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Disclaimer: Naruto is not mine, he is Kishimoto's

"Dattebayo!" - normal speech

'Dobe' – Thoughts

'{Shannaro!}' - Inner Sakura

"Ningen" - Boss Summon/Tailed Beast Speech

'Brat' - Boss Summon/Tailed Beast Thoughts

"Kage Bunshin!" - Ninjutsu/Genjutsu/Taijutsu move.

Beta'd by BigCC

Chapter 49: Third Round, Match 3: Searing Wind Vs. Wind of Insects

Hokage's Box

"Well now, it is clear that I underestimated just how far those two young men have grown in such a short time, by a considerable margin no less." Sarutobi mused aloud with a grin, quite glad to have been proven wrong for once.

"Oh? Might I ask just what about that match surprised you so much, Hokage-dono?" 'Rasa' inquired.

"Rock Lee has, in the past shown himself to be quite reckless and a bit too free with the Hiden Jutsu he practices. Not to say too much about his hidden technique, but it is one that can easily do a great deal harm to him if it is overused." the Hokage answered absently. Obviously Rasa, and particularly Orochimaru, would already know more than a bit about the Hachimon considering that Hiden Jutsu's history and not-so-subtle nature, but appearances had to be maintained in any discussion between shinobi of different Hidden Villages. "In this fight, that young man not only paced himself but restrained himself from pushing himself past a certain point. Had he actually done so, I would not have spoken against it, but merely been resigned to it. Now however, I am quite impressed with the growth young Lee has shown. While he still has a few too many rough patches to be considered for a promotion this time, I am quite hopeful that when the next Chūnin Exams rolls around he will be more than ready to earn his promotion."

"Hm, you have more knowledge of the boy than I, so I shall take your word on it. And what of the young Uchiha?" the false Kage pressed.

"Young Sasuke has long suffered, unfortunately, from both great pride and an overwhelming ambition." Sarutobi offered with a sigh. "Until quite recently he has been something of a problem child; quite talented, but troubled in many ways. Fortunately, events during the Second Stage of the Exams have seemingly helped knock loose some of those troubles. From all my reports, since then he has truly thrown himself into his training and has matured greatly in both ability and mentality over the last month. His display just now has shown control, strength, and flexible thinking far in advance of what I had previously believed him capable of. While I think it is still a bit too early to promote him when he is just starting to make such progress, I greatly look forward to how he will present himself during the next Chūnin Exams."

"Ah, a good step forward indeed then, Hokage-dono." Orochimaru offered ambiguously, keeping the annoyance that boiling within him out of his voice. Taking advantage of Uchiha Sasuke's pride and overruling ambition to surpass and kill Itachi, combined with the boy's relative weakness and the mental effects the Ten no Juin he had intended to gift the boy would cause, had been key pieces in his plan to hook and draw the Last Uchiha into his clutches of the boy's own free will. Now though, his plans would need to be adjusted and take these new…difficulties into account.

A curse on the Senju Clan's bedamned 'Will of Fire'!

Some would think that the easiest and quickest way for him to acquire the Sharingan that he had long coveted would be to simply take Sasuke's eyes for himself, but that was a path that had far too many downsides and risks involved for Orochimaru to contemplate it as anything other than a final alternative. He was well aware of the issues that Hatake Kakashi faced with his transplanted Sharingan, and a bit of research had shown his to be a common case whenever Dōjutsu from across the Elemental Nations were transplanted into non-compatible hosts. Without the properly developed ocular nerves and receptors in the brain that only came about from the natural development of that particular kind of bloodline, it was impossible to fully control or utilize a Dōjutsu. For Hatake Kakashi, this resulted in his utter inability to deactivate Uchiha Obito's last gift, forcing him to constantly cover one of his eyes in order to prevent the constant drain on his chakra that an exposed, active Sharingan would cause.

Then there was the issue of sustainability. Just taking the Uchiha boy's eyes would grant him a single set of Sharingan, but even Orochimaru was not so arrogant as to believe that he was utterly untouchable in battle, particularly when such an act would likely draw in the attention and enmity of far more dangerous foes. A single lucky blow could easily rob him of the prizes he had sought so long to obtain. By obtaining Sasuke himself, it was would be easy to harvest the genetic materials needed to ensure that, were the eyes of his vessel ever damaged, he could easily replace them with either a cloned set or a new set taken from an artificially generated child.

'Besides, simply transplanting the necessary body parts between my host bodies seems so…crude.' the Snake Sannin thought absently in distaste. Oh, he would most definitely do so if all his other options were taken from him, but he was loathe to dirty the Fushi Tensei no Jutsu that he had spent decades developing with such a crass and dirty action.

"Would both Sabaku no Temari and Aburame Shino please make their way down to the arena floor!" the Proctor called out, pulling the two Kage-level shinobi from their respective thoughts.

"Ah, so it is time for your daughter's match." the old Kage nodded as the blonde kunoichi leapt from the competitor's box, descending to the arena atop her open fan in an excellent display of control and showmanship. "She did quite well during both the First and Second Rounds of the Exams, and she showed both exemplary power and technique during her match in the preliminaries. It is quite a shame that more Sunagakure Genin didn't make it to the finals this year other than two of your own children."

"The home field advantage does always tend to bias the results in favour of the hosting village's Genin, but it is surprisingly pronounced this year." Orochimaru offered with a slight laugh. "The same will doubtlessly occur when next it is Sunagakure's turn to host the exams. As for Temari, she is quite the prodigy among the Wind Dancer Corps, just like her mother before her, and easily the best in their current generation. She has a natural talent for tactical fighting, but I'm afraid she's always been a bit overly cautious when she is forced to deal with unknowns. That and she has had a rather sharp temper. Whether or not she is ready for a promotion or requires a bit more seasoning is something I think that this match will be able to tell us."

All of that was the simple and naked truth. For all that Sabaku no Rasa was a manifest failure as a father, the bloodlines and prowess of his children were all utterly self-evident. Kankuro was one of the most talented and proficient practitioners of the Kugutsu no Jutsu that the village had seen in many years, having already proven himself capable enough to earn access to one of the puppets originally constructed by the genius puppeteer Akasuna no Sasori. Temari, on the other hand, had one of the strongest Wind Affinities ever recorded among those born in Sunagakure. Combine that with her dedication, intelligence, tenacity, and skill and she could easily end up becoming the first woman born of the Kazekage Clan to ever take the Kazekage seat within the next decade or so. Particularly since her two brothers were either uninterested in the position or a violent psychopath.

Orochimaru found it morbidly amusing that the two of Rasa's children that the man had dismissed had ended up growing into such exceptional shinobi while the third, the one he had personally dedicated himself to training and controlling, had ended up as little more than a bloodthirsty beast.

"Hmm. Young Shino is also quite the tactical thinker; it should be interesting to see a match between young tacticians then." Sarutobi offered with a nod, oblivious to Orochimaru's inner sadistic musings. "He has also shown himself to quite skilled with his clan's techniques, defeating his opponent during the preliminaries using only two basic-level Aburame Hiden Jutsu. The Aburame Clan as a whole tends to avoid the limelight, but they have always been an indispensable and reliable part of Konoha and I am quite eager to see just what their current clan heir is capable of."

"Indeed. One needs to look no farther then the past conflicts between our two villages to show just how dangerous the Aburame can be, Hokage-dono." Orochimaru responded glibly. The favoured combat tactics of Sunagakure's Puppeteer Corps, stealthily hiding themselves and then deploying their puppets from a distance, was all but useless when faced against the specially-bred Kikaichū beetles of the Aburame Clan. The chakra-eating insects were able to keenly detect any and all forms of chakra and were capable of rapidly swarming the chakra threads that controlled the puppets, devouring the chakra and severing the puppeteer's control before hunting down the puppet masters themselves. Then there was the unique breed of termites that the Aburame had developed specifically to target the chakra-rich wood that the Puppeteer Corps used in their precious creations. "But I don't know how well those same abilities will allow Shino-kun to equate himself to Temari."

"We will simply have to see then." the Hokage offered with a grandfatherly smile as the two combatants took their places opposite of one another on the field. "Regardless of the outcome, I dare say that this is going to be a most splendid match."

With Temari

The eldest child and only daughter of the Fourth Kazekage stood with one hand resting atop the butt of her folded Dai Tessen in a seemingly relaxed posture, but it was in fact one that would allow her to open and swing her weapon in a single instant.

'Ugh, this is going to be a pain.' Temari huffed out to herself as she carefully maintained her blank outward expression. She honestly just wanted this stupid invasion to be over and done with; seeing all the excited and happy faces of the gathered civilians happily cheering on the competitors (including her!) was making the guilt that had been gnawing at her innards for the past month growl and thrash about unhappily.

Trying to keep her mind off her growing dissatisfaction, she instead focused on her current opponent, the heir apparent to Konoha's Aburame Clan, Aburame Shino. Like most of Sunagakure, she was well acquainted with the Aburame Clan, considering that they were widely considered one of the two main reasons that Sunagakure chose to forge strong diplomatic relationships with Konohagakure after the end of the last war. The other was the rather bountiful number of the Fire Element shinobi that the Leaf Village tended to produce that were a natural counter to the Wind Element users that her own village tended to produce.

She could admit it to herself, if no one else, that choosing to build strong diplomatic relationships with the nation that had perfect counters for two of your own elite units was a very logical and tactically sound line of thinking on her father's part. That was especially true given that Konoha had managed to emerge from the last Great Ninja War largely unscathed in comparison to several of the other villages involved.

The Aburame were an absolute nightmare for the Puppeteer Corps to face, to the point that the elite corps had developed several Fūinjutsu seals just to be try and keep their evil chakra-eating beetles from being able to sabotage their precious puppets while they were inactive for either transport, maintenance, or rearming.

Seals that the Aburame had apparently countered by simply breeding an entirely new species of termites specifically to sabotage said puppets. The Aburame were rather straightforward like that.

Still, that was an issue for the Puppeteer Corps, and Temari was a Wind Dancer. They had no more vulnerabilities towards the Aburame Clan's deadly little pets than any other shinobi, perhaps less so since they were long-range specialists by nature.

'In theory, so long as I can keep him at a distance and keep his swarm from overwhelming me, I should have a fairly easy match.' Temari thought clinically as she examined Shino carefully, alert to the possibility that the boy had already pre-deployed some of his swarm. Expecting a ninja to fight fairly was not just stupid after all, it was suicidal. Still, Konoha's proctors had seemed fairly dedicated to keeping these matches above the board, and he was watching the both of them with a weather eye, so hopefully it wouldn't be a major concern.

Unfortunately, she had very little information to work with when it came to Aburame Shino's fighting style, and what she did have was largely incomplete or speculative in nature. The fight between him and that idiot from Amegakure during the prelims hadn't exactly been a good measuring stick considering how stupidly the other ninja had fought. Seriously, going for ambush tactics in such a small arena with no available cover? Psh, Amegakure must have been really letting its standards slip if that was the level of Genin that they were sending to the Chūnin Exams these days.

With that in mind she was keeping her strategy, what there was of it anyway, fairly simply and straightforward for now. When the match officially started, she would quickly withdraw back towards the edge of the arena and start pelting her opponent with Fūton techniques to see how he reacted and then adjust her strategy accordingly. She was also going to keep herself as mobile as possible to give him less of a chance of somehow managing to sneak his swarm into an attacking position.

For his own part, Shino was not feeling overly confident about his ability to win this day, even with all of the preparations that he had made. Why? Because Fūton Ninjutsu were an excellent counter for the insect-based Hiden Ninjutsu that the Aburame Clan practised. Flying insects, even large swarms of them, could easily be swept aside, crushed, or torn apart by strong winds, which Fūton techniques could easily create. Keeping his insects ground-bound also offered little in the way of defence against a strong wind attack. Against such an opponent, sending his insects underground would have been the preferred option, but such an attack would require the target to remain still and largely unaware of the Aburame's presence or capabilities; neither of which was a viable option in this fight.

A casual conversation with Naruko-san over the intervening month during a coincidental meeting had revealed that his opponent, Sabaku no Temari, was likely highly intelligent, or at least that was what he had managed to gleam from the Uzumaki Heiress' recollections of her own interactions with her. Assuming this was the case, it was then easy to assume that she had the intelligence to know her own village's history and the conflicts between his own clan and Suna's Puppeteer Corps. That meant it was highly unlikely that she would allow herself to be easily pinned into a position for long.

With the two additional years of training and missions that she had over him, not to mention whatever other resources and extra training that she had no doubt received as the daughter of a sitting Kage and a member Sunagakure's ruling clan, there was little doubt that Temari would be the obvious favourite to win this fight.

Still, his father had made an excellent point about how giving up without actually attempting to achieve victory would be detrimental to his career prospects. Any shinobi who baulked at the threat of a superior threat was obviously undeserving of the rank of Chūnin. In all honestly, it would be debatable if such a person even deserved the rank of Genin. Caution was one thing, cowardice was another, and a shinobi always walked hand-in-hand with death. To try and avoid all risk was utterly illogical.

And thus, he would fight, but he would do so cautiously and logically.

"*cough* Are both competitors ready to begin?" the Proctor, Gekkō Hayate, coughed lightly before speaking.

"Hai." Shino responded in his usual monotone.

"Ready as ever." Temari replied with a slight rolling of her shoulders, subtly widening her stance as she readied herself.

"Then both fighters…hajime!" the man called before he leapt away from the two young combatants.

Not wasting a single moment, Temari leapt backwards while bringing up her Dai Tessen. "Fūton: Fūsajin no Jutsu! (Wind Release: Dust Wind Jutsu!)" Swinging her war fan around towards Shino, she unleashed a large wave of wind that quickly stirred up the dirt of the arena's floor, creating a miniature dust storm that rapidly swept across the field. The Aburame Heir quickly leapt away but was unable to fully get out of the way. The gust was of dust-carrying wind was easily powerful enough to send him hurtling backwards into the arena wall…where he was promptly replaced by a log.

"Kawarimi…tch." Temari clicked her tongue in annoyance. She kept moving and made sure not to fall into any predictable patterns just in case. "Well, there's only so many places that someone can hide in an arena this small! Fūton: Kamaitachi no Jutsu! (Wind Release: Wind Scythe Jutsu!)"

With another swing of her Dai Tessen, a new burst of wind was released, this one littered with dozens of small wind blades, that the young Wind Dancer sent flying straight towards the small outcropping of trees that made up a near-quarter of the arena. The trees were rapidly sliced and diced, several toppling as they were cut completely through by one or more of the wind blades. After a few seconds the winds died down, leaving the small grove of trees completely desolated.

"Holy shit!" Ino gawped in shock.

"Whew…I knew that using one of those fans could up the size and make shaping Fūton Jutsu a lot easier, but I didn't think they could amplify their power by that much." Naruko let out a sharp, impressed whistle. "The Suna Wind Dancers must be pretty damned scary if she's a prime example."

"So, that wasn't just the standard release of that technique?" Sakura asked, a bit confused.

"I've read a bit about the Kamaitachi no Jutsu, it's supposedly the Wind Dancer's signature technique so there's quite a bit recorded about it. It's a technique that doesn't have a strictly defined final form, it is almost entirely shaped by the will and intention of the wielder. It can be used to create a wind a wind carrying a barrage of wind blades like you just saw, or a single powerful one, or even whip up a miniature tornado littered with them." the resident Fūton user among the Konoha Genin denied. "That makes it a highly versatile technique that can be used in a wide array of situations. It's a ranked as a high-tier C-rank Jutsu because of that. Using a fan as a focusing tool to help manipulate and spread your chakra through the surrounding air is supposed to make it less difficult to use as well as allowing more chakra to be more easily funnelled into it to increase the amount of wind it can create."

"Is…Is Shino-kun alright?" Hinata mumbled a bit in concern as she activated her Byakugan and let out a small breath of relief. "Ah, there he is. Thank goodness."

Although the Byakugan was not as effective at seeing 'beneath' its users as it is seeing 'around' them, that is largely dependent on the orientation of the user and where they are focusing their attention while looking. For someone looking downwards from an elevated position, like Hinata was, the ability to see through the ground became much more effective than it would be on someone who was simply trying to look beneath their own feet. Thus, she was able to easily notice the silent form of Shino moving beneath the earth.

'Doton: Moguragakure (Earth Release: Hiding Like a Mole)? Doton: Dochū Senkō (Earth Release: Subterranean Voyage)? Doton: Dochū Eigyo (Earth Release: Underground Projection Fish)? Whatever technique he's using, it's a brilliant idea that takes the fact that most genin will be unable to perform an extremely powerful jutsu into account.' the Hyūga Heiress thought as she mentally ran through the possibilities. Those jutsu had been used by quite often by Iwagakure and Ishigakure during the three previous Great Shinobi Wars in attempts to subvert the Byakugan, so young Hyūga children were taught the basics about them as part of their training with their Dōjutsu.

Most wind-element ninjutsu were focused on cutting power and speed, with most of them below A-rank lacking the kind of penetrating power to actually pierce through solid earth. Hiding underground was thus an extremely smart tactic when facing a Fūton expert. It wasn't exactly the type of technique that one would normally expect from an Aburame, but learning such a technique to combat a powerful Wind User like Sabaku no Temari certainly showed the typical Aburame logic playing its hand.

And Temari, having just devastated the only real source of cover available in the arena, quickly realized just where Shino was likely hiding. Primarily from the large cloud of insects that suddenly erupted out of the ground at her side, flying towards her in a large orb formation.

"Hijutsu: Mushidama…(Hidden Technique: Beetle Sphere…)" Shino's monotone voice echoed disturbingly as it was accompanied by the harsh buzzing of his insect swarm.

"Nice try!" the Suna kunoichi snapped back, swiping her fan out twice in rapid succession. "Fūton Ninpō: Bōfū! (Wind Release Ninja Art: Hurricane!)"

A large burst of wind burst from her swinging fan, rapidly forming a pair of modestly-sized tornadoes that started to whip and scream their way across the ground, rapidly devouring the incoming swarm of insects. Only a scarce handful of the Kikaichū managed to avoid the attack, scuttling back beneath the earth. Only when the last of the insects disappeared did the tornadoes dissipate.

"Wow, Shino really has his back against the wall with this one." Naruko mused with a frown. "Temari's smart enough to not stay still long enough to let Shino set up an ambush or let herself be led into a trap, and Fūton Jutsu excel at mid-range wide-area attacks. They're one of the better counters for the Aburame Clan's Hiden Jutsu. Unless he finds some way to take her by surprise at close range and keep her from bringing her fan around, this match is just going to keep dragging out the inevitable."

As much as some of the other Konoha Genin might have wanted to argue Naruko's blunt words, they really couldn't. Temari was very obviously dominating the match so far.

Beneath the surface, Shino was silently contemplating his next move. Mushidama had used up a sizeable portion of his current hive, and his opponent's countering attack had damaged them badly enough that less than ten percent of the insects he'd used had been able to return to him. Sabaku no Temari was very obviously too cautious and well-prepared to allow a long-range attack using his Kikaichū to succeed, so any further attempts along that direction would be both pointless and wasteful. Thus, a new avenue of attack would be needed.

"Hijutsu: Mushi Bunshin. (Hidden Jutsu: Insect Clone.)" he intoned softly, as his Kikaichū rapidly moved to respond to the signals he was sending them through his chakra.

On the surface, Temari watched warily as thousands of insects suddenly erupted from the ground a good distance from her before rapidly coming together and forming a humanoid shape. In a small puff of smoke, a clone of Shino was standing opposite of her.

"You are a most impressive opponent, Temari-san." the clone offered monotonously, its 'voice' carried a buzzing undertone that sounded like countless insect wings and was more than a little freaky. "If all members of the Wind Dancer Corps share your level of proficiency, then it is no surprise that they are considered to be one of Suna's elite forces."

"Thanks. This mean you're giving up now?" the Suna Kunoichi responded blandly and without hesitation.

"Regrettably, surrendering without giving my utmost to achieve victory would reflect negatively on my future career as a shinobi, so I shall have to decline." the clone replied monotonously.

"Tetsuzankō. (Iron Mountain Leaning.)" a familiar monotone proclaimed from behind her just as the Insect Clone in front of her charged forwards! Fortunately, Temari was long used to people thinking that, as a ninjutsu expert and ranged fighter, she would be helpless if they managed to get up close and personal. A misconception she had trained long and hard to prove inaccurate and that she would now gladly demonstrate.

With a feral grin, she snapped her Dai Tessen closed.

"Sunafuki Ryū: Kazaguruma Senpū! (Sandblast Style: Windmill Whirlwind!)" she roared out as she surged towards the clone while whirling around in a circle, slamming her folded war fan through the clone (which burst into insects that were rapidly scattered everywhere by the blow) before bringing it fully around to slam into the charging form of Shino himself.

The Aburame managed to block with a single braced arm to prevent more serious damage, but the impact was still strong enough send him flying. He managed to flip onto his feet before he landed though, though he was nursing his blocking arm.

"Ow." He groaned out in the same flat tone that he normally spoke in. Thankfully, he'd managed to catch the blow on the thicker and stronger portion of his forearm while reinforcing it with a bit of chakra, so nothing had been cracked but that was going to become a very large, very painful bruise shortly. Still, he extended both his hands outwards. "Hijutsu: Fuyūchū! (Hidden Technique: Floating Bugs!)"

Two clouds of insects, each about the size of a football, erupted out of Shino's sleeves and shot towards Temari, who dodged out of the way, only to blink in surprise as the clouds swerved through the air to pursue her.

"Right, chakra-sensing bugs. Of course they can follow me." she groaned out in realization, mentally facepalming as she snapped her fan open again. "Just need to bring out the flyswatter then! Fūton: Kamaitachi!"

Using a much more low-powered version of her favourite jutsu sent a burst of wind blades that quickly reduced both clouds to scattered insects and buggy guts (Ew!), and allowed Temari to return her focus back to Shino, who had already raised both his arms above his head as he prepared his next jutsu.

"Kikaichū: Enkai! (Parasitic Destruction Insects: Round Mass!)"

A truly massive amount of insects exploded out of Shino's jacket and rapidly gathered above his hands, forming an orb at least as tall and wide as he was tall before he sent it flying towards Temari.

"Sorry kid, but you just gave me a bigger target! Fūton: Kamaitachi!" the Suna Kunoichi responded, sending another barrage of wind blades towards the descending sphere.

"Hijutsu: Bōsui no Jin. (Hidden Jutsu: Spindle Formation.)" Shino countered, his hands forming a single handsign. Instantly the orb broke apart on its own, forming into three large, rapidly flying streams of insects that wove around the narrowly focused current of wind blades and came at Temari from three different directions at once.

"Nice try! Fūton: Gōfū Bōheki no Jutsu! (Wind Style: Great Wind Protective Wall Jutsu!)" Temari snapped out, whirling her fan around in a single long swing, kicking up another burst of winds that rapidly formed into a miniature tornado around her. All three masses of Kikaichū slammed into the protective wind barricade simultaneously and were utterly dispersed by the powerful winds, many of the insects outright crushed or shredded by the force of the spinning winds.

Shino watched his attack fail with an unreadable expression on his face before nodding silently and turning to Hayate. "Proctor, I have concluded that I cannot win here without suffering considerable long-term damage to myself or my hive, which would be unacceptable given the circumstances. Thus, I concede the match."

"…eh?!" Temari blinked in shock. Her protective wind wall had just died down and she was just getting ready to launch her counterattack when she heard what her opponent was saying.

"Understood. Victor by forfeit, Sabaku no Temari!" Hayate declared after giving Shino an appraising look.

"I figured that was going to happen." Asuma let out a sigh from his seat next to Kurenai. "He did more than enough to show his current skill level, and he's probably already lost close to a quarter of his Kikaichū by now. Honestly, fighting in an enclosed arena like this is just not the kind of place where Shino can really put his fighting skills to the best use. Still, I think that he's earned himself a good shot at getting himself promoted to Chūnin."

"Mm-hm. Temari-san also showed quite a bit of tactical skill and truly demonstrated her ability with her Fūton techniques." Kurenai offered agreeably. "She really was controlling the flow and pace of the match, for the most part at least. And yes, this kind of battlefield really did suit her style of fighting and she took full advantage of that. I doubt it would have been as one-sided if they'd fought in a more built-up area, like a town or forest; not unless she was completely unconcerned with collateral damage."

"Heh, Fūton Jutsu are not nearly as effective against most buildings and even large clusters of trees as you might think, Kurenai." her sort-of-boyfriend replied with a grin, nodding towards the large pile of lumber that had once been a small cluster of trees within the arena. "Yeah, they can cut through small stuff easily enough, but anything short of an A-rank technique would most of its power really quickly in that kind of terrain. Anything less wouldn't be able to do enough damage and leave plenty of openings for Shino's Kikaichū to sneak through and attack from. So yeah, the girl had a very strong terrain advantage here, anywhere else and she would have been in for a far harder fight and Shino would have had a good chance of winning. Well, unless she used something like a wind element Summoned Animal in tandem with her own jutsu."

"And it looks like Temari-san doesn't enjoy this sort of victory." the Genjutsu Mistress offered, nodding towards where the scowling blonde kunoichi was making her way back up towards the fighter's waiting area.

"She likely thinks that it's an insult to her, not to mention that it might negatively affect her chances at being promoted." the bearded Jonin mused. "She's not entirely wrong, but it would be a minor footnote at worst. Her performance through all three stages of the exam is going to be weighed and considered, and, from what I've picked up, she's been handling herself quite well."

"She's still a kid, Asuma-kun. It's to be expected that she'd take this kind of fight a bit too seriously." Kurenai replied absently as Shino vanished from the arena via a Mushi Shunshin (Insect Body Flicker). "I wonder where he is heading off to in such a hurry."

"He's probably heading to somewhere private where he can use Hijutsu: Mushimayu (Hidden Technique: Insect Cocoon), most likely." Asuma replied. "It's one of the Aburame Clan's support techniques, lets them focus most of their chakra inwards, feeding it to their insects, and particularly their queens, so that they can rapidly repopulate their hives with more drones after they lose a large number at once. It does tend to leave them vulnerable while they're using it, though."

The two Jonin knew that Suna and Otogakure were planning to attack sometime during the finals thanks to the Hokage, so both were more than a bit concerned that one of their Genin would be using such a technique when the invasion was looming ever close. Fortunately, it was the ever-logical Shino, so he was already likely on his way back to the Aburame Clan Compound where he could use the Mushimayu in relative safety.

Surreptitiously patting at his hip pouch where his trench knives were currently stored, Asuma was careful to keep his face neutral even as his thoughts turned grim. If Orochimaru thought that he could take down Konoha, then the former Sannin was going to find himself facing a hell of a lot harder fight than he could have ever anticipated.


Next Chapter: Third Round, Match 4: Old Friends, Old Rivals