Good Morning.  This story is a sequel to No Shaman Required and One Night's Ghostly Contemplation.   Actually, the whole ONGC story can fit around the middle of this fic.   This story is centered more around the anime than the manga, so there is quite a few spoilers in this tale in regards to the anime.   And I still prefer the name of 'Manta' over the name 'Morty' --I just do. ^_^

Just One More Shaman...
A Shaman King Fanfic
By: Niki "NeeP" Paradis

    Manta Oyamada woke to a bright sunny day at the En inn.  He felt the warm sun on his face, shining through the window in Yoh's room.  He felt strangely empty.  And sad.  It took a moment to put a name to what he was feeling.  Ah, yeah, that was it.  Melancholy...
    He had said good-bye to a ghost by the name of Misa only the night before.  He didn't expect to miss a ghost, but then again, he didn't think that he would have fallen in love with one either.  But he did fall in love with her, so it was only natural that he would miss her when she was gone.
    But before she left, Misa told Manta that she thought that he could become a great shaman.  The words didn't provide much comfort, but they did give the boy something to think about.  What did he do that made her think that he could ever be a shaman?  He helped a ghost complete her quest so that she could rest in peace.  Yeah, it involved letting her possess him, but that didn't really meant much, right?
    But they had also kissed.  That was different.  She had no physical form, but he was able to feel her lips against his and he felt her hand brush his cheek. 
    He caught his breath for a moment.  Before he could only see ghosts, but now he could touch them.  Yet another change in the already shaky world of Manta Oyamada.
    "Good morning, Manta," said a gruff voice that was more felt than heard.  Manta opened his eyes and looked into the semi-translucent face of Mosuke, the blacksmith. 
    "Good morning, Mosuke-san," replied the boy as he sat up and stretched.  He looked around the room.  "Where is everyone?" he asked the ghost of the sword smith.
    "Downstairs waiting for you.  It's almost time for breakfast."
    "Um, I don't know if I am really hungry this morning."
    "You must eat.  You won't get any bigger if you don't eat right."
    "Mosuke-san, let's face it --I'm small.  And I'm not going to grow taller any faster if you try and stuff me with food.  I'd just get fat."
    "Get up, Manta," growled Mosuke.
    "Okay, okay.  I'm getting up."  Manta got out from under the covers and reached for a robe and pulled it on.  He tied up the belt and turned towards the door of the room.  He paused and looked back at his ghost friend.  "Um, Mosuke-san?  Could you come here for a moment?"
    "What's going on, Manta?" asked the adult ghost as he drifted over to his small friend.
    "I just want to try something."  Cautiously, Manta put his hand towards where Mosuke's sleeve would be.  His fingers simply slid through the insubstantial sleeve.  There might as well have been nothing there.  Perhaps he was wrong about being able to touch ghosts.  The boy sighed.  "I didn't really think so," he mumbled softly.
    "What was that about?" asked the ghost, scratching his head. 
    "I just wanted to check something out.  Thanks, Mosuke-san."
    "Right.  No problem..."

    "Good morning, sleepyhead," called out Yoh as Manta made his way into the kitchen.  The young shaman was standing over the stove, preparing some vegetables to go with the morning's rice.
    "Good morning, Yoh-kun," the short blonde boy replied.
    "How are you feeling this morning, Manta-dono?" asked Amidamaru.
    "Better, I think."  Manta rubbed the back of his head ruefully.  "Thanks for asking."
    "That's good to hear," replied Anna. 
    "Wha..?"  Manta was a little surprised.  She never really inquired after his health before. 
    "We're short on dishes this morning, and I need you to wash them."
    "Oh."  That's more like it.  He should have known better than to expect much sympathy from Anna.
    "What are you thinking, girl?!?" protested Mosuke.  "Can't you see that he's had a hard time last night?!?"
    "What hard time?" asked the itako coolly.  "Shorty was possessed a few days ago, and since then, he managed to study, write an exam, go on a date, and talk to some old man about a statue.  If he wasn't fine, he'd still be unconscious."
    "..."  Everyone in the kitchen stopped what they were doing and looked at the blonde girl. 
    "Yeah, that's true!  It usually takes weeks for a normal person to recover from a possession," said Yoh slowly, with a knife and a carrot in his hands.
    "But Ryu was fine after a night's rest," protested Manta.  "Remember when Tokegero possessed him?"
    "But Bokuto no Ryu had latent abilities as a shaman," countered Amidamaru.  "He managed to become a shaman shortly after the incident.  Perhaps you have similar abilities."
    "Um, yeah...  Right..." said Manta as he tied an apron over his borrowed robe and clambered onto the step stool to reach the sink.  He turned the water on and added some soap.  He pretty much ignored the others as he watched the bubbles forming.  He was dangling his short fingers into the dishwater when he heard Yoh next to him.  "Yoh-kun?" he asked.
    "Yeah, I'd ignore them too," said the young shaman.  "You don't have to do anything that you don't want to do, Manta."
    "What do you think, Yoh-kun?" asked Manta as he started to place cups and glasses into the water to soak.
    "I think that you should leave that pudding incrusted glass until the end," said Yoh, looking into the sink.
    "I mean, what do you think about what Anna-san and Amidamaru said?"
    "Hmm."  Yoh thought for a moment.  "I think that you should do whatever you feel is right for you.  You're a pretty smart guy, Manta.  You can do anything that you want to.  But, I also know that you won't let anyone force you to do what you don't want to."
    Manta turned off the taps and picked up a glass from the water.  He paused as he brought up the dishcloth to it.  "Um..."
    "What's up?"
    "What's it like, Yoh-kun?" asked Manta to his best friend.
    "What's what like?" counter Yoh.
    "What's it like to be a shaman?"
    "Oh, that.  Shamans are just like everyone else."
    "Somehow, I really doubt it," sighed the small boy.
    "Think about it, Shorty," interrupted Anna.  "A shaman is a person with a job, they learn certain skills and they provide a service."
    "But the service is talking to ghosts, exorcising demons, dealing with spirits.  That's not a normal job description."
    "Maybe," said Yoh.  "But we gotta eat, sleep and we also have dreams just like everyone else."
    Manta paused.  "Oh," he said.  Then, "What's it like to wield an Oversoul?  To use it in a Shaman Fight?"
    "It's exhausting work."
    "I mean, while you're wielding it."
    "It's kinda hard to explain.  But don't you remember, Manta?  You did it twice."
    "I don't recall it really well," sighed the boy as he resumed washing the dishes.
    "You were wielding a giant hammer.  You couldn't do it for long, but it was amazing what you could do with it."
    "Yeah, right."
    "Really!"  Yoh wanted to say something more encouraging to his friend, but the raised voice of Anna came to him first.
    "Yoh!  You're burning breakfast!"
    "Whoops!"  Yoh ran to the stove to take the pan off the burner.  Manta smiled at his friend then turned to his task at hand.

    After breakfast was over, Manta got dressed into his school uniform.  He packed up his laptop and prepared for his trip home.  Mosuke hovered over him, watching him with a worried look on his face.
    "Are you sure that you're all right, Manta?" he asked.
    "I'm fine, Mosuke-san," replied the short blonde boy as he shrugged the laptop carrier onto his back.  "You don't need to baby me."
    "No.  I know that I don't.  But I do remember what it was like to kiss a pretty girl, and according to Amidamaru, your friend was quite the pretty ghost.  I wasn't thinking about 'babying' you as to talk to you, man to man."
    Manta blushed.  "It would never have worked out anyway.  The dead and the living can't live together in that way."
    "I don't know about that," mused the dead blacksmith.  "How about that Faust fellow and his wife?  She's a ghost."
    "I think that they're the only exception to the rule.  Besides, Faust-san is a necromancer.  He's been trying to bring Eliza-san back to life for a long time.  They've loved each other for a long time even before her death.  Their love is something unlike I ever saw before."
    "Yeah, they do kinda make you nauseous, don't they?" 
    "Maybe I just feel uncomfortable with the whole idea."
    Manta trudged down the stairs with Mosuke trailing behind him.
    "I will see you in school tomorrow, Yoh-kun!" he called as he headed for the entrance.
    "Yeah, take care, Manta!" Yoh called from the kitchen.
    Together, Manta and Mosuke went through the opening to the entrance.  Mosuke watched at the boy pulled on his sneakers.
    "Um, there's more that is bothering you besides the loss of your girlfriend, isn't there?"
    "What makes you think that?" asked Manta nervously.
    "Call it a dead man's intuition."  Mosuke grinned.  "I'd call it a gut feeling, but I don't really have a gut to feel with anymore."
    Manta shook his head and gave his newest friend a weak smile.  Sometimes, Mosuke's jokes were just a little tasteless.  "I guess that we should be going.  Right, Mosuke-san?" he asked.
    "I suppose so."
    "We can talk about this later."
    "Right."  Mosuke sighed.
    "Manta, wait," called out Anna as he was tying up his laces.  She walked into the entrance area.
    "What is it, Anna-san?" he asked hesitantly.  "Did I miss some of those dishes?"
    "No, it's not that.  I want to talk to you about what the ghost, Misa said to you last night."
    "About what?"
    "Hang on a sec."  She turned to the ghost.  "Go and entertain yourself elsewhere for a bit," she said to Mosuke.  "Manta and I need to have a talk."
    "Hey!" protested the dead swords-smith.
    "It's all right, Mosuke-san," said Manta.
    The ghost faded out and the boy turned to the young itako.  "What is it, Anna-san?"
    "I want to know what you think about what Misa said to you last night."
    "What she said to me last night?"
    "You could become a shaman, you know..."
    "Maybe..."  The boy shrugged.  So what?  "But why would I..."
    "Trust me --It would be in your best interests, Manta..."

    Outside the entrance, in the hall, Yoh, Amidamaru and Mosuke stood listening. 
    "Why doesn't Anna listen to me?" sighed Yoh.  "I told her not to bother Manta about this."
    "But he would be excellent as a shaman, if that is the path he chooses," whispered Amidamaru.
    "I just don't like leaving him alone with that girl," grumbled Mosuke.
    "Ahh, Manta can take care of himself."
    "I hope you're right."  But all three remained nervous. 

    "Why do you keep saying that?" asked Manta, suddenly angry.
    "What do you mean?"
    "Why are you insisting that I become a shaman?  I don't really want to.  Besides, Yoh-kun doesn't care if I become one or not.  We're best friends after all..."
    Anna slapped him.

    On the other side of the wall, the boy and the two ghosts winced at the sound of the slap.
    "Poor Manta," sighed Yoh.
    "Why does she act like this?" asked Mosuke.
    "Ahh, it's just the way she is," replied the boy.

    Anna was snarling.
    "Listen up, Shorty!" she said.  "It is because you are Yoh's best friend that you should study to become a shaman.  Even if it is for no other reason than because Hao and some of the other shamans know that you are his best friend.  Hao wants to get at Yoh so badly that there is nothing that he wouldn't stoop to --including using his brother's best friend against him --Like the way that Faust used you against Yoh that first time..."
    Manta swallowed.  He remembered that time.  He still got occasional nightmares from it.  Faust VIII still gave him the creeps even now...
    "Maybe it would be better if you stop being friends with Yoh," started Anna.  "That way...
    "I don't think so," interrupted Manta.  "Yoh-kun tried to drive me away once, because he didn't want me to get hurt.  But that didn't work, remember?  I had to stay with him --because he is my friend.  And friends should stick together during such important times."
    "And that's what I'm trying to get at, stupid.  It is because you are Yoh's best friend, that you are his biggest risk and liability.  Actually, all of Yoh's friends are at risk.  But the others, like Horohoro and Chocolove, can take care of themselves.  You can't.  And because you can't defend yourself against other shamans, Yoh worries about you.  Shouldn't you at least learn to defend yourself?!?"
    Manta swallowed a retort and thought about what Anna just said.  He never thought about it like that before.
    "Um, I don't know," muttered Manta.
    "Think about it, Shorty.  If Hao or some other lowlife were to kill you, how do you think that would make Yoh feel?  How do you think he would react?"
    "He would go into a deep depression.  He would lose interest to become Shaman King."
    Manta was quiet, he hadn't thought about it like that before.
    "And do you realise that my plans to become the wife of the Shaman King would be ruined?!?"
    Manta sighed.  There was no way that he could reply to that.  Not safely, at any rate.
    "I will think about it," he said, lamely.

    Yoh was shaking his head.  He was going to have to try and explain to Anna, once again, why she should not be threatening his friends.
    "But what do you think, Yoh-dono?"
    "Hmmm?"  Yoh's ear was pressed against the wall.
    "Do you think that Manta-dono would be a good shaman?"
    "Manta?  He'd be awesome, but it's gotta be up to him.  Anna shouldn't be trying to force him like this."
    "Force him like what?" said another voice.  The boy and the two ghosts turned slowly to see Anna glaring at them. 
    "Um, hi Anna..." grinned Yoh weakly.
    "Why were you spying on me?" she asked quietly while a aura of flaming anger began to build up around her...
    The boy threw up his hands in defence, and grinned weakly at his fiancé.  "Spying?  What makes you think that we were spying?"
    The old inn was suddenly filled with the sounds of gratuitous violence.

    Manta finally left Yoh's place, ruefully rubbing his cheek.  It was going to be a bit of a walk to the station, but the day was nice, and the road nearly deserted, so the boy really didn't mind.  It gave him a chance to think, and a chance to talk to Mosuke without anyone staring at him.
    "I wonder why Anna-san's is so determined for me to become a shaman," he asked of Mosuke.  "She has never pressured me like that before."
    "That's girl's a little hellion, all right," replied the ghost.  "But what do you think you should do?"
    "I don't know...  It's not like I'm trying to decide what to wear.  This is a major decision."
    "Yoh says that it's entirely up to you, you know."
    "I guess so.  But..."
    "But he thinks that you would do very well as a shaman --so does Amidamaru for that matter.  But Yoh says that it has to be your decision.  And while he thinks it would be great if you were to become one, he really doesn't care which way you choose, because you're his friend."
    "I think that both Yoh-kun and Amidamaru may be a little mistaken in my abilities."
    "Why?  Because you were unable to grasp my sleeve this morning?"
    "Maybe you were trying to hard."
    "What do you think, Mosuke-san?"
    "Hrmmm."  Mosuke stood still in thought, trying to formulate an answer.  Manta stopped walking and waited for him to answer.  "I think that if you were to choose to become a shaman, you would do well at it.  You would be able to find someway to fit that in with your studying.  However, despite what Anna says, you are very capable of holding your own as you are.  You're very smart, and you seem to know how to find answers.  And I've also seen you swing that huge book of yours around."  The ghost grinned at the short boy.
    Manta gave a weak smile back. "Um, speaking of books," he started.
    "I've got to study.  There's a test tomorrow."
    "All right," nodded Mosuke amiably.
    "Let's go home."

    Studying usually took place in Manta's room.  Since he had quit going to the cram school to spend more time with Yoh, he was pretty much obligated to do most of his studying in his bedroom.  Which was just as well.  The hours were more flexible and at home he had more access to resources via the Internet and family library than the Koeke Cram School.  His father has stipulated that if Manta's grades were to fall out of the 4.0 GPA range, he will be no long be permitted any free time at all --until the grades came back up, if at all.  Being faced with that fear, Manta learned to be a bit more efficient at studying.  With the fear that his father would find some way to keep him from visiting with Yoh, he really had no choice.
    Finally, Manta was able to close his textbooks.  He sighed with relief.  "I'm glad that's out of the way," he said.
    Mosuke was watching a movie on the television on the other side of the room.  The volume was set to low, but that didn't diminish his enjoyment of the old classic, The Seven Samurai.  The ghost had watched the movie seven times before, but still enjoyed seeing it.  Manta sat with him and finished watching the last fifteen minutes.
    When the credits started to go by, Mosuke turned to the boy.  "So, what is it that has you so upset?"
    "We were listening to what Anna was saying to you."
    "I'm not sure that I really want to be a shaman, Mosuke-san."
    "Not that it matters, but why not?"
    "Because..."  Manta sighed.  "I wouldn't be any good at it."
    "Why do you think that?"
    "I tend to freak out too much.  Ghosts still scare me at times...  Well, except for you, Mosuke-san."
    "I'm glad to hear that.  But I think there is more."
    "Mosuke-san, I know this sounds really dumb, but I kinda like being where I'm at now.  In a weird way, I am a part of two worlds.  The normal one of ordinary human beings, and the one of shamans.  While I want to be with Yoh-kun, Amidamaru and Anna-san and you too, Mosuke-san, I don't want to lose the world where I grew up.  I mean, Bokuto-no-Ryu hardly sees the rest of his gang anymore.  If I were to become a shaman, would I be able to do the other things expected of me?  Go to university?  Take over Otousama's business someday?"
    "I don't know, Manta.  I think it will have to depend on what you want to do."
    Manta looked at the ghost.  "What do you mean?"
    "Let's look at it this way.  Between the two worlds that you speak of, there is a long bridge.  Like one of the old ones, made of rope and wooden planking.  Right now, you are standing on that bridge, watching what is happening on both sides.  You're not in any rush to decide which way to go right now, because you are comfortable where you are at --and you enjoy the view.  But the winds of change are blowing, and they are starting to make the bridge swing.  At some point, the swinging will make it too dangerous to remain on the bridge and you will have to start moving towards one end or another.  You may have to decide quickly which end to head to before the bridge dumps you off."
    "Um, it's too much to think about right now," sighed the boy.  "I think that while that bridge is still, I will have to learn more before I figure out which way to go."  He stood up and yawned.  "Starting tomorrow."
    "Yeah," smiled Mosuke.  "There's no point in rushing to make a decision, is there?"
    "Right," agreed Manta as he climbed into his bed.  "I will start doing research on Shamanism and universities and everything tomorrow."  He pulled the blankets up around himself and lay down.  "Good night, Mosuke-san."
    "Good night, Manta."

    The moon came out from behind the clouds and Mosuke watched as his friend's breathing slowed down and became regular.  What a guy, he thought to himself.  He probably would make a good shaman.
    He spent the majority of the night watching over Manta.  *

    The sun was bright as it rose the next day.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky.
    Yoh's voice could be heard from the gate.  "Anna!  The mail's here!"
    "Did my magazines come in?"
    "Yeah, a few of 'em.  And there's something else."
    Yoh looked at the plain envelope that was addressed to him.  He opened it to discover a flyer.  He unfolded it and looked at the slightly blotchy print.
    "What is it about, Yoh-dono?" asked Amidamaru who appeared beside him.
    "It's a flyer for a...  A Shaman Conference!" exclaimed Yoh.
    "A conference?" asked the ghost.  It was a new word for him.
    "Yeah," explained Yoh.  "It a gathering of a lot of people to exchange ideas and methods and to take workshops."
    "Where is it at, Yoh?" asked Anna.
    "Um."  Yoh turned the sheet around to find the location.  "It's in China!" he exclaimed finally.
    "And when is it?"
    "Um, it's...  Um... This weekend!"  His face scrunched up in thought.  "Wouldn't it be cool to go?" he asked both Amidamaru and Anna.
    "Perhaps.  But we aren't going," said Anna as she opened one of her magazines.
    "Aw, c'mon, Anna!" protested Yoh.  "It'd be a great opportunity!"
    "Forget it, Yoh.  You know we can't afford it.  You do realise how much a plane ticket costs, right?"
    "We do have rent due."
    "Maybe we can walk there."
    "We won't have enough time to get there," growled Anna.  "Besides, we also have school.  Remember?"
    Yoh sighed.  "Then why did we get these flyers so late?" he asked.

    Elsewhere, in America...
    "Hey, Chief!" shouted a worker.  "Our Traditional Handcrafted Printing Press has broken down again!"
    "Again?!?"  Goldva, the chieftain of the Patch tribe growled under his breath.  While the tribe has always prided itself for its ability to construct everything that they had ever needed, it was very obvious that even they could only do so much on a shoestring budget.  The rest of the money had been needed to send the impoverished shamans home after the Shaman Fight.
    "Just get it working again," he sighed.  "We need to get the rest of those flyers out."
    "Right, Chief!"
    Goldva sighed again.  Why couldn't have Silva and Karim found a printing press to use in China?

    Manta met up with Yoh on the way to school.  He noticed his friend's glum face.  But Anna was nowhere around so he figured that it was safe to ask if she was the cause of Yoh's mood.
    "Hey, Yoh-kun," he said.  "What's wrong?"
    "Um, got a flyer from the Patch Village this morning?"
    "It's something that Yoh-dono wants to do," supplied the samurai ghost.  "But Anna-dono says that we cannot."
    "Yeah," agreed the young shaman. "It's a shame that we can't go on that trip, eh, Amidamaru?"
    "Truly, Yoh-dono."  The samurai ghost sighed.
    "A trip?" asked Manta.
    "Yeah."  Yoh shoved the flyer he was holding in front of his friend's face.  "It's a Shaman's Conference.  Apparently, a bunch of shamans will be getting together, exchange ideas and learn new things.  Everyone will also get a chance to spar one another.  And it's not just for Shaman King contestants."
    "I want to go, but it's in China, and I can't afford a plane ticket.  Ahh well."
    "Um, Yoh-kun?"
    "There will be all sorts of shamans there, and they won't be fighting?"
    "That's right.  They will be sparring, not actually trying to hurt each other.  I think it would have been fun."
    Manta was quiet for a moment, as if in deep though.  "Um, how about it if I get the family plane to fly us all out there?" he asked.
    "You know, Horohoro-kun, Pirika-chan, Ren-kun --if he wants to come, that is.  Bokuto no Ryu...  And any of the others."
    "That'd be great, Manta.  Can you really do that?"
    "Yeah, sure.  I'd like to learn more about shamans, Yoh-kun.  This would be a great chance for me to do it."  He crossed his fingers behind his back.

    But it was later in the evening when Manta finally gathered enough courage to do the highly improbable.  Normally, Manta would talk with the pilot who was a retainer of the family --the man would cheerfully take Manta on short jaunts as he went about his work.  Yeah, he promised Yoh that he would get the family jet.  But now he regretted making such a promise.  His father had returned home that afternoon in a surprise visit.  Usually, he was gone for months or years at a time.  But now, Manta's father was home, and his father was not an easy man to deal with.
    "You don't have to do this, Manta," said Mosuke.
    "Yes, I do," muttered the short boy and he pushed his way into his father's home office.
    A short older man, with greying blonde hair and a thin moustache, sat in a leather chair at an oak desk.  He looked towards the intruder with a grim look on his face.
    "Otousama?" asked Manta reluctantly.  He hoped that he managed to catch his father in a good mood, but that seldom happened.  This was apparently one of those usual times.  It was obvious that his old man was not in a good mood.
    "What is it, Manta?" asked Oyamada Mansumi.  "I’m very busy right now."
    "I was wondering if I may borrow the jet..."
    "And why would you want to do that?"
    "I was wondering if my friends and I could go to China this weekend..."
    "Would these friends include Asakura Yoh by any chance?"
    "Um..."  There really was no point in lying.  His father always managed to find things out in the long run.
    "Um, yeah."  Manta couldn't meet his father's gaze.
    Mansumi slammed his fist on the desktop.  "Speak properly, Manta!" he commanded.  "I don't ever want to hear you speak like an uneducated lout."
    "Yes, Otousama." 
    The old man snorted.  "Why do you insist on this foolishness, Manta?!?  You know that I don't like it when you hang around these bums that you call your friends!  Especially this Asakura Yoh."
    "But it would be educational.  And I would be learning about China too while I'm at it."
    "And what if I have need of the plane this weekend?"
    "Um," Manta had to think.  "I suppose that we can ask Ren-kun.  His family has a jet...  And to him, I guess it would be more like a visit home.  He would more than likely be going to China this weekend, it would just take a bit longer --His family's jets would have to come from China to get him."
    "Ren-kun?" asked the older man.
    "Tao Ren," clarified the boy.  "He's a friend, sort of..."
    Mansumi started.  "Did you just say Tao Ren?  As in of the Taos --the great Tao family of China?"
    "Yeah, I suppose so," said Manta, forgetting to watch what he was saying.  But Mansumi didn't notice.
    "Hmmm.  And would this Tao Ren would be one of the friends that you wanted to take along on this trip of yours?"
    "Yes.  It would save him time."
    The older man stroked his moustache.  It would be useful to have the Taos in debt to him in some way.  A round trip for heir of the Tao family would be cheap when compared to the potential business opportunity.  "All right, Manta.  You may take your friends to China for the weekend.  But I absolutely do not want to see your marks suffer.  You understand me?"
    "Yes, Otousama.  Thank you."
    Mansumi grunted.  "You may go.  As I have said, I am very busy right now."  He shuffled his paperwork as if to emphasise the point.
    Manta fled from his father's office.

    "No offence, Manta," said Mosuke as they went down the hallway.  "But your father is a conniving bastard."
    Manta sighed.  "I know."  He looked up at his friend.  "But don't worry about it, Mosuke-san.  I am very aware that he can be difficult."
    "I guess you would."
    "Let's go tell Yoh-kun the good news."
    "All right."

    After changing out of his school clothes, Manta tiptoed down to the kitchen. 
    The head cook was sympathetic to Manta's need to escape the confines of his family life.  He usually left a window unlocked with a chair placed under it.  This was Manta's usual escape route when his father was home.  Otherwise, he would just leave through the back door, and the security would wave him on his way.  But when Mansumi was home, everyone had to take extra precautions.  No one wanted to incur the wrath of the old man.
    The kitchen was mostly dark with patches of light coming from the windows.  A chair stood under one of them.  Manta had the window open and one leg over the sill when he heard a soft giggle from the darkness of the kitchen.
    "Are you going out to visit your friend again, Oniisama?" taunted the voice.  "You know that Otousama is going to be very angry once he finds out."
    Manta sighed.  "What do you want, Mannoko?  Were you following me?"
    Manta's little sister came into the light that shone from the window.  Mosuke had to struggle to keep from sniggering.  Put Manta into frilly pyjamas and ribbons, and he would pass easily for a (slightly) taller version of Oyamada Mannoko, even though there was an eight-year difference.  But all silly ideas aside, the little girl posed a problem.
    "I wasn't following you, Oniisama," said the five-year-old girl in a sugary voice.  "I just came to get a glass of milk and I saw you up on the chair.  I don't want you to get in trouble again."
    Yeah, right, thought Mosuke.
    Apparently Manta was thinking along the same lines.  "Okay, Mannoko-chan.  What do you want from me?"
    "There's a new dolly that was in a commercial earlier today.  She walks and talks and teaches Spanish."
    "Teaches Spanish?" asked Manta disbelievingly.  "A doll like that has got to be expensive."
    "I guess so," sighed the little terror.  "But I know that you can get it for me, right Oniisama?  Or I can scream right now and say that I thought you were a burglar."
    Manta winced.  His dear little sister had him again.  He sighed.  "Okay, Mannoko-chan.  I will try to get you the doll tomorrow."
    "I'll give you a week," nodded the girl.  "I know that you are busy with your friend."  She smirked.  "You better get going.  You have school tomorrow."
    Manta scowled back at his sister, then dropped over the windowsill onto the lawn.

    Both boy and ghost were heading to the Funbari district. 
    "I don't know who has it worse," grumbled Manta to Mosuke.  "Yoh-kun with Anna-san torturing him all the time, or me with Mannoko constantly blackmailing me."
    "You should find some way to blackmail her back," suggested Mosuke.  "Give her a reason to leave you alone."
    "As much fun as that sounds, I don't think I have anything that I can hold over her."
    "How about the fact that she sucks her thumb?"
    "She still does that?  She told Mama and Otousama that she didn't.  Um, how do you know that, Mosuke-san?"
    "I go exploring on some nights.  Your house is pretty interesting, Manta.  I am also under the impression that your little sister still wets her bed as well.  I have seen her change the bed-sheets herself."
    Manta snickered.  "That's pretty funny.  But do you think it will work against her?"
    "Manta, your sister has about as much pride as your father."  Mosuke chuckled.  "I'm willing to gamble that it will work like a charm."

    Yoh was finishing up his homework when he heard Manta's voice from the front gate.
    "Hey, Yoh-kun!  I got the plane!  We can go to China!"
    "Shut up, Manta!" yelled Anna as she threw a book at the boy through the window.  We're trying to do our homework."
    The short boy picked himself off of the lawn, rubbed his head, brushed himself off, picked up the book that hit him and went inside.
    Once he was in the living room of the inn, Manta repeated his sentence.
    "Hey, Manta!" exclaimed Yoh with a huge grin on his face.  "That's great!  Thank you!"
    "What's this about a plane?" asked Anna.
    "I got permission to use the family plane to fly us all to China for that shaman conference."
    "That's nice," replied Anna.
    "That's nice?!?" exclaimed both Yoh and Manta.
    "I think it's great!" said Yoh. 
    "You are coming, aren't you Anna-san?" asked Manta.
    "Of course I am, dummy.  Someone's got to keep an eye on Yoh."
    "We get to go to the Shaman Conference!" shouted Yoh, punching the air.
    "I'm very happy for you, Yoh-dono!" exclaimed Amidamaru, crying in joy for his master.
    There was the sound of footsteps from the entranceway.  An accented voice called from the hallway.  "Did someone mention a trip?"  Faust VIII entered the living room.  "Hello, Manta-kun," he greeted the short boy.  "Hello, Yoh-kun, Anna-san."
    "Hey, Faust.  Welcome back.  How was your trip?" asked Yoh.
    Faust came striding in, with a huge burlap sack over his shoulders.  Eliza, the ghost of his dead wife, came in after him, smiling at everyone.  "It was great," he said.  He set the sack down with an ominous clatter.  "I found everything that I was looking for."  He knelt down and reached into the bag and with another clatter, he rummaged around in it and pulled out a human femur.
    "Oh, really?" said Yoh faintly.  Manta turned green.
    "Oh, yes.  I even found a working pituitary for Manta-kun."
    "A pituitary for Manta?" echoed Yoh weakly.
    "Yes.  The Pituitary gland."  Faust pulled out a small bottle holding a soggy little um, uh ...something.  Proudly, he showed it to his audience, unaware of the greenish cast of their faces --even Anna's.  He continued in a cheerful voice.  "It assists in producing hGH --the human growth hormone, among other things.  It apparently worked very well in the fellow that I took it out of.  He was almost two metres tall.  If this fellow hadn't been hit by the speeding wall, he would have been able to grow at least another twenty centimetres."  He smiled again.  "If you like, Manta-kun, I could install this in within minutes."
    Manta went from green to white.  He whimpered.  "No thank you, Faust-san."
    "Oh?  Oh well, I will keep it in case you change your mind."
    "Yeah, you do that..."
    "Would you put that away already?" demanded Anna of the necromancer.  "I'd like to keep a clean inn."
    Yoh changed the subject.  "Well, anyway...  Thanks for the ride, Manta."
    "A ride?" asked Faust.
    "Yep," replied Yoh.  "Manta offered us a trip to China to go to the Shaman Conference."
    "Oh, that's wonderful," exclaimed the necromancer happily.  "Don't you think so, dear?" he asked of Eliza.
    The ghost of the dead nurse nodded.
    "Thank you very much Manta-kun," smiled the tall, half-dead blonde.
    "No problem, Faust-san, Yoh-kun," replied Manta.
    "Wait a sec," said Yoh suddenly.  "Speeding wall?" he asked Faust.
    "Yes.  There was a new movie being filmed last month.  Apparently a trailer carrying a wall section for a castle in one of the scenes got disconnected from the truck, rolled downhill and hit this poor fellow who was operating one of the cameras."

    Friday afternoon was clear and cool.  There was a slight breeze stirring up the dead leaves. Everyone waiting at the Oyamada private compound at the Tokyo International Airport shivered into his or her jackets. 
    "What is holding everyone up?" demanded Anna.  "I have no wish to arrive late."
    "We've got plenty of time, Anna," replied Yoh.
    "What's holding the plane up?" demanded the blonde itako.
    "We're still waiting for a few people, Anna-sama," said Tamao quietly.
    "Well, I don't think that we should be waiting for much longer," said Anna coolly.  "We have a reputation to maintain.  And being tardy isn't it."
    "She don't know you very well, does she?" whispered Horohoro to Yoh.
    "The word is 'doesn't', idiot!" muttered Anna as she casually backhanded the Ainu.  "Not 'don't'."
    "Don't you hit my brother!" shouted Pirika as she stormed her way in front of Anna.
    "What's it to you?" asked Anna of the younger girl.
    "It's my job to discipline him if he gets out of line.  Not yours!"
    Anna blinked.  "You're so right," she said.  "I should have left it to you."  It was the closest that Anna was going to get to an apology.  Pirika took it as such and nodded.   
    "Thank you," she said.
     Horohoro shuddered at the exchange.  "Why me?" he whimpered.
    Kororo just glared at the girls.  The little leaf sprite was not stupid enough to get in the way of these girls, but she didn't like just floating around while people beat up on her partner.
    "Who are we waiting on?" asked Amidamaru to Yoh.
    "I dunno."  Yoh called out to his best friend on the other side of the compound.  "Hey, Manta!  Who're we missing?!?"
    "Just Ren-kun, Jun-san and Pyron," Manta shouted from his perch on the top of the boarding stairs.  The boy was shivering and his yellow and brown jacket wasn't enough to keep the chill wind out.
    "Hmmph," said a low voice behind them.  "If that is the case, there isn't any reason to be waiting any longer, is there?"
    Everyone turned to face Tao Ren and his sister.  Pyron was looking menacing as always, standing by Tao Jun's side.
    "It's about time you showed up!" yelled Horohoro. 
    "I would've used our family jet if they weren't all so busy doing family business," said Tao Ren stiffly.
    "Yeah, sure," countered Horohoro.
    "But we're here now," said Jun.  "Perhaps we should board and get out of the cold."
    "I'm all for that," replied Manta as he dashed into the plane's cabin.
    "We're all boarding now, Captain," he said to the pilot.  "We should be able to take off in a few minutes."
    "That's good to hear, Manta-kun."  The pilot touched his cap. 
    Everyone was starting to take their seats.
    "It's great that Manta was able to score us this free ride," said Horohoro to Kororo as he started up the boarding stairs.  The Ainu snowboarder then burst into the cabin towards the shortest boy and pounded on his back enthusiastically.  "Thanks Manta!" he cheered.
    Manta almost fell to the ground.  "You're welcome, Horohoro-kun," he said.
    "So we are really going to fly in this metal contraption?" asked the ghost, Tokegero to his partner.
    "Yeah," replied Bokuto no Ryu.  "We shall go to China in luxury."
    "Ah, so we are moving up in the world, eh boss?"
    "Things seem to go our way at least," agreed Ryu.  "But it's a shame that I couldn't bring my ride.  But Manta says that there isn't enough room."

    The plane took off shortly after, and for the most part, it was a quiet trip.  Well, there was Pirika yelling at Horohoro to train.  And Ryu was trying to hit on Tamao, only to be attacked by Ponchi and Conchi.  Anna had Yoh in the Electric Chair stance.  But other than that, it was quiet.  Ren was being Ren in a corner, and Jun was stitching up a gash in Pyron's arm.
    Manta turned on the laptop.  Mosuke's face peered at him from the screen.
    "You seem excited," said the ghost to the boy.
    "Yeah," Manta nodded.  "There's going to be shamans from many different countries.  And this time, there won't be the harsh competition that there was at the Shaman Fight.  Things should be a lot calmer."
    "Yeah," grinned Mosuke.  "I seem to notice that you like things calm."
    "That's for sure."  He liked it calm, but he was excited about the things he was planning to learn.  Humming to himself, Manta opened his files that contained all of the information that he had managed to gather about shamans and shamanism.  He had been at this for a while, and it was already well known by many shamans that Manta Oyamada had the most comprehensive compilation of Shaman information to be found outside of the Patch tribe.  He was proud of his work and he was very careful with it.  He had made a few backups of the existing files that he kept at home, at a safety deposit box and at Yoh's place. 
    He also had a bunch of information regarding high schools and universities sitting on his laptop.  He had promised that he would look into what would be available and how he wanted to work towards his future.  But there were so many choices in universities and to be honest, Manta had no idea what field that he wanted to go into.  He sighed, and closed the spreadsheets that had all of the school info and then opened his shamanism database.  That was more enjoyable than the stuffy information regarding the universities.  And the correlation of the data kept him busy for the rest of the flight.

    The plane touched down in a remote airport.  Everyone got off and put their luggage down onto the ground.  Manta then waved to the pilot and soon the plane was taking off again.
    "Well," he said to the others.  "We're here in China.  In plenty of time for the Shaman Conference."
    "Cool," said Horohoro.  "Now, how are we getting there?"
    "I have made the other arrangements," replied Ren loftily.  He waved his hand towards a couple of coaches that were steadily making their way towards them.  Everything seemed normal about them until they came close enough for every to make note of the tags on the heads of the horses and the coachmen.
    Manta swallowed as the coaches came nearer.  "Great," he said weakly.
    But once inside one of the coaches, Manta relaxed.  The inside seemed relatively normal if a little overdone.  He sat with Yoh, Anna, Jun, Pirika, and Pyron.  Horohoro, Ren, Ryu and Faust were in the other coach.  Ren would have liked to sit with his sister, but he didn’t want her exposed to Bokuto no Ryu’s attentions.  Horohoro felt the same way.

    Manta was still going through the information on his laptop.  He was listening to the sounds around him as he worked.  He listened to Yoh’s snoring, and to the faint sounds of Horohoro, Ren and Ryu fighting in the other coach.  He wasn’t disturbed much by the noise, he had grown used to it long before.  He looked up at the others, Yoh was sleeping, practically curled up around Amidamaru’s sword.  Anna was reading a magazine about fashionable inns, mumbling quietly to herself as she made mental notes.  Tamao was sitting still, staring at her hands in her lap.  Jun was busy sewing an old cut on the arm of Pyron, commenting to the dead fighter that he should take better care of himself.  Manta shuddered momentarily at the sight then glanced at Pirika was trying very hard not to look at Jun and Pyron.  She was making little whimpering sounds as she tried to focus on looking out the window.  Manta sympathised with her, gave her a little encouraging smile, and turned back to the laptop.
    The coaches stopped at the side of a cliff.  A rope and wood bridge was suspended from the nearest end to a large plateau in the middle of the gully.  Guarding the bridge stood a familiar figure.  Everyone clambered out of the coaches to stand in front of Karim of the Patch tribe.   The depth of the gully between where they stood and the plateau was approximately one kilometre deep.  And on the plateau itself, there was what appeared to be a stone wall about one hundred metres high, and it took up most of the surface of the plateau, leaving barely enough room around the circumference to walk along.  There was no entrance to be found, so most everyone assumed that the entrance was quite likely on the other side.

    Karim greeted them with a smile that seemed out of place on his harsh face.  He handed out pamphlets regarding the events of the Shaman Conference.  He frowned slightly at the sight of Pirika and Manta as if he were uncertain about something, but shrugged and the frown went unnoticed.

    They all crossed the bridge to the plateau on the other side.  Silva was overseeing the shamans that were coming in.  He greeted Yoh and the others with a smile.  But the smile faded when his eyes fell on Manta.  He neatly stepped in front of Manta, cutting him off from his friends.
    "I'm truly sorry, Manta-kun," said Silva.  "But only shamans are allowed to cross the bridge and attend the conference."
    "But Silva," replied Yoh.  "This is Manta.  He's helped out so many times, why can't he go?"
    "Because the Conference is for shamans only."
    "Aww!" cried out Pirika.  "That's not fair."
    Horohoro crossed his arms.  "So what will my little sister do while I am attending this gig?  I just can't leave her here!"
    "I have arranged for a room back in town," said Ren with a slight sniff.  "Complete with cable and a hot tub."
    "Oh!" exclaimed Pirika.  "That's all right then.  I can wait for you there, Oniichan," she exclaimed to her brother.
    "I will walk back with you two," offered Silva.
    "Thanks, Silva-san!" smiled Pirika.
    Manta nodded and with a quick look back at his best friend, he followed the tall Patch shaman back to the other side of the bridge.
    "I'll tell you everything when we get back, Manta!" shouted Yoh.  "Promise!"
    "Have fun, Yoh-kun!" called Manta back, brightly.  But his heart wasn't in what he was saying.

    Yoh watched as his best friend walk away.  "Poor Manta," he said softly to Amidamaru.  "He really was looking towards this." 
    "It doesn't seem fair," muttered Horohoro.  "If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be here."  Everyone else nodded as they walked on.  Then Horohoro stopped.  "Someone's gonna pay for this!" he yelled, punching the air with a indignant fist. 
    "Will you knock it off!" muttered Ren as he smacked the Ainu on the backside of his head. 
    "Geez," muttered Horohoro, rubbing the back of his head.  "Be like that, why don't you..." 
    They resumed their journey down the narrow path.  They were about to walk around the bend, out of sight of Manta and Pirika.  Yoh gave his best friend a positive look and one more wave when there was a brilliant flash of pale yellow light.  Out of reflex, he already had the sword, Harusame out of its carrier, and brought up his Oversoul before he turned to face what appeared to be a poorly formed glowing, uh, blob.

    "What on earth is that?!?" demanded Mosuke from behind the small boy.
    "It's a surprise attack!" cried Manta.  "Some sort of Oversoul!"
    "That's NOT fair!" shrieked Horohoro's little sister.  "This was supposed to be a peaceful gathering!"
    "That does not look like a peaceful gathering to me," growled the ghost of the sword smith.
    "Be careful, Oniichan!!" shouted Pirika from across the huge chasm.

    "What the hell is that?!?" yelled Ren.
    "Something big and ugly," called out Horohoro.  "Whatever it is, it's about to get its ugly face kicked in."
    "It definitely isn't pleasant to look at," commented Faust to his companions.
    "I've never seen anything like it, Yoh-dono," said Amidamaru's voice from the glowing Oversoul Sword.
    "I have the feeling that we're gonna see a lot more of it before we can continue on," grinned Yoh.  But his smile faded as he saw that the glowing blob was starting to grow tentacles and take on a familiar shape of a particular sea creature.  "A lot more..."

    Manta watched from the other side of the bridge.  The odd spirit apparition was starting to grow.  Behind it, he could see the figure of the shaman who was apparently controlling the thing.  He tried to yell to the others, but the wind blowing through the pass made it impossible to be heard.   He saw that the odd Oversoul squid creature was huge and apparently very strong.  But the shaman on the other side of it was virtually defenceless.  But his friends were occupied with what was in their face and even if they were aware of the shaman on the other side, they were unable to do anything about it.  He swallowed.  If only there was just one more shaman.  One more shaman could make all the difference.
    The huge squid lashed out with its tentacles.  It had hit Horohoro before he could freeze it.  The snowboarder was knocked back against the ground.  The Ainu grunted and Kororo popped out of the snowboard.  Another tentacle wrapped itself around Ren's halberd.  Ren was trying to free his weapon while focusing his furyoku into it.  Ryu was screaming like a little girl as another tentacle was tangled in his hair.  Tokegero was telling his partner to free himself by cutting it off.  Ryu screamed how he would rather die than do something like that.  Tamao was in the background, directing Ponchi and Conchi to help out, but she didn't have any real battle experience.  Faust and Eliza's blade were doing some damage but apparently not enough.  Pyron was fast with his attacks, but the huge squid apparently didn't feel much pain.
    "Why don't they do their big Oversouls?" exclaimed Pirika.  "That would take it out for sure!"
    Manta continued to stare at the battle as he replied.  "There isn't enough room.  They're stuck on a narrow path between a sheer wall and a deep gorge."
    "Then why don't they knock down the wall?"
    "There's probably people on the other side.  Not all of them are fighting shamans."
    "What can we do?!?"
    "I... I don't know."
    "Can't you do something to help my brother?" pleaded Pirika to Silva.
    "I'm afraid not," said Silva.  "This is the will of the Great Spirit.  I have been instructed not to interfere."
    "I don't believe this!!" growled Manta.
    "Manta!" exclaimed Mosuke as he appeared beside his friend.  "We've got to do something."
    "But what?" exclaimed the short boy.  "What can we do Mosuke-san?"
    "Think, Manta!  You're good at that." 
    Manta looked across the gully again.  The hidden shaman was easy to spot from his vantage point on the other side.  He looked towards the giant squid.  It was hovering over the ground, all of its attention focused on the young people in front of it.  If there was one more shaman, that person could run between the tentacles, under the giant squid and take the shaman controlling it by surprise. 
    "If there was only one more shaman..." said Manta softly.
    "There could be one," said Mosuke, in an equally soft voice.  "You know that."

    Silva and Karim were walking back to the bridge.  They had to keep the curious on-lookers away from the bridge.
    "I'm afraid that I don't understand," said Silva on his traditional handmade Patch cell-phone.  "Why is there such a battle going on?  Why can't we stop it?"
    Goldva's voice came through the earpiece.  "It is the will of the Great Sprit.  The Great Spirit wanted this test."
    "But the Shaman King competition has been suspended.  There shouldn't be such a battle."
    "Do not argue with the Great Spirit," reprimanded Golva.  "There is a reason.  You will watch and take note of what happens."
    "Yes, of course Chief," sighed Silva.  He ended the call, and turned to Karim.  "Goldva says not to interfere, but to just watch."
    "But it's not easy to watch such a battle as this one."
    "I know."

    Manta was still watching the battle.
    I've never really wanted to become a shaman before.  But Yoh needs me, and I am never gonna let him down.  It's just that it's hard to let go of what is familiar and comfortable --like my old life.  But I want Yoh-kun, and everyone else to know that they can always count on me.  And with that in mind, Manta took a step towards the bridge.
    He's been told that he had managed to do this twice before.  And he did the integration with Misa not too long ago.  Maybe there is something to what some people were telling him.  He reached behind and pulled his notebook computer out of his pack. 
    "Let's go, Mosuke-san!" he cried.
    "Right behind you, Manta," replied the ghost of the sword smith happily.  His form shimmered and the ghost became a small flaming ball.
    Manta reached his hand upward, and caught hold of the small glowing flame.
    "Mosuke!" he shouted.
    He held out his computer with his other hand and brought the flaming ball towards it.
    "Hyoi Gattai --Integrate!  Into the Computer!"  He pushed the glowing flame into the laptop.  There was a flash, and Manta was surprised to see that he was holding a glowing hammer instead of the computer.  He grinned momentarily in triumph.
    "Oversoul-Hammer!" he cried out as he brandished it.  Then he ran forward to help his friends.

    "Hey, Silva," said Karim.  "There is something that you should see."
    "Hmmm?" grunted the Shaman Officiator, still watching the battle, trying to digest what his chief had told him.
    "Manta-kun is coming this way again," said the scary-looking Patch.
    "Um.  Don't let him cross, Karim.  We have our instructions."  Almost absent-mindedly, Silva moved to block the foot of the bridge.  "Only shamans are allowed on the other side," he muttered.
    "I really think that you should see this," repeated Karim.
    "Hmm?"  Silva turned away from the battle, and saw something that he didn't expect to see.
    "Get out of my way, Silva-san!" cried Manta as he ran towards the bridge, waving his glowing hammer.
    "But..." Silva stammered, watching Manta baring down on him. 
    Karim tapped his friend on the shoulder.  "I think you better move, Silva."  When his friend didn't respond, he grabbed Silva by his sleeve and hauled him out of the way of the small boy.  "Besides, one more shaman may be enough to turn the tide of the battle."
    Silva blinked at Karim's statement, then grinned.  "You're right," he agreed.  "One more shaman would be more than welcomed."
    The two Patch watched as Manta charged in to help his friends.

    Yoh was occupied with fighting the Oversoul Squid thing.  His Oversoul Sword was making some damage to the ridiculous creature, but it was just shrugging the damage off.  His Oversoul Sword was making some damage to the ridiculous creature, but it was just shrugging it off.  "What does it take to finish this guy?!?" he asked exasperatedly.
    "You're supposed to be the leader!" shouted Ren.  "You're supposed to figure it out!"
    "There is someone on the other side of this squid thing!" gasped Yoh as he fought off another tentacle.
    "So how can we do anything about that?!" asked Horohoro, who was now just swinging his snowboard, swatting at the tentacles.
    "I don't know," admitted Yoh.  He knew that what needed was one more shaman.  Someone to dodge under all of the tentacles and defeat the shaman on the other side, while everyone else kept the giant squid occupied.
    Suddenly, a small yellow and glowing red blur dashed by the fighting shamans, ran under the glowing squid and disappeared from sight.
    "What was that?" asked Ryu as he paused for a moment.
    "Hey!" shouted Tokegero.  "Don’t let your guard down, idiot!"
    "Huh?"  Ryu’s eyes turned towards the incoming tentacle, and he screamed again as he brought up his bokuto to try and stop it.  But before he could be clobbered, there was a crash and the tentacle, along with the rest of the squid had completely disappeared.
    Now that the squid was gone, the shamans could now see an unconscious woman, dressed in similar robes as Silva and Karim, lying on the ground.  Standing beside her, holding a glowing red hammer, stood Manta.
    The short boy looked up and grinned weakly.  "Hi guys," he said as he disengaged his Oversoul.  He caught the computer before it could hit the ground and Mosuke reformed beside him.
    Everyone was staring with their mouths opened.
    "Manta?" asked Yoh in mild surprise. "I didn't think that I would ever see you up here."
    "Heh.  I didn't think I'd see me up here either," replied the short boy almost shyly.  "But I think I surprised myself."
    Another voice interrupted.  "You did very well, Oyamada Manta."  The Patch woman was sitting up and smiling.  A little tentacled spirit hovered beside her.
    "I’m really sorry about hitting you," Manta began hesitantly.
    "Nonsense.  You did what you needed to do, and that was what the Great Spirit wanted."
    "Lemme get this straight," interrupted Horohoro.  "This was all set up for Manta?!?"
    "Who are you?!?" demanded Ren, brandishing his spear at her.
    "My name is Patina.  I am a newly appointed officiator of the Shaman Fight, even though it has been suspended for the time being."  She smiled at Manta sand Mosuke as she stood up.  "And no, the test was not set up simply for Manta-kun.  But we of the Patch tribe are very glad that he came.  Congratulations, Manta-kun.  We know that as a shaman, you will do very well."      Patina then stepped off the ledge of the plateau, and her spirit expanded like a balloon, carrying her away on the wind.
Everyone watched her float away to the other side of the gully.  Then as she was floating over Karim and Silva, the squid-balloon deflated and the woman crashed down on the two men.  Then everyone turned away and focused their attention onto Manta again.
    "Congratulations, Manta-san!" exclaimed Tamao.
    "Good job, Manta-kun," nodded Faust.
    Almost everyone cheered the boy.  Horohoro was shouting and jumping in the background and didn’t care that Ren was telling him to have a little more decorum.
    "Yatta!" shouted Horohoro.
    "Will you knock it off?" muttered Ren.  "It's embarrassing."
    Yoh was silent though.  Manta went up to him.  His friend wouldn't look at him.
    "Yoh-kun?" he asked hesitantly.
    Yoh's face was hidden by the shadow cast by his bangs.  "Just wondering Manta  --are you aware of what you have done and what it means?"
    "Uh, yeah...  I have done an Oversoul.  But I saw what was happening from the other side of the bridge and I saw that one more shaman would have made all of the difference..."
    "And now that you have done the Oversoul, what does that make you?"
    "Yoh-kun?"  Manta wasn't sure where the conversation was going.
    "Tell me."  Yoh grabbed his friend by his shoulders.
    "I guess that I am a shaman now."
    "Say it again!" hissed Yoh.
    "I'm a shaman!" shouted Manta, knocking Yoh's arms away.  "I have chosen to do this!  It's my decision!" 
    Yoh was silent for a moment, then he looked to his best friend and grinned.
    "It's great to hear you say that, Manta.  And I'd like to congratulate you, but you gotta realise that Anna's gonna focus her torture program on you too."
    Manta swallowed.  "I guess so.  I never thought of that."
    "I heard that," came a low voice, full of menace.  Anna came out from... somewhere.  She looked at Manta.  "Well Shorty, I see that you finally decided to see things my way.  And you better believe that you will be training just as hard as Yoh."  She turned to her fiancé.  "And you, you thought it was hard before?  You're gonna be crying when I'm through with you."
Manta swallowed and shivered.
    "Told you," whispered Yoh.
    "I feel so sorry for those boys," whispered Mosuke to Amidamaru. 
    "Poor Yoh-dono," sobbed Amidamaru.

    They walked around the huge wall and entered the cave where the Conference was taking place.  There were familiar friends and allies that were astounded and glad to see Manta among them.  With Mosuke's help, Manta performed his Oversoul technique again and again for his audience.
    Then the sessions began.  Manta learned a lot more about shamanism and its history than he ever did before when he was just an observer.  He took notes, attended workshops and listened to advice.
    One old shaman was very impressed that Manta was able to do an Oversoul with his computer, but recommended that the boy should go find a sword smith's hammer.  "It would be a lot easier for you," the old man said.
    "I'll even show you how to use it," commented Mosuke with a grin.

    Outside, Patina picked herself off the ground and brushed off her robes. 
    "Well," she said, "that was a success."
    "Why couldn't the Chief just tell us what was going on?" demanded Silva.
    "We didn't want you to leak the information to Manta-kun.  He had to make the decision on his own.  And he did perform and excellent, if unusual Oversoul.  For most shamans, the medium of an Oversoul has to be related to the spirit that he was using.  But he used what he had on hand and the result was spectacular."
    "But why does the Great Spirit want Manta to become a shaman?" asked Karim.
    "Beats me," shrugged the woman.  "Who am I to ask the Great Spirit?  I'm not the Shaman King."
    "Then I guess that we will have to wait and see," replied Silva.

    It was lunchtime.  There was a lot of food for sale by the Patch, but many shamans brought their own lunches.  Those, for the most part were the shamans who stayed in the Patch Village for the Shaman Fight.
    Manta sat on the ground with his friends.  His eyes were shining with excitement as he recounted all that had happened that day.  "This is great!" he said.  "There's so much to learn, it's like stepping into another world."
    Most of the others smiled tolerantly.  They have been in the world that Manta spoke of for a long time now.
    "I never thought that I would ever become a shaman," Manta continued as he sipped his tea.  "I just didn't think that I could."
    "Of course you could do it," protested Mosuke, who was sitting down.  "I never had any doubts."
    "I knew that you could do it," smiled Yoh.  "But are you certain that this is where you want to be?"
    Manta knew that Yoh wasn't talking about the plateau or the Conference.  He stood up, took a deep breath and smiled.  He clapped a hand on his spirit-partner's insubstantial shoulder before replying.  "I wasn't sure that I wanted to be here before, but now that I am here, it feels right.  I feel like I am finally where I belong."

Otousama = 'Father', most formal version.
Oniisama = 'Big Brother', most formal version.
Oniichan = 'Big Brother', most familiar version

* This is where One Night's Ghostly Contemplation takes place.

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