I do not own Kamen Rider Dan-O, Ranma ½, or Inuyasha. They belong to their respective creators. I am only writing this for fun and enjoyment. I hope you all enjoy this too.
Kamen Rider Ran-O
By Ten-Faced Paladin
Chapter 16: Ore Tanjou Ran-O Remix 2
It had been a grim few days for the crews of DenLiner and ZeroLiner. Ranma, Hana, and Tenma had gone after the DenLiner which had been hijacked by the rogue Rider calling himself Gaoh and his Imagin lackeys. The chase finally came to a stop in the Feudal Era of Japan where Gaoh picked a fight with a bunch of the locals. Tenma as Zeronos attempted to fight him while Ranma liberated his Imagin allies from their cage on DenLiner.
The fight didn't go in their favor. Even though they outnumbered Gaoh six to one, he still managed to kick their collective butts in one fell swoop. Just to add insult to injury, he left the DenLiner to Ranma and his friends while he and his minions walked away.
So, Ranma and the others were stuck in a village which existed in the past while they recovered from the battle. Thankfully Ranma and Tenma were quick healers while Imagin naturally healed quickly.
As they waited, Tenma brought in the ZeroLiner and let Ranko and Tamamos come out for some fun. She was a great hit with the children in the village along with the fox-child Shippo who took Tamamos as a sister figure.
Ranma, Momotaros, and Tenma were some of the most seriously hurt next to the half-demon Inuyasha so they had to wait in the aged priestess Kaede's cabin while they recovered. The pigtailed martial artists and the half-dog demon seemed to get along like oil and water, despite numerous insistences that they seemed to be cast from the same mold.
Both boys were surprised that Kagome was from their time, but didn't need a train to travel so far back in time. Owner's explanation was that while the trains were the best way to move through time, there were other methods which did not have so much security on them. Kagome's well was one such method.
The two Saotome boys also learned about the group that Inuyasha and Kagome ran with. Apparently they were looking for something called the Shikon no Tama, which had the ability to boost the powers of demons and wicked humans. Kagome had broken the thing and spread the shards all over the land and it was a race against an evil half-demon called Naraku who wanted to use the jewel for himself.
Miroku, the monk Ranma had met, had been hunting for Naraku all his life. The half-demon had cursed his grandfather with something called a Wind Tunnel. It was a void in his hand that could suck in anything, but would get bigger as he got older and eventually suck him in like it did to his grandfather and father. It was his hope that killing Naraku would break the curse.
The cute girl Ranma had spotted with the boomerang was Sango. She was a professional demon slayer, which Ranma thought was pretty cool. She used to be part of a village of them until Naraku assassinated the best of them and told a horde of demons where they were hidden, letting them decimate the village. Only Sango, her brother Kohaku whom Naraku enslaved, and their demon ally Kilala the fire cat remained.
Shippo was a little kid who adopted Kagome as a mother figure after she and Inuyasha avenged his father, who had been killed by a pair of demons calling themselves the Thunder Brothers. He had stuck to them like glue ever since. Being a kitsune, he was naturally good at tricks and liked to play jokes now and then. Tamamos adored him while Ranko couldn't keep away. Tenma was worried that he might influence his sister into becoming a prankster.
At the moment, Ranma was finally exiting the cabin while removing the last of his bandages. Tenma was already out while Inuyasha had healed way quicker than the rest of them. Shielding the sunlight from his eyes, he stepped out onto the dirt ground. Outside, Kagome was busy reading a school textbook
"Hey, Ranma," she smiled as she looked up. "How are you feeling?"
"Pretty good," Ranma nodded. "Where is everyone?"
"Well, Tenma and Deneb are watching Ranko and the village kids with Tamamos' help," Kagome explained. "Ryutaros is playing with them. Sieg is ordering a bunch of the villagers around and Kintaros is training with Sango. Owner, Naomi, and Hana are having tea outdoors with Kaede. Last I saw, Inuyasha and Momotaros were fighting over something while Miroku and Urataros were flirting with the girls."
"He never changes," Ranma chuckled. "How were they doing?"
"That's the funny thing," Kagome giggled. "Miroku keeps getting slapped while the girls mob to Urataros despite not being human."
"He does it when he's in my body all the time," Ranma nodded. "Do you think we're ready to go after Gaoh now? We can't waste any more time."
"Right!" Kagome nodded, growing serious. "I'll go get them."
"Good," Ranma nodded. "We can't let Gaoh get more of a head start than he already has."
As Kagome went to collect her friends, Ranma went to find some of his. What neither of them knew was that they were being watched, as they had been for the last few days. This spy came in the form of a wasp that could only be found in hell…
Speaking of Gaoh, he and his five Imagin were walking along the paths which lead through the countryside. None of them broke ranks as they continued to head towards their target. Things were silent as they made their way. After a few moments, the Orchard Imagin spoke up.
"Gaoh-sama," he spoke. "Why did we leave the DenLiner to Den-O and his friends? We would have made better time just taking it there."
"Perhaps," Gaoh nodded. "But I wish to savor my greatest achievement while making sure Den-O and Zeronos are at full strength when they attempt to stop me."
"Why?" asked the Tower Imagin.
"For me, the challenge is just as important as the victory," Gaoh smirked. "Besides, if what I suspect of the two Riders is true, I will most enjoy what challenge they give to me."
"So, you enjoy a challenge?"
The group of bandits froze at the voice and Gaoh looked around trying to gauge where the voice was coming from. It seemed to come from nowhere, yet everywhere at the same time. Agitated, Gaoh demanded, "Who's there?"
"No need to be hasty, my friend. I just wish to talk."
"Then show yourself!" commanded Gaoh. He didn't like talking to thin air.
"If you insist."
A figure appeared before them and the evil Imagin got ready to defend their leader if this figure proved hostile in anyway. He didn't look overly threatening. He was covered from head to toe with a white baboon pelt. Even his head was covered by the skin of a baboon with eyeholes which allowed him to see.
"Who are you?" hissed the Chimera Imagin.
"I am known as Naraku, and let me say I've never seen demons quite like you," said Naraku. He was putting all his charm into his voice, aiming to befriend Gaoh.
"We're Imagin, not demons!" corrected the Genie Imagin harshly. Why did everyone assume they were demons? Well, aside that they looked pretty scary…and they had weird powers….and other things.
"Oh, my mistake," Naraku said apologetically. Of course he had no idea what an Imagin was. He didn't care that much about that detail anyway. "I couldn't help but see how you defeated that mongrel and his friends along with those two armored warriors. I applaud you."
"Don't try to butter me up," said Gaoh. "I'm not in the mood."
"Oh, the Fang King," said Naraku. He finally recognized the man in front of him now that he was close enough. He had seen the man before when he was Onigumo. He was lucky that he did not decide to cross paths with him then. "It's been awhile. You haven't aged a bit."
"I get that a lot, so what do you want, Naraku?"
"Like I said I saw the way you were fighting and I am impressed. So, I am prepared to pay you handsomely if you help me with a little extermination job. That armor of yours is impressive if I may add."
"It is, isn't it?" grinned Gaoh. "So, what do you want me to do?"
"Kill Inuyasha," ordered Naraku, "And his friends."
Gaoh seem to contemplate it before he laughed. This enraged Naraku. "What's so funny!?"
"Sorry, but I'm nobody's hired hand!" snorted Gaoh. His Imagin henchmen agreed. "Get someone else to do it for you!"
Naraku didn't like that tone of voice. It reminded him of too much of how Inuyasha would speak to him. Even more insulting, someone was turning him down "A shame then. I could have had many uses for one such as you. I will have to strip that armor from your dead body."
Naraku then wordlessly lunged for Gaoh. Instantly, his henchmen defended him with their personal weapons raised for the fight. Un-intimidated by the show of muscle, Naraku continued forward. Large brown tentacles which looked like they were made from either wood or clay erupted from under the cloak he wore. All of them were aimed at the aloof human who dared thought himself better than a demon.
Gaoh watched with a bored expression before summoning his belt in a haze of then took out his gold plated Master Pass and with a call of, "Henshin," tossed it into the air. It floated down and hovered in front of his belt.
Bronze shards appeared in the air before forming onto Gaoh's body, giving him his base armor and bodysuit. Then the armor of his Gaoh Form appeared and attached itself to his body. Finally, the alligator head slid down his helmet before it unfolded and formed into his visor.
"Show me your strength," Gaoh challenged. As he spoke, he assembled his GaoGasher into its sword formation. "Then watch how easily I will crush it."
Naraku didn't offer a response as he sent his tentacles at the armored human. The attack didn't get too far before the Chimera Imagin leaped forward and shredded the tentacles that got too close. The small victory didn't last long before the tentacles began to regenerate.
"Show no mercy!" Gaoh snapped, bringing a roar from his minions as they charged at Naraku.
Tower and Orchard grabbed handfuls of tentacles and pulled them away from Gaoh. Naraku was pulled back from the fight, but wasn't deterred as he tried to pierce the two Imagin with his bodily weapons. As they were about to give the two Imagin knew breathing holes, Genie unleashed trails of smoke from the bronze spout on his arm. The smoky tendrils latched onto the remaining tentacles and kept them from destroying his fellows.
"Woooo-hooooo!" the Clown Imagin cheered as he came down from the air with his hammer raised.
"What?!" Naraku managed to get out before the spiked head of the hammer turned his head into pulp with a resounding crash.
"We got him!" Tower cheered. His elation didn't last long before the body of Naraku began to struggle again.
"What the-?!" Chimera gaped in confusion.
"It's a kugutsu," Gaoh explained. "Demon puppetry. A demon is capable of creating a clone by using a hair and a pile of wood or clay with this ability. Usually only strong demons can use it. I guess I was mistaken."
Walking forward, Gaoh pulled out his Master Pass. The body of Naraku continued to thrash against the bonds. Holding the Pass, Gaoh let it drop before it stopped over his buckle.
Streams of energy cut through he air and were drawn into the Gaogasher sword. Raising the blade up, the blade detached and began spinning I the air. Looking at the struggling demon puppet, Gaoh brought his sword down. The spinning blade followed and cut into the false body like a hot knife through butter. There was a moment of silence before Naraku's body exploded in a haze of dust and hunks of wood.
"Pathetic," Gaoh growled as he recalled the blade. Grabbing his belt, he removed it, reverting back to his normal form. "Tower, Chimera, Orchard, Clown, Genie, we keep moving."
"Hai!" the five Imagin nodded before they returned to their leader. Soon enough, they were on their way again.
Meanwhile, Naomi was giving a tour of the DenLiner to some of the curious members of the group. The people from the Feudal Era were amazed at what they were seeing. Kagome had gathered them all up from where they were amusing themselves and brought them all to the DenLiner for a meeting. They were just waiting for Kagome to come back with Ranma.
"And here we have the Dining Car!" Naomi smiled as she gestured the Feudal Era group to follow her.
"Wow! Kagome has all these sorts of things in her world?" Shippo asked in total amazement.
"They aren't so great," Inuyasha snorted. He had seen trains before in Kagome's world, even if they didn't look the same as the one he was in.
As the group was brought in, the Taros-tachi shuffled in behind them. Kagome was at the back with Ranma and Hana bringing up the rear with Tenma and Ranko. As soon as they were in, the Imagin took seats at their favored spots. The Feudal Era group just stood at the back while Kagome took a seat near her friends. Tenma sat Ranko on his lap as he sat at the bar. Hana took a seat next to them while Ranma had taken the main stand.
"Okay, now we know that Gaoh has a few days head start on us," he spoke. "Luckily, he left us the DenLiner so we'll be able to get to that shrine before he does. We also know our target, the GaoLiner."
"Can't we just take it?" Inuyasha asked grumpily.
"It doesn't work like that," Hana answered. "Only the owner of a train or the Rider in charge of it can make it do anything."
"Which means that unless we find the owner of the GaoLiner, Gaoh is the only one who can control it," Tenma grumbled.
"But how come that teme was able to control DenLiner, huh?" asked Momotaros.
"Because I was aboard the DenLiner," Owner's voice spoke as the man himself walked into the Dining Car. "If a Rider has a pass and the owner is on board the train, he can control the train as if it was his own."
"So if Gaoh gets on board again he will be able to steal DenLiner again," Urataros sighed depressingly. "I suppose we will have to treat it like the little fish hiding from the shark if that is the case."
"So what should we do when we get to that shrine then?" asked Sango.
"We will have to explain the situation to the priests there," Miroku shrugged. "If we can explain that the one who can control the GaoLiner is coming and he is not peaceful, I am confident that they will assist us."
"Provided they believe us," Ranma commented. "I've come to see a lot of people don't like to listen to things they don't like unless they see proof of it. Even then they try to deny it all the way until it happens."
"This isn't Nerima, Ranma," Hana chided. "People out here do have common sense."
"But Ranma-kun does have a point," stated Urataros. "If those priests see us they'll assume we are a band of demons as well. They won't trust us at all."
"Then we'll make them believe us!" exclaimed Momotaros.
"Sempai, violence will only worsen things for us. Unless it's a fight, your fists won't do much," advised Urataros.
"So, what do you expect to do?" wondered Kagome.
"I shall take control of Ranma-kun's body and then use my skills to persuade them," said Urataros.
"In other words, lie," Hana deadpanned.
"If we need to, we must," said Urataros.
"I don't like lying either," said Ranma, "But under these circumstances, we have to do what we have to do to save all time from Gaoh and his gang."
"Well, we still have to get there first," Kagome commented. "Shouldn't we wait for that situation to come up before we fight about it?"
"Good point," Tenma agreed. "So does anyone know which way this shrine is supposed to be?"
"I know," Owner commented. "As Owner of the DenLiner, it is my business to know any and all destinations."
The train suddenly lurched to life as the destination was finally set. The motley crew grew quiet as they waited to reach their destination.
Gaoh and his men were seated around a campfire and were chowing down on some 'donations' they had received from some travelers they had passed. Chimera and Clown were eating like pigs while Orchard was draining nutrients from the soil. Tower chomped on some fish while Genie ate fruits. Gaoh himself was busy drinking some sake he had recovered.
"So what will be your first act when you claim the GaoLiner?" asked Tower.
"Depends," Gaoh smirked. "Since the past is dead to me, and this present will not accept me, perhaps my destiny lays in the future. We shall see when I lay claim to what is mine."
"I look forward to seeing that," Genie nodded. "I hope your generosity is as great as your ambition."
"I will grant you your gifts for your services," Gaoh nodded. "I will change the timeline to suit the Imagin. Your services will always richly compensated."
The five Imagin were satisfied by that answer. They had faith in Gaoh's power and believed that he would reward them for their servitude. Gaoh himself had no reason not to. They served loyally and without question. Such loyalty would be richly rewarded.
The group continued to eat and grunt when something caught their attention. It had skimmed out of the forest and was illuminated in a pale glow. It was snakelike and long, almost dragon-like. It had six insect-like legs and in those legs was a soft misty orb which was glowing as bright as the creature itself.
"What is that?" Chimera grunted through his food.
"Shinidamachu," Gaoh answered, eyeing the flying creature. "A soul collector. They capture souls of the departed and deliver them to the one who controls them. However, what they do with the souls is another matter."
"Huh," Tower rumbled. "Wanna see what's controlling it? Might make for good practice."
"Hm…" Gaoh was thinking it over. "Suit yourselves. Just remember our objective."
"Hehehehehe!" chuckled the Clown Imagin insanely. He was going to have a lot of fun now! He was getting bored anyway.
The five Imagin cheered and get to their feet. Gaoh just continued to sip his sake and wait for his men to have their fun. It would be good for their morale. If they got in over their heads then they would call for his help. They had pride, but they weren't stupid.
The five Imagin crashed through the woods after the Soul Collector. Each of them were imagining just what the controller of the creature would look like. Each of them were hoping that it was a powerful demon that they could fight. After all, only a demon would want souls, right?"
Breaking through the tree line after the Soul Collector, the five Imagin came to a stop in a clearing. Ahead of them was a large ancient tree that was glowing like the Soul Collectors were. Up in the boughs of a tree, they saw the one controlling the serpentine creatures.
She was a grown woman who was so beautiful she almost looked like porcelain. Her hair was a night back and hung down her shoulders while being teased by the wind. Her eyes were half-closed, seemingly in contemplation. On her back was a quiver or arrows and a bow was in her hands. She was wearing the traditional robes of a miko, which gave her more of a maidenly appearance. In all, she seemed almost too beautiful to be human. The Soul Collectors were floating over her, dropping the souls they captures into her body.
A very beautiful and alluring sight.
"Awwwww!" the five Imagin groaned in disappointment.
"This is it?" Chimera asked in disappointment. "I was expecting some demon!"
"Poo!" Clown huffed.
"Talk about a letdown," Tower groaned.
"We've been swindled," Genie frowned.
"So much for a fight," Orchard sighed.
The woman's eyes fell upon the five Imagin of Gaoh's gang and she frowned. "You're an interesting bunch of demons."
"We're not demons!" snapped Genie. "We're Imagin!"
"Well, whatever you are, I shall be the one to vanquish you," said the woman. With that, she began to get up and ready her bow for an attack.
"So, the lady wants to fight eh?" Chimera smirked. "Shall we oblige her, boys?"
"Damn right!" Tower laughed.
"Woohoo!" Clown laughed as he drew his hammer.
The five Imagin charged at the woman in the tree. With unnatural speed, she had already brought her weapon to bear and was loading an arrow into it. With practiced ease, she unleashed her first shot. It was aimed at Tower's eye, but the stone-skinned Imagin had to blink to avoid getting his eye pierced. The arrow just bounced off his stone skin. The maiden blinked in confusion for a split second before she reloaded and prepared to fire again.
"Hee hee hee!" the Clown Imagin cackled as he leaped at the woman with his hammer raised. He had moved so quickly, he was already too close. Being forced to abandon her station, the woman leaped from the tree as the spiked surface of the hammer crashed into the tree, reducing portions of it into splinters.
"Don't look behind you!" Orchard mocked as he threw his apples at the recovering woman. The apples exploded as they hit, releasing a kind of gas. The woman shielded her face and dashed from the cloud, but her vision was getting blurry and she felt sleepy.
Her blurry vision prevented her from seeing Chimera before it was too late. The animal Imagin slashed at her, leaving several gashes in her clothes. Luckily for the woman, she reacted in time to get away from injury. While leaping away, she brought up another arrow and fired it at the first discernable target she saw. The arrow flew true at the Genie Imagin. However, the incoming projectile didn't concern him as he raised his arm donned in bronze to block it. The metal tip collided with his arm, making a ringing noise and the arrow fell harmlessly to the ground.
"What are-URK!" the women spoke out before she was caught in a bear hug from the Tower Imagin. He squeezed with inhuman pressure that threatened to break every bone in her torso. Her already blurred vision was getting dark and breathing was becoming difficult.
The Tower Imagin instantly dropped the woman as he and his comrades backed away. Coughing, the woman rubbed her eyes and looked all around. She found a new figure approaching. He was dressed in black and bronze, looking like a lord. The woman struggled to her feet, not wanting to look weak. Her eyes were wide with shock as she did so. She recognized this man!
"It seems death has done you wonders…Kikyo," Gaoh spoke as he took in the form of the woman he knew fifty years ago. "You haven't changed a bit."
"I could say the same for you, Fang King," the woman, Kikyo, spoke bitterly. "You don't look any different than the day you tried to take over my village."
"I've found a way to bypass the years," Gaoh smirked. "Yet, it seems you've cheated death and remained a youthful as ever."
"What you see is nothing but a shell made from bone and graveside soil," Kikyo frowned. "I must use the souls of maidens to keep myself from dying again."
"Ah, so that explains it," Gaoh nodded. "That is a shame. A beautiful creature shouldn't have to live such a wretched existence."
"As soon as Naraku is dead, I will pass on," Kikyo replied stoically. "Until then I must continue on."
"Isn't Naraku that puppet-using guy we fought?" asked Tower.
"We destroyed one of his puppets," Gaoh answered. "He doesn't seem too impressive."
"His strength is greater than you know," Kikyo warned. "His deceit knows no end. He has plans within plans. All for the sake of repairing the Shikon Jewel and tainting it with malice."
"I do not fear him," Gaoh snorted. "Should he become a problem then I will merely erase him from time. I will make it so Naraku never existed."
"You hold such power?" asked Kikyo.
"I will soon hold time itself in my hands," Gaoh smirked. "Why, I could even change the day you died. I could make sure you never died. You would be alive and free from the constraints of this golem you call a body."
Kikyo's eyes narrowed in suspicion. She knew that men like Gaoh did not offer such things without a price. He was so confident that he would have the power he boasted about.
"All I ask is for your hand," Gaoh smirked. "Promise yourself as my bride and I will return you to life. Imagine the freedom of all time to wander and the power as my wife. Anything and everything will be at your command."
Kikyo's eyes narrowed in a cold look that he recalled when he first met her. It was such a nice look for her in his opinion. He liked it when she looked at him like that. It was that inner fire she possessed that made him desire her. Now he was holding all the cards as he made his intent to claim her and this time there was no demon that could ruin things.
"No," Kikyo answered coldly. "Only one man will ever hold my heart and it isn't you. I'd rather stay this way than to live as your wife."
Gaoh sighed and he summoned his Gaoh Belt around his waist. "I was afraid you'd say that. As an act of mercy, I shall free you from this wretched existence." He took out his Master Pass and pressed a button at the side of the buckle, releasing haunting music. "Henshin," said Gaoh as he tossed the Pass into the air and allowed it to drop down in front of the belt buckle.
Gaoh's form was donned in the bronze armor of Kamen Rider Gaoh. His helmet was the last to change as the jaws slid down his face and reconfigured into a visor.
"Show me the power of your love," Gaoh spoke as he stepped forward, making Kikyo step back. "Then watch how I will crush it."
Gaoh didn't give Kikyo time to draw her weapon again. He concentrated his flaming ki into his leg and planted a kick in the centre of her chest. The revived miko flew through the air with a cry of pain and crashed into the tree she had been resting in before the five Imagin had found her. Coughing, she looked up to see Gaoh assembling a sword out of the four objects on his waist.
"I shall always hold you close," Gaoh sighed as he raised his Master Pass into the air. He then dropped it and let it pass over his buckle. "Full Charge!"
Gaoh raised his sword into the air and the blade detached, spinning into the air. Kikyo's eyes widened as she witnessed her second death coming at her.
"Goodbye Kikyo," Gaoh spoke before he sent the blade cutting through the air towards her.
An explosion ripped through the air for everyone to hear miles away.
Kagome let out a gasp as sweat poured down her face. She'd fallen asleep in the DenLiner when all of a sudden a vision invaded her dreams had woken her up. Inuyasha's ears twitched when he heard a noise from afar.
"Oi, mutt," Momotaros grunted. "What's got you so worked up?"
"Thought I heard something," Inuyasha frowned. He was so out of it he hadn't even registered the mutt comment. He turned and noticed that Kagome seemed to have been shocked about something. "Hey Kagome, what's wrong?"
"N-nothing," the girl from the future (Ranma's present, or Tenma's past) replied. "Just had a bad dream. That's all."
"If you're sure," Inuyasha shrugged as he settled back into his usual brooding position.
Kintaros was snoring loudly and Ryutaros was lying on a table, snoozing soundly with Shippo using his chest as a pillow. Miroku and Sango were next to each other, Sango resting her head on Miroku's shoulder. Urataros was leaning on his seat while Ranko was on his lap. Tenma slept across from them. The only ones awake were Ranma, Momotaros, Inuyasha, and Kagome. Owner, Hana, and Naomi were all elsewhere. Probably in private rooms. Sieg had retired to his quarters for the night. His attitude reminded Kagome of Sesshomaru except he was more talkative and less homicidal.
"How come you aren't sleeping?" Kagome asked Ranma.
"Not really used to sleeping in tense situation," Ranma sighed. "Back home, I'd get attacked at a moments notice. Either that or a fiancée ends up sneaking into my bed. Usually I'd wake up pretty quick or someone would wake me up with an attack."
"You mentioned them," Kagome grimaced. During his recovery, Ranma had imparted his usual introduction story. Needless to say Kagome was appalled and Miroku was oddly jealous.
"Yeah," Ranma nodded. "So I usually end up getting woken up in the middle of the night. That's why I sleep at school."
"What about you, Momotaros?" Kagome questioned.
"Want to get in on Ranma's fights," Momotaros shrugged. "The best ones happen at night or at school. That's not including Imagin."
"I see," Kagome said as he looked at the duo. They were so much alike that there was no wonder they were partners. Still, it surprised her that she now knew the Kamen Riders Den-O and Zeronos along with their secret identities. Souta would be so jealous but she couldn't really reveal their identities. What surprised her the most that some of Ranma's allies were from the same race called Imagin. Kagome had learnt that not all demons were bad. Still, it was pretty strange. Probably because she had been reminded of fairytales she had heard over the course of her life when she looked at them long enough.
"So will Deneb and Tamamos be able to follow us on ZeroLiner?" Kagome asked.
"Well, Deneb may act like a goof, but he's a pretty reliable guy," Ranma shrugged. "Tamamos can pick up any slack. They'll probably hide the ZeroLiner in the Sands of Time until Tenma calls for them."
Kagome had to agree that Deneb was pretty funny. He had handed out candy to everyone, hoping to become friends with them. Shippo was instantly his new best friend with the gifts. Inuyasha thought he was being stupid, but a simple 'sit' made him keep his opinion to himself.
"Better get some rest Kagome," Inuyasha spoke up. "We're gonna need it for that Gaoh bastard."
"Right, right," Kagome yawned before she rested her head on her hands on the table in front of her. She then quickly returned to sleep, snoozing softly.
Outside, the peace was only interrupted by the traveling DenLiner. Because they didn't have a ticket to be this far in the past, the DenLiner had to travel across the land instead of the Sands of Time. If it returned to the Sands of Time, it wouldn't be able to return to the Feudal Era unless Ranma was already there. As such, time was passing normally and night had long since fallen.
As DenLiner cruised along the grass, it was being spied by several sets of eyes. The owners of those eyes were situated on a hill where a small campsite was being kept. Among those there were a small toad demon holding a large stick with a lady and a demon head situated on the top. By the fire was a small human girl in a yellow and orange yukata. Snoozing next to her was a two-headed dragon-like creature. Finally, there was a human figure donned in red and white robes with black chest armor and a white furry boa along his shoulder. He had long silver hair and purple slash marks on his cheeks with a purple moon marking on his forehead. A large distinguishing feature was that he was missing his left arm.
This man was in fact the demon known as Sesshomaru, Lord of the West since the passing of his father, Inu no Taisho. He was also the half-brother of Inuyasha, although he didn't like to admit it. The two tiny ones were his servant Jaken and his ward Rin. The last creature was his steed affectionately called Ah-Un by Rin.
"What manner of demon could that be?!" Jaken gasped in shock.
"It looks funny," Rin commented innocently. She then looked up to the silver-haired demon. "Do you know what it is Lord Sesshomaru?"
Sesshomaru was silent for a moment. Jaken just started berating the child for asking Lord Sesshomaru such stupid questions, but he started speaking, which shut Jaken up completely, "I have not witnessed this demon myself, but in my childhood, a large demon snake descended from heaven and began attacking everything. The resemblance is visible."
"Really?" Rin gasped in shock.
"My father would have dealt with it, but the humans had already sealed it into a mountain before building a shrine on top of it," Sesshomaru spoke.
"Perhaps that creature is like that demon from so long ago?" offered Jaken.
"We're leaving," Sesshomaru spoke before he started walking.
"Ah! Wait Mi'lord!" Jaken cried as he chased after the taiyoukai. Rin diligently put out the fire with dirt before she began tugging Ah-Un, waking the demon and pulling him along and catching up with Sesshomaru.
"What are you going to do now, Lord Sesshomaru?" asked Rin.
The taiyoukai didn't answer.
The sunrise peeked over the edge of the hills in the distance. DenLiner rang a chime before slowing to a stop with only a few feet of rail appearing in front of it. Giving off a hiss of steam, the DenLiner stopped completely.
Inside, Ranma was shaking bodies and pushing people to wake them up, "Okay, everyone up! Hana says that we're close to the shrine and we don't want to scare the monks. The Imagin will be scary enough."
Yawning, Ryutaros sat up and plopped the mumbling Shippo onto his shoulder, "So what are we going to use, Onii-chan?"
"We're going to head to the shrine and try to convince the monks what is going on," Ranma explained as he smacked Kintaros upside the head a couple of times. The Bear Imagin snorted a few times but wouldn't wake.
"Why must you disturb my rest, Boy?" yawned Sieg as he entered the Dining Car.
"We're near the shrine and we need to go on foot from here," Ranma answered as he moved to hoist the yawning Ranko off of Urataros' lap.
"Sleepy, Papa," Ranko mumbled as she snuggled into her future father's neck.
"I know," Ranma sighed, rubbing his daughter's back. "But Papa has to go fight bad guys and he needs Ura-nii's help. Think you can be a good girl for Auntie Naomi and Uncle Owner?"
"Okay," Ranko yawned as she rubbed her eyes. She then seemed to fall asleep in her father's arms again.
"Awww," Kagome giggled as she and Sango observed the sight of father and future daughter together.
"Amazing as always," Tenma chuckled from a glass of milk. "Only you and Mom only got her to go peacefully in mornings or at night. Babysitters and even me never stand a chance."
"I'm too young to be a father," Ranma grumbled as he set Ranko down on one of the softer seats in the dining car. Naomi happily draped a blanket over the little girl.
"Okay guys," Inuyasha grumbled as he and Miroku got their things together. "Let's get going already. I don't want that bastard Gaoh getting here while we're here yapping to each other."
"Now you're talking my language dog-boy!" Momotaros grinned. "Let's teach that teme a lesson!"
"Hey! Language!" Hana frowned, grabbing Inuyasha's ear and Momotaros' horn. "There are children here!"
"Gah!" the two hotheads cried in pain.
From afar, Sesshomaru watched as the metal serpent demon came to a stop. He was surprised to see something looking like a door opening on the side and before long people exited. He recognized some of them including one hanyou. He really shouldn't have been surprised to see his half-brother. If something big was going down in the demon community, Inuyasha was most likely going to take a role in it.
The other humans were new. They dressed like the woman Inuyasha insisted to be with. Odd clothing which stood out. It was painfully obvious they came from the same place the girl did. The five strange demons with them were more than just strange. They acted friendly towards the humans, even as if they were real friends.
Sesshomaru eyed the strange demons and the humans in the company of his brother. Since Inuyasha was involved with the metal serpent then the Lord of the West knew he had to see just what the situation was about. Besides, it had been a while since he had last seen his 'dear' little brother.
"So, Pop, what's the plan?" asked Tenma.
"Well, we could have Kagome speak for us," said Ranma. "She has the most common sense."
"I agree, Ranma-kun," said Urataros. "She's very charming. The priests can't refuse her."
"Hey, turtle, you don't know that for sure," snorted Momotaros.
"A pretty face can make a man or woman jump off a cliff with the right words," stated Urataros.
Kagome felt a little flattered at the compliments being given to her. Of course, having common sense wasn't a regular compliment but after hearing Ranma's life story, it was a major plus. Nerima seemed to be definitely lacking in the common sense department, especially when things like love, rivalries, or marriages came up.
"Um, but aren't these guys, priests?" asked Tenma. "Haven't they sworn off women or something like that?"
"Nonsense," Miroku denied. "If priests did that then how would the next generation of priests and priestesses be born?"
"You'd probably know that rule back and forth," Inuyasha grumbled.
"I say we go in and tell them," Sieg offered. "They have no reason to refuse us."
"Excuse me for saying, but that is an unwise idea," Sango argued. "While Imagin aren't demons, the resemblance is there. The priests inside will no doubt panic and refuse not only entry, but any kind of listening ear they might have."
"Good point," Ranma sighed. He then turned to the modern-day schoolgirl. "Well Kagome, anyone you think might be helpful?"
"Well…," Kagome pondered. "Maybe if I get in over my head Urataros can help me? I mean, he's a pretty smooth talker."
"Ah, Kagome-chan, you flatter me!" Urataros sighed happily. He moved up next to Kagome and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "I can see that you and I will make a wonderful team."
"Hey! Watch it shell-head!" Inuyasha growled.
"Oh relax Inuyasha," Kagome huffed. "You get so jealous. It's unbelievable."
Ranma shook his head. After watching Kagome and Inuyasha interact, he discovered that while it first appeared to be the same relationship as between him and Akane, it was in fact light years apart. Ranma and Inuyasha were both egotistical, chauvinistic sometimes, stronger than most people, and had power that not many were granted with. The difference was in the details though. Kagome was a serious girl who knew exactly what she wanted and wasn't afraid to work for it. Ranma had seen how she practiced with her bow and miko abilities while he was recovering. She was also good enough to watch Inuyasha's back, which helped the half-demon trust her like he did. While they would argue, Kagome usually kept a level head and never used her submission word unless Inuyasha said something genuinely stupid, insulting, or tried to control Kagome. Inuyasha may have acted tough, but Kagome obviously meant something to him. Judging from the way he took notice of her waking up the previous night, he at least cared as a friend.
Ranma's relationship with Akane was way different. Akane and Ranma were forced together in a hair-brained plot to unite their schools of martial arts. Never mind that both were firmly against it, no one wanted to hear it and continued trying to force them together. Akane was always on her anti-pervert crusade and even when it was obvious that a girl was at fault in Ranma's sometimes embarrassing situations, Akane blamed him first and never asked otherwise. It was like Akane believed girls could do no wrong, even though she fought against the fiancées all the time. Akane also never took the proper time to train up her skills. She just smashed bricks and went through the katas she knew, even though she never tried to correct any mistakes. She may have gotten stronger physically, but never better in skill. Akane seemed to be in a mindset that raw power was what a martial artist needed most. It was something that Akane tried with everything, reflecting how she plowed through everything she tried to learn and usually made the result unidentifiable (or inedible).
Kagome and Inuyasha trusted each other and had faith in each other. Ranma knew that Akane didn't trust him since day one (give or take a few incidents) and always jumped to the worst conclusions about things.
'I'm listening to Urataros too much.' Ranma thought, breaking off from his internal monologue. 'I'm starting to sound all philosophical.' But was it really so wrong for him to reflect on his life? The Imagin helped him some of his problems. Heck, he was maturing and seeing things through different point of views. He knew a lot of people had noticed the change. Most didn't like it. Like Cologne for example. She was somewhat aware of the Imagin but not enough to connect him to Den-O.
Inuyasha sniffed the air and stiffened, "Guys, we got company." His eyes narrowed as he gripped his sword's hilt.
The group looked to Inuyasha before checking in the direction of where he was looking. What they found was a tall man with silver hair walking towards them. Standing a bit behind him was a dragon-like creature, a toad thing with a stick, and a little girl. Ranma and Tenma both tensed when they saw him. They didn't need to see how Inuyasha and the rest were reacting to the guy to know that he was dangerous.
"He looks like dog-boy," Momotaros grunted, getting ready with a fight.
"He should," Miroku frowned. "That is Sesshomaru. He's Inuyasha's half-brother and he's a full demon. He is also a taiyoukai, the Lord of the West. A title he inherited from his father."
"Then Inuyasha's father was nobility," Urataros commented. He glanced at the silver-haired half demon ponderously. "He doesn't look it."
"Why would I want anything to do with my old man?" asked Inuyasha with a growl.
"Hm?" Sieg blinked. "How interesting."
"It's been awhile," said Sesshomaru in what could be considered a greeting.
"Not long enough," Inuyasha growled.
"I see you've kept the same company," Sesshomaru observed, "And some new friends as well. Tell me, what is that demon you rode?"
"It's not a demon," said Ranma firmly.
"Whatever it is, it does resemble a large serpent I saw long ago," stated Sesshomaru.
"You've seen the GaoLiner?" questioned Tenma.
"GaoLiner?" Sesshomaru stared. "So that is what the beast was called. I want to know the meaning of this item." The Lord of the West gestured to the DenLiner, which sat innocently at the side.
"We don't owe you anything!" Inuyasha growled. "We've got business with the GaoLiner and we don't have time to deal with you. So shove off!"
"Not until I get what I want to know," Shesshomaru frowned. In a flash of movement, he was suddenly only a foot away from the group with his hand on the hilt of the Tokijin. "Now, tell me."
"I sad…NO WAY!" Inuyasha yelled as he drew his Tetsusaiga in a wide slash. Sesshomaru drew his own sword and the two demonic weapons clashed against each other.
Sieg was curious. So, that uncouth dog youth was of noble blood, was he? Well, maybe it was time Sieg taught Inuyasha the proper mannerisms of a prince while also showing Sesshomaru his place. He looked towards Ranma, who had his Hyper Pass gripped in hand. Casually walking towards him, he then took possession of Ranma.
'Sieg!? What are you doing!?' shouted Ranma.
"Sorry, Ranma," said Ranma White right before Sieg exited with the Pass in hand. Sieg continued, "I think it's time I show our comrades how nobility fights."
"Oh…don't tell me," groaned Ranma.
Sieg then turned his eyes towards the battle before turning into energy that flew into Inuyasha's body. Inuyasha stiffened as white feathers flew out of his body and Sesshomaru was pushed back by the aura.
Inuyasha's body had gone limp as the feathers drifted to the ground. His gaze was on the ground as he let the blade of the Tetsusaiga rest against the ground. There was little movement before Inuyasha looked up, but his eyes were white instead of their usual gold. His silver hair was done up in a braid with some resting on the front. If you looked close enough, you would have been able to see streaks of white running through the silver strands.
Sesshomaru's eyes narrowed as he took in the stance of his brother. It was relaxed, but confident. Oddly enough, it was one that Sesshomaru himself adopted. Whatever was possessing his foolish little brother, it carried itself like nobility.
"What…what happened to Inuyasha?" Kagome asked with mounting concern.
"That bird teme possessed him!" Momotarros growled. "He's stealing the fight! I should have done that!"
"But you can't possess anyone besides Ranma," Urataros sighed. "Only Sieg seems to hold that ability."
"But why is Sieg doing this?" asked Sango as she gripped her weapon closely.
"He mentioned something about showing us how nobility fights," Ranma frowned. "And the snobby jerk stole my pass! I can't turn into Den-O if things get hairy."
"Wait," Tenma blinked. "Are you saying that Inuyasha and Sieg have the Hyper Pass?"
"Yeah," Ranma nodded.
Inuyasha White looked forward at Sesshomaru who was taking in the new information and considering his next action. Obviously he was trying to see what Sieg's presence was doing in this battle with his brother.
"Hmm," Inuyasha White smirked. "Now, see how a warrior of noble blood fights his battles."
A black circle cut through the air towards Inuyasha and circled around him. It did that for a moment before wrapping around his waist. Sheathing the Tetsusaiga, Inuyasha White then brought up the Hyper Pass, holding it out for Sesshomaru to see. As he did so, a tune began to play from the belt.
"Henshin," Inuyasha White spoke before he swiped the pass over the Wing Buckle.
Everyone watched, stunned and amazed, as white shards completed enveloped the possessed hanyou's body, forming a golden suit with black armor on his torso, white gauntlets on his arms and silver boots on his legs. The helmet was white with a silver mouthguard and black eyes. Then, white armor with wing-shaped shoulders snapped onto his base armor before a blue swan appeared and slid over the helmet. Finally, the swan's head folded back as the wings snapped on before white wings spread out from the armored hanyou's back, exploding into shining feathers which rained down around them.
"Advent," Den-O WF began, "At the top of everything."
"That dog! He's become…" Momotaros began.
"Den-O," finished Ranma and Kagome. Tenma knew this would happen. It was the only explanation.
Den-O WF eyed Sesshomaru as the demon did the same to him. Den-O WF knew from Inuyasha's memories that Sesshomaru was no lightweight opponent. Sesshomaru was also making sure that this new opponent was not a threat. It may have been the body of his brother, but the one in control was definitely not him. The armor and the power that he had felt pulsing from the body was something he hadn't seen or felt before. He would have to be careful.
"Let us show them how true nobles fight," Den-O WF challenged as he drew pieces of the DenGasher before connecting them, creating a small axe and a boomerang.
"Hn," Sesshomaru frowned as he held up the Tokijin. He hoped that this fight would prove to be amusing.
Rin, meanwhile, had become curious and went towards the DenLiner. She wanted to know what it was like inside. With everyone's attention on the battle that was about to unfold, nobody went to stop her. Moving to the side of the giant metal 'snake', she started knocking on the sides. Echoing sounds answered her, confusing the little girl. So the snake was empty inside?
Continuing along, she knocked on the metal snake some more. As she did, she heard a funny sliding noise. Looking to the source, she saw a hole in the side of the metal snake.
"Ha ha!" Rin giggled as she headed straight of the opening. Climbing up the stairs, she entered the white halls. The tiny girl was looking in all directions as she tried to look at everything. It was so neat! Walking some more, she found another door. She walked up closer to it and knocked on it, which opened it. Smiling, Rin stepped inside before her eyes widened in awe.
Rin had never seen such a place before. It was amazing and so clean as well. There were all sorts of little chairs and tables around. At the front of the weird room there was a taller table with tall chairs at the end.
There didn't seem to be anyone around though but then she felt a tap on her shoulder. Spinning around, the little girl looked to see another little girl with red hair staring back with a curious pair of eyes and s smile.
"Hi, I'm Ranko! What's your name?" the new girl asked.
"Rin is Rin!" the yukata-clad girl smiled.
"Hi Rin!" Ranko smiled. As she was talking, sand began to pour from her sleeves and pants. Rin was entranced as the sand piled up and formed into the body of a lady with a fox mask and a kimono on.
"Ranko-hime, what has your brother said about talking to strangers?" asked Tamamos gently.
"Um…not to unless they're attacking me? Then I kick their butts?" Ranko asked after some thought.
"Hello sandy lady!" Rin smiled, catching Tamamos' attention. "Rin is Rin. What's your name?"
"I am called Tamamos," the Fox Imagin answered, keeping an eye on the little girl. "Why have you come onto the train?"
"Well, Lord Sesshomaru is playing with his brother and Rin was bored," Rin answered. "Rin then decided to look at the metal snake. Rin knocked on the sides and a hole opened. Rin then walked inside and met Ranko and Tamamos."
"So…how is this…Sesshomaru, playing with his brother? Who is his brother?" asked Tamamos.
"Oh, the doggy man!" Rin giggled. "He has white hair just like Lord Sesshomaru. Well, the doggy man is wearing some weird gold suit now. It was amazing to see it appear on him."
"Ooooh! Inuyasha changed into Den-O?" Ranko smiled in excitement. "How did he do it?"
"Den-O? What is that?" asked Rin. "And the doggy man changed when that bird man went inside him. How did he do that?"
"Hm, it seems that Sieg is once again showing off," said Tamamos thoughtfully.
"Wanna play?" asked Ranko cheerfully. She didn't have that many friends her age anymore so it would be nice to have a playmate close to her age.
"OK!" Rin beamed.
"Yay!" Ranko cheered. "Wanna be friends?"
Back outside, sparks flew as Den-O WF and Sesshomaru were exchanging blows in their dance of death. Though Sesshomaru wanted to duel with his brother, this being who'd taken possession of the hanyou was proving to be a worthy opponent and had a better vocabulary than his uncouth younger brother.
"You fight like a true Lord," Den-O WF commented. Sesshomaru remained quiet, but he knew a compliment when he heard one.
"It seems my brother has potential to act befitting his status after all," Sesshomaru answered. "Maybe there is some hope for him after all."
"I try to be a positive influence to fellow nobility," Den-O WF shrugged. "Shall we continue?"
"Yes," Sesshomaru replied as he raised the Tokijin again.
It seemed that the two were about to go at each other again. Fortunately, it seemed that it wasn't going to happen. Before the two could continue their fight, the door closest the group of witnesses slid open. It caught the attention of both the group and the fighters. From the open door, two little girls scrambled out with the Fox Imagin behind them.
"Onii-chan! Papa! Come meet my new friend!" Ranko called out. Both she and a little girl with black hair wearing a yukata scrambled to the group hand in hand.
"Ranko, what are you doing out here?" Tenma groaned as he went to see to his sister.
"I want you to meet Rin!" Ranko smiled. "She's me new friend!"
"Hello!" the new girl smiled brightly. "Rin is Rin."
Sesshomaru instantly turned his eyes to his young ward. Giving off a sigh that not even the ears of Inuyasha would hear, he lowered his guard and sheathed his sword. Ignoring Den-O, he walked past the armored fighter and towards the group.
"Rin," Sesshomaru spoke. "What did I tell you about leaving?"
"Oh! Lord Sesshomaru!" Rin smiled. "I made a new friend! Her name is Ranko and she lives inside one of these metal snakes. Ranko says she and her friends are here to stop a mean man named Gaoh from finding another metal snake buried underneath a shrine."
The group blinked at the swift explanation of the little girl. Sesshomaru remained silent as he took in the news. It seemed that things were beginning to calm down after the heated battle between Den-O and the Lord of the West.
"Then I have a new question then," Sesshomaru answered tonelessly. "Who is the one you call Gaoh?"
Ranma was the one who decided to end this. Bravely stepping forward, he gained the attention of the taiyoukai. Ranma didn't flinch under his icy gaze, being used to such things. He had received such stares from both Herb and Saffron. Still, those guys were willing to kill them. Sesshomaru had the same lethal glare but his stance seemed relaxed…almost.
"Gaoh is someone who is able to change into armor like Inuyasha did," Ranma explained, trying to make things clear. He didn't need another fight to happen when Gaoh was getting closer. It felt kind of weird standing next to Den-O WF though, after wearing the role for so long. "The GaoLiner is the artifact connected to his power. If he gets it then we might as well kiss the world as we know it goodbye."
"Then he is a dire threat," Sesshomaru nodded. At least this odd human was willing to give him some straight answers.
"An incredible threat," Ranma replied. "He could make it so none of us ever existed if he wanted to. That's how powerful the GaoLiner is."
Sesshomaru didn't visibly react, but rest assured he began to appreciate just how dire the situation was. While he doubted a simple human with an enchanted suit of armor could be a threat, he was much more wary of what he had come to understand was sealed underneath the human shrine. It was a creature which came from the heavens so what abilities it held were a mystery. Of course, what did make him react was what he heard next.
"So…I'm asking…could we count on you help?" Ranma suddenly asked with some resistance from his pride.
As the words left Ranma's mouth, Den-O WF suddenly grunted and twitched on the spot. In a flurry of white shards, Sieg was catapulted out of Inuyasha's body. The Den-O belt and Hyper Pass dropped to the grassy ground. While Sieg tried to get his balance back, Inuyasha was stomping over to Ranma while exercising his vocal chords.
"WHAT!?" Inuyasha shouted.
"Pardon?" Sesshomaru blinked, surprised by the request. This human was asking for his help?
"ARE YOU STUPID!?" Inuyasha barked in Ranma's face. "NO WAY AM I WORKING WITH HIM!"
"The feeling is mutual," said Sesshomaru coolly. Inuyasha glared at his half-brother hotly.
"Listen," said Tenma. "Like it or not, we have to work together. All of time as we know is in danger so Gaoh is a threat to all of us. We need to recruit all the help we can get in order to make sure that this, the past and future will still exist."
Sesshomaru eyed the second human. This was sounding like a grave situation. It sounded a lot like when Menoumaru attempted to finish his father's work or when the Panther Demon Tribe attempted another conquest. This Gaoh person was sounding like he was on the same level. A worthy foe he supposed, but was it worth his time?
"Please Lord, Sesshomaru?" asked Rin with a cute pout. "Rin wants to stay with her friend Ranko."
Sesshomaru seemed silent for a moment before he nodded slightly, "Very well. I will assist."
"HUH?!" Inuyasha and his friends gaped. Was Sesshomaru actually being agreeable?
"This is a threat to all of us," said Sesshomaru. "And, once more, it will give me a chance to exercise my blade."
"Then we're in agreement," Sieg nodded. He then turned to Inuyasha and swatted his head, earning an indignant growl. "Next time fight like someone befitting your status. I will not be there to educate you all the time."
"I don't need your help!" Inuyasha snapped.
"You need all the help you can get, Little Brother," Sesshomaru remarked. "This bird was a far better fighter than you. You could stand to learn a thing or two if you managed to actually listen."
"Why you-!" Inuyasha snarled as he prepared to draw the Tetsusaiga again.
"SIT!" Inuyasha suddenly crashed to the dirt in a cloud of dust. Kagome and the others finally came over now that the danger had passed. Well, as safe as it ever got with someone like Sesshomaru in close quarters. "Honestly, this isn't the time to be fighting each other. Gaoh is way more dangerous, especially if he gets his hands on the GaoLiner!"
Inuyasha made muffling sounds in the dirt, but everyone assumed they were curses or some other biting comment. Ranma sighed and retrieved his belt and pass from the ground. Looking at the colleted group of friends new and old, he decided that it was time to get the show on the road, "Let's go."
There were no arguments and soon the group left. The Feudal Era group was still wary about Sesshomaru though. He never really allied with anyone. For him to actually voluntarily travel with his half-brother, much less a bunch of humans, was out of character for him. Of course, if he really wished to test himself against Gaoh then being with their group would guarantee the encounter. Still, their current history with the taiyoukai made them more than wary.
The group came closer and took in the sight of the temple itself. It seemed rather worn, having being there for years. Grass and plants had grown on the hill, making look natural instead of a pile of rocks, but everyone knew what was sealed underneath. If they managed to get their way, then the GaoLiner was going to stay there for the rest of time.
To Be Continued...
A/N: Well, Sesshomaru has taken his place and looks forward to facing Gaoh. Kikyo seems to have met her end by Gaoh and his men while the grup has arrived at the GaoLiner's resting place. Things are coming to a head.