Disclaimer: Not mine. Not making money. You know the drill.

Warning: Reading this fanfic with one eye closed and the other one squinting really hard may cause dizziness.

Warning: Altaverse (Keiichi ain't here, and the senshi timeline is all messed up.)

"words"

'thoughts'

A Time for Wild Horses chapter 22 by Jose Argao

"Why can't you just tell them your secret identities. You told us."

Usagi shook her head at Ryoga's ridiculous suggestion. "We told you about our secret identities because Mako-chan vouched for you, but we don't have any idea if we can trust those Nerima people."

"But I can vouch for them! Akane is one of the nicest people I've ever known. In fact, her whole family is nice. There's absolutely nothing to worry about."

Usagi sighed. Makoto's friend was being needlessly thickheaded.
"Look, we just need to be sure. If they come over and it turns out that they're okay, we'll tell them. Until then, you and your friends need to keep quiet about who we really are."

"I disagree." Mousse's glasses flashed as he spoke, an effect that had taken him years of practice in front of a mirror to master.

"You want to tell them about our secret identities?" Usagi gaped at Mousse. Had he heard nothing of what she had said?

"Of course not." Mousse adjusted his glasses as he spoke. "I don't really care about that one way or the other. However, I cannot accept being called Ryoga's friend. We are merely casual acquaintances at best."

"I think you're missing something very important." Rose managed to get a word in before Ryoga could concur. "Even if you were to meet with the Tendos in your super-heroine personas, wouldn't the fact that the meeting takes place at Hikawa Shrine give away Ms. Hino's identity,
at the very least?"

"Oh, you don't need to worry about that." Usagi smirked at the older woman. "We already have a plan prepared for that possibility."

"What are we going to do? We don't have any kind of plan prepared for that possibility!"

Rei rolled her eyes at Usagi's cries. "Look, I'm kinda busy right now. Do you think we could maybe talk about this after I'm done with my bath?"

Usagi frowned. Rei was showing a remarkable lack of interest in the possibility of her secret identity being exposed. "But when they get here and they don't see you, they might figure out that the shrine maiden must be a Sailor Senshi!"

The raven-haired teen almost crushed the bar of soap in her hands. Did Usagi really think that she would let things get this far without thinking about that possibility?

Rei tried not to sound too annoyed as she spoke. "Look, Usagi,
you have absolutely nothing to worry about. I'm on this! Just get out of here, please!"

The frown on Usagi's face grew in intensity. It almost seemed like Rei was trying to get rid of her. What was she being so uptight about anyway? They were both girls, and they had seen each other naked before. Rei had nothing to hide... or did she? Usagi could only think of one possible explanation for Rei's strange behavior.

"Your breasts got smaller, didn't they?"

The bar of soap flew from Rei's hand when her grip on the slippery object suddenly tightened. She almost slipped on the floor at her shock over Usagi's words. "What!"

Usagi shook her head. Rei's reaction might as well had been a full-blown confession. "I knew it. I never thought it was actually possible, but I guess you're living proof that it can happen."

Rei angrily picked up the fallen piece of soap and put it back on its holder. She turned towards

"My breasts definitely did not get smaller! Who told you that?"

A sigh escaped Usagi's lips. Denial was everyone's first reaction to a serious problem. "There's no need to be embarrassed about it, Rei. I'm your friend. You can talk to me about problems like this.
I can help."

Rei opened the door to her shower and thrust her chest practically into Usagi's face. "I'm telling you, they didn't get smaller! As a matter of fact, they got a little bit bigger two weeks ago. I bought new bras, remember?"

Usagi turned away sadly. It was difficult to look at a friend who was suffering. "So it happened two weeks ago, huh? It must have been awkward buying smaller bras than you used to."

Rei angrily grabbed Usagi's hands and placed them squarely on her chest. "There! Tell me how those feel, Usagi! Tell me if they feel smaller than before!"

Usagi blushed bright red. This was a decidedly new experience for her. The sensation wasn't unpleasant, of course, but the act itself was something that she had never envisioned herself doing.

"Rei-chan... I... I guess they don't feel small after all. Can I... let go now?"

Rei managed to get hold of herself in the middle of Usagi's wails. An awkward silence reigned between the two teenagers.

Playing it cool was the only way to get past the event with her dignity intact, Rei decided. "Well now you know. My breasts didn't get any smaller."

Usagi nodded. "I guess not. They actually felt kinda big. And soft, you know?"

Rei nodded as well. "Yeah. That's right. I mean, I don't really touch myself to see if they're soft or anything. I just know because I just happen to touch them from time to time. Accidentally."

"Of course." Usagi continued nodding. "There's nothing wrong with that, since they're yours, you know? You can touch them as much as you want."

Rei paused for a bit, taking in Usagi's words. "Well, that's right. I can touch my own breasts as much as I want because they belong to me. Not that there was anything wrong with what happened before, of course. I kinda lead the way so that means I gave you permission, I guess. Nothing wrong with that, right?"

"Of course!" Usagi was quick to reply. "And it didn't even mean anything. Except now I know I was wrong. I'm sorry, Rei."

Both girls heaved a sigh of relief now that the episode had been dealt with. A silent pact was formed between them to forget that the last few minutes had ever happened.

Rei picked up her soap and started speaking as she continued her bath. "Anyway, I've already thought of a plan to protect my secret identity. We just have to make sure that they see a shrine maiden, and that they see Sailor Mars too. If that happens, then there's no way they'll figure out that the Sailor Mars is the Miko here, right?"

Usagi's face lit up with understanding. "That's a great idea,
Rei! It's perfect! Brilliant! I wont let you down!" Usagi quickly left the bathroom after speaking.

A slightly confused look settled over Rei's face. She wasn't entirely sure what Usagi had meant that last time. The ditzy blonde had finally left her alone, though, so she could at least finish her bath in peace. She could deal with Usagi later.

"So there's an angel in this egg?"

Ukyo stared intently at the tiny ball of white that Skuld had just given to her. She had spent the better part of her time in Asgard learning what being a goddess was all about. It was hard to believe much of the information inside the disc Odin had given her,
but that was nothing compared to the small sphere that she had just been given. It certainly didn't look all that impressive. She found it hard to believe that it actually contained a real, honest to goodness angel. With wings and everything. She had expected angel eggs to be... bigger.

Belldandy smiled brightly at her. "Yes there is. You need to take good care of that egg so that one day it'll hatch into a beautiful reflection of the kindness and goodness in your heart, just like Holy Bell!"

At that, Belldandy's angel sprang forth and the two of them started hugging each other, seemingly lost in their own little fantasy of how the egg in Ukyo's hand would hatch into something wonderful.

Truth be told, Ukyo found the whole thing rather creepy. She turned slightly to whisper into Skuld's ear. "Your sister's not on any medication, is she?"

Skuld stopped admiring Belldandy just long enough to answer the question. "Of course not! Onee-sama is naturally full of happiness and cheer. Isn't she wonderful? You should follow her advice. If you do, an angel will hatch from that egg in no time!"

Urd rolled her eyes as she spoke up. "You don't actually need
to do anything, you know. The angel will come out when you're ready and that's it. There's no special trick to it. I'm not the least bit like Belldandy and I hatched my angel just fine."

Skuld turned to Urd with a look of disgust. "Just fine? The first thing your angel did after hatching was hump my leg!"

The goddess of the past glared at Skuld. "World of Elegance is just naturally affectionate! Besides, I didn't see you struggling to fight her off!"

Skuld blushed bright red at that remark, but she didn't back down from the argument. "It felt ticklish! I was laughing too hard to do anything!"

Urd fixed Skuld with an accusing glare. "Your laughs sounded suspiciously like moans to me."

"Yeah, right!" Skuld crossed her arms in front of herself. "As if I would ever have that reaction to your angel. Impossible."

Urd smiled as World of Elegance materialized behind her. "Are you sure? Why don't we find out?"

Skuld backed away in fear. "You wouldn't dare... I'll... I'll scream!"

A chuckle escaped the lips of Asgard's self-appointed goddess of love. "Oh I'll have you screaming alright..."

"Noble Scarlet, save me!"

In a flash, the two angels were getting it on. Ukyo wondered to herself if all fights between angels were this... intimate. Skuld and Urd didn't look like they were in such good shape either. It was as if the two of them could feel what their angels felt, but with a lot more intensity.

"Ah, look at those two."

Ukyo nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound of Belldandy's voice. She had nearly forgotten that the goddess of the present was in the room with her.

"Angels are reflections of the true selves of their owners.
They don't do these things with just anyone. This shows that in spite of everything, Urd and Skuld really do love each other. Isn't it just wonderful?"

Ukyo nodded slowly at the smiling Belldandy. The two of them stared at each other in silence for a few moments. Ukyo briefly thought about asking Belldandy who did the highlights in her hair. They were positively gorgeous.

"Goddesses Belldandy, Urd, Skuld and Ukyo, please report to conference room six."

Belldandy turned towards her sisters. "That's us. Let's go."

World of Elegance and Noble Scarlet immediately disappeared.
Urd and Skuld stood up slowly and brushed themselves off, each trying to catch their breath. They slowly made their way out of the room,
led by Belldandy.

"I'm sorry, okay? I didn't really mean what I said that time.
Kasumi was egging me on and it sort of slipped out of my mouth."

Akane turned away from Nabiki and crossed her arms in front of her chest, making it obvious that she wasn't in the mood to talk to her elder sister at all. The whole household was on a train headed for Juuban, and she hadn't spoken to either of her sisters since she had overheard them talking about the recent events concerning Ranma.

To think that the two of them were planning to steal Ranma from her! She would have dismissed the idea as impossible only a few days ago, but there was no denying what she had heard. There was only one logical conclusion. Only one explanation that made any sense at all.

Ranma had seduced her sisters! He'd played with their hearts and run off to Juuban to escape the responsibility! And then, when he saw that they had followed him, he went and ran off with yet another woman that he had seduced during his short stay there.

Come to think of it, it had always seemed a little fishy how Ranma spent all that time helping Kasumi out in the kitchen. He certainly never helped out when she was cooking. And that short time he'd transferred the engagement to Nabiki. Who knew what kind of ecchiness the two of them got up to? Knowing Ranma it probably involved food, cross-dressing, underwear, and lots of water.

Akane shuddered. She wasn't sure she wanted to know exactly how Ranma used those materials to commit his disgusting acts of debauchery.

Of course, Kasumi and Nabiki weren't completely blameless in all this. After all, she herself had managed to resist Ranma's advances for all this time. Why couldn't they? It's not like she didn't find him attractive. She was perfectly aware that Ranma was about as perfect a specimen of manhood as a guy could get. She could feel the electric sensations that his touch caused at the slightest contact between them.
She knew that for all their complaints about how much of a pervert Ranma was, any one of the girls at school would jump at the chance to be his girl.

In spite of all that, she had never succumbed to his subtle manipulation. She had never given in to the desire. Why couldn't Nabiki or Kasumi do the same? The thought of them together was making her so jea... er... so angry that she could hardly think straight!

Why was Ranma like this? How could he be so... so mean and spiteful as to do this to her sisters? Couldn't he see that these were the things she hated about him the most? Why couldn't he be just a little more caring? Why couldn't he give her just a little more of his attention? She knew he had it in him to be a decent guy. He'd proven that he had it in him before.

After he had saved her from Kirin and Toma... On the way home from Ryugenzawa... He was so perfect back then. Why couldn't he be like that more often? A Ranma she could accept. A Ranma she could respect. A Ranma she could like.

A Ranma she could love.

"What?"

Kasumi stopped looking outside through the window of the train they were currently on. She turned towards Nabiki and raised an eyebrow at her sister's query. "Excuse me?"

Nabiki sighed at Kasumi's reaction. If it wasn't Akane slipping off to her own private little world during their conversations, it was Kasumi with her little Ms. Innocent act.

"Why have you been staring at me for the past six minutes?"

The eldest Tendo daughter smiled sweetly as she continued to stare intently at her younger sibling. "Oh, it's not really important."

Nabiki rolled her eyes. "Humor me, please. Just tell me the reason."

Kasumi seemed to think for a few moments about whether or not to reply before she finally spoke. "Well, I was just wondering whether or not it's physically possible for a dress to be frumpier than Furinkan High's school uniform."

A nasty frown appeared on Nabiki's otherwise pretty face. "I would have worn something else, but someone mysteriously forgot to hang all my other clothes out to dry on the same day that she decided to wash them."

The nauseatingly sweet smile never left Kasumi's visage as she replied. "I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about. Anyway,
you could have just borrowed some of Akane's... Oh, she's still not speaking to you, is she?"

Nabiki glared at her older sister before deciding to put a stop to the conversation. It wasn't going anywhere anyway.

"Girls, I bought some mints! Would you... er... like... some?"

Soun stopped talking and stared his daughters. His experiences with Happosai had trained him in the art of sensing murderous intent,
and if his instincts weren't playing tricks on him the area around his daughters' seats was full of it.

Akane was looking out the window. Nabiki and Kasumi were having a conversation at the seat across from hers. Their actions did not overtly betray any malicious intentions, but Soun could feel evil energy in the air. He tried to appear calm as he stepped backwards.
With any luck, the problem would go away on its own by the time they arrived in Juuban. If it didn't, Nodoka would handle it when they got home. Fortunately, it didn't look like the girls had noticed him. He just needed to quietly slip away--

"I'd like a mint, Daddy."

Soun smiled awkwardly as he turned towards Nabiki. She was looking at him expectantly. Bullets of sweat started running down his neck. Of all the times for her to take him up on one of his offers!
He rummaged in his pocket and produced a mint, which he handed to her with trembling hands. She took the mint out of its wrapper and popped it into her mouth. That went well. Now all he had to do was get the heck out of--

"Daddy, do you care about which of us marries Ranma?"

Soun turned to Akane. Why was she asking him about this? What did she want him to say? Was she fishing for encouragement to keep her resolve to stick with Ranma, or was she looking for a way out of the engagement? Was that the reason for the evil energy in the air? Did she talk to her sisters about it? Maybe they had an argument because Nabiki and Kasumi didn't want to marry Ranma. It was even possible that they got into an argument because Nabiki and Kasumi did want to marry Ranma.

"Er... why do you ask, Akane?"

Akane turned back towards the window, making it difficult for Soun to gauge her reaction.

"I was just wondering, that's all. You let Ranma transfer the engagement to Nabiki once, after all. Would you do it again if she agreed not to sell the hall?"

Soun gulped. That was a loaded question. Of course, in the end, it didn't really matter to him which one of his girls married Ranma. Of course, he couldn't just go out and say that. What if Akane was just one little push away from agreeing to the marriage? Maybe she realized how much she really loved Ranma while he was gone. In that case the correct move would be to say that he really wanted her to be the one Ranma married. Then again, what if Nabiki and Kasumi were the ones willing to tie the knot for the sake of the family? In that case the correct move would be to say that the option to be Ranma's bride was open to all of them. But what if they all wanted to marry him now?

'We are now arriving at Juuban station. Please check your valuables before stepping off the train. Thank you.'

"Well, would you look at that. We're here! I'll answer your question later, Akane." Soun breathed a sigh of relief. He quickly made his way back to the other end of the train car, where Genma had fallen asleep in his seat. Hinako and Konatsu were there too. They would all head out to the Hikawa Shrine to find out where Ranma was and bring him back home. By then his daughters hopefully would have resolved their differences and he would not have to deal with Akane's impossible question.

"So does everyone understand what needs to be done? Everything must be executed perfectly from this point on. The Juuban incident was a disaster, and I shall not tolerate any further slipups."

Ukyo, Belldandy, Urd and Skuld all nodded solemnly. Satisfied that the four of them understood the importance of what he was saying,
Odin continued speaking.

"I'm suspending your licenses for the time being."

Urd was about to nod once more when she realized exactly what Odin had said. "You're suspending us? But how are we supposed to do the mission if we don't have access to Yggdrasil?"

Odin turned towards Urd. "You shall retain limited access to Yggdrasil for the duration of your mission, and your angels will of course be available to you as well. That should be enough to complete your tasks. If you are able to accomplish what you need to do in a satisfactory manner, the suspensions will be lifted. Now, if there are no more questions, you may leave."

The four goddesses slowly turned around and left. They had no desire to find out what would happen if they failed.

'If I never let another woman grab my boobs again for as long as I live, it'd be too soon.'

Rei Hino vigorously scrubbed and soaped her body for the fifth time in what was rapidly becoming the longest bath of her life.
Her encounter with Usagi had left her with an overwhelming need to.
cleanse herself. What had happened between them? What on Earth had she been thinking when she did what she did? Was she even thinking at all? The whole episode was very troubling.

'I've been in here too long.'

Rei looked at the wrinkled skin on her normally smooth hands.
The prolonged exposure to water had left them that way. She left the shower, grabbed her towel and started drying herself. She glanced at the mirror above the sink as she made her way towards the changing area. She turned sideways, studying her profile on the mirror.

'They don't look small at all.'

There were several things about her body that Rei would have liked to change if she could, but her bust size wasn't one of them.
They were just the right size and perfectly shaped, with no noticeable sag whatsoever. Where had Usagi gotten the idea that they had grown smaller? Was that even possible?

'Well, if nothing else, Usagi sure doesn't think they'd gotten smaller now.'

Rei shuddered as she recalled the feel of Usagi's palms on her breasts. The sensation actually hadn't been too unpleasant. It was just felt really strange having someone else touch her there, even if that someone was another girl. Yes, Usagi was a girl. A girl with soft,
smooth hands and dainty little fingers. She hadn't wasted any important first times with Usagi. Her friend's hands were totally different from the rough hands that boys probably had.

'Or the hands I have right now.'

Rei raised her right hand in front of her eyes and stared at the still wrinkled skin on it. Would that hand feel different from Usagi's? Would it feel like a boy's hand?

Slowly, Rei lowered her right hand and let it rest on her right breast. Nothing so far. Of course, she wasn't really doing it like a boy would. A boy would use more force. A boy would employ a bit more.
movement. A boy would--

"--and then she didn't even try to stand up for me! She just nodded her head and agreed that Akane couldn't be trusted! That's just too unfair! I'd never met Mako-chan's friends before but I gave them my trust for her sake. Why can't they do the same... for... oh no."

"Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!"

That idiot Usagi had left the stupid door open! Now two guys she barely knew had just witnessed her practically fondling herself!
How much had they seen? Did they hear anything? Would she ever live this down?

Rei grabbed everything she could get her hands on and started throwing them at the two males that had just entered the bathroom. Bars of soap, bottles of shampoo, pails of water, and other assorted bath implements sailed through the air towards the duo.

"Bweeeeee!"

"Huh?"

Rei put down the mallet that had somehow found its way into her hand and frowned at the sight in front of her. Ryoga and Mousse were now gone, but they had left their clothes in the bathroom. What's more,
there was a duck and a small black pig tangled up in their garments.

"What's happening? Are they changing clothes yet? I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned this to you, but the best time to nail a woman's panties is while she's changing!"

Mamoru tried his best to ignore Happosai as the old man ranted incessantly about the skills and techniques involved in the art of stealing women's underwear. It was difficult to concentrate on the sounds emanating from his magical seashell, not only because his partner spoke very loud but also because the damned thing he was listening to was as heavy as a house and had to be held against his ear for best effect.

As far as he could tell, there was some kind of commotion inside the bathroom. Something about secret identities and trust. In any case, the outer senshi were just arriving at the gate. He didn't see his beloved Lady Athan with them, though.

Speaking of his pigtailed goddess, where was she? Was she hiding from him again, afraid of showing how hopelessly in love with him she was? Was she still afraid of succumbing to the strong feelings of attraction that she obviously harbored for him?

How much longer would he have to wait for her to realize that he was onto her already? No matter how much she tried to hide her true emotions, it was painfully obvious that she was really in love with him. Why couldn't she just go out and say it? If she would only be true to her feelings, the two of them would be able to live happily in love forever and ever!

Alas, no matter how much he wished otherwise, the fact remained that Lady Athan was as demure as she was beautiful. Truth be told, it was actually kinda cute. Of course, until the day came when she would finally throw herself at his feet and declare undying love for him, Mamoru would have to make do with practicing the art of love with Usagi, her friends, her enemies, and all the other females who couldn't resist the allure of the visage that gazed back at him every time he looked into a mir--

"Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!"

Mamoru gingerly lifted the magic seashell that had fallen on his foot and set it down on the ground beside him. He took a deep breath and wiped the tears from his eyes as he waited for the pain to subside. Several seconds later, he was feeling much better. His foot was still hurting a bit, but luckily no one was around to see his embarrassing accident.

"You scream like a girl."

The former prince of Earth turned towards the ground in front of him, where Happosai was standing. The old goat was looking at him with an annoying 'I saw you doing something stupid' look on his face.

Mamoru grabbed Happosai by the waist and lifted the old man into the air as he spoke. "You will never speak of what you have heard to anyone for as long as you live. Or else."

"Hmmm... I didn't know you kept pets, Rei-chan. Were you giving them a bath? I don't think you dried them properly."

Michiru glanced at the two animals Rei had set down on the table in front of her. There was a small black pig and a duck wearing glasses. Both appeared to be unconscious and soaking wet.

Rei shook her head vigorously. "They're not pets. Mako-chan's idiot friends walked in on me in the bathroom so I panicked and started throwing stuff at them. For some reason, they left their clothes and these animals behind when they ran away."

"Don't call them idiots." Makoto set a tray of drinks on top of the table and looked at the animals. "I'm sure it was an accident.
You probably left the door unlocked or something."

"Don't try to make it sound like it was my fault," Rei replied.
"Usagi was the one who left the door unlocked when she left."

"I didn't know the two of you took showers together." Haruka grinned as she stared at Rei.

"We don't." Rei glared at the older girl. "Usagi was just expressing some concerns she had about the Tendos uncovering our secret identities."

"Concerns? I assumed that you would make an appearance as Rei Hino before attending the meeting as Sailor Mars." Setsuna took a sip from her glass after speaking.

"Yeah. That's what I told Usagi. She left afterwards. Nothing else happened. You can ask her yourself, when she gets here."

"The duck looks creepy with those glasses." Hotaru scowled as she looked at Mousse's transformed body.

Minako glanced at the duck. "Really? It just looks kinda weird to me."

"I wonder why Ryoga-san and Mousse-san would leave their clothes behind..." Ami frowned as she thought about the possible reasons for that curious fact. "Maybe they'd already stripped to take their baths when you saw each other?"

Rei shrugged. "I'm not sure if they'd already taken off their clothes when I saw them. Maybe. Everything happened so fast and I was kinda focused on myself at the time. You don't think they're hiding out somewhere in here naked, do you? Should we go looking for them?"

Setsuna shook her head. "I don't think it'd be a good idea to go looking for them. If they're hiding from us somewhere because they left their clothes behind accidentally, then the best course of action would be to return the clothes to the bathroom so that the two of them can retrieve them without any awkward meetings having to take place."

Haruka nodded slowly. "Well, that solves one problem, but we still don't know what to do with the animals. Why would those two leave them behind anyway? Are they supposed to be some kind of peace offering for Rei? An apology for walking in on her?"

"A peace offering?" Rei scratched her head in confusion. "What am I supposed to do with a duck and a pig?"

"I guess..." Minako paused for a moment. "You're supposed to eat them."

"Eat them? Why?" Rei shuddered at the thought of actually consuming the duck and pig.

Minako smiled, confident that she was right. "Of course! It's the only possible reason they could have had for leaving those things with you. Mako-chan, do you know any how to make any dishes with them?"

Makoto examined the two animals carefully. "Well, I can try.
I'm not sure if I can do it, though."

The next few moments after he had threatened Happosai went by like a blur for Mamoru. He wasn't sure exactly what happened, but it mostly involved him being beaten black and blue by an old man who stood two feet tall.

"I make the threats around here, boy. Not you." Happosai glared at the fallen young man in front of him. "It's not like I was going to tell anyone about it, anyway. Your problem is nothing special.
One of my best students is the same way. Screams like a girl... fights like a girl... dresses like a girl... I think I have a picture in here somewhere..."

Mamoru took deep breaths while he waited for his body to recover. Threatening the old man was a bad idea. He shouldn't have done that. It gave his intentions away. He should have gone for the jugular right away. He should have just attacked. He shou--

"Ah, here you go!"

Mamoru Chiba stared at the picture Happosai was holding. Could it be? Did he even dare hope? Was Lady Athan really the student of the lecherous old man standing in front of him?

Happosai started talking about his greatest martial arts pupil. This time, Mamoru paid a bit more attention to the ramblings of the old man.

"Eeeeeyouch! Mako-chan, what are you doing? Are you trying to kill me?"

"My glasses! I don't have my glasses! I can't see!"

Everyone dashed towards the source of the sound. They wound up at the kitchen, where Ryoga and Mousse were running around without their clothes on. Makoto was lying unconscious on the ground, having apparently fainted. Ryoga was covering up his nakedness with a frying pan. Mousse appeared to be looking for his glasses, oblivious to the fact that he was in his birthday suit.

Rei glared at the two men. "What did you do to Mako-chan?
What are you even doing here? Is this where you've been hiding all this time?"

At that point, Mousse hit his head on an open cabinet door and fell unconscious onto the floor. Ryoga was left alone to explain away what had happened, a task that would prove to be difficult since the last thing he could remember was walking into Rei at the bathroom.

'Okay, I probably passed out and changed into a pig, and then for some reason Mako-chan decided to try and cook me. The same thing probably happened to Mousse. I can't just go out and say that, though.
Makoto might think I'm some kind of a freak. I have to come up with an excuse.'

"Um... Mako-chan was trying to cook a little pig, right? And maybe a duck too?"

Ryoga held his breath as he hoped that Rei would give him something to work with.

Rei slowly nodded. "Yeah, she was trying to do something with your little peace offering. Those were supposed to be eaten, right?"

Ryoga thought for a moment before replying. "Right. Those were supposed to be our... peace offerings. They weren't any good, though.
It turns out that they were... endangered species. Mousse and I had to run over here and let them go."

The frown on Rei's face remained as she walked over to Makoto,
who was starting to wake up. She helped her friend get to her feet.

"Mako-chan, what happened? Did Ryoga and Mousse try to do anything to you?"

Makoto slowly spoke slowly as she came to. "I was trying to.
cook... Sempai appeared... the animals... suddenly gone..."

The shrine's doorbell started ringing at that point. Rei turned towards Ryoga. "Okay, I believe you. That must be the Tendos.
Wake your friend up and put some clothes on."

Rei turned towards Makoto. "You and the others should transform now. I'll bring the Tendos in."

"Welcome to the Hikawa Shrine! My name is Usagi, and I'm the shrine maiden here. Please come in, everyone. The Sailor Senshi are waiting for you inside."

Usagi smiled brightly at the newcomers, looking decidedly miko-ish with the help of her transformation pen. She was decked out in traditional miko garb, a white chihaya with a red hibakama.

"You!"

Usagi was startled by the loud cry from inside the shrine,
where none other than Rei herself was glaring at her.

"Well, if it isn't Rei-chan!" Usagi giggled loudly and turned towards the visitors. "Rei-chan is also a shrine maiden here. I didn't know she'd be around today, though. Please excuse us for a moment."

"What are you doing?" Usagi frowned at Rei. Why was her friend ruining the very plan that she herself had come up with?

"What am I doing? What are you doing? What's up with the outfit?" Rei was still glaring at Usagi.

Usagi blinked. "But... you told me that they had to see Sailor Mars and a shrine maiden, so I figured that as the best actress in the group, I was the most qualified to play the miko."

Rei's mouth dropped open for several seconds as she processed her friend's words. "Usagi, you do realize that I am an actual, true to life, flesh and blood miko, don't you?"

Usagi nodded. "Yeah, so?"

"So I should be the shrine maiden!"

Usagi pouted. "I don't understand. Do you want me to be Sailor Mars?"

Rei shook her head in annoyance. "No! What I meant was.
never mind. Just follow my lead."

The two girls went back to the front door, where the Tendos were still waiting.

"So sorry for making you wait. Please come inside. The senshi are waiting for you in the living room."

Rei and Usagi started walking inside, with the Tendos walking behind them.

"So, how are you two related?"

The two girls were caught off guard by Nabiki's sudden question. They scrambled to reply.

"Sisters!"

"Not related."

Rei gave Usagi a pained look, then turned back towards the Tendos. "What we meant was that we're like sisters to each other, even though we're not really related."

Nabiki nodded slowly. "Oh, I see. Do the senshi meet at this shrine a lot?"

"No."

"Yes!"

Usagi giggled loudly. "Um... that is... what I meant was..."

"What they meant was that there are times when we meet here a lot, but most of the time we don't." Setsuna smiled at Nabiki, then turned towards Rei and Usagi. "You must be very busy with your duties.
I'll be taking them to the living room myself, unless they have any more questions."

Setsuna and Nabiki quietly stared at each other as Usagi and Rei walked away. The younger woman broke the silence first.

"You changed your dress. This one looks a bit more... demure than the one you wore before."

Setsuna's face twitched ever so slightly at the mention of her choice of wardrobe at the last battle.

"This is actually my regular uniform. I was just trying out something new when we first met."

Nabiki nodded. "I'm sure you were."

Setsuna was about to say something when a bright pillar of light appeared from out of nowhere in the middle of the hallway. The light started to grow smaller and smaller until four female figures emerged from inside of it.

Akane frowned as she stared at the figures. One of them looked extremely similar to someone she already knew, but it just couldn't be her, could it?

The answer to Akane's question came when one of her companions leapt into the air and grabbed one of the women.

"Ukyo-sama!"

"What's happening, boy? What was that light?"

Mamoru tried to concentrate on the things he was hearing from inside the Hikawa Shrine, but the nonstop yelling coming from his aged companion was making it difficult. He carefully set his magic seashell on the ground and turned towards Happosai.

"Something weird is happening. Setsuna was talking to the new arrivals and then there was a lot of shouting. Then I started hearing new voices, from people that we didn't see come into the shrine."

Happosai nodded. "Well if that's the case, we'd better use this."

Happosai then retrieved a small tape recorder from one of his pockets and turned it on before putting it near the mouth of Mamoru's magic seashell. "Now we'll have a recording of everything they say!"

Mamoru frowned. "You could have told me you had that tape recorder a little earlier and saved me a lot of trouble."

The old man laughed out loud. "Yes, I know."

"Ukyo, what's going on? What are you doing with these people?
Why aren't the others here with us? Where's Ranma?"

Akane didn't know what to make of the situation. The three mysterious women from the last time she went to Juuban suddenly made an appearance, and Ukyo was with them! The four new arrivals quickly set about sending the Sailor Senshi and people from Nerima into separate rooms. Ukyo and the brown-haired woman went with the Tendos,
while the dark-skinned woman and the little girl stayed with the senshi.

Akane didn't like what was happening. Was this all part of some master plan by the okonomiyaki chef to get Ranma for herself, or was it something else entirely? Who was that pretty girl with Ukyo,
and where on Earth did she get her highlights done? More questions were going through Akane's head even as Ukyo replied to her.

"I'm not really sure if I can explain it well enough myself. I think it'd be better if Belldandy explains."

Akane turned towards Ukyo's companion, whom she recognized as the same woman who had abruptly appeared at the end of the battle from the last time she had been to Juuban. The woman noticed her attention and smiled warmly at her. Akane walked slowly towards her seat beside Ryoga and the woman began to speak.

"Hello, everyone. My name is Belldandy, and I am a goddess."

"Hmmm..."

Urd carefully scanned the faces of the senshi for traces of doubt, but none of the girls gave any indication of not believing her.
She was pretty sure that they were all listening as she spoke, so there wasn't any chance that they hadn't heard her. Urd quickly decided that they hadn't been listening carefully enough, so she tried again.

"I'm the goddess of the past fulltime and the goddess of love part-time. I live in Asgard, which is a realm different from the one you live in. I possess fantastic powers that mortal men can only dream of."

A chorus of nods around the table was the reaction Urd got.
She blinked several times and shook her head. It appeared that her carefully prepared demonstration of power to prove her status as goddess was going to be wasted.

"Amazing!"

Konatsu gazed in wonder at the angel that had appeared from behind Belldandy. Any doubts he might have harbored towards Belldandy's claim of godhood were instantly vanquished. Nothing this beautiful and pure could possibly have come from Earth. He reached out with one of his hands the angel's wings, but changed his mind. There was no way for him to tell how an angel might react to being touched. He had to be considerate.

"Wow! It's so soft! I've never touched anything like this before! Try it, Soun! It's even better than silk!"

"Could you try getting it to face this way, Belldandy-san? I can't get a good angle from my seat."

Ukyo's cross-dressing friend face-faulted. Genma and Soun were pawing at the beautiful angel's wings, and Nabiki was busy taking pictures of it. Finally, after a few more seconds, Belldandy waved one of her hands in the air and the angel vanished.

Belldandy smiled at people seated around the table. "Okay. Now that we've finished with that, I'm going to start with the true purpose of this meeting."

"As you all know, the individual known as Ranma Saotome has recently been kidnapped. What some of you are not aware of is that he was abducted by an individual named M. Bison."

At that point, Urd gave a signal to Skuld, who pressed a small button on the small projector she had placed on a table in the middle of the room. It started displaying a large photo of Bison on one of the walls.

Urd continued. "Bison is the leader of a large terrorist organization called Shadaloo, and he is currently trying to amass an army of sufficient strength and numbers to take over the entire world."

"So you want us to take on a whole terrorist organization for you? Is that it?" Soun glanced at his daughters, unwilling to allow their participation in such a dangerous mission.

"Not at all." Belldandy addressed all the people in the room as she spoke. "Our mission is simply to retrieve Ranma from Bison. No more and no less."

Ukyo pressed another button on the projector and the display behind Belldandy changed. Bison's picture slowly disappeared, replaced by a logo that read 'Street Fighter'.

"There is an underground tournament called Street Fighter that is held every year. It is joined by some of the best warriors in the world. We anticipate that Bison will join the tournament in an effort to find further recruits for his forces. He will probably bring Ranma along with him. Our job will be to join the tournament as well and get Ranma back."

Usagi spoke up at that point. "Wait a minute! I'm not going to hand Ranma over to you!"

Urd shook her head. "You don't understand. Asgard has no interest in getting custody of Ranma. You only need to retrieve him from Bison. What you do with him afterwards is entirely up to you."

Several seconds of silence followed. Rei was the first to speak. "You're a goddess, right? Why can't you just do it yourself?
Why do you need our help?"

Urd sighed. "Unfortunately, there are certain factors that make direct intervention from Asgard a bad idea. It would be better if Asgard's involvement in this is kept minimal."

Akane shook her head. "I still don't buy it. How can we be sure that you're even telling the truth? How do I know you really are a goddess? This smells very fishy to me. Why are you so interested in Ranma anyway?"

"That's right!" Ryoga pounded his fist on the table as he spoke. He didn't really know what to make of what he'd just heard, but he was firmly on Akane's side, whichever side that may be.

Belldandy waited for the commotion caused by Akane and Ryoga's words to die down before replying. "Your misgivings are understandable.
Before I can answer your questions, however, you must understand that gods are not all-powerful. We simply have direct access to Yggdrasil."

Rose frowned. "Yggdrasil? The world tree? Isn't it supposed to shelter the world or something?"

Belldandy nodded towards Rose. "That is not entirely wrong, but it is an inaccurate oversimplification of how the system works. The world tree is the fabric of reality itself. It contains every shred of information that makes the universe what it is. I know that it sounds confusing. Perhaps it would be better to just show it to you."

The goddess of the present placed a laptop on the table in front of her and turned it around to face the others before flipping it open.

"This is Yggdrasil."

Silence enveloped the room. Even Skuld has a confused look on her face. Makoto was the first to find her voice again.

"It looks just like... the matrix."

Urd frowned and turned the laptop around so that it faced her again. A familiar screen of green katakana characters falling in front of a black background greeted her. She smiled and turned the laptop around again.

"I'm sorry. That was actually a screensaver." Urd fiddled with the laptop's mouse and the screen disappeared, revealing what looked like a standard computer desktop. "This is Yggdrasil."

"It just looks like a normal laptop to me," remarked Akane.
"I don't see anything special about it."

Belldandy answered Akane's question quickly. "Yggdrasil comes in many forms, and indeed can theoretically manifest itself in any form. I chose this one because it's probably the easiest for you to understand."

Nabiki was the first to speak this time. "Assuming we believe you and that all you've said is true, why are you interested in helping us and why should we be interested in helping you?"

Belldandy brightened considerably at this point. "Asgard is offering very generous rewards for all of you in exchange for the successful completion of the mission. Ms. Rose will be given increased power which can be used in her battle against Bison. The Tendos will have their existence recognized and their status as illegal life-forms will be revoked."

"So what are these?"

Setsuna and the other senshi looked closely at the small cards given to them by Urd. They were very small, grey rectangles that had no remarkable features outside of a large black strip going across the bottom half of one side.

Urd grinned as she took one of the cards and held it up for all to see. "These are temporary magic licenses. They will allow you to use your powers without adding to the long list of 'illegal use of magic' offenses in your files. If you do your jobs well, Asgard will make those permanent and erase all of your previous offenses, saving you from a future involving hellfire and brimstone."

That statement caused the participants of the meeting to fall into an uproar. Everyone started talking at once, and it was all but impossible to understand most of what was said. Finally, Urd raised her hand to silence the room. She pointed towards Michiru.

"You go first."

Michiru spoke calmly, but her annoyance was betrayed by the expression on her face. "Might I enquire as to what an 'illegal use of magic' offense is?"

"Yes, of course." Urd signaled for Skuld to press another button on the projector and the display on the wall changed to match the one on the laptop where Yggdrasil was running.

"As I said before, Yggdrasil is the very fabric of reality itself. It contains the information of the universe. In some ways, it is the universe. For example..."

Urd pressed a few keys on the laptop, and a three-dimensional image of Minako appeared on the screen.

"I've just opened Yggdrasil's file on Minako Aino. It has every last shred of information that makes her what she is. Information about her personality, her mental state, her physical attributes, as well as anything else that defines her existence is stored in it. Everything that exists in the universe has its own Yggdrasil file."

Haruka raised an eyebrow at Urd. "This is very educational,
but I don't see what it has to do with magic, if anything."

Urd nodded. "I shall get to that in a second."

Skuld pressed a few more buttons, and the image of Minako grew smaller and was moved to a corner of the screen. A window appeared below the image containing rows of text with colorful horizontal bars arranged next to them.

"This is a graph of Minako's major physical characteristics.
It is a graphical representation of the level of her strength, speed,
agility, and other physical attributes. Her values are well within the normal range for adolescent girls."

Urd turned towards Minako. "Ms. Aino, please transform into Sailor Venus."

Minako reluctantly raised her transformation pen into the air.

"Venus power, make up!"

After an extremely long but well-choreographed transformation sequence, Sailor Venus appeared where Minako Aino once was. Minako's image and graph on the display started to pixelate. The picture started to flicker for several moments, then stabilized to show the image of Sailor Venus.

The goddess of the past resumed speaking. "Whenever anyone uses magic, he or she is directly accessing Yggdrasil and using magical techniques to affect changes. You could say that Ms. Aino used her transformation pen to hack into the system and turn herself from a bubbly blonde girl into the popular heroine known as Sailor Venus. As you can see, her physical statistics have been drastically upgraded,
her major physical abilities have greatly increased, and the size of her bust has significantly improved. This kind of unauthorized access is illegal."

Sailor Venus blushed and crossed her arms in front of her chest. "What's so bad about using magic anyway? You're a goddess, so you must use magic all the time!"

Urd nodded at her. "I'm glad you asked that, actually. Ms.
Aino, please pull the black strip off your license."

Minako followed Urd's instructions. After peeling off the black strip on her license, she was left with a dull grey card.

Urd nodded in approval. "Now please transform back to your normal form. Everyone, please pay attention to the image on the screen."

One beautiful transformation sequence later and Sailor Venus was gone. This time, there was no flickering on the screen whatsoever.
The image transformed smoothly from Sailor Venus into Minako Aino.

Urd resumed speaking. "While it is true gods use the power of Yggdrasil all the time, that is different from your use of magic. We only access Yggdrasil through authorized terminals like the one I have here. Our access is not direct, and the changes we make are instantly harmonized with the rest of the system."

Michiru raised an eyebrow. "Harmonized?"

Skuld nodded and walked towards the front of the room. "Yes,
harmonized. By having the proper safety measures in place, we ensure that any changes we make do not conflict with anything in the system.
The flickering you saw before was due to the formation of... this!"

At that, Skuld pulled a large mallet out from behind her and slammed it onto the table. A small, white, spider-like creature slowly appeared trapped beneath it. With the exception of Urd and Skuld, all the people around the table all gawked at the mysterious life-form.

Skuld grabbed the creature in one of her hands and raised it for all to see.

"Whenever Yggdrasil detects any conflicts in the system, it resolves the conflict through a crude process which fixes the problem,
but produces byproducts like the one I have in my hand. We call them bugs, and it costs Asgard thousands of man-hours every year to keep them under control. Illegal use of magic is the biggest catalyst of bug formation, accounting for more than sixty percent of all bugs created. In the case of the transformational magic you usually perform, bugs are formed twice. Once when you transform to your senshi guises,
and again when you turn back to normal that means your magic is twice as bad."

Usagi looked like she was going to burst into tears at any minute. "You mean we're going to hell for using magic?"

Urd grinned at her. "Not if you do the mission right. Your magic licenses grant you the authority to access Yggdrasil. They tell Yggdrasil that you are registered magic users, and automatically run the programs needed to ensure that your magic produces no bugs. They expire after the mission is finished, but you'll be given permanent ones if the result is a success."

"Just what do you mean by 'illegal life-forms'?" Nabiki glared at Belldandy as best as she could.

Belldandy sighed. It was always awkward to have to be the one to break this kind of news to anyone.

"I'm very sorry to inform you of this, but you and Akane are not registered with Yggdrasil. The two of you exist outside the system. After you die, your souls will have to fill out hundreds of thousands of registration forms in triplicate before they can rest in peace, if at all. I sympathize with your situation. It's not even really your fault that you aren't registered, but that's just how it is."

Akane slammed her fist on the table. "If it's not our fault,
then whose fault is it?"

Kasumi slowly stood up and walked towards the front, where she stood beside Belldandy.

"It's ours."

Tickling each other, of course.

Author's Rant:

And so we come to the end of the latest chapter in A Time for Wild Horses. It took a while to finish, and the blame for this fact rests solely on the shoulders of one person:

Warpwizard!

We had a deal! I was supposed to have a chapter of SaR:IL for my efforts! And instead of Shinji/Rei goodness I get a piece of crap other fic instead (where "piece of crap" is defined as any fic that does not contain lemony Shinji/Rei goodness).

I was devastated.

I spent the entire night crying into my pillow, but the next morning my pillow was all soggy and gross so I spent the next few nights crying into my sister's pillow. I also wailed and screamed at the moon a lot. While naked. Or thinking of naked chicks. It was one of those, I'm pretty sure.

The neighbors thought it was really cool and started leaving me offerings of fruit and grain at my doorstep. I thought that was really freaky so I stopped.

Not as freaky as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, of course, but really freaky nonetheless.

If anyone knows of any good, quality Shinji/Rei fanfics out there (lemon or otherwise, I dun really care) please drop me a line.
I need my fix, and I need it fast.

I loved Sin City. I'd give an arm to have a Jessica Alba of my very own, but I don't think she'd like an armless fanfic writer so I'll not be sawing it off any time soon. Lindsay Lohan used to be cute, but now she looks way too skinny and blonde to be attractive. Ugh. Ashlee Simpson used to be a hot girl, but her new, darker hair is just not doing it for her. I hate it.

I feel that nothing would be cooler to do than to jump up and down on Oprah's couch. We should all try that at least once.

Oh, was I supposed to be talking about fanfics? I must have missed my meds this morning. Except it is morning, so I must have missed them last night. Shinji and Rei, that is. I've been missing them a lot. Warpwizard, get to writing!

Anyway, there wasn't really any single reason for the delay. A whole host of things conspired to make me late.

I started work on a Full Metal Panic fic (which I have yet to finish). It's pretty much mapped out and I've written some of the scenes, but it's missing something. I have no idea what that something is, but when I do I'll put it in and we'll have a new FMP fic on our hands.

I also rewrote the chapter a number of times because I didn't like how I wrote it the first time around, then Shade gave me some really good suggestions on how to make the chapter better. In the end,
I had to bump off a large chunk of material to the next chapter. That means that this chapter contains fewer plot points, but more laughs.

It also means that part of the work for the next chapter is already done, so yay! It seems like things will only be getting better.
It's true. Unbelievable as it may sound, I actually do care about the quality of the chapters I put out.

Don't expect me to go back to the breakneck pace of releases that I started with, though. I kinda like this slower pace better. You wait a bit longer and get a better chapter as a result.

So let's talk about me. I'm the coolest guy on the planet and none shall dare oppose me. You must defeat my Dragon Punch to stand a chance.

(awkward silence)

Okay, so let's not talk about me. Let's talk about anime. I've been watching Basilisk and all of the dying is getting on my nerves. I seem to see one character dying every episode, and it's getting really boring at this point. The art is really cool, though, so I'll prolly watch it till the story concludes. It's much better than the adventures of Kenshin Himura anyway.

RK is growing old to me in the same way that DBZ is. I used to think it was so cool, but now I think it's one of the crappiest animes I've ever watched. I can at least see that Dragonball was teh good in its time, but I'm starting to doubt if Kenshin and his friends were ever up to snuff.

Ichigo 100 is now officially the manga that never ends. It should have ended many chapters ago, but they keep adding more and more girls and it's getting really repetitive. Manaka should just pick one girl and be done with it. I vote for Satsuki or Nishino, with Aya a very close third. Actually, now that I think of it, I like Nishino a bit more than Satsuki. I've always thought that she was very nice.

Bleach is as cool as ever, Naruto is on a filler arc, and Z0MG tEh nE9im m4\GA is hawt. Go Nodoka! It's pretty weird with the whole martial arts tournament thingy though. I have no idea where the story is going, exactly.

As everyone knows, I've been an avid player of Magic for many years. I'm all geeky like that. Anyway, I've recently started playing VS System, and it rocks! I've been working on a Spider Friends/Teen Titans deck that's really good. It beats curve decks consistently,
anyway. Nothing like team-attacking with Spidey then busting out a Teen Titans Go!

I'll be trying out Spider Friends/Avengers when the new set comes out, and will probably be using it until I can get a pair of Garths.

Finally, I would like to thank Chester, Shade, Beege, Helmut Steeg, Gordon and David Andersson for all the help they gave me for this chapter.

Please send C&C to my homepage (http/members. for new chapters.