The Metronome: Prologue

"I'm sorry to have to wake you," she said in a tone that belied her apathy. "Especially at this hour."

Swallowing his bite of cinnamon pie, Kurama dabbed his mouth with the white handkerchief provided by the diner. "No need to apologize. I've had enough rest. Besides, this subject is more than grounds to rouse me."

"Right," she replied, pressing her fork into her own pastry—apple-pecan. "Where to begin…"

Kurama was an impatient man. He cared little for small talk or trivial details that did not directly pertain to him. "Fast forward to the point where I come in," he said curtly. Given the hour and the matter at hand he was in little mood for her and her story-telling. The woman could be as long-winded as they came when missions were involved. He'd have voted that someone else wake him up and drag him out in the middle of the night if he'd been given the opportunity to do so—maybe the one with the wavy hair, what was her name? She was always semi-reasonable to deal with. Still, his mysterious companion had brought him to a restaurant that served pie on a twenty-four-seven basis. She knew his downside, but it'd worked. He'd listen to her—until his pie ran out, at least.

The tall woman with the lengthy eyelashes and stern cheeks nodded. "We thought it was over, the worst of it, after Galaxia was converted and went back home. No more Beryls. No more Mistress Nines. The girls were happy…for a spell. Then the attack occurred on Mars the other night. Blunt trauma to the head. Series of ball patterns on her bedroom wall. The pattern was too familiar to ignore seeking you out. I knew instantly you needed to be notified."

Kurama's back stiffened. He put down his fork and swallowed his bite of pie without chewing. Even after being asleep for so long he knew what that pattern meant. It became clear now, why she'd awaken him, why she'd pulled him into a diner in the stark of night.

He inhaled deeply. "The Metronome."

She picked up her mug and sipped at her tea. "Impressive that even after a thousand years of sleep you'd remember so quickly."

"One never forgets his greatest enemy, Setsuna," he replied.

Meioh Setsuna leaned back into the plush red booth and stared out of the window. Her eyes lingered on the series of passersby, coming and going from more innocent places—places that aren't haunted by a past-life full of bloodshed.

Kurama leaned back against his own side of the booth. The diner was surprisingly alive for one in the morning. Then again, they were in downtown Tokyo and the denizens here loved all things western. Perhaps it was no surprise—the hustle and bustle around them. Perhaps, to the booths-full of patrons and the roller-skating waitresses in 50's-style dresses whirring around in a hurried attempt to keep up with the orders, it was just another one a.m. shift.

"Mars, huh?" Kurama said after several uncomfortably silent moments. "Probably an attempt to draw him out."

"That was the conclusion I drew, as well," Setsuna replied.

"Has he been contacted yet?"

Setsuna, eyes still set on the window, nodded. "Haruka's working on it."

"You think she's prepared for that?" Kurama asked, narrowing his eyes. "If I remember correctly, he wasn't easily 'tamed.' I have a feeling he won't come along peacefully."

"That's still the case," she replied. "However, she's well-equipped to try."

Picking up his fork, he split the remainder of his dessert in two and lifted a portion to his mouth. The whole thing had his stomach in a right state, but he was a sucker for pie; it was a shame to let it go to waste.

"The others?" he asked after finishing the last bite. "What of them?"

"Michiru and Hotaru are on it. They should have better luck. Those two should be far easier to convince." Setsuna paused. "We will require all four of you. Him especially."

"I'll step in if need be," he replied. "Where is he now?"

"Tokyo, fortuitously enough," she replied. "Moved here last month in search of a 'new life.'"

Kurama snickered. "Ironic seeing as he's about to be thrust back into his old one."

"Cheers," Setsuna replied with the slightest of smiles. She turned her face to Kurama, a hint of satisfaction riding her dark eyes. "I must say, it's refreshing to speak with you again. Welcome back, Kunzite."

It had been ages since he'd been called by that name—a lifetime, in fact. When she'd first awakened him he'd almost feared it and what it meant, what it meant he was getting into. His life had been so peaceful, so bland. Part of him would miss it—but if it meant fighting alongside Venus again…

"It's good to be back," he said in earnest. Kurama took a moment to savor the lingering taste of cinnamon in his mouth—the lingering taste of his peaceful, innocent life—then washed it away with a healthy drink of tea. "Now let's go rally my generals. We have a threat to overcome."

Saotome Ranma had long since come to the decision that he very much enjoyed the company of women. Ever since his no good ex-fiancee had left him for that total pig he'd had a new woman on his arm nearly every weekend. Moving to the city was a very good investment in that regard—everywhere he looked he either saw a crazy person or a beautiful woman. With so many to choose from it was often a battle to see which sharply dressed girl he'd work over with his charms. He always ended up going for the exotic ones, though. Something about misplaced hair and eye color struck his fancy.

Last night's 'exotic' date had been unfortunate, however. The tall, short-haired blond who'd hit on him at that martial arts conference seemed cool at the time. Then halfway through the date she started ranting on about talking cats and some kingdom on the moon. Never one for tact, Ranma eventually uttered the word 'crackpot' before he could contain himself. The woman then incited a panic in the restaurant when she clenched her fist and announced the world was shaking. Fearing an earthquake, a stampede erupted in the building. Ranma ran out when everyone else did and was fortunately able to lose himself in the crowd before said crackpot could impose any damage upon him.

As Ranma sourly reflected upon his nightmare of a date he missed the red stop light and instead kept riding through the intersection on his jet-red motorbike. It wasn't until he was feet from hitting a raven-haired girl in a private school uniform that he realized his mistake. He slammed on the break and shouted, but it wasn't enough. The momentum of the bike kept it flying forward. Closer he came until the bike was nearly upon her. She turned and froze. Their eyes met. His bike screeched, his heart leapt into his throat and his mind screamed at the thought of harming this beautiful young woman and—

—A young man slammed into her and knocked her out of the way right before the bike's front tire could hit her. The pair took a tumble and landed on the pavement several feet away. The bike finally stopped. Ranma let it fall to the side and ran to the pair of teens lying in the road.

"Are you okay?" he asked, nearly out of breath, as the young man helped the girl to her feet. "I'm so sorry. I wasn't paying attention and—"

The young man turned around. Ranma's voice fleeted. 'He' wasn't a young man, at all. He was…

"You?" Ranma asked, staring at last night's crackpot of a date with wide eyes.

Crackpot narrowed her own eyes. "You."

Ranma pointed an accusing finger. "You stalking me or something?"

"More like saving you from killing an innocent bystander," she replied, nodding at the young woman behind her.

That's right—the girl he'd nearly hit. Was she all right? Had she taken any damage in the fall? His concern for her well-being overrode his frustrations with Crackpot. Shaking off his frustrations with the tomboy-blond, he brushed past her and turned his attention to one who only could be described as—

the most beautiful girl I've seen since Akane. Maybe moreso…

The jet-black haired young woman with a heart-shaped face and overly long lashes watched him with a certain seriousness in her wide, violet eyes. Her straight, confident posture fit her gaze, and her short, private school girl uniform fit her petite body snugly. She really was the most beautiful girl he'd seen in some time...

"Brain-dead moron!"

…until she opened her mouth, that was.

"Just who the bloody hell do you think you are, flying around on that death-trap of a bike?" The young woman charged forward and slapped his chest as if she'd done it a million times before. "You could have killed yourself! Scratch that, you could've killed me!" Smack! "Or a child!" Smack! "Or a nun!"

Reflexively, Ranma caught her hand before she could hit him again. "What's a nun doing in the heart of Tokyo, then?"

She ripped her hand away. "Are you challenging me, then?"

"So what if I am? What are you going to do about it? Have a go at me? Only a total loser would hit a defenseless young girl!"

"Defenseless? You're about as defenseless as a charging bull!"

"Brain-dead moron!"

"Common wench!"

The next swing was aimed directly at his head.

"Okay, that's enough, Rei," Crackpot intervened, grabbing Rei before she could do any damage to Ranma's face. "I think he learned his lesson."

"Fool like him'd be hard-pressed to learn anything," Rei replied with a hmph! She turned to walk away, revealing a large, black-and-blue lump on the side of her forehead.

"Wait up…" Ranma said with concern. She stopped and looked at him out of the corner of her eye.

"That bump…" he hesitated. "Did I cause that?"

She hesitated, too. "It was…" she paused, then looked at the crackpot. "It was from something else."

"Accident prone, you."


Watching Crackpot lead the fiery, raven-haired girl away, Ranma held the sore-spot on his face and frowned. Guess that's one number I won't be getting, he thought. After collecting his bike from the road, he cast once last glance in the direction of their retreat, but they were already lost to the crowd.

Shame, he thought, revving his engine. He pulled out into traffic, cutting off a taxi-cab in the process. I have a thing for the feisty ones.

After a thousand and four years of travel, he'd finally made it back. Earth. Home. Life. Everything he'd been forced to leave behind at the hands of the monsters who'd banished him.

Had it changed much? Would there be many surprises? From his brief glimpse of it, yes, things had indeed changed drastically—but that didn't matter. He'd adapt to anything new and different. He'd always been an excellent adapter, after all. Re-entering his home would be no exception. He'd found and conned one of the inner Senshi into trusting him within days, hadn't he? Acclimating to flying carriages and those hand-held gadgets people held up to their ears would be easy. In fact, so long as he could keep the con up, he could probably get the Mars girl to teach him all about these new ways of the world. Yes, he'd use her to acclimate, then he'd use her as a gateway to brutally destroy her and her friends.

"Will that be all?" the street florist asked him. "Just the flowers today? Any gift wrapping?"

The tall, silver-haired man shook his head and accepted the bouquet of white calla lilies. "I like things a little on the wild side." He handed her the odd, brightly colored paper currency he'd lifted from some old woman's handbag and smiled. "Thank you."

"Thank you," the florist returned. With another nod, he walked away. It was time to circle back and find that temple again—to apologize for that "accident" that occurred when they first met and to ask her how her head was. A gentleman always asks, after all.

Looking around with sharp eyes that matched his hair in color, then man set off into the crowd. He looked around, wondering which bundling street he should follow to find her. Following instinct, he headed off to the right. He wasn't worried about finding the temple again, or her. He always found his prey. Even if it took a thousand and four years to do so. He'd find her, he'd befriend her, then it'd be all the more satisfying when he devoured her, and then the rest of them. They'd pay for what they'd done to him, all of them. The Metronome wanted his revenge.

And the Metronome got what the metronome wanted.