Don't own any of them, wish I did, making no money off this. Enjoy – and remember, reviews always welcome! You may find it of help to understand my take on the Yoh-Hao situation if you read my other story, O Brother, Where Art Thou? (a one-shot)


The dust whipped around the arena, stinging the eyes of the audience and gritting in their throats even as they sat raptly in their seats, squinting against the glare of the unyielding sun. Occasionally the wind would die down long enough to allow a clear view of the fighters in the arena, but the rest of the time the only guide to what was happening came from the commentary of the hovering referee and the darting bright auras emanating from the battling shamans below.

Manta coughed helplessly again. "This is terrible, Silva!" he grumbled, standing on tiptoes to peer over the balcony rail. "Can't the Ten Priests do something about the weather? I can't see Yoh-kun at all! Or even Ryu's hair!"

Silva shrugged. In the pedantic – and, Manta had to admit, impressively sonorous – tone he adopted for giving orders and reading rules, the priest intoned, "A skilled sha-man is able to adapt to his environment – or change it to suit himself. The participants of the Shaman Fight are at liberty to do either as their strategy permits."

"Yes, but it doesn't really do much for the audience, does it?" mumbled Manta, sotto voce.

"I hope Brother Yoh is all right!" squeaked Tamao between sneezes. Anna, who was sitting beside her, simply rolled her eyes, although a careful observer would have noticed the itako's hands fidgeting nervously in her lap.

"What a bummer," sighed Horohoro, shifting in his seat. "I woke up early for this? Hey, maybe the fight is already over and we just can't see…." The rest of what he was about to say was lost as he swallowed a particularly large quantity of dust and fell off his seat coughing. The other members of Team the Ren wisely opted to keep their mouths shut, although Ren did deign to lean over and deliver an almost too-enthusiastic thump to the blue-haired Ainu's back, resulting in the latter wheezing even harder.

Tao Jun looked troubled. "This fight has been going on too long, Silva," she said softly behind the shield of an elegant Chinese fan, Pailong standing protectively close.

The priest nodded grimly. "Team DeEnd is very strong…and their history does not bode well. They were one of the teams who opted not to participate in the initial stages of the Shaman Fight because they did not wish to risk coming up against Hao. When the fight was reinstated after Yoh killed…defeated Hao, Team DeEnd took part in the preliminaries…and killed the priest who was sent to test them. Karim was not thrilled about being selected to referee this fight."

Lyzerg frowned. "I don't get it. If they are evil, why would they have avoided Hao?"

"Hao wanted a paradise, a utopian Shaman Kingdom, specifically. Team DeEnd just wants the power of the Great Spirit so that they can rule the world and bring chaos and destruction to it. Hao would not have agreed with that." Anna's prim, precise voice broke into the conversation. "If for nothing else than that Hao could never stand not being the one in charge. And had Team DeEnd gone up against Hao, they would definitely have lost. So they made a cowardly decision not to challenge him directly and so preserve their lives." She sniffed. "That makes them even lower than Hao. At least he put his powers out there to be tested."

Ren snorted. "Then Yoh should have no trouble with them, especially with Faust and Ryu to watch his back. Unless he isn't putting his heart into it."

"That's just it," Jun pointed out worriedly. "Yet the fight has been going on for almost an hour now."

"Well, there is another problem," Silva mused. "Team DeEnd believes in the philosophy, 'Kill or be killed.' Yoh doesn't believe in taking a life. But he may have to if he is to stop them…because they are unlikely to stop simply because the referee says it is over."

Pirika glared at the tall priest. "You realize this isn't helping, right?"

"Everyone! The sandstorm is dying down!" came a sudden cry from the bleachers off to their right. As one, the audience rose to its feet, straining for a good view of the current situation. Manta was nearly bowled over as Anna shoved her way to the front, her red scarf billowing out behind her.

Silva narrowed his eyes. This was not good. Ryu's Furyoku was definitely sputtering out, and he was kneeling on the ground, barely holding himself up with his wooden sword medium. Faust was standing, but only just, swaying exhaustedly from side to side, and Mephisto-E was flickering around the edges. Both teams were caked in dust, making them look like mud-monsters risen from the earth, and even Team DeEnd seemed to be collectively bent over, hands on knees, catching their breath.

"Where is that idiot?" muttered Ren under his breath, cat-like yellow eyes scaning the horizon feverishly. "Chocolove, do you see him?"

"No, not yet…no wait, there! Oh no, this doesn't look good."

Anna's knuckles were white as she stared helplessly down at her fiancé. Yoh looked terrible. There was a gash in his cheek, and he had lost his headphones at some point during the battle. He was obviously limping, and part of his left pant leg had been torn away, exposing a raw and bloody calf wound. As they watched in shock, he staggered forward, placing himself between his teammates and Team DeEnd, but then his knees buckled and he sank to the ground, facedown, unmoving, Amidamaru's spirit ball form hovering over him flapping its armor in a manner that suggested incipient hysteria. Anna's knees gave way at the same time, but she at least had Lee Pailong to catch her on the way down.

"It looks like the battle will be over soon," coughed Horohoro.

"Baka, that's obvious! But in whose favor?" Ren snapped. "Yoh, you lazy idiot, GET UP! GET UP!"

"Oh no…." whispered Manta. Team DeEnd had apparently pulled themselves together and the aura of their Furyoku began to brighten. On Team Funbari Onsen's side, Ryu dragged himself slowly towards Yoh. They could hear his hoarse voice.

"Faust! We…must…protect…Master Yoh!"

"Hai!" And Faust took a deep breath, steadying himself.

"Pathetic!" roared Team DeEnd. "You are obviously outmatched and yet you are still worrying about the life of this boy? He is not worth the effort! How he could have defeated Hao is beyond understanding!"

"Don't you dare insult Brother Yoh!" shrilled Tamao, close to tears.

Lyzerg was hyperventilating. This was bringing back bad memories of finding his parents' bodies. What was wrong? Why was Yoh not getting up? Why was….

"He's not using his Spirit of Sword!" wailed Manta incoherently. "Yoh, you can do it! Why are you hesitating? Wake up, wake up! You can't be dead again!"

With an earthshaking roar, Team DeEnd advanced.

With a last, desparate cry, Ryu and Faust threw themselves forward.

Karim's voice rang out, strained. "I can't see what's happening…wait, wait, the dust is clearing…Great Spirit!"

"No…" whispered Horohoro. Ryu and Faust lay sprawled on the ground near Yoh. One of Ryu's legs was twisted at an unnatural angle, and he was mercifully unconscious. And while Faust was physically intact, it was also obvious his Furyoku was rapidly fading. Team DeEnd towered over the fallen trio.

Silva swallowed hard. "If Karim calls the fight now, we can still save…."

"No!" hissed Anna. "It's not over until ALL of them are unable to maintain their Oversouls. Do you think Yoh would want it any other way?"

Team DeEnd laughed, a terrible laugh devoid of mirth. "As we said before. Pathetic. Still resisting. And for that, you will die a slow and painful death." A huge axe appeared in the air, blade raised high, and as the audience watched on in horror, it began to swing down towards the prone trio.

Manta screamed.

Anna bolted for the rail.

There was a loud flash. A thunderous clang. A huge cloud of earth raining down.

And then suddenly, rain.

The rain pelted down heavily, beating the dust back into the ground and then abruptly stopped. The winds which had been churning up till that point died immediately, leaving an eerie silence. As if pulled by the strings of a master puppeteer, the heads of all in the stadium swiveled slowly towards the arena, unable to look away, unable to even blink. The air was humming with the feeling of unimaginable power barely leashed, barely in control. And in the very center of the arena stood the source of it all.

"Yoh…." Ren forced out through dry, stiff lips.

The young shaman stood there in his characteristically relaxed position, seemingly unware of the dark pool of his blood that stained the sands beneath his feet. In his hands was a pair of swords, both glowing a blinding shade of blue, crossed in the middle, preventing the axe from descending any further.

"How is he standing?" gasped Chocolove.

Horohoro grinned wolfishly. "That's our Yoh, always finding a way to make the impossible, possible."

"Impossible!" rumbled Team DeEnd in shock. "You were practically dead!"

"I'm tougher than I look," came the casual retort. "I just needed a nap, that's all."

"You may have some Furyoku left, but your teammates are done for," declared Team DeEnd brutally. "So you die a little later. It is of no consequence. We can kill you first instead of last."

"There will be no killing today," replied Yoh softly. A chill ran up Lyzerg's spine when he heard that light, inflectionless tone. It was devoid of warmth…it sounded so familiar somehow….

"Oh, but we think there will be!" And the axe abruptly swung up and free, and then swiped around, aiming directly for Yoh's head. Or where it had been. Because Yoh suddenly wasn't there anymore.

"What are you aiming at?" asked Yoh curiously from a couple of feet away. Enraged, Team DeEnd hurled itself at the boy, and again, he simply…wasn't there.

"When did he learn to teleport?" whispered Ren. "And why didn't he tell us?"

"I don't know," mumbled Horohoro, rubbing his eyes in disbelief as he watched the scene repeat over…and over..and over again.

Team DeEnd had tired of this turn of events. "Very well, if you will not stand still and die, then run and watch your friends be killed instead!" And the axe materialized over Ryu and Faust. The former couldn't see it, as he was still unconscious and quite dead to the world. The latter simply blinked, confident to the last in his leader and in the love of his beloved Eliza.

The friends cringed. Yoh simply smiled.

The axe faded into nothingness just as it brushed Faust's hair.

"I told you," said Yoh mildly, "that there would be no killing today." A foreign, harsh note crept into his voice. "But I did not say that there would be no pain. You hurt my friends, and I find that very difficult to overlook." And with that, he raised the two swords in his hands and brought them down in a cross-slashing motion. Twin curved arcs of red bloomed in the air and hurtled towards Team DeEnd, who instinctively crouched to receive the attack.

Silva stiffened. Something was different about Yoh's attack. The power behind it had been so immense, and he had felt that same power cause the rain to start and the wind to stop. And suddenly he knew what was going to happen. "Yoh! Don't!"

But it was too late. As the Halo Blades flew through the air towards Team DeEnd, they burst into scorching flames, the heat of which could be felt by the audience. They sliced into Team DeEnd's shields, completely dissipating their target's Furyoku, singeing the hair off the three shamans and leaving them screaming in pain before exploding with a fury that left everyone's ears ringing. All eyes turned to Yoh, who stood there calmly, a slight smile playing about his lips and an unfelt wind whipping his hair about his face without the confinement of his lost headphones. Ren tensed. With the longer length Yoh had been sporting since their last visit to Patch Village, Yoh was looking…very much like….

Karim coughed desperately, trying to get moisture to his throat. "Ah…the winner, Team Funbari Onsen!" There was a moment of stunned silence, before the audience began to clap somewhat uncertainly. Anna was glassy-eyed, holding on to the railing for support. Tao Jun had buried her head in Pailong's shoulder. Tamao was crying tears of relief into the nearest available cloak, which happened to belong to a shocked Lyzerg. Team the Ren stood frozen to the spot, along with Manta. Pirika was furiously working her brother's Oracle Bell, trying to get an updated Furyoku reading on Yoh.

Smoke continued to rise from the crumpled forms of Team DeEnd as Yoh walked unhurriedly over to Faust and Ryu. A medical team was hurrying onto the field, and Faust was already bending over Ryu, who was groaning as he regained consciousness. Silva leaped lightly down and ran over. Yoh looked up from where he was stooping by Ryu. "Hey, Silva. Wow, that was pretty close, huh?"

"Yoh…what was that?" demanded the priest harshly, unable to keep the accusing tone out of his voice. He searched Yoh's face for answers, but only came up against Yoh's impenetrable and characteristically unruffled demeanor.

"Eh…I don't know, I made it up on the spot…" laughed Yoh. "Good thing Amidamaru and I think alike after being together for so long, so he was able to lend me his strength to do it. I was feeling pretty tired back there." The samurai spirit materialized, nodding solemnly. Silva sent a hard look his way, and the spirit colored for the barest instant, before returning it with a defiant look as if to say, I will never betray my master's confidence.

Silva returned his full attention to the boy – the Shaman – who stood before him. "No, I mean, did you manipulate fire? And the weather earlier – water…and wind…and even earth, did you do that too?"

"That was what I meant, Silva." Yoh's eyes flicked away for a moment, and then met his gaze, brimming with innocence. "It just occurred to me that maybe I could do it. And we were lacking options anyway. Team DeEnd fought well."

"Um…Contestant Asakura…" came a hesitant voice from one of the medical team, "your opponents…um…they're still smoking…and we can't seem to put out the flames completely."

"Ah! Gomen, forgot about them for a moment because I was so worried about Ryu," explained Yoh sheepishly. He turned, concentrated for a moment, and then waved his hand casually in the direction of the fallen Team DeEnd. The hairs on Silva's neck rose as the wind in their immediate vicinity picked up suddenly, swirling around and clearing the smoke in a few seconds.

Yoh turned to him and smiled, hefting his sword cheerfully. "Cool. Hey, it seems to get easier each time I do it. Come on, I want to make sure Ryu is okay. And I'm going to need Faust's attentions too, I think. And then that itako will want to kick my ass for taking this long over a lousy fight."

"You mean Anna."

"Of course that's who I mean, Silva. Who else could I mean? She's my fiancée, after all." And with that Yoh turned his face to the stands where his friends stood and waved happily. Mechanically they waved back, then of one accord turned around and huddled fiercely.

"His Furyoku has increased dramatically," Ren stated flatly. "It's like nothing I've ever felt. Anna, did you know about this?"

She was silent for a moment. "I…felt him getting stronger. But I thought it was the training. He must have hidden it somehow..."

"Anna has just admitted to being wrong about something. This is a first," Manta mumbled to Pirika, who nodded vigorously, her fingers still flying furiously over the Oracle Bell.

"Training my ass!" yelped Horohoro. "This is totally unnatural."

Tao Jun looked troubled. "He was manipulating the five elements, wasn't he?"

Tamao nodded through a fresh bout of tears. "Even I could feel it."

Chocolove sighed heavily. "Isn't there supposed to only ever have been one shaman who mastered the five elements and controlled nature?"

Everyone nodded glumly.

Tao Jun bit her lip. "So…to be clear. We are worried that Yoh is…or has become…in some way…or perhaps completely…and it's not his fault, of course it's not, but maybe we should have guessed…he seems to be very much like…."

Lyzerg finally looked up. "Hao."

Oyamada Manta says:

Is Yoh really becoming Hao? Oh no! How will his friends react? How did this happen? Why is Amidamaru so calm about it, and can Yoh be saved? For answers to all these and more, we will have to start at the very beginning…the beginning of the end of the last Shaman Fight! Watch…um…read the next chapter as soon as it is up! Shaman King: Do You Believe In Destiny: Chapter 1 – Don't Go Where I Cannot Follow