Notes: I have done a little research on Japanese goddesses when I wrote this story, but I didn't go into much detail.  I also did an itty-bitty bit of research on the 'other subject' but decided that if you guys want to learn about it, you can do it yourselves.  I'm a prude.
All copyrights to Shaman King belong to Hiroyuki Takei.  And remember kids, it's 'Manta', not  'Morty'.

Shaman Not Required!
A Shaman King Fanfic.
By Niki 'NeeP' Paradis

    "Stupid haunted house," muttered Manta Oyamada to himself as he hurriedly pulled on his sneakers.  "No one in their right mind would stay here."  He then looked through the doorway to where Yoh and Anna were taking their dinner.  A few ghostly outlines resembling people could be seen.  A book was floating across the room and Anna managed to save a pot of soup from flying into a wall.  But then again, Manta thought to himself, I guess a Shaman has to be a little crazy to deal with ghosts and the Spiritual World.  It's either that or go completely insane.  
    He remembered what happened at the Shaman King competition.  Yeah, there was a different between crazy and insane --you just had to compare Yoh and Hao. Yoh may be a little 'Out There' at times, but compare him to Hao --who had illusions of divinity or at least controlling it, well, um...  Let's just say that Yoh was just a little bit crazy and Hao was a certified nut job.
    Picking up his huge book, Manta left the house.  Sometimes he wondered what it was like to do the things that Yoh could do.  Not that he wondered about it very hard or for very often.  He had the opportunity with Mosuke --twice, and it involved a hammer somehow, but he really couldn't remember either experience very well.  And that was just fine with him.  He wasn't equipped to deal with ghosts.  It was still too much on occasion just being able to see them.
    "Are you leaving already, Manta-dono?" asked a voice as he was heading towards the front gate.  "I understand that Yoh-dono can finally make a very good soup."
    Manta turned around and squinted a bit until he could pick out the misty form of Amidamaru, the samurai ghost.
    "I'm afraid so, Amidamaru.  There's a test tomorrow, and I can't really study with all of the ghosts in there.  I am going home and study in my room where it's quiet."
    The ghost chuckled.  "Yes, it's true that the ghosts of this place tend to get rowdy sometimes."
    "Yeah," Manta managed a weak grin.  "Anyways, I am sure that I will see you tomorrow.  Take care of yourself, Amidamaru."
    "You do the same, Manta-dono."  The ghost then returned to his exercises.

    It was already dark as Manta started off for home.  He was fortunate that his family believed that he was taking more cram school.  Actually, they didn't really care what he did, as long as he was able to maintain his high grade average.  They left him alone for the most part.
    Once again, he decided to take a shortcut through the cemetery.  It was still creepy at times, but it no longer held him in fear as it did many months ago.  The ghosts he saw greeted him by name, and Manta waved and smiled at them even as cold perspiration trickled down the back of his shirt.  They still made him a little nervous sometimes.  But, they weren't bad at all.  He knew that they would not harm him and that they would not allow any harm to come to him.
    But he decided to hurry through anyway.  The sooner he was out of the creepy place and away from the supernatural, the sooner he would be back in his mundane bedroom, doing something truly mundane and boring, like studying for the test tomorrow.  It would be a nice change, actually.
    "Excuse me," said a quiet voice behind him and Manta jumped high into the air in surprise.  
    "Hey!" cried out Manta as he landed and spun around.  "Don't you that it's rude to be sneaking up..."
    There was no one there.
    "...On people..." he finished lamely.
    "Oops.  Sorry about that," said the same voice beside him.
    Manta turned to see a girl standing beside him.  Or to be more precise, the translucent form of one.  He responded to her the only way that he could.
    "Aaaaarrrrrrrrrgh!!!" he screamed.  Even after everything that he has been through, some habits are just too hard to break.
    "Geez, you're so jumpy."
    "Sorry..."  Manta took a deep breath to steady his nerves, and then took a look at the ghost who startled him.
    She was not much taller than he was, with short dark hair and large dark eyes.  She was dressed as a priestess would be, but at her side, a single short sword could be seen.
    She's beautiful, thought Manta to himself.  And she's dead.  Just my luck.  "Can I help you?" he asked her aloud.
    The small female ghost looked thoughtful for a moment.  "I hope that you can," she said finally.  "The other ghosts in this cemetery speak highly of you, Manta Oyamada.  I was hoping that you can help me."
    "Help you?" asked Manta, all fear forgotten as his curiosity was aroused.
    "Yes.  My name is Misa.  I was once the protector of a great itako (spirit medium) who served the area to the East, not too far away from here.  One day, our temple was attacked by brigands and before she fell in battle, my mistress entrusted to me our most treasured relic.  It was my duty to take it to a scholar where it would be protected and studied.  But I was not able to depart before one of the scoundrels killed me.  However I was able to hide the relic before I was discovered.  So now I need to find someone to help me complete my task."
    Manta's face was completely blank.  Then he shook himself.
    "Look, uh, miss --I'm not the one you should be talking to.  You should be talking to my friend Yoh.  He's a shaman.  He'd be better at helping you."
    Misa drifted around Manta until she was facing him.  "I know about your friend, Yoh Asakura, and I am aware of his abilities.  But you don't seem to understand.  I don't want a shaman.  I want you.  You are obviously very knowledgeable and you are known to be good at figuring things out.  I need to know what happened to the holy relic that my mistress charged me to take care of.  I need to make certain that it is still safe and I need to make certain that it gets to someplace safe.  I cannot go to my final rest until I do so."
    "But why me?" asked Manta.  "Why not Yoh?"
    "Because he does not think in the same way that you do.  You are capable of finding information fast, and your ability to reason is impressive.  I must admit that while your friend does indeed appear to be a great shaman, his ability to reason is somewhat on the limited side."
    "That's true."  Manta nodded.  "He prefers to go on gut instincts.  Maybe you should talk to Anna then.  She's got a lot of common sense."
    "But she thinks like a shaman too.  I need someone who doesn't think the same way as shamans do."
    Manta shook his head.  "Maybe.  But I don't think that I am the right person for the job.  Have yourself a good evening, Misa-san."  With that, he walked briskly for the other end of the cemetery.

    Soon Manta made it home.  He trudged up towards his room, set down his Mantien-dictionary on his desk and proceeded to remove his school uniform and get it ready for the next day.  He looked momentarily for his notebook computer, but then remembered that he had left it back at Yoh's place.  Mosuke, who currently haunted the piece of high-tech equipment, wanted to visit with Amidamaru for a while.  The spirit of the blacksmith seemed to feel more comfortable having the laptop there, so Manta agreed to leave it.  It was kinda like having Mosuke bringing his own sleeping bag.
    The short teen was stripped to his underpants while he was looking for his pyjamas.
    "Why won't you help me?" asked a very feminine voice.
    Manta shrieked as he dived under his covers.
    "Manta!" shouted a voice from below.  "There's no reason for you to be making such a racket!  Pipe down up there!!"
    Trembling, the boy looked out from under the blankets.  There, floating not even a foot away from his face was the ghost girl, Misa.
    "What are you doing here?!?" he hissed at her.
    "I want to know why you don't want to help me," she said.  
    "Because I don't know very much about helping ghosts out and about religious artefacts," whimpered Manta.
    "That's okay!" beamed the pretty ghost.  "You don't have to.  I know about the relic and you know just the right amount about ghosts."
    "Um, listen, Misa-san...?" said Manta hesitantly.  "Could I provide you with an answer tomorrow afternoon?  I really need to study for my test."
    Misa looked confused.  "You truly can't expect to study properly from under a blanket, do you?" she asked.
    "Well," retorted Manta hotly.  "In case you have forgotten, I have been in the middle of changing when you came in."
    Misa giggled.  "Oh yeah, I have forgotten."
    "So could you please leave so I can get dressed and study?  I promise that I will give you an answer tomorrow."
    Misa was silent for a few moments.  "I don't think so," she said finally.  "I'm not leaving until you agree to help me."

    Yoh came out of the possession trance.  The ghost of the student, Suzuki, aced the exam as always.  He smirked to himself and stretched.  Then he looked over at his friend.  Manta was asleep, drooling on his test papers.  The teacher loomed over the small boy and slammed his hand on the desk.
    "Wake up, Oyamada!  This is not the time for taking naps!"
    Manta woke with a startled yelp and fell over the back of the desk chair --no mean feat when the seat back was higher than the boy's head.  "I'm awake!" he shouted, dazed.  
      "What has got into you?!?" demanded the teacher as he ignored the giggles and laughter of the other students in the class.  "This is not like you at all."
    "No sir," mumbled Manta.  "I guess I didn't get much sleep last night."
    The teacher looked at what was usually his best student.  Large black circles were under his eyes.  This was the kid that slaved and sweated over each and every mark.  The boy looked awful and a bit fearful about what a failed exam would cost him.
    Then, contrary to the reputation of the entire staff body of the school, the teacher decided to give the kid a break.
    "Then expect to come to my office after school tomorrow.  You will write the exam, Oyamada.  And I expect you to be awake for it!"
    "Yes sir!  Thank you sir," said Manta.  Then he yawned.
    "See that you do.  Class is dismissed."

    "Yo, Manta.  What's up?" asked Yoh as they walked home.  "You were completely out of it today.  And that's not like you at all."
    Anna walked by the two.  "Isn't it obvious?" she asked.  "Shorty had a visitation last night."
    Yoh perked up immediately.  "A visitation?  Really?"  He sounded interested.
    "Yeah," yawned Manta.  "There's this ghost that wants me to help her.  I tried to tell her that you would be the better person to ask, but she wouldn't leave me alone.  She wouldn't let me sleep or study until I agreed to help her out."
    "Hmm," mused Anna.  "Help him out, Yoh.  Give him some pointers.  I'll see you at home."  She walked past the boys, around the corner and out of sight.
    They waited for a bit to make certain that Anna was gone.
    "How --how did she know?" asked Manta faintly.
    Yoh shook his head.  "She just does."
    Both boys shuddered with the fear of Anna's apparent omniscience.
    "So, did you agree to help her?" asked Yoh after a moment.
    "Of course I did.  She wouldn't let me study or even get my pyjamas on until I did.  What choice did I have?  But by the time I did agree it was four in the morning."  Manta sighed.  "And you saw the results of that."  He explained the events of the previous evening to his friend.
    The taller boy nodded.  "So can I meet this ghost friend of yours?" he asked.
    "I dunno, Yoh.  Actually, I don't know where she is right about now..."
    "Maybe she went back to the cemetery.  We could look there."
    Manta shrugged.  "Sure, why not?"  The boys changed their direction and headed towards the Funbari Hill Cemetery.

    The two boys walked down the street.  Manta was amazed at how relaxed Yoh was, even after everything that had happened.  Amidamaru appeared shortly after they had left the school.  The ghost was fascinated with the modern world that he now found himself in.
    Manta looked at the two.  Yoh and Amidamaru had a relationship that was both strong and unique.  And the short boy was jealous of them.  And of Horohoro and Kororo, and of Chocolove and Mick the Jaguar...  Heck, he was jealous of all of them.  But mostly of Yoh and Amidamaru.
    Would it be possible to become partners like that with a ghost?  With maybe Mosuke?  He didn't know.  He will have to think on it, after he finished doing what Misa wanted him to do.
    He followed his friends quietly to the cemetery.

    "So why did you bring your friend?" demanded Misa after the introductions were made.  "I said that I wanted your help, not his!"
    "Relax," laughed Yoh.  "I'm just here to help Manta help you.  He's new at this."  The young shaman then turned to his friend.  "All you have to do is listen.  The ghost will tell you what you need to know and what to do."
    "That's it?" asked Manta.  
    "Well, to be honest, you can't really do anything else.  You haven't been trained for it. But I'm sure that you'll do fine."
    Manta scowled.  "Gee, thanks Yoh..."
    "No problem," smiled Yoh.  "I gotta get home and get dinner started.  Catch ya later."
    "Please to make your acquaintance, Misa-san," called Amidamaru as he followed his partner.
    And Manta was left alone in the cemetery with only the ghost for company.  "So, um...  Tell me...  What is it that you want me to help you with?"

    A little time later, Manta was surprised to find himself in a library.  At first he was uncertain as to why a ghost would want to peruse old books, but Misa assured him that it was necessary.  She knew the exact location of where she had left the artefact, but she needed to find out where she needed to take it.  
    "What is this artefact exactly?" asked Manta as he went through an ancient map of the area.
    "It is a statue of Jingo," replied Misa as she read the spines of the various books on the shelves.  She was puzzled over some of the titles.
    "You mean, the Empress Jingo?" asked Manta, as he pulled another book out of the pile on the table where he has been sitting at.
    "Yes, that is who I am referring to.  The statue was carved from ivory.  And ivory was very rare then.  It was to be a gift from our temple to a known scholar of the area."
    "But that would have been a long time ago," mused the short boy.
    Misa nodded.  "I know that the scholar has been dead for centuries, but I still need to deliver the statue.  I just need to find out where to deliver it.  I have no idea of where to begin."
    "Um, right."  Manta flipped the pages in the book that he was perusing.  "What was the name of the scholar?"
    "I am trying to remember..." said Misa as she concentrated.  The whole room seemed to vibrate as she did so.  "The name of the scholar was 'Takei Hiroyuki '," she said finally.
    "That will help," said Manta.

    Manta continued to research into history of the ancient scholar.
    "Excuse me, Manta-kun?" interrupted the ghost as she tried to make sense of a title of one of the books on the shelf.
    "What is 'Kama Sutra'?" she asked.  "I noticed the title here on this shelf with other books pertaining to relationships...  I have heard the term before while I was alive, but I am not too certain what it is.  Other ghosts that I have asked about it would not tell me.  Would you happen to know about it?"
    Manta went completely red.  "I don't think I should tell you," he said.  
    "Not you too!" complained the ghost-girl.  "One would think that they were purposely trying to hide such information from young women."
    Manta went even redder.  He had heard of the term and he had, by honest accident, managed to overhear what it was about.  The method of learning about this particular forbidden subject involved hiding behind large furniture when he was much younger.  It would be during those times when his parents had his weird aunt over.  She was totally obsessed with the concept and constantly talked about it.  Manta found that he still blushed whenever he had to think about it.  It made him nervous and uncomfortable.
    "It's hard to explain," he said.  "No one would tell me either.  I had to listen in on conversations to find out."
    "So tell me what it's about, then!" she demanded of him.
    The boy said nothing.
    "Now!" she shouted voicelessly with a glare that could nearly rival one of Anna's.
    Manta gestured for her to come closer, cupping a hand to his mouth so he could whisper into her unsubstantial ear.  "It'saboutsex!" he said in as low of a voice as humanly possible.  He was then pressured to explain about it and he tried, while using as little detail as he could get away with.  His face went redder and redder.  Misa naturally pale complexion went as red as his did.
    "No wonder they didn't want to tell me!" she exclaimed.  "That is very unusual information.  And I guess I can see why people would try to keep such information from a young woman and a priestess.  But I am still glad that I finally know.  Thank you very much, Manta-kun!"
    "No problem," whimpered the short teen faintly.  
    Misa giggled.
    Further proper research revealed that an institute and museum was dedicated to the scholar in question.  So that solved the 'where to' part of the problem.  Now it was the matter of getting the statue in the first place.  
    "The funny thing is," said Manta as he placed the books onto the return cart, "there is a popular manga artist today that goes by the same name.  I wonder if he might be a distant relative or descendent."
    "What is manga?" asked the ghost in a confused voice.  So Manta had to explain the art of comics to her.
    "I'd like to see some of that," she said after the explanation was complete.
    They left the library and started to walk down the street.
    "Manta-kun?" asked Misa suddenly.
    "Yeah?"  Manta stopped and faced her.  He was sort of aware that there were people staring at him, unable to see who he was talking to."
    "Would it be at all possible for you to pick up a weapon of some sort?  Like a sword?"
    "A sword?" asked Manta.  "What for?"
    "To protect me," replied Misa.
    "Me with a weapon?!?" exclaimed the short boy.  "Are you nuts?!?  I would end up hurting myself with it.  Besides, you're already a ghost.  What can hurt you?!?"
    "Please Manta-kun?" pleaded the ghost.  "It would make me feel better..."  She batted her eyelashes at him.
    The eyelashes did the job and Manta sighed.  "I guess that I could stop by Yoh's house and see if Ryu is there.  I think that he will let me borrow his bokuto for a little while."
    "A wooden sword?" asked Misa in disbelief.  "What can anyone do with a wooden sword?"
    "More than you think," replied Manta as he started walking again, this time to Yoh's place.

    It was getting dark as Manta and Misa started to walk towards the place where the artefact was supposed to be hidden.
"Misa-san," began Manta shyly.  "Can you tell me about your temple? And why you carry a sword?"  He shifted the position of the borrowed bokuto on his shoulder.
    "Sure.  Our temple was consecrated to the warrior goddesses.  It was up to us to show everyone that women can be strong and fight alongside their men."
    "But there weren't that many warrior goddesses then, right?"
    "There are more than you think!" said Misa hotly.  "Jingo was raised to deity status because of her military prowess long ago.  I understand that the pilots of the second great war dedicated themselves to the goddess of the wind, Kamikaze --Well, maybe she isn't exactly a warrior goddess, but she too was strong.  But there's also Kanayama-hime, the goddess of metals --without her, there would have been no swords and tools.  And there are others as well."
    "Huhn.  You must know a lot of this kind of thing," replied Manta awed.  
    The ghost sighed.  "Not as much as my Mistress would have liked me to.  I still keep trying, even though my bones are beneath the ground."

    A street gang waited on the other side of the street.  They watched as the young boy, apparently talking to himself, walked by.  
    "Where do you think he's goin', boss?" asked one of them.  
    "I don't really care where he's going, as long it ain't to the old ruins..." replied the gang leader, whose face was a mass of scar tissue.
    Another flunky snorted.  "Yeah.  Only an idiot would try to enter our home turf and our meeting place."
    They watched the short kid turned into the property of the ruins.  
    "Now what, boss?" asked the clueless street punk.
    The gang leader took a final drag on his cigarette before throwing it away.  "Now we go nail the little turd for trespassing."

    "Excuse me, Manta-kun?" asked the ghost.
    "Yeah?"  Manta was feeling a little nervous.  According to his classmates, the area that he was currently strolling about in was frequented by a tough street gang called the Rusty Nails.  These guys made Ryu's old gang look like a bunch of little old ladies.  He hoped that he would not run into them that evening.  
    "There is a group of evil looking men staring at us from across the street."
    Well, so much for not running into the gang.  "Maybe they won't say anything," suggested Manta nervously.
    "Hey!  Shorty!" shouted the leader of the street gang.  "Where do you think you're going?"  
    Manta spun around in terror to face the much bigger, much stronger youths.
    "Show them what you're made of, Manta-kun!" cheered Misa.
    Manta swallowed.  "Stay back!" he shouted.  "I've got a sword!"  He brandished the bokuto at the thugs.
    "We don't need to get close," replied the gang leader with a smirk.  "We've got guns."
    "..."  A lot of words were going though Manta's mind at the moment, but none of them were suitable in the presence of a lady-ghost.  I am not afraid, he said to himself.  I am not going to run off screaming...
    "Run, you idiot!" shouted Misa.  
    "Right!"  The short student scrambled to get into the temple grounds, glad that someone else had decided for him.  The wind picked up as he ran for his life.  The thundering sound of bullets being fired could be heard right behind him.  He also heard the thudding of the bullets as they landed in the pavement.  At least, he thought to himself as he ran, I'm not screaming...

    "Not bad, Yoh," said Anna as she set down her rice bowl.  "You're getting better at this."
    Yoh nodded and grinned.  "With all of the practice that I have had, I figured that eventually I would get the knack of cooking rice."
    "Congratulations, Yoh-dono," said Amidamaru, tears running down his face.  The rice did indeed look good and once again the dead samurai wished that he eat.
    "Thanks," replied the young shaman.  "Hey."  He turned his attention back to Anna.  "How do you think that Manta is doing right now?" he asked.
    "I'm sure that he's doing fine," replied the young itako.  "What kind of trouble could he get into?"
    "Yeah, I guess you're right.  Everything will work out."  He grinned as he cleared the table.

    Manta Oyamada was currently dancing out of the range of a lot of bullets.  He dashed behind rotten pillars and old trees, but the bullets seemed to be intent on tearing them apart to find him.  "I'm gonna die..." he moaned.  But Misa would not hear of it, and she would tell him which way to leap and jump.

    The gang leader growled.  So far, the little punk has had remarkable luck, dodging all of those bullets.  But even luck can't last forever.

    "Do you understand how Integration works?" yelped Misa as Manta jumped and leaped from side to side avoiding the bullets.
    "Well, yeah!" gasped Manta as he took refuge behind a large boulder.  "I've seen Yoh do it many times.  I understand the principles."
    "Good," she nodded," because that is what we are going to do."
    "Say what?!?" the short student shouted.  "Are you nuts?!?  I told you --I'm no shaman!"
    "Well, I have no formal training either, but I have seen my mistress do it and so I understand how it's done.  I have talked to many ghosts and they have told me how it works from the ghost's point of view.  And the ghosts told me about you and Mosuke, the smith.  Face it, Manta-kun.  You're no warrior and if you go out there now, as you are, you're gonna join me as a ghost instead of working with me as part of a team."
    "Um..." said Manta as the bullets pounded at the rock, pinning them.  
    "I don't have time to wait for you to decide!" shrieked Misa.  "Now, Manta!"  She flashed and became a spirit ball.
    "I can't believe that I am doing this," muttered the short boy as he grabbed the spirit flame in his hand.  He was surprised that it didn't burn.  He wondered about that momentarily.  
    "What are you doing, you idiot?!?" shouted the Misa-flame.
    "Um."  Manta's mind went blank and he brought the Misa-flame up to his chest.  "Hyoi Gattai!" he whispered fiercely as he pressed the ball into himself.
    Then Manta was no longer alone in his body.  And he could feel the other spirit trying to come to grips with having flesh again. And coming to grips with uh, differences between her original body and Manta's.  Manta's spirit blushed as he felt the embarrassment of the other spirit.  "How about that we just ignore that for now," he suggested.  "Basically, we're doing this just to get this body away from here in one piece, right?"  
    "Right," agreed the other soul after a moment.  "You just give me control for a moment."
    "Give you control?!?"
    More bullets chipped away at the bolder.
    "I know how to move.  You can have control again after we get into the temple, okay?"
    Manta thought about the two choices that he had.  Life with the chance of being possessed for the rest of it, or no life at all.  Um, easy choice actually when it's put that way...

    The gang members were surprised when the short kid that they have been chasing jumped out from behind the rock, and batted aside the bullets with a wooden sword.  Then in the lull while the street thugs were staring in astonishment, the boy made a mad dash towards the ruined temple.
    Manta was panting from exertion when Misa released control of his body.  He was so tired, but he knew that he could not afford to rest, let alone pass out.  With a little effort, he expulsed the ghost from his body.  Actually, he just asked her to leave and she left his body because she realised that he was getting worn out.
    "Stay awake Manta-kun," commanded Misa.  "We're not safe yet."
    "I know...  But they're gonna find us for sure.  We've gotta hide."  The stamping of feet could be heard as the street gang entered the ruined temple.
    The ghost smirked.  "Follow me," she said.  "I know just the place."  She floated towards another room.
    "All right," replied Manta as he tip-toed after her.  "Just please remember that I can't go through walls."

    "All right, youse guys!" shouted the leader of the pack.  "Go find that little freak and deal with him!"
    "Right, Boss!" came the voices of the gang members as they split up to search the ruins.
    "Yah," muttered the boss to his chief flunky.  "We're actually doin' the little punk a favour."
    "Whatcha mean, Boss?"
    "Anyone who talks to himself the way that he was doin' would be better off bein' put out of his misery."
    The flunky nodded.  Yeah, the kid was sure weird.

    Manta squeezed into the tiny space under the decaying altar in the main room.  He tried not to flinch and scream as ancient cobwebs brushed against his face.  Misa encouraged him and murmured comforting to him as he shivered in the dark cramped space.  His hand came across something cool and hard.  He clenched his jaw and bit back a scream.
    "It's not a bone, Manta-kun," said Misa voicelessly.  "It's the idol.  Relax!"
    The boy took a few deep breaths, and tried to steady his nerves.  And he froze again as he heard the heavy thudding of footsteps nearby.
    Please don't let them find me...  Please don't let them find me...  Manta thoughts chanted over and over again in the recesses of his mind.  I can deal with ghosts now --I don't wanna be one though...
    "It's all right, Manta-kun...  They won't find us here..."  
    Manta had to remind himself again that unless one of the goons above him had any decent amount of sixth sense, they were not going to hear Misa at all.  Which was a good thing, as the street gang seemed to be gathering up in the room right above him.
    "We can't find him, Boss!" said the head flunky.  "It's like he just disappeared."
    "He's around here somewhere," snarled the gang leader.  "Nobody saw the little twerp leave, right."
    There were a lot of reluctant agreements and acknowledgements.
    "Hey, Boss?" asked a gang member reluctantly.  "I know that this temple is on 'our turf', but this place feels rather creepy.  There's stories about it being haunted, y'know?"
    "Ghosts?" asked some of the other gang members.  With the wind blowing through all of the cracks and openings, the whole building had a rather eerie feel to it.
    "Get serious, moron!" shouted the gang leader.  "There are no such things as ghosts!"  
    "Hey, Boss, are ya sure about that?" questioned another flunky.  "There's stories about how guys would get close to bein' killed when huntin' for treasure.  I know a guy who got put into a hospital because a beam in this place fell on 'im.  It just ain't safe here."

    "Excuse me Manta-kun," said Misa quietly to Manta.  "I will be right back.  Just don't go anywhere."
    Like where would I go?!? shouted Manta in the recesses of his mind.  But the ghost was gone and there was nothing for the boy to do but shiver in the dark.

    The wind picked up.  The whistling became louder as the breeze found all sorts of different cracks and holes to blow through.  The gang members became more nervous as all at once as pieces of plaster, wooden plaques and other items fell off the wall all at once.  The temperature of the room dropped a whole five degrees Celsius.  Even the gang leader had to shiver.  The whistling wind became a moan and it seemed to be blowing around the street gang as they crowded closer together for support.  There were sounds of whimpers being suppressed as many of the youths tried to hide their fear from the others.
"What's goin' on here?!?" shouted the leader.  "I don't believe this!"  He fired his gun.  The bullet went through the old planks of the floor in front of the old altar.  After the ringing of the gunshot died down, the scarred youth could almost swear that he heard a whimper from somewhere other than the flunkies behind him.  He raised his gun again...
    Then the gun became freezing cold in his hand.  It burned as the surface temperature dropped to below freezing.  Howling in pain and fright, he threw the gun away from him.  He stared at the weapon that had suddenly turned against him.  The wind rose yet again, the whistling and moaning became almost deafening.  Then, at the edge of their consciousness, they heard a voice within the breeze.
    The thugs ran out of the old temple.  The gang leader led the way.  After the thundering sound of stampeding cowards faded, Misa laughed merrily.
    "It's all right now, Manta-kun," she called.  "You can come out now.  Just don't forget to bring out the statue."
    Manta took a few deep breaths, totally relieved that he did not cry out, and grateful that he didn't wet his pants like he thought he have done when the thug's bulled exploded through the floor just ten centimetres in front of his face.  Carefully, he backed out of the narrow space, through a hole into another room.  He absently set the statue down and brushed himself off as he regarded the hole and crawlspace that he was in.  Good thing I was short enough to get in there, he thought.  Yoh wouldn't have fit in there at all.  He stopped brushing the old cobwebs off as he realised something.
    "They have gone, Manta-kun!" exclaimed Misa as she appeared beside the short youth.  "We're safe for now."
    "Yoh wasn't short enough to be useful to you," he said slowly, thoughtfully.  "My skills and knowledge didn't matter at all, did they?  You just wanted someone short enough to fit in that tiny space and grab the idol!"  He glared at her, daring her to refute what he just said.  
    She looked back at him.  
    Manta stared at her some more.  "Admit it!" he shouted.
    The ghost blushed.  "It was one of the reasons..." she said reluctantly.
    Manta turned away, picked up the statue and the borrowed bokuto and left the ruins.  He walked briskly towards home thinking that he would take the stupid idol to the Museum after school the next day.  
    Misa trailed listlessly behind.  "Manta-kun, please wait," she said.
    "Why?" asked the student.  "You have pretty much admitted that you only wanted me to help because I'm short.  I did what you need me to do, so you can go away to your final rest and leave me alone."  He did not stop walking.
    Misa sighed.  "There is some truth to what you say," she admitted.  "But it isn't the whole reason, Manta-kun.  Believe me!"
    Manta stopped and turned to face the ghost.  He set down the statue and the bokuto.  "Go ahead, explain it all to me.  Make it good."
    "Well, it is true that I wanted to find someone who would be able to reach the statue.  There really are no local shamans that are small enough to fit where I once was able to.  But the ghosts of the Funbari Hill Cemetery said that while you were not a shaman, you were able to see and hear spirits, and that you might be able to handle an Integration.  Even if I had asked your friend Yoh, he would have brought you along, as you are the only person that he knew who could crawl in that tiny space.  And he would have asked you to help him with the research as he wouldn't have known how to begin.  I had decided to go straight to you as you were more than capable of doing what needed to be done."
    Manta just looked at/through her.
    "Can you not see, Manta-kun?  I knew that you could do it!  Even though I knew that Soul Integration was rather risky, I knew that you would be able to handle it!  You were great, Manta-kun!"
    The short student picked up the wooden sword and the ivory statue.  "It's getting late," he said.  "I still have to study for my make-up exam."  He started towards home.
    "You were very brave, Manta-kun," said Misa wistfully.  "Before I told you to run, you were going to fight those ruffians, even though they had those small match-locks, weren't you?"
    "I wasn't brave," muttered Manta sadly.  "I just knew that I couldn't outrun those guys."
    "And you wanted to go down fighting..." concluded the female ghost.  "How noble..."
    They entered the Funbari Hill shopping district.
    Manta sighed.  He didn't want to admit that wasn't the real reason for staying put.  He was certain that he was going to die.  It was just that he would rather face his death instead of letting it catch him with his back turned.  
    Then he thought about how Misa made him run.  Somehow, the bullets missed him, even at the close range that they were firing at.  "Um, Misa-san," he asked.  "Did you do something to make those guys miss?"
    The ghost beamed at him.  "I most certainly did.  Like the breeze that I was able to conjure up at the temple, I made certain that there was enough of a wind to put their aim off."
    "Thank you," said Manta finally.  "I'm sorry that I snapped at you."
    "No, I must apologise to you.  I should have been honest with you since the start."  She floated around until she was in front of him.  "Please forgive me, Manta-kun," Misa said as she bowed low in apology.
    "Um, it's okay," replied the short student finally.  "I should be getting home and study for tomorrow's exam.  I'll take the statue over to the museum after school tomorrow."
    The ghost didn't say anything in reply.  The silence went on for a few minutes.  Manta looked at her, and thought that she looked a bit sad.  
    "Are you all right, Misa-san?" he asked.
    "I am fine, Manta-kun," she smiled at him suddenly.  "I shall take my leave of you once we have reached your house."
    "That would be great," grinned the boy.  "I would be grateful for the company," he said shyly.
    The boy and his invisible erstwhile partner continued walking until they have reached Manta's not-so-humble home.  At the front gate, Manta turned towards Misa.  "I'll see you tomorrow then," he said to her.  "At the cemetery..."  
    "Take care, Manta-kun," replied the ghost and disappeared.
    Manta sighed and went into his house.

    Yoh was waiting for his friend when Manta came out of the teacher's office.  "So.  How did it go?" he asked.
    "Well, I get a few points knocked off for having to do a rewrite, but I think I did pretty good on that exam," replied the short student.
    "Not the exam, Manta!  I meant with the ghost.  Did everything go okay?"
    "Um, yeah..."
    Yoh looked to his friend.  He could have sworn that the short boy was blushing.  "What happened?" asked the young shaman.
    "Um, Yoh-kun.  I'm really sorry, but I have to meet up with Misa," Manta stammered.  "I've got to finish the mission with her.  I'll tell you all about it tomorrow, okay?"
    Yoh blinked.  "Uh, sure," he replied.
    "See you tomorrow," shouted the short student as he ran off towards the Funbari Cemetery.

    The warrior-priestess ghost was waiting for him as Manta clambered over the gate to the cemetery.  "You're late, Manta-kun!" she chided him.
    "Sorry," he replied.  "The exam took longer than I thought and then the teacher decided to lecture me on falling asleep in class."
    "Will we make it the museum in time?" she asked.
    "Um, I think the Institute is closed for the evening already," replied the short student.  "I'm sorry about that.  I guess that you were in a bit of a hurry to go on your way, right?"
    The dead priestess looked at the boy who helped her.  "That's all right, Manta-kun," she said.  "I don't mind waiting one more day."
    "Um, okay..." Manta didn't know what to say next.
    "Uh, if you are not busy this evening," suggested Misa shyly, "would you mind showing me around this modern city?"
    Manta blushed.  "Um, sure," he replied.  "But there must be someone waiting for you, right."
    "Well, there are my brothers and my Mistress.  But I think they would understand if I stay just another day to be with a nice guy like you...  That is, if you don't mind spending an evening with a ghost..."
    "Um, right..."  Manta swallowed.  A date with a ghost? he asked himself.  Then he mentally shrugged then smiled.  Why not?      "But you know something?  Tonight, I don't think I mind at all."

    They went to see a movie.  Manta decided to take his somewhat invisible companion to see a film in which a female martial artist was starring.  Misa had never seen such a thing as a movie before and Manta remembered how much Amidamaru enjoyed the experience.   The film was being shown in an old theatre and because of its age, there were hardly any people in it.  --Most people preferred to see movie in the newer high-tech theatres that were becoming so popular.  Manta was able to explain things to Misa without too much fear of being overheard.  And the advantage of taking a ghost out on a date is that he only had to pay for himself.
    Afterwards, they went for a walk along the streets of the Funbari Hill area.  They looked at the bright lights, watched the people.  Manta bought some manga for Misa to look at.  Then they went back to the cemetery to gaze at the stars.  
    Manta had surprised himself.  Normally once he took leave of Yoh and Anna, he would be done with the ghosts.  Except for the part that he couldn't hold her hand, Misa was like almost any other really pretty short girl.  Who liked him...  
    Then the time came for Manta to go home.  He made plans with Misa to meet her at the cemetery the next day so that they could go and deliver the statue.  "It's only a half day of school tomorrow," he said to her.  "There will be plenty of time to get to the Institute."

    After class the next day, the ghost of the warrior priestess, Misa, met with Manta, the boy who could see ghosts who was just arriving at the cemetery.  
    "I want to thank you for a wonderful evening last night," she said to him.  
    Other ghosts in the immediate vicinity cheered and jeered at them as they blushed.
    "Hmmm...  No problem."  Manta carried his awkward backpack with the statue in it.  "After we drop this statue off you can go on your way to heaven."  He started walking down the street.
    "Yes," she said.  "I guess that it is time to go.  I need to see my family again.  But let's save the farewells until after my final duty is completed."
    They walked towards the business centre of the Funbari Hill district.  There was a building where the Takei Institute was located.  It was rather close to the museum where Amidamaru's sword was located.  
    He went into the main office and asked the secretary for the director of the institute.  The secretary, all though polite, was not certain that a mere middle school boy warranted the time of such an important person such as the director.  
    "I'm truly sorry, but the director is a very busy man, and he cannot be interrupted at the moment," said the snooty secretary.
    Manta then pulled the ivory statue from out of his pack. "I would like to talk to him about this," he replied.
    The secretary, who did have some knowledge about valuable artefacts, looked at the idol, then picked up the phone and pushed a button on it.  "Yamamoto-san, there is a young man here in the office with an artefact that he would like to discuss with you.  It is an ivory carving...  His name, sir...?"  She covered the handset for a moment.  "Excuse me, who shall I say is here?" she asked of the boy.
    "Oyamada Manta."
    "Oyamada Manta, sir."  She resumed talking on the phone.  "Yes sir, I shall tell him."  She hung up the phone and turned to Manta.  "Yamamoto-san will be here shortly to speak with you.  Please take a seat."
    With a hop, Manta got himself seated.  He whispered softly to Misa, right next to him, "Don't let me screw this up."  He positioned the idol on his lap.
    The director walked into the office shortly.  He was a tall, slightly stooped man in his forties.  "Good afternoon, Oyamada-san.  If you would follow me to my office, I will be happy to speak with you."
    "Yes sir," replied the short teen and he hopped down from off the chair with the ivory statue.  Behind him, Misa drifted silently, knowing that Manta would be unable to talk to her.  
    The director led him to what should be a large spacious office.  But with all of the books, papers, newspaper clippings, odd artefacts and other odds and ends, the end result was cluttered, yet comfortable.  He showed Manta a seat and took his behind the desk.
    "I suppose that you are wondering why I came to see you right way, Oyamada-san.  Am I right?" asked the director.
    "Well, yes sir," replied Manta.  "I am."
    "If you would please set that treasure of yours on the desk, I would be grateful."  Yamamoto's eyes opened with surprise and delight as the short boy complied.  "Ah," he exclaimed.  "I have heard of this.  You got this out of the old temple ruins in the other side of town, didn't you?"
    "Uh, yeah."  Manta and Misa were both flabbergasted.   "Yamamoto-san, how did you know?"
    "I have been doing research on this particular piece for some time.  This is the missing carving of the empress Jingo...  You see, Takei Hiroyuki --the scholar whom this institute is name for --left notes about the relic that he was expecting to study."  Tenderly, the older man picked up the ivory statue.  "However, the same brigands that destroyed the temple and killed all who were there came to the monastery where Takei-san was doing his research.  They killed him and his attendants."
    "So I wouldn't have been able to finish my mission after all," murmured Misa.
    "How did you find this, Oyamada-san?" asked Yamamoto.  "I have had many people go over those old ruins, but they were always driven off by the noises of the old building.  My people were frightened that the temple ceiling would fall on top of them."
    Manta could feel the faint heat coming off of Misa as she blushed.  "I had help," he said after a moment.
    "Yes," replied Yamamoto, looking towards Misa.  "I can see that."
    "You can see me?!?" exclaimed the ghost.
    "You can see her?!?" asked Manta.
    "Yes, I can," replied Yamamoto.  "As a matter of fact, I also had help in obtaining information about this artefact that you have brought to me."
    A ghost of a young man suddenly appeared beside the older man.  "This is the scholar, Takei Hiroyuki.  With his help, I was able to acquire enough information regarding the Funbari Assassination."
    "I am pleased to make your acquaintance," said the ghostly scholar.  He was tall pale and handsome.  And he made Manta feel a tad jealous for some reason.
    "Wow," said Misa.  "The honour is mine."  
    "Um, Yamamoto-san?  Are you a shaman?" asked the short student.  It seemed to Manta most of the time that everyone who was able to see ghosts, except for him, was a shaman.
    "Not at all," replied the older man.  "I am just someone who can see ghosts.  How about you, Oyamada-san?"
    "Oh, no!  No!  I'm no shaman," chuckled Manta nervously.  "I know quite a few of them though."
    "So why don't you introduce your friend and then with the help of Takei-kun here, we can finish filling in the holes of the story involving this relic."
    "Yes sir."  Manta grinned at his friend and introduced her to the others.  "This is Misa-san.  She's a warrior-priestess who has been haunting this ivory statue for all this time..."
    Misa told the director and his ghost companion about her struggle to hide the ivory idol.  Yamamoto wrote everything down, and Takei floated around looking impressed.  Mostly at Misa.
    A few hours later Yamamoto bowed to both Manta and Misa.  "Again, thank you for coming.  Now Takei-kun and I can finish our work."
    "It has been a pleasure meeting you," said Takei.  "I hope that this meeting has fulfilled your obligation, Misa-san."
    "It certainly does," replied the little ghost of the warrior priestess.  "I shall be able to continue onto heaven now."  She sounded a little sad.
    The short teen and the female ghost left the building.
    "Thank you, Manta-kun," said Misa.  "What you did means a lot to me."
    "Yeah?" asked Manta.  "Well. I'm glad that I could help out with the statue.  Yamamoto-san and Takei were great people.  I'm glad that we got to meet them."
    "Yeah."  The ghost gave him a huge smile.  "But that's not all that I wanted to thank you about.  I want to thank you for taking me out last night, even though it's well know throughout the cemetery that ghosts tend to make you nervous."
    Manta blushed.  "It was not a problem at all," he said.  "You were great company, and --I like you, Misa-san."
    "I like you too, Manta-kun."  She sighed.  "But now I have to go."
    "I can feel my family calling me.  I have a duty to return to them."
    "Oh."  Manta's head hung down and he stared at the toes of his sneakers, trying not to cry.
    "Manta-kun?" asked Misa.  She reached out and with ghostly fingertips, touched his face.  "Manta-sama?  Please don't cry."
    The boy started as he felt her fingers.  I shouldn't be able to feel that, he thought.  And then he realised what Misa just called him.  He raised his head and faced the ghost whom, he just realised, he had fallen in love with.  He saw that there were tears in her eyes.
    "I will remember the time we have spent together for all eternity, Manta-sama," she said.  "But before I go, I have two things that I need to tell you."
    The short young man wiped the traitorous tears from his eyes.  "Yeah?"
    "Please thank Anna-kun for the suggestion that you could help me."
    "Anna?"  What did Anna have to do with any of this?
    "And Manta-sama, I want you to know that if you should ever consider it, I think you would be an excellent shaman."
    "Shaman?"  Manta was feeling lost and stunned.  But at the moment, it was a blessing.  He knew that as soon as he was capable of making sense of everything, he was going to hurt.  He squeezed his eyes closed tight, to prevent the escape of any more tears.
    He felt a faint feathery kiss on his lips and he opened his eyes.  Misa was starting to rise up into the sky.
    "Good bye, Manta-sama!" she called out as she rose higher and higher.  As she rose, she began to glow.
    "Good bye, Misa-san!" called out Manta, not caring who could hear him that late in the night.  "Good bye!"
    With a flash of light, the ghost of the small warrior priestess was gone.

    Manta let the tears flow and he snuffled.  He only knew her for a few days, and he missed her already.  Life was simply not fair, and seeing how Misa was crying as she left, he realised that there was not too much fairness in the afterlife either.
    "Manta," said a voice softly, startling him out of his misery.
    Anna was standing against the wall in the spotlight.  There was no way of telling of how long she had been there or in the shadows, watching.
    "You did good, Shorty," she said.  "I'm impressed."
    "Thanks," muttered the boy.  Praise from Anna was rarer than platinum, but to Manta, in his current condition, it felt like it was worth as much as lead.
    Anna came up to him and put her hand on his shoulder and sighed.  "Don't fall in love with ghosts, Manta," she said softly.  "There's no future in it, and it only leads to heartbreak."
    "Yeah," said Manta finally.  "I know."
    "But she was right about one thing," continued the young itako.
    "What's that?" asked the short student after a moment.
    "You probably could be a pretty decent shaman if you wanted to," she said.  "Obviously not as good as Yoh, but pretty fair."
    "I don't know..."
    "Think about it.  Talk it over with Mosuke.  I think that he would be more than willing to be your partner if you want."
    "Um..."  It was too much to think about while dealing with a broken heart.
    "You'll stay at our place for the night," said Anna.  "We will talk it over in the morning.  Yoh wants to know all about your adventure anyway."
    Manta smiled.  There were times when this strong willed young woman can be a decent human being.  And a good friend as well.
    He straightened up and took a deep breath.  It may be a long while, but he knew that he would be able to see Misa again.  He followed Anna into the yard of the haunted house.  He noticed that the lights were on and the smell of food was wafting through the open windows.  Despite of its history, the old inn was welcoming and warm.  Yoh came to the door at Anna's shout and he grinned at his best friend.  Manta smiled back.  Everything will work out in the end, Manta realised.
    He was with his friends.

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