for this power? The kind of sacrifices I've made? The SUFFERING I've endured?!"

Swan tilted her head to the side in thought. "Actually, finding the MacGuffin Stone was relatively quick and painless when you really think-"


Ranma growled in frustration, but hesitated to simply rush the unicorn and take the magic rock floating in the air in front of him. In part it was because he was still trying to sort out what, exactly, had happened and how the MacGuffin Stone might potentially help. Mostly, however, it was because he remembered that touching the gem had gone poorly for him last time.

Shoot, is that something that just happens to anyone who touches it, or was that some kind of special spell Gos used? Damn it, I should have asked that before I got... uh... teleported? Where the hell am I, anyway?

"Look, just give me the stupid rock! I don't know what's going on, but I know that it's involved somehow!" Ranma paused. "Also, I think it still has my clothes."

"I said BACK OFF!" Rite shouted, his horn glowing in tandem with the MacGuffin Stone. "Or I'll do to you what I did to the lizard!"

"You're going to hurl him at himself?" Swan asked in confusion.

"Maybe! You don't know! There could be a whole colony of hairless apes in this thing!"

Even as he threatened the bizarre creature, however, Rite could feel that there was something wrong. The MacGuffin Stone, which held a veritable ocean of power a moment ago, was now desperately depleted of magic. He had no idea why, as the kinetic bolt-slash-summoning spell he had apparently used on the dragonspawn shouldn't have consumed THAT much mana, but somehow it had emptied much of the artifact's reserves. Still, that would at least allow him to control it more easily, and could properly empower his own spells if this magic monkey-thing was really going to try to stop him.

"All right, look, you can either give me the rock or explain to me why I woke up naked in somebody's basement. I can work with either," Ranma demanded.

"As I cannot manage the latter, and refuse to do the former, I'm going to have to opt for choice C," Rite said as an electric arc lashed between his horn and the Stone, "magic missile!"

A fantastic flare of light came from the unicorn as a bolt of force blasted out of his horn toward his target. The MacGuffin Stone trembled in sympathy, and then another three bolts rocketed toward the pigtailed boy.

Ranma twisted out of the way almost casually, slipping around the sparkling projectiles as they tried to home in on him. The bolts of magic slammed into the walls and floors, tearing large, burning gouges into the worn materials.

"Seriously, cut that out," Ranma said, scowling, "I don't want to have to hurt you. I think unicorns are endangered or something."

Rite gaped for a few seconds, and then wracked his brain for another spell. "Pretty quick for something with only two legs. Let's see you dodge THIS, then!"

The MacGuffin Stone quivered again, and then a wall of shining white light appeared in front of the stallion, stretching from wall to wall and from ceiling to floor. A moment later it blasted forward, and lockers and bones alike were bulldozed ahead of its path.

Ranma braced himself and then slammed into the wall with his shoulder, shattering the magic with sheer force. A cloud of dust kicked up at his feet as the spell failed, but other than that he seemed entirely undisturbed.

"Yeah, no. Can I have the rock now? It's kind of chilly in here," the martial artist complained.

"Oh, wow. This guy has to be an ape KING or something," Swan Song gushed, clearly impressed with their opponent.

"Either shut up or help me!" Rite shouted as sweat started rolling down his head and neck.

"Okay!" The mare's own horn lit up, and the aura around the MacGuffin Stone turned from white to yellow. "Hey, it feels like this thing is nearly empty! How are we supposed to conquer the world with this?"

Ranma jerked his head back in surprise. "You're gonna conquer the world? Seriously?" He stopped to think as Swan Song started shaking the MacGuffin Stone in the air, like a can of spray paint. "Well, I guess it's a step up from what the LAST guy tried to do with it, but it doesn't matter because I'm still taking the rock. So put it down and scram!"

"No way!" Swan Song declared as her horn pulsed brighter. She herself only had one spell handy that could possibly disable the enemy in front of her without offering him any chance to dodge or overpower it. She focused her mind, and her eyes flashed in time with her horn and the gemstone hovering at her shoulder. "Take this! POLYMORPH!!"

"Polly-what? I don't know that woOOOOOAH!" Ranma screamed as his body was spontaneously engulfed by yellow light and started to shift. All his muscles locked up, and he experienced the bizarre, stomach-turning sensation of feeling his flesh and bones shrink and rearrange themselves in a few seconds. The process was thankfully painless, at least. Until he lost his balance and fell on his face.

Rite's eyes bulged yet again as the light receded. The glow from the MacGuffin Stone also faded entirely, leaving it looking like an ordinary gemstone.

"Whelp, I think this thing's spent," Swan mumbled as she dropped the MacGuffin Stone onto the ground, "I hope you have a plan B for your quest to defeat the Equestrian diarchy, Mister Rite."

Rite wasn't paying attention to his companion, however. His eyes were focused on the freakish mutant ape that had been magically summoned before them. Who was now looking a lot less freakish and ape-like.

"What... the hell?" Ranma mumbled as he pushed himself up. He almost failed in the effort, because his arms suddenly weren't jointed the way they used to be. In fact, it felt like they weren't really "arms" at all anymore. His entire body structure had changed substantially, and as he stood up the martial artist found himself standing on all fours. To his fighter's instincts, it felt wrong and even dangerous, limiting his range of attack and defense and distorting his center of gravity. But his body felt perfectly comfortable in the stance, which took a moment for Ranma to wrap his mind around.

"You... turned him into an earth pony?" Rite asked, totally perplexed.

"Er... yeah. Guess I did. Weird, I was aiming for a squirrel or something," Swan admitted with a shrug. "Hmm... he's kinda cute now that he's got some fur on him!"

Ranma's eyes widened as he heard that, and he started stumbling about, twisting his head about and generally panicking.

After a few seconds, Rite realized what was wrong; without the glow from the MacGuffin Stone or their magic, the room was cast in total darkness. They could still see thanks to his earlier cantrip, but the mysterious monkey-thing-turned-equine was totally blind AND stuck in an entirely different form.

"Quick! Let's get out of here!" the stallion snapped as he took up the gem in his mouth and bolted past Ranma for the exit.

Ranma's ears perked up, and his mind focused on the sounds of hooves pounding against the ruined floor. "Oh no you DON'T!"

Rite grunted painfully as the new pony homed in on his hoofsteps and rammed into him. The stallion was slammed hard into a wall, barely managing to keep hold of the MacGuffin Stone in his jaws. Ranma staggered unsteadily from the impact, as that had been literally his first lateral movement on four legs.

"You're not going anywhere!" Ranma barked, glaring in what he guessed was the stallion's direction. Geez, was this what it was like for Mousse when he was fighting? "Change me back, right now!"

A throaty growl answered him, and Ranma furrowed his brow.

"Did you just SNARL at me?" he asked.

"No, that wasn't us," Swan replied. She pointed a hoof helpfully toward the massive, spine-covered dragonspawn crawling back toward its nest, forgetting that Ranma couldn't see her anyway.

Ranma did hear a scraping noise behind him, however, and he glanced in that direction.

He couldn't see much in the shroud of darkness, save a pair of glowing golden eyes. Very large eyes, in fact. The eyes narrowed at him, and a wave of warm, acrid air blew in his face as another growl came from the shadows.

"What is going ON?!" the martial artist shouted as the dragonspawn lunged at him.

Rite and Swan wasted no more time. With the MacGuffin Stone secured and both their immediate foes occupied with each other, the unicorns galloped for the exit and then turned sharply to head out to the surface.

"Well, that's a shame, really. I would have liked to study that guy if I could," Swan Song admitted as she dashed into the natural light filtering down into the urban ruins.

"I hope that isn't some sort of innuendo," Rite grumbled around the gem in his mouth as he slowed to a trot. He looked back and forth, and quickly dropped the MacGuffin Stone into his saddlebag as soon as he was sure there were no immediate obstacles. "Let's get out of here. We have much to do, yet." He trotted past the shredded walls of the ruin, and Swan Song followed.

"About that. Didn't we just use up the MacGuffin Stone's entire mana reservoir just now to summon that creature and then stop him from stopping us? What good is it now?" the mare asked.

"That's a question that requires research, Swan Song. I doubt the Stone is completely inert. Such powerful artifacts are rarely created to be expended completely and then discarded."

A muted thud from below sent a slight tremor up Rite's legs and his heart up his throat. Swan squeaked and froze, whipping her head back and forth.

"What was that?" she asked in a panic. "Earthquake? Ursa major? Graboids?"

"Sssh!" Rite hissed. He listened carefully for a moment, and then the ground jolted again from another heavy impact. A roar of pain and fury came from below, muffled by several meters of stone and dirt.

He and Swan Song turned to stare at each other. Another jolt ran up their legs, though this one felt like it was further away.

Further down the ancient road, the bits of crumbling pavement gave way to a large, deep sinkhole. Another underground impact caused several pebbles and bits of dirt to shake loose from the edges of the pit and fall in.

"You... You don't think-" Swan started to ask, only to be cut off by a loud, agonized shriek.

The dragonspawn sailed out of the sinkhole at an arc, its entire body spinning through the air and hot blood leaking from multiple breaches in its scales. It slammed into, and then through, one of the ruin walls, and the entire structure collapsed from the impact and kicked up a cloud of dust and leaves.

"Oh dear..." Rite mumbled, backing up. "We should run."

The two unicorns again turned tail and sprinted away, and after a few heavy breaths Rite spoke again. "It suddenly occurs to me that any creature contained within an artifact as powerful as the MacGuffin Stone is probably extremely powerful itself!"

"Do you think it was a good idea to make him mad like that, then?" Swan Song asked. "He seemed REALLY peeved about the polymorph!"

"No, Swan, it was not a good idea!" the stallion admitted. "How long will that spell last, anyway?"

"Well, normally it wears off in an hour. But it was powered up a LOT by the stone. So, uh..."

Rite rounded a corner, and Swan trailed off as she galloped after him.

"Well, the more powerful morphing spells tend to be... kinda... permanent. Is that a bad thing?" the mare asked.

"For us? Probably not," Rite said as he reached the incline which had led them into the valley, "but the former simian back there won't be too happy about it."

Ranma's breath heaved as he pulled himself up the edge of the sinkhole, his hooves digging deeply into the cracked dirt to support his body.

Yes, hooves. He had hooves, now.

His eyes squinted against the light, delaying for a few moments further exploration of his transformed body while his vision adjusted. As the blurry colors sharpened into discernible shapes, Ranma glanced around and found himself in another scenario that was more familiar to one of his martial artist rivals.

"Where the hell AM I?!" Ranma shouted. The entire area was full of old, battered walls and overgrown foliage. Ancient skyscrapers loomed in the distance, bearing gaping holes and huge webs of vines. Rusted pipes and metal beams stabbed up toward the sky, which itself was framed by two vast bluffs. He'd never seen anything like it.

Circling around and staring at his surroundings didn't help determine where he was, so he went back to determining WHAT he was. Besides having hooves, his legs were covered in short, dark gray fur. He could see his nose distended into an equine muzzle, and his face was framed by a jet black mane that - as far as he could tell, at least - almost perfectly approximated his human hair and style. His body was still lithe and muscular as always, although it was now barely half the size of his real form. Several bloody claw and tooth marks marred his coat thanks to his tussle with the dragonspawn, but he ignored the wounds. None were serious. A glance behind him revealed that he had a tail, also black, that was tied into a long braid. While he found it slightly odd that the shape-changing magic had styled his new appendage, what he found even stranger was some sort of discoloration on his hip. It was a circle of eight white arrows, all originating from a center point and then spreading out in different directions such that it resembled a star.

"The hell is this?!" Ranma growled, reaching back with a hoof and rubbing at the spot. It didn't come off at all, which suggested that the unicorns hadn't somehow managed to paint on his butt when he wasn't paying attention. "What's happening to me?!" He shouted to the sky, slamming both front hooves down. The ground splintered and cracked under the impacts, kicking up waves of dust.

After nearly a minute of standing in place and letting his breathing slow down to normal, Ranma lurched backward and sat down on his rear.

"Okay. Cool it, Ranma. Let's think about this." He furrowed his brow. "First off: last place I was before I woke up here was in that church, facing Gos. He said he was going to destroy the world, and had everything he needed to do it."

Ranma looked around, and his ears twitched at the sound of a bird's mating call from high above. "The world sure doesn't LOOK destroyed. But I'm obviously not in Nerima. So what happened? What did the MacGuffin Stone do to me? Did it teleport me somewhere? Did it kind of destroy the world, but not really?"

A few more minutes of thought eventually brought him to consider something else. "When those horse jerks changed me, the unicorn bigot said I was turned into an 'Earth pony'. What does THAT mean?" That he was now a miniature horse was obvious enough, but Ranma didn't understand the addition of "Earth". Why would he say that? Were there non-Earth ponies?

His eyes widened. "Wait, unicorns can be considered ponies too, right? I mean, they were smaller than normal horses! But if I'm an 'Earth' pony, and pretty much look like a normal pony, and they were unicorn ponies, and not Earth ponies, then that must mean..."

Ranma slammed his hoof into the ground again. "ALIENS!!" He jumped to his hooves. "It all makes sense! They called me that because I look like a pony from Earth, since alien ponies are unicorns! Apparently! I'm on another planet!" Then his eyes bulged even further. "Then... THAT means..."

The martial artist gasped, hardly able to imagine that he was about to utter the next words that were coming out of his mouth. "... All aliens really DO speak English! Stargate: SG-1 was RIGHT!"

After a brief pause, he added, "Oh, also, Earth probably was destroyed and everyone I know is probably dead. That really sucks." His ears flipped down as he slumped. "Man... I really liked the Earth. I mean, it sure didn't seem to like ME, but still. What am I supposed to do now?"

Another few minutes were spent in silent contemplation of the unicorns that had cursed and abandoned him. "... Okay, wait. Those guys TALKED. And they had clothes and bags and stuff. So there's gotta be some kind of alien pony civilization around here. Let's find that, and then maybe I can figure out what to do about the two jerks that changed me."

Ranma nodded, having decided on an immediate objective. "Along the way, I'm going to have to figure out this body. I managed to take on that alien lizard, but I'll need a lot of practice if-"

He froze in place as he heard a rustling sound, and his ears twitched. More noises from disturbed foliage came from behind a wall, and Ranma's eyes narrowed as he heard something growl lightly from the other side of the ancient barrier.

"What? You want to try me?" he barked in English. He figured he might as well get in the habit of speaking English full-time, unless he managed to find some Japanese-speaking aliens like they always had in manga. "Either get lost or get out here so I can kick your ass! I have things to do, kind of!"

The sound of heavy, leathery wings pushing against air came from nearby, and Ranma tilted his head upward to see what manner of extraterrestrial was volunteering itself for kicking practice.

A manticore dropped down onto the street, its heavy, bat-like wings folding up as it hit the ground. A scorpion tail snapped upright behind it, its stinger poised to attack. The bulk of the monster - a ferocious, automobile-sized lion - tensed into a fighting stance as it bared sword-like fangs at the martial artist pony.

"ALIEN CAT!!" Ranma screeched, all of his bravado and determination vanishing as ailurophobia took over his bodily reflexes. The manticore blinked in surprise as its prey bolted down the street like a cannon shot, sprinting so fast that the beast could barely contemplate pursuit.

"WHY DO THE CATS HERE HAVE SCORPION TAILS AND WINGS?!" Ranma screamed as a vast trail of dust rolled up behind him. The road gave way to a dilapidated concrete wall and a cluster of trees, and Ranma plowed straight through the wall and into the forest beyond. "THIS PLANET SUCKS! WHAT KIND OF SICK, HORRIBLE GOD WOULD MAKE CATS EVEN MORE TERRIBLE AND HIDEOUS?!"

"Hm?" Discord tilted his head to the side suddenly, his ear twitching. "That's odd. I thought somepony was calling me."

Fluttershy was sitting opposite the draconequus on the other side of a chess board, and she raised her head briefly as she listened. The birds perched next to them on the windowsill were chirping softly, and Barry the bear was snoring in the next room, but she couldn't hear anything that sounded like Discord's name. "Are you sure? I don't hear anything."

"Probably my imagination," Discord shrugged as Fluttershy tepidly picked up her bishop in her mouth, "either that, or there's somepony cursing me for the awful consequences of something I did that seemed absolutely hilarious at the time."

Fluttershy dropped her chess piece in its new place, then pursed her lips. "I don't think that's it. Twilight would have teleported here by now to yell at you."

"Point." Discord glanced down at the chess board. "Hmm... check, eh?"

"Oh! I'm so sorry!" Fluttershy cried, quickly snatching her bishop and dropping it onto a new square. "How about here? Is that okay?"

"... You DO remember what the point of this game is, don't you?"

Zecora trotted quietly through the overgrown spaces of the Everfree Forest, her hooves stepping lightly around clusters of foliage with a stealth borne of long practice. Her saddlebags hung heavily on her back, weighed down with leaves, flowers, and other ingredients she had gathered from the forest floor.

For Zecora, these trips through the forest's dark spaces were an everyday routine, although they were no less dangerous for her experience. She had ventured deep into the heart of the forest on numerous occasions, and there was hardly a day that passed that she didn't have to evade or alter her path to avoid an angry forest predator.

Today, however, seemed that it might be such a day. It wasn't as if she hadn't encountered any dangerous beasts, but rather, every dangerous animal she had stumbled upon was limping away injured or unconscious, and as such she had no need to avoid them. It was very strange, and somewhat troubling.

Besides the devastated animals, Zecora would occasionally come upon some damage among the ground and foliage, as if they had been in the way of a fantastic scuffle. Usually these were merely shredded bushes or a divot carved into the dirt, but on two occasions she had found trees completely ripped in half and still leaking fresh sap in a hopeless attempt to stem the damage. This was all the more remarkable considering that there was no other obvious trail to follow; she would have expected a beast that knocked down trees to flatten everything in its path as it traveled, yet long stretches of the forest were undisturbed between comatose bears and piles of splintered timberwolf limbs trying to reassemble themselves.

Logically, Zecora knew that she should have been taking pains to avoid such a creature rather than tracking it, but the zebra's curiosity was piqued. Her sensitivity to the forest around her and her natural intuition told her that this new visitor was no native, and that the forest itself seemed almost desperate to eject or kill it, like a body infected by a virus. She'd never felt such a thing before, and thought it best that she at least identify the anomaly.

A pained growl had Zecora's ears perking, and she noiselessly slipped to the side as a dire bear walked by. Or, rather, limped by. One of its arms was clearly broken, and its mouth was ominously devoid of the vicious, dagger-like teeth that characterized the species.

The bear stopped and sniffed the air, and Zecora shifted her pose slightly, preparing herself to run. However, the ursine predator didn't seem in any mood to hunt, and quickly cringed away. Zecora could only marvel at the sight as the dire bear rushed away from her location as fast as it could manage on three limbs; she'd never seen one of the ferocious animals so broken before.

There were other things odd about it, too. What kind of creature would be strong enough to savage a dire bear - physically, by all indications - yet unintimidating enough that the bear would attack it anyway? Why would it leave the bear alive after crippling it? Was it not hungry? She hadn't seen any carcasses or other signs that the creature was eating the creatures it was defeating, yet it had to be working up an appetite fighting constantly. Very strange.

Zecora crept along the path helpfully created by the crippled ursine, more cautious but more curious than ever. It wasn't long before she heard the loud shifting of branches and vines, accompanied by another sound that she couldn't quite make out. Whatever it was, it was badly muffled, somehow.

Creeping up behind another tree, the zebra mare peeked over the surrounding brush.

Beyond the brush, positioned at the base of one of the forest's larger trees, was a massive predatory plant. It had the shape of a Venus flytrap, but grown to monstrous proportions and possessing thick, powerful vines that writhed about in the undergrowth and would grab animals to drag them closer. A necessary adaptation, seeing how the plant itself looked far too dangerous to trick anything into wandering into its jaws. Half a dozen sets of thick leaves, edged with needle-like teeth and large enough to trap a minotaur, hung over a cluster of leaves and flowers that formed the base of the plant. Two of the leaf-jaws were closed shut, and one of those was trembling.

The plants, usually called kraken lilies, were quite rare, and hardly one of the more dangerous creatures of the Everfree as they were largely immobile. Their flowers were also extremely useful to many potions, although they were appropriately hard to get. Safely taking a blossom was usually only possible with a team of experienced hunters or the sheer luck to come across the plant while all of its mouths were busy digesting food.

The possibility of getting a kraken flower was only a distant concern for Zecora, however. Her eyes were locked onto the trembling leaves of the kraken lily, and the noise coming from within that increasingly sounded like muffled cursing.

"HHRRRAAAAAAAAUGH!!" With a sudden, enraged scream, the hinge between the leaves that kept the jaws of the trap closed was ripped apart. The botanical mandibles fell away, and a slime-covered body was dropped onto the forest floor.

Ranma started coughing and spitting out fluid as soon as his hooves touched the ground, seemingly oblivious to the other jaws of the kraken lily bending around and reaching for him.

Like a lightning bolt, Ranma's back legs lashed out at the nearest trap, striking it hard enough to rip it from its base. The jaws were sent spinning away into the branches, trailing sap in wild loops behind it. He leapt away from another trap trying to snap shut over him, landing at the base of the plant and glaring at the stems.

With an incoherent snarl, the martial artist pony dove at the core of the plant, kicking at the stems and tearing them apart. One by one the jaw-traps shuddered and tumbled onto the forest floor, bouncing away while oozing sap onto the ground. Even when the only trap remaining was closed on some other prey and obviously no threat, Ranma grabbed onto its stem with his forelegs and then bit into it, literally eating through his assailant in a crude reversal of their previous predicament.

"NOM NOM NOM JACKASH!" Ranma shouted around a mouthful of kraken plant, which was surprisingly sweet and tender. As he swallowed it, the final stem buckled and broke, and Ranma yelped as the trap fell on top of him.

Zecora stared quietly, rubbed her eyes with her hoof, and then went back to staring.

After a few seconds there was a tremendous impact, and the last of the kraken lily's traps was sent flying off into the surrounding forest. Ranma returned his legs to the ground and then staggered away from the conquered plant. Sap and acidic fluids stuck in his fur and mane, he had numerous new slashes cut into his body, and his tail was partially unbraided and full of twigs and dirt.

"I AM HAVING SUCH A BAD DAY!!" Ranma screamed to the sky.

Zecora silently pulled back behind her tree, trying to puzzle out what she had just seen. The events themselves had been quite straightforward, but hardly anything else about this made sense. Who was this earth pony? How did he possess the strength to destroy a kraken lily on his own? Why was he wandering through the Everfree Forest and demolishing its wildlife? Fairly disturbed, but no less intrigued, Zecora twisted her head back around to further observe this new pony.

She found herself staring directly into a pair of crystal blue eyes mere inches from her own.

Zecora managed to keep from shouting in surprise, although it was a near thing. She hadn't heard the stallion approach, and was fairly certain she hadn't made a sound to alert him, either. A moment passed with neither of them speaking, and Zecora watched nervously as the stallion looked her over.

"Oh, thank God, you're an Earth pony," Ranma sighed, his shoulders slumping. This new pony was a bit strange-looking, with golden hoop jewelry and a mohawk, but she clearly didn't have a horn. Zecora cautiously relaxed her own guard as well, as this new pony didn't seem hostile. Confused, apparently, but not hostile.

"Your confusion I can understand, but I am not an equine from this land. Zebra is how my people are referred, at least when superstition and judgment are deferred."

Ranma cocked his head to the side, his brow creasing. "Oh... kay. Alien zebra. Got it." The zebra before him was much smaller than he remembered Earth zebras being, and anyway, she could talk. He was pretty sure Earth zebras didn't talk. Nor could Earth ponies, actually, but he wasn't about to start picking apart his alien theory at this point.

Zecora raised an eyebrow at the stallion's statement. While the word "alien" wasn't inaccurate - she was, after all, an immigrant - it was still an extremely unusual term to be applied to her. "I have followed your trail from the forest's heart, and your struggle just now gave me quite a start. Who are you, young pony, to wander these trees? I would like to hear your story, if you please."

"Oh, don't get me STARTED!" Ranma said, heaving another sigh. "I've been trying to track this couple of unicorns all day because they turned me into this, but then I got side-tracked. And by side-tracked I mean that I had to beat up pretty much every giant alien animal within five kilometers. Are Earth ponies some kind of major prey animal on this planet? I swear even a few of the BIRDS started pecking at me!" Then he paused. "Oh, by the way, my name is Saotome Ranma. I'm a human. Just not right now."

Zecora nodded slowly, understanding at least half of his explanation. "Well met Saotome, my name is Zecora. I am a shaman on a hunt for some flora. In this you have aided me, unintentionally no doubt, but may I ask what this conflict with unicorns is about?" She walked past the martial artist pony, toward the remains of the kraken lily. She felt it was unnecessary and unfortunate that Ranma had completely shredded the plant, but she certainly wasn't going to let this opportunity go to waste.

"It's kind of complicated, mostly because I'm still not sure how it all happened," Ranma admitted, following behind the zebra, "but the short story is, they turned me from a human into an Earth pony."

Zecora nodded again as she opened her saddlebags. "And what is a human, if I may ask? And how did your change aid them in their task?"

Ranma groaned as he considered that perhaps nobody on this planet knew what a human was. "It's like a mutant ape," he mumbled, remembering what the unicorn mare had called him, "but way smarter and better-looking. And apparently they changed me into THIS because none of their other spells worked on me. Although even after I was turned into a pony I was going to kick their asses, but then an alien lizard bit me."

"Hm-hmm..." Zecora hummed to let him know she was still listening as she picked through the corpse of the kraken lily.

"Look, it's pretty important that I find them. Mostly to change me back, but also because they have this magic rock that can destroy the world."

Zecora twisted her head around to look at him, one eyebrow arched.

"Well, I don't know if THEY'RE going to use it to destroy the world, but it totally can," Ranma admitted. "I mean, probably. Some guy told me it could. He was kind of a loser, though. As far as I know, all it does is teleport you to horrible nightmare planets where the cats have wings. Did you know the cats around here have WINGS?"

Zecora went back to her scavenging, gently picking up several lily flowers and settling them into her saddlebags. Then she pointed to a severed stem standing up in front of her. "Such botanical treasures are a considerable find. Could you apply pressure here, if you don't mind?"

Ranma watched as she took a glass vial out of her bags. "Okay, but seriously, these unicorns are bad news. Not only do they have a magic rock and run around turning innocent humans into ponies, but they're racists, too. Just because English is apparently good enough for the entire rest of the universe doesn't mean that other languages don't exist on Earth!" He bit onto the stem, and a dollop of golden sap oozed out of the defeated plant and into Zecora's vial. As soon as she pulled the bottle away, he spat out the stem. "I'm not a racist, though. Like, your rhyming thing? Totally fine with that. Unless that isn't a race thing and just something you do personally. Then I guess saying that was a little racist of me. But seriously, did you know the cats around here have WINGS?"

"I believe you speak of the manticore, quite well-known to wilderness lore," Zecora said as she settled her saddlebags back into place.

Ranma considered that for several seconds, his muzzle scruching up. "Oh... OH. Okay. Yeah, I saw one of those in a game once. I guess they do look like that." He scratched his head with his hoof. "Well, shoot. I'm not sure if I'm even supposed to be afraid of those, then. They're not really cats, are they? Geez, this is confusing."

"It is no surprise that your thoughts are hazy," Zecora offered, placing a hoof on Ranma's shoulder, "given that you are clearly crazy."

"I SWEAR, all this stuff made perfect sense when it was happening to me!" Ranma insisted.

"Your body is exhausted and your mind perturbed. Further, your travels have left the Everfree disturbed," the zebra explained, "follow me, Saotome, and we will wash and eat. You may rest until you are back on your feet." She started heading through the forest in the direction of her hut.

Ranma frowned, his ears pinning back as he followed. "All right, fine. But can you at least tell me what planet I'm on and what country I'm in?"

"Equiis is the name that this world is given, and of the nations in which it's riven, Equestria you find yourself in, although its claim on this particular forest is thin."

Ranma blinked. "Uh... Okay, English is my second language, but that grammar seemed weird to me."

Zecora shrugged. "Certain words are hard to rhyme. I must get creative from time to time."

A loud rustling came from off to the side, and Zecora froze. Her eyes darted to the noise, and she saw a rust-colored shape standing high above the brush as it floated forward. It was thin, hard, segmented, and tipped with a bulbous stinger.

"An Everfree scorpion approaches nearby," she whispered as she started backing up, "highly venomous, though not very sly."

"Oh, hey! I think I remember those from a game, too!" Ranma said as he walked forward instead.

Zecora's fur stood on end as Ranma walked up to the rustling bushes obliviously, making no effort to hide or retreat. The Everfree scorpion emerged from the brush, brandishing pincers like swords and an armored body that was easily the size of a pony stallion, although hanging much lower to the ground. It halted upon seeing Ranma waiting for it, and the massive arachnid hissed and reared its tail back.

Zecora was still working out a word to rhyme with "deadly" in her head when the scorpion struck, its stinger aiming straight for Ranma's chest.

Ranma's right foreleg lashed out with equal speed, and a loud SMACK echoed through the forest as his hoof knocked aside the stinger. Then he hopped over a pincer as the scorpion tried to eviscerate him, landing behind and to the side of the predator.

"I don't really remember how they fought the giant scorpions in the game," Ranma admitted as he struck out with one back leg. The Everfree scorpion was sent flying back into the bushes, landing upside-down and screeching angrily. "I'm not much of a gamer. I have to spend so much time in real life beating up monsters and Ninja and stuff that I don't really want to spend my spare time doing it, too."

He started walking away from the encounter, then paused and looked behind him. Zecora was still standing where she was when the scorpion had appeared. "Something wrong? I don't really know where we're going."

Zecora took a moment to clear her thoughts and shake off her surprise. In retrospect, given how he had savaged the kraken lily and apparently beaten numerous other Everfree predators, she shouldn't be so surprised that a giant scorpion was no challenge to him. But logical inference aside, to actually see a pony - an unarmed earth pony, at that - casually knock aside a monster without breaking conversation was quite a sight.

"Forgive my shock, and let's hurry along. I was not expecting you to be quite so strong." There was an element of subtle suspicion in Zecora's tone as she eyed the other equine, and her eyes lingered on the eight-pointed star that made up his cutie mark.

Ranma snorted and smiled. "Well, of course I am! I'm the best martial artist there is!" He let Zecora trot ahead of him to lead the way. "Although that's based on my home planet of Earth, and my real species, which is human. I might not be the best pony martial artist on Equiis. Although I hope I am. It would be really embarrassing to get defeated by something that looks like I do right now."

Zecora nodded absently, picking up her pace. Although Ranma had proven to be a generally decent pony so far, he was still obviously insane, and seemed to be slipping further into madness the more he talked. With luck, his insanity was just the symptom of some poison he had been exposed to as he blundered his way through the Everfree Forest, and she'd be able to cure him once she got back to her home. If not, then she'd probably have to pass off this patient to Twilight Sparkle in order to fix his mind. Or have him magically imprisoned so he doesn't wander around attracting and subsequently flattening every animal in the forest. Whichever.

"Oh! Hey! You have a tattoo on your leg too!" Ranma said. "What's up with those? Do they appear on their own? Is yours different because you're a zebra and I'm a human turned into a horse?"

Zecora hesitated several seconds to reply, wondering if she should even bother trying to explain something so basic as cutie marks to the stallion in his current state. Eventually she relented. "That 'tattoo' is your cutie mark, and it renders your special talent stark."

Ranma made a face. "Is that seriously what it's called? Who came up with that?"

Zecora shrugged. "Ancient equines from some forgotten age, lost in the annals of history I'd gauge. Every pony earns one when still small, and it defines their lives as they grow tall."

The stallion frowned again, staring back at his own cutie mark. "Okay... so what does mine mean? You said it's related to my talent and my life, right? I'm pretty sure my mark should be me punching a guy."

Zecora again cast a wary glance at her companion, but still failed to see any malice in his eyes. Apparently violence was simply such a normal part of his life that it held no particular stigma to him. "... It does not surprise me that you are at a loss. For your cutie mark... is the symbol for chaos."

It had taken longer than expected for Zecora to lead Ranma back to her home. In part because the crazy pony was constantly asking questions about the forest and herself, but also because the Everfree hadn't stopped throwing murderous predators after him. Two more scorpions, an elemental spider, a baby wyvern, and a bigger dire bear that was probably the enraged mother of the first one had all somehow homed in on her and her companion and decided to make them into snacks. This wasn't helped by the fact that Ranma kept talking, which rendered moot the surprising stealth with which he moved through the forest brush. But even taking his frequent rambling into account, there shouldn't have been that many predators all coincidentally within earshot, and at least some of them should have been warded away (or well-fed) by the broken bodies of other dangerous animals nearby.

Yet still they came, and Ranma soundly trounced them all. Only the wyvern seemed to warrant even his full concentration, and evidently that was only because the creature could fly; knocking out the beast had required a dizzying display of acrobatics and much bouncing between trees that Zecora was positive was beyond the abilities of the most agile pony acrobats and rangers. It's possible that whatever was driving the stallion mad also modified his physiology somehow.

Aside from the frequent attacks, though, she was surprised to find that Saotome Ranma wasn't terrible company. Certainly a pony as strong and capable as he was could have made a decent living for himself as a bandit if he'd been so inclined, but he hadn't shown her anything but gratitude and deference since they'd met. Nor had he been offended by her bluntly dismissing his sanity, which she must admit she could have been more diplomatic about.

Then again, if he had been rendered insane by Everfree poison as she expected, his benevolence might change once he was cured. Still, Zecora was always one to help those in need, even at risk to herself.

Finally, as the sun set beyond the trees, Zecora spotted her hut in the distance, as well as the brook that flowed next to it. She veered away from the path to the former in order to take Ranma to the latter.

"Over here is the space I use to wash up. Let us clean first, and then we shall sup." A wooden brush was hanging on a branch by a leather strap, and she took the handle in her mouth before pulling it free.

Ranma hesitated behind her. His bathing with a female was obviously controversial in human society, but what about for horses? Considering that Zecora was naked anyway - aside from the golden bangles, that is - it probably didn't make sense for him to be embarrassed, right? Right. Things shouldn't be weird.

Although things might be weird when the cold water turned him into a-

"THAT'S RIGHT!!" Ranma shouted suddenly. Zecora jumped in surprise, and then tumbled into the water while flailing her legs.

Ranma waited patiently for the zebra to emerge sputtering from the water, a grin plastered across his face. "I forgot about my curse!" he said brightly as she stared at him in confusion.

If Zecora hadn't long ago concluded that Ranma was insane, this would have sealed the diagnosis. Nobody should have been so happy to be cursed as he apparently was.

"Okay, it's like this: I was dropped into this magic pool in Jusenkyou, China. The pools curse people to turn into other things when they're splashed with cold water, and then they turn back with hot water!" Zecora said nothing, content to stare at him like he had grown another head. "I was dropped into the spring of drowned girl!" The zebra was still staring. "As in a female human!" Still staring. "Oh, whatever. I'll just show you." Ranma trotted up to the brook and then hopped in, landing at the edge of the stream.

Zecora wasn't expecting anything at all to happen, so she was genuinely shocked when Ranma's form did start to shift. As the water sloshed around his legs, the stallion's mane and tail turned from a jet black to a bright, brilliant red. The water had barely even touched his head, which meant that this wasn't the work of some bizarre mane coloring. And even if Zecora could easily dismiss the alteration in hair color, there were other apparent changes that were harder to explain as anything other than shapeshifting magic.

None of those changes, however, involved a shift into the primate family.

"God damn it." Ranma mumbled as she stared down at her dark-furred, equine legs. A glimpse of her pigtail and a glance down between her hind legs confirmed her immediate suspicions. "God DAMN it! The stupid pony curse changed my other curse? That's just not FAIR! Curses aren't supposed to work that way! I consider myself an expert on the subject!"

Zecora's bulging eyes swiftly returned to their normal size, and then she calmly retrieved her brush so that she and her new houseguest could clean themselves. "So it seems your claims were not COMPLETE delusion, although a form of madness remains my conclusion. Perhaps the insanity renders your thoughts half-true? This could help me determine what condition ails you."

Ranma's ears flipped down again as she slumped into the water. "Yeah, okay, fine. I sound crazy. I get it." She stepped deeper into the water, feeling relieved despite everything else that was wrong. Pony or not, Zecora had found her when she was a complete mess, and it felt good to wash all the gunk off of her. "I really do appreciate your helping me out like this, by the way. Most people I know wouldn't offer some guy they thought was crazy a meal and a bed. And I'm sure changing into a girl doesn't help, either. No, wait. Mare? That's the English word for a female horse, right?"

Zecora smirked. "Equish is what we call our speech here. And you've given me little reason for fear. Your curse is most odd, but I have seen stranger. Turning into a pegasus is no great danger."

Ranma nodded as she rubbed a spot of sap out of her foreleg with a hoof. "Yeah, okay, I guess..." she trailed off, and then raised an eyebrow. "Turning into a what, now?"

"You've suffered a great many troublesome things," Zecora explained patiently, "I can understand overlooking that you now possess wings."

Ranma snapped her head around, looking at her back. Sure enough, there were a pair of large, feathered wings folded against her sides. She twitched a muscle along her back, and one of them lifted slightly, exposing the joint that apparently attached them to her torso.

"So instead of boobs, I have wings. Okay, that's not a bad trade," Ranma said before she went back to scrubbing her coat.

Zecora tilted her head to the side. "What are these 'boobs' of which you speak?"

"I'd explain it but you already think I'm a freak," Ranma interjected.

The Zebra shaman jerked her head back. "Did you just finish the rhyme to my speech?"

"Yes. Can I have the brush? There's a spot I can't reach."

Zecora hesitantly held out the brush with her mouth, and Ranma tried to take it with her hoof. Unsurprisingly, it tumbled into the water the moment the zebra let go.

"Gah! Geez, I really miss having hands," Ranma mumbled before dunking her head in the water after it.

"I recall such a limb from seeing minotaur lands," Zecora said thoughtfully, "perhaps your madness stems from distorted memories?"

After a few seconds, Ranma's head emerged again with the brush in her jaws. She blinked as she saw Zecora looking at her expectantly. "... Sorry, what? My head was underwater."

Zecora's muzzle scrunched up as she glared at the martial artist.

"... Uh... can I help you... prepare the fodder?" Ranma tried, grinning nervously.

Zecora sighed before turning around and stepping out of the water. "Make sure to scrub well, and I'll be inside. The kraken lily's sap sticks well to your hide."

"Yeah, okay. Thanks."

Dinner was a fairly quiet affair for the two equines. Zecora simply wasn't given to aimless conversation, especially with a crazy pony. Meanwhile, Ranma devoted all of her attention to stuffing her face and replenishing the energy she had spent kicking her way through the Everfree. Honestly, the boiled forest greens were awful to eat, but Ranma was quite used to eating foraged scraps from the wilderness, and wasn't the sort to complain about free food anyway.

As Ranma used the serving spoon clenched in her teeth to shovel more greens onto her plate - and wondered to herself why ponies even had spoons when they were so awkward for them to use - Zecora stepped away from the table and walked over to a small iron cauldron sitting on a table stacked with bits of plants. She began dropping measured components and fluids into the container as Ranma continued to eat, and then stirred the concoction with a squat wooden stick.

After satisfying herself with the color and consistency of the fluid, she returned to Ranma with a bowl of the stuff. She set it down in front of her, and then slid an empty bowl up next to it.

Ranma gulped down her current mouthful, and then looked up at the zebra in askance.

"This concoction will aid my attempt to heal you, so finish your dinner and when you're through: swish this fluid vigorously within your maw. Spit it out once more when your tongue feels raw."

Ranma raised an eyebrow, and then scarfed down the remains of her dinner with impressive speed. "I'm guessing this 'healing' isn't about the cuts from fighting all the animals, is it?" She dipped her muzzle into the bowl and sucked up much of the fluid, then started swishing it around in her mouth. It was a light green substance, and was actually slightly sweet at first. As she continued to wash her mouth with the stuff, however, it started turning bitter.

"The potion is to test for toxins and such, many of which can give insanity's touch. Your mind has been disturbed, that much is clear. Now please, spit it out into this empty bowl, here."

Ranma felt the described "raw" feeling on her tongue, and duly spat out the strange liquid into the empty bowl.

Zecora blinked in surprise; the fluid was a slightly darker green than before, but hadn't changed color much at all. This indicated Ranma's bloodstream was perfectly healthy. That was most odd; the special herbs she had prepared for dinner should have helped saturate Ranma's saliva with any toxic substances that she had consumed or inhaled. Not only did this suggest that her insanity wasn't caused by any Everfree poison, but it also meant that she wasn't even suffering any effects from the ordinary assortment of spores and pollens that polluted the depths of the forest, many of which were mildly harmful with prolonged exposure. Ranma's physical vitality apparently extended far beyond her raw muscle power.

"This is most strange, but I have no doubt. You were not poisoned while out and about," Zecora admitted.

"Told you," Ranma said smugly, "so you believe my story now, right?"

"Not in the least. I'm as skeptical as ever," Zecora said flatly, "so I'm going to send you to somepony more clever."

Ranma groaned as her ears flipped down again. "You don't really need to do this, you know. I just need a meal and place to stay for tonight. Then I can go back to tracking down those unicorns."

"I insist that you at least hear me out. My intentions to see you restored are devout," the zebra insisted, "even if your mind is beyond our support, to Twilight Sparkle I insist you report. She is prodigy in magic and enchantments of all kind. She is quite intelligent and helpful, you'll find."

"Well, I suppose she might be able to help with this new curse," Ranma shrugged, "all right, you win. I'll go with you."

"I am pleased to hear you have relented to sense. I can guarantee Miss Sparkle's competence," Zecora said with a sagacious nod.

Ranma settled down on the floor next to the table, curling up on her side. "Well, I'll get some rest, then. See you tomorrow."

"You need not sleep on the floor. To share my bed is no great chore," Zecora said, gesturing to the rather large pile of bedding in the corner of the hut. She was going to make a wry comment about the arrangement being fine as long as Ranma was still a mare, but was interrupted by a soft snore.

The zebra blinked, realizing that Ranma Saotome was already asleep. It didn't surprise her so much after a moment of reflection; she was sure to be more tired than she let on after everything she had gone through (and possibly imagined going through) that day. And she seemed comfortable enough in the wilderness that a stiff wooden floor probably amounted to a luxury for her.

Zecora smiled slightly as she grabbed a blanket with her mouth and dragged it over the resting mare. Then she blew out the oil lamp that lit her hut's interior.

"Have a restful night, my friend Saotome. For I predict tomorrow shall be another rough day."

"Hmm, hmm-hmm hm hmmm-hmmm!" Swan Song hummed to herself as she sat in a tub full of hot water and suds to wash away the day's dirt and grime. A large copper brush floated over her back, wrapped in a glowing swirl of yellow power.

The trip back home from the ancient ruins had been delightfully uneventful. Rite had spent most of the walk staring at the MacGuffin Stone and muttering to himself, while Swan had been in charge of covering their tracks. It seemed she had done a decent enough job at it, too, since the simian-turned-equine that had been chasing them hadn't turned up since. Once they'd cleared the Everfree it was a short trip South to Rite's evil wizard tower in the hills.

Not that Rite called it an evil wizard tower. That was Swan's name for it. He seemed surprisingly coy about the title, despite the building being a darkened, crooked edifice of ebony stone from which he researched ancient magic and plotted the downfall of Equestria's rulers. What else would one call it? In any case, the tower had numerous magic protections should the transformed ape think to chase them this far.

Her thoughts drifted back to their polymorphed pursuer. The encounter with the ape had happened so quickly and shifted to a violent confrontation almost immediately, but she wished she had taken some time to ask him some questions. And she had a LOT of questions. The sudden appearance of a mysterious new primate species that spoke Equish was a tremendous find on its own, but the fact that he clearly came from the MacGuffin Stone somehow may mean that he had some kind of insight or connection to the artifact. That, in turn, may have provided some help with figuring out why the magic stone had lost its power.

Besides, he was REALLY cute as a pony.

"EUREKA!!" Rite shouted as he burst in through the door to the bathroom.

Swan Song yelped in shock and reflexively hurled the brush at the stallion with her magic. The brush bashed Rite in the nose and bounced off, causing him to stagger backwards.

Swan Song blushed as the brush hit the tile floor. "Eep! Mister Rite! Sorry! I just-"

Rite shook his head even as blood dribbled from his nose. "No time for that! I've found it! The key to the MacGuffin Stone!"

Swan Song blinked, but the crimson unicorn continued before she could speak. "There was a part of the translation I found confusing, but I understand it now that I've been able to observe the stone first-hoof! You see, the MacGuffin Stone requires a power source itself to function!"

Swan raised an eyebrow. "But isn't the stone ITSELF supposed to be a power source? What's the point if you need to charge it up first?" She floated a towel over to herself as she stepped out of the tub.

"The point is what it uses to charge itself!" Rite exclaimed with a grin. "The stone can capture living beings with extraordinary magical power, and then allow me to channel that power for my purposes!"

Swan wrapped the towel around her neck, and then draped another over her back. "Ah, ha! So that mutant ape was powering the stone, then?"

"Meh, I guess," Rite shrugged, "but now that I've decoded the spell for using it properly, we can adapt this ability to our advantage!" He chuckled darkly. "We'll launch a strike against our enemy, and reduce our target to a mere magic battery to serve our own agenda!"

"Oh, awesome!" Swan giggled as the towels scrubbed the water from her fur and mane. "Good thinking, Mister Rite! Who are we going to use?"

"For what we have planned, we'll need some SERIOUS magic power. Nothing less than the level of an Equestrian Princess will do," the red pony smirked. "Obviously, Princess Celestia and Cadance would be difficult targets, as they tend to stay in their castles behind heavy guard details. Luckily, we have... other options."

Swan Song matched Rite's chuckling as she flung her wet towels aside. "Twilight Sparkle it is, then! Soon she'll be out of the way, and fuel the very downfall of her teacher!"

Rite blinked, and then arched an eyebrow. "What? No. I said SERIOUS magic power. We can't settle for fourth place in the tetrarchy. We're trying to overthrow a country, here. I was talking about Princess Luna. Apparently she sometimes takes long walks through the forest fighting random monsters at night with hardly any guards."

"Oh, okay." Swan paused. "... I just thought you might want to go for Sparkle anyway, since she has a record of directly and quickly responding to threats against Equestria rather than having administrative duties to preoccupy her, or being nocturnal."

Rite walked up to the mare and patted her mane condescendingly with a hoof. "And that sort of thinking is why you're still an intern." He swung around and headed back to the door, pausing briefly to levitate a tissue from the bathroom counter and wipe his bloodied nose. "Make sure to get a nap in tomorrow, Swan Song, for tomorrow... the night shall be OURS!"

Author's Note:

So, I believe an explanation of Ranma's cutie mark is in order before people start posting comments wondering about when daemons and Space Marines are going to show up.
When deciding what cutie mark Ranma should have, I eventually settled on the same symbol that Discord had on his scepter in that one episode. In this story it's a representation of chaos in the definitional sense (little c), and not a glyph for the darker powers. This is not a Warhammer crossover.

As for the story tags, even though Ranma is, nominally, a human, I decided against the tag since he's going to spend pretty much all of the story as a pony.

Finally, this story takes place before Season 4, because that was the last time that an antagonist stealing ponies' magic power could be considered remotely original.