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The Metronome: Chapter 2
The youma outside of the temple was unlike anything Rei had encountered so far. She sensed an unmatched darkness about it—something fiercer than even Galaxia had sent their way. And it wasn't like the one that attacked her the other day. This one was stronger, meaner. She could feel it.
Rei wanted to transform into Sailor Mars but couldn't for two reasons: first, she'd stupidly left her transformer on her nightstand—but it'd been so peaceful recently she'd grown accustomed to not needing it. Holding on to it was both unnecessary and reminded her of a lifetime of memories she no longer wanted. Dying twice was enough to shake anyone up. Ignoring it made living a normal life much easier.
There was also the issue of not wanting to reveal her true self to the idiot charging at the beast as he shouted something about "anything goes" or some such nonsense. Sure, he looked muscular and tough, but 'tough' wasn't enough to go against a monster with this much spiritual strength. She was positive he was going to get himself killed if she didn't do something—but what?
Then she thought of the meeting—the girls! They were all in the temple and there was no way Setsuna-san hadn't senses something wrong by now. Yes, yes! They'd be out any second to eradicate the youma and save the idiot—though she would admit he was a brave (and surprisingly chivalrous) idiot before he reached the creature…
…Too late. With uncanny speed the young man ducked out of the way of one of the youma's quick swipes and slammed his fist into its mid-section. A clay-like substance exploded around the impact, splattering his face and chest. He ignored the splatter and struck the same spot again, this time creating a hole straight through the creature's stomach.
It howled and staggered back, wrapping its arms around itself. The black-haired teen turned to look at her, his face awash with confidence, and nodded, as if to say, "Don't worry, I've got this."
He had kind eyes, Rei could tell even from the other side of the courtyard. They were a contrast to his rude demeanor. In that moment he didn't look like the immature brat who'd called her a 'common wench' after nearly killing her. He looked like a strong, confident man who—
—The youma raised tall once again and moved its arms to its side to reveal that the hole in its stomach was completely healed. It raised its hammer hand and prepared to crash it down on the young man's head.
"Look out!" Rei screamed, pointing behind him.
He narrowed his eyes and turned, catching the hammer before it could hit him. Twisting his body, he pulled his hands forward and threw the creature several feet to the right. The youma slammed into the pavement and let out a howl, its clay shoulder exploding over the area. It righted itself and roared. The clay around it rose, ran up its leg and reformed its missing shoulder.
"Interesting trick," the young man commented, then charged at the youma again.
Rei's attention alternated between the temple's main entrance and the battle between the youma and the young man. Why weren't the girls coming? The guy was strong, but he couldn't keep exchanging blows with this thing forever. Every time he did any damage the monster just regenerated whatever body part it'd lost. The guy would lose stamina soon and then what would Rei do? Throw rocks at it? She didn't have any charms on her. Akuryo Taisan likely wouldn't work without one. Rei cursed herself. She was smarter than this! When had she become so confident that things would always be peaceful?
Watching the fight between the young man and the youma grew entrancing. She soon lost interest on the door altogether. The guy was so quick and precise. He landed every blow and managed to dodge every attack directed at him. He was impressive—too impressive. Was he supernatural? No—Rei would have sensed any celestial powers he had, wouldn't she? No. He was just normal. He was just an average guy. He was struck in the face by the youma's hammer of a fist—a fist that then detached from the youma's body and flew directly toward her.
Rei saw the creature's fist fly at her. She heard the young man shout, "No!" as he darted in her direction. She felt the force with which the clay hammer connected with her forehead. She knew the heat of the young man's arms when he caught her just before her body hit the ground. She caught the look of panic in his endearing eyes. Then darkness came, and washed all of it away.
Several minutes prior, Ami and Michiru were in the temple's kitchen, searching for a first aid kit to tend to the cut on Kunzite's, or Kurama's, face.
"Are you sure it's in here?" Michiru asked, opening a cabinet door to reveal a series of cereal bowls. "I'm not seeing anything."
"It's here somewhere," Ami replied, opening a drawer. "I had to use it the time Rei-chan threw a lit candle at Yuuichiro-san after he walked in on her in the shower."
Michiru closed the cabinet door and moved on to the next. "What ever happened to him, anyway?"
"He asked her to marry him and she turned him down," Ami replied with a hint of sorrow. She always liked Yuuichiro-san. Sure, he was shaggy and aloof, but he was kind-hearted and always respected everyone around him. It was a shame that his heart was broken the way it was. Hopefully he'd be able to find a girl who'd accept his care the way Rei-chan never could. "He couldn't be around her after that, so he left the temple. He sent me a postcard from Kamakura a while ago, but that's all I've heard from him."
"I see," Michiru replied. "That's a shame."
Ami nodded. "Yeah, I feel sorry for him."
Michiru closed the cabinet door and walked around the counter, stopping in front of Ami. "Ami-chan, Zoicite has been contacted. Luna and Artemis are with him now."
Ami tensed at the general's name. She kept her eyes down. "Oh?"
"He remembers," Michiru said pointedly.
"That's…" Ami swallowed. "That's good..."
Her last words were a lie. It wasn't good. The only thing she knew about this man was that his hitokage had tried to kill her and her friends along with numerous innocent people—and she still wasn't sure it was a clone. What if Rei-chan was right? What if it really was he who had done all those bad things and he'd found his way back from the dead somehow? Stranger things had happened.
"He wants to meet you," Michiru said.
"Found it," Ami replied, ignoring the question. She pulled the first aid kit from the drawer and opened it. "I should have everything I need here. Let's get back to Kurama-san."
"Do you want to meet him?" Michiru pressed.
'I really don't want to have this conversation,' Ami thought. 'I don't want to think about a man I might have been engaged to, who might also be the enemy.'
A smile sigh escaped Ami's lips. 'Please, just drop it, Michiru-san.' She nervously dropped the small white box. The bottle of hydrogen peroxide slipped out and spilled on the floor. Happy for an excuse to get away from her wavy-haired companion, Ami ran to the other side of the room and grabbed a roll of paper towels.
Michiru followed. Taking the paper towels from Ami's shaking hand, she walked back to the spill and wiped it up. "Do you want to meet him?" she repeated without looking up.
'Why?' Ami wanted to ask. 'Why meet with a man when my insecurities about being engaged to him will only get the best of me? When my girl over not remembering who his is will prevent me from saying anything? When I don't know what to say in the first place?'
"…Rei-chan wouldn't like it," she responded instead. It was a good scapegoat, and certainly wasn't a lie. Ami would rather go a lifetime without talking to his man than to hurt one of her friends—her friends were everything.
"Forget about Rei," Michiru replied. She rose her perceptive eyes up to meet Ami's. "What do you want?"
'I want you to drop it.' Ami brought her thumb to her mouth and chewed on the nail. Michiru-san's stare was so intense it was impossible to look away. 'I don't want to think about this anymore. That's what I want.'
"Girls!" Minako's voice boomed and broke the staring match as she ran into the room. Michiru and Ami whipped their heads toward the doorway.
"Girls," Minako repeated. "We have a problem." She ran back into the hall. Michiru dropped the soggy paper towel and ran after her. Ami, both glad to be finished with the conversation but fearful over what Minako-chan was so excited about, hesitantly followed them both.
Minako led them to the temple's main entrance where the rest of the Senshi were waiting and talking animatedly amongst themselves. Kurama and Mamoru took turns forcefully ramming their shoulders into the door as Usagi urged them on. No matter how hard the two men rammed the door, they couldn't break through.
"What's going on?" Ami asked.
"There's a youma outside of the temple," Makoto replied. "And we can't get the door to open."
Ami's mind instantly went to a single thought. "Rei-chan!"
"She's out there alone," Makoto replied.
"It gets worse," Minako said, holding up Rei's transformer. "She left this inside."
Pushing through the wall of shouting Senshi, Ami made it to the door. She jumped back after touching it and shook her burning hand.
"It feels as if it's on fire!" she exclaimed.
"That's because, technically, it is," Setsuna replied.
Setsuna pointed at the door. "Look."
Mamoru and Kurama continued to slam their shoulders against the hard wood slab. Whenever they connected with it small sparks ignited around them.
Ami shook her head. "I don't understand, Setsuna-san."
"The Metronome has surrounded the temple with a barrier that is powered by the element of fire," Setsuna explained. "In the past life he held power over the six primary elements of earth, air, fire, water, light and dark. He was able to create barriers infused with those elements—barriers that only a welder of that specific element could penetrate."
"Meaning Rei-chan," Ami concluded.
"Exactly," Setsuna nodded. "Given that she's trapped outside and her ability to transform is trapped inside we're…"
"Screwed," Haruka finished.
After Ami asked why they didn't transform to amplify the chance of breaking through the barrier, Minako explained that they'd already tried, but the barrier was inhibiting their powers of transformation. Ami tried to quell the shake in her right knee. It didn't work. Her pulse raced and her throat tightened. What were they going to do? How were they going to get to Rei-chan before…before…
"Wait! There's someone else out there!" Setsuna shouted. The Senshi, Mamoru and Kurama all stopped and looked at her. "It's faint. The barrier's too strong to tell who…but I sense good inside of them, and much strength."
"But who?" Makoto asked. "Another general?"
"I can't be sure," Setsuna replied. "The barrier's partially blocking my senses."
'Zoicite?' Ami wondered, not knowing how she felt about that possibility. 'Michiru-san did say that he remembered…'
"I have a feeling I know who it is," Haruka replied cryptically. She pressed a hand against the door, ignoring the heat and sparks. "He should be able to buy us some time. In the meantime, let's keep working on getting this door open and transforming. The Metronome's strong, but he can't keep all of us in here forever."
A collective nod. Mamoru and Kurama went back to ramming the door. The young women in the room repeatedly shouted their transformation phrases with repeatedly, each time with more vigor. As Ami continued to call upon the powers of Mercury she couldn't help but feel torn about who was on the other side of that door. If it was Zoicite, would she be relieved to see him, or even more uncomfortable than she was now?
'No, can't think about that now,' she thought. 'We have to get to Rei-chan. That's all that matters.' Ami put the thoughts of Zoicite out of her head, called upon the powers of Mercury again, and prayed this time they would respond.
"No!" Ranma shouted as the creature's clay fist flew at the young woman on the other side of the temple's courtyard. He broke contact with the beast and ran toward her with all the speed he could manage. There to catch her just before her body hit the ground, he slid to his knees and wrapped his arms around her. She watched him for a moment with sharp, lavender eyes that studied him as if he were a foreign animal. There was a warmth to her eyes, a reassuring heat like a hearty fire on a winter's night. When they closed that heat was replaced by a disappointed chill in his chest.
"Hey," he said with a forced air of calm, then a louder "Hey!" when she didn't reply.
A storm of concern, frustration and anger raged within Ranma. As rude as he'd been to this girl, he was a proper gentleman in the end—and proper gentlemen do not let helpless young women fall victim to cruel and unusual monsters such as the one moving toward him. He took off his shirt and placed it under the young woman's head, resting her on the ground, and stood.
"Picked the wrong place and time, buddy," he said and thrust his fist into the monster's forehead.
A chunk of the head flew off but, as it did before, it squiggled back up to the creature and became a part of it again. Ranma landed several more blows. Each time, a piece of the monster would separate and then rejoin it. He even tried ripping one of its limbs completely off to no avail. The limb turned to liquid in his hands, spilled out and traveled back to the monster.
Ranma cursed under his breath. 'How exactly am I supposed to kill this thing when it just keeps pulling itself back together?' Another swinging hammer came in Ranma's direction. He dodged easily, but didn't see the creature's second arm swing from the other direction. The impact threw Ranma off his feet and sent him flying in the air. His body slammed into a tree several yards back, cracking it in two.
Despite the impact, he didn't feel too much pain and was able to right himself and run back toward the monster quickly. He swung at it again. The monster put its fist forward and connected with Ranma's punch. Ranma's hand careened into the clay hammer and got stuck. With its other fist the creature directed several punches at Ranma's head, each one coming at him quicker than the last.
Ranma was able to dodge some of the attacks, but the monster randomly rotated between swinging at Ranma's face and sternum, making it impossible for Ranma to block them all. On their own the blows weren't very forceful, but Ranma knew that if this cycle continued he'd likely have cracked ribs or a broken cheek soon.
He moved his arm away from his face and took the next hit directly. Straightening his hand, he took a hit to the chest as he sliced his way through the arm holding onto Ranma's other hand. The slice cut straight through the limb of clay. He fell back, taking the hammer-hand with him. Instantly, it curled away from him and returned to the creature.
'This thing just won't die!'
Unsure of what to do next, Ranma leapt back. His chest fell as if it would collapse soon. His right eye was swollen shut. He had to find a way to take this monster down before he was hurt any further. It might go after the girl again, and he couldn't have that—she was far too special.
Wait, was she special? He barely knew her! But something about her presence was…
The monster emitted an ear-piercing screech and lunged again, breaking Ranma of his thoughts. Ranma jumped in the air and circled over the monster, landing behind it. He took another swing at it, this time landing a direct hit on its neck. More clay exploded, only this time the wound didn't heal itself. The clay remained in bits on the ground, unmoved.
The creature screeched again. Ranma paused and took a deep breath. 'Is the neck the key? Do I have to behead it?'
It was worth a shot. This was the first time he'd done any lasting damage to it, after all. Ranma ran back to the cracked tree and found the largest branch he could find. He ripped it away from the man part of the tree and darted toward the creature. He jumped over one swing of the creature's arm and dove underneath another. Leaping up, he thrust the branch into the creature's neck and pushed it through. The head came clean off and fell to the ground. After a moment, the body fell as well.
As a precaution, Ranma kicked the head away from the body and watched it. It remained still and did not squirm back to the rest of the body. He'd done it. The neck was the key. Kneeling down, Ranma sat on the ground and inhaled greedily. When he first saw the creature he'd expected a fight but nothing quite like this. He'd underestimated it, and it'd almost cost him—both his life, and the girl's.
'That's right, the girl!'
He took in a final deep breath and jumped to his feet. Rushing over to the girl he slid down again and leaned over her face. 'Good,' he thought as her warm, methodic breath reached his face several times. 'She's still breathing, at least.'
"Hey," Ranma touched her cheek. "Wake up, princess."
Several more pats to the cheek and her eyes opened—barely, but enough to see a glimmer of confusion.
'Thank God!' he thought, a rush of relief welling in his chest. "Do you know your name?" he asked quickly.
She slowly blinked several times before responding, "Rei..."
"Good, Rei, that's good," he replied, doing his best to reassure her with a warm smile. "Do you know who I am?"
Rei narrowed her eyes and stared at him. "Brain-dead moron," she said.
Ranma frowned. "Guess that rules out amnesia...and the possibility of a date Friday night."
Voices coming from the temple's entrance erupted behind him. Ranma turned to find two men and several young women running toward him, shouting things like, "Rei-chan!" and "Hino-san!" He looked down again to find that her eyes had closed, and a pit of disappointment formed in his stomach when one of the men—tall and black haired—picked her up and hurried toward the main road.
"We have to get her to a hospital!" a short blond with a curious hairstyle shouted, following close behind him. Several of the girls trailed behind him, calling out to Rei and apologizing for not getting to her sooner. Something about a barrier or a force field or some other nonsense.
Three people stayed behind: a young woman with cropped blue hair who bombarded him with a series of medical questions; a stoic, silver haired man who stared at him sternly but said nothing; and—
"You?" Ranma asked, pointing at the tall, short-haired blond from that terrible date, the one where she talked about kingdoms on the moon and talking cats and all sorts of ridiculousness.
She reached out a hand. Tentatively, Ranma grabbed it and allowed her to help him up. Forgetting the others, he locked eyes with her. She let go of his hand and took a step back.
"Still think I'm a crackpot?" she asked.