Well, took me a bit to finish this, but I kinda wrestled with this installment, mostly because I aimed to tweak it a bit... and, in the end, I did, quite much so ^^' The explanation is at the end, coz I don't wanna spoil anything, just in case.

Keep on reviewing – that's the best way to keep me motivated in writing this and making updates more frequent (yeah, I'm stomping to blackmail ;P).

Chapter #157: Desert Flowers

Title Page: Hari is painting her face before a mirror with a teasing smile in a similar way Kankuro did, while her father walks by and stops, surprised at her behavior

"And for the record!" Hari yelled over the noise, moving the toes in her sandals. "I can use three puppets!" she announced, bringing her third doll down, right at Torune, who instantly realized she couldn't dodge.

With the blade coming at her and her Wind Armor gone, the blonde was left defenseless, watching the puppet near her flesh. In one, desperate attempt, she pumped all her chakra, forming a quick, fuuton seal, calling from the top of her lungs: "Ninpou: Kamaitachi no Jutsu!"

In a flash the wind pressure build up, scourging the walls of the cylinder, cutting Hari's skin in the process. The sudden burst blasted her doll to the sky, breaking it into pieces, Kamenoko and Karasu following suit. The container they were in expanded too, cracking under the change of altitude, setting the puppeteer free to fly back, smashing hard into the brick wall of the stadium.

Torune, however, fared no better as she rolled on the ground, leaving behind spots of crimson liquid from her many cuts. Finally coming to a stop, the kunoichi struggled back to her feet, rid of breath while her legs wobbled, barely keeping withstanding the weight of the sand-nin's body: "If you really gonna use physics to fight me, cous... then you better read the fine print too" she stated, picking out a kunai.

Even so, after taking the first step, her legs gave out and the wind user hit the ground, face first, no strength left to even move, much less perform any attack. Hari only cursed under her nose as she watched her cousin drop, unable to continue the match herself: "Way to go, dumbass... now we're both out..."

"With the rotation of the cylinder, the wind was being sucked out from the area upwards" Temari analyzed, seeing Lee was heading for the two combatants, ready to call out the result. "But, in these conditions, the air got quickly spread throughout the container before it was blasted out... by using Kamaitachi, Torune could cover the entire space with scourging wind in a blink of an eye... a suicide maneuver, granted... yet, also one Hari had no chance of dodging while in the cylinder herself. This isn't an end either of them envisioned, that much is true, but all things considered they truly shown what two, most signature skills of Suna can accomplish in the right hands..."

"Neither of the fighters is fit to continue and thus, this match, is also a tie!" the Leaf's Green Beast announced as the medics moved in to assist the heavily wounded kunoichi. Up in the stands, Mikka shivered at the scene, visibly worried: "Those cuts aren't deep, but with such a high amount of them, the blood loss will be significant... those two... why would they push so far?"

"It's kinda ironic hearing you ask that, considering what happened in the eliminations" Tsume teased her teammate, showing off a smirk. Hanamaru let out a sigh at the comment: "Yes, we seem to have a lot of determined kunoichi all around" he nodded, throwing Kogane a quick glance. But then he sweat dropped as Rei's snoring hit his ears.

"Either way, it could prove useful to know how to handle a wind user" Senkou stated, rising his eyebrow as he gazed towards Ibuki. The young assassin ignored the comment for most part, keeping a calm exterior, thought this was never easy when the masked gennin was in that mood: "I'll get his for that later" she told herself as the two kunoichi were taken away from the arena.

"Another tie?" Satsuki frowned, putting on a bored expression as she rested her cheek on her palm. "This is getting ridiculous! You totally jinxed this, Kakashi-chan!" she accused the cyclopean ninja, though the latter barely glanced at her from behind his book. The Tsuki leader however, was far from being done with her rant: "Those brats are seriously starting to creep me out too – noticed how they're all capable of using high level jutsu? I smell a rat!"

"Apparently they have been busy the past month" Shinkou countered calmly, keeping his emotionless facade. "Most certainly they posses skills far beyond those of a gennin; but then, they wouldn't have made it this far if they didn't. Even so, this is merely their power that we're talking about and, while impressive, I'm actually a bit disappointed in the level of this year's participants."

"What do you mean, Shinkou-dono?" Genmei asked his companion curiously.

"Being chuunin is not about power" surprisingly, it was Gaara to answer the question in the usual monotone. "Promotion means these kids will be given responsibilities far beyond those that they encountered up till now. As judges, we must take that into account. Granted, this bunch is extraordinary, but reply truthfully, Genmei-dono: do you really see ninja that are suited to become chuunin?"

The Rain leader's face turned serious as he glanced at the redhead. As the head of a smaller village, he knew what being a true shinobi meant, possibly even more then the Five Kages. It was still annoying to have a youngster remind him of it: "Two or three" he finally responded in a dismissive manner. "Most of them cannot really harness the power those techniques have and end up using them carelessly, more often then not to their own downfall. Frankly, half of them will likely have next to no chakra when the second round starts."

"Preciously" the Kane leader agreed. "Remarkable their skills may be, in terms of character and tactics, they're nothing but average gennin. I can sympathize with the lot of them, yet at the end of the day, all they really brought was mild entertainment..."

"My turn" Toku stated simply as he spun on his foot to walk down the stairs. Exchanging quick glance with Kitsune, the duo nodded to one another as the only sign of 'good luck'. This made Kai sweat drop, hanging his arms; "Seriously, that's how far you're willing to go with pleasantries?" he questioned, looking at the young blacksmith.

"This is a shinobi battle" Kitsune replied calmly. "Luck plays a very small part in it; you are either better then your opponent or you are not. Besides, Toku is skilled enough to win without the need of something as fleeting as good fortune..."

"You put a lot of faith is someone who, basically, just swings around a wooden umbrella" Kumiko noted curiously, yet having thought Kitsune, she knew all too well that the young blacksmith could calculate the outcome accurately and, if he was so sure of his teammate, that could mean only one of two things: the blond haven't revealed all his cards in the eliminations... or he had a new ace up his sleeve.

"Don't push yourself, Tokame" Tobane warned her companion. "We already... lost Nezumi... can't really afford to diminish our fighting strength any further, if we are to complete our little... side project" she added, throwing Hizoku a quick gaze.

Tokame also glanced at the redhead questioningly, like he was waiting for some sort of confirmation, but the spear-wielder only smiled after a short hesitation and with a nod, he spoke in a cheerful manner: "Best of luck, Tokame-san... hope you'll kick ass" he winked.

The other, grass-nin nodded and joined Toku in walking down to the arena. Meanwhile, in the stands, Taka was getting anxious: "Well, Tobane is how she is and Nezumi, despite her crude way of doing things, sided with Hizoku also... but what route will you pick in this predicament, Tokame?" he wondered, smirking behind his mask.

"Fifteenth match: Amagasa Toku from Konoha against Kyohaku Tokame from Kusa!" Lee announced as the two boys stood before each other, neither seemed to be very invested in what was about to happen. "BEGIN!" the command came and, surprising everyone, the grass-nin instantly went for his weapon hostels, unleashing a barrage of shuriken at his opponent.

Toku reacted immediately as well and grabbed his umbrella, opening it in the process. Covering hiding behind it, he made all the projectiles dig into the blockade harmlessly, while the blond kept his eyes on Tokame, who was already going through a quick set of seals.

Not waiting for him to finish, the Leaf gennin spun the umbrella in his grip, making the momentum blast the shinobi stars out, sending most of them back at the Kusa ninja, who broke the technique, taking evasive maneuvers. He managed to dodge most of the weapons, yet few still cut his skin, albeit lightly.

Tokame paid that no heed as he glanced up where Toku was dropping at him, his umbrella folded, acting like a spear. The grass-nin easily avoided the assault by jumping back, but the instant the attack hit the ground, the furikan opened, pushing a cloud of dust to all sides, momentarily blinding the Kusa gennin. This gave the blond enough time to charge forward and with the umbrella still spread out, he swung at his adversary.

His ears catching the sound of the ripping air, Tokame strafed right to dodge the attack and while he succeeded, the top of Toku's furikan suddenly separated from the handle and with a buzzing noise flew at him again, acting accordingly to its master's arm.

Coming to an immediate stop, the grass-nin ducked under the assault, but the Leaf shinobi managed to flip his arm and putting a pressure on the steel chain that connected his weapon's handle to its top, he made the latter change its angle, allowing the edge to rip Tokame's left shoulder, spraying his blood to the ground.

Retreating his blade, the Konoha gennin grabbed the chain halfway through and allowed the top of the furikan to hang loosely, still unfolded as he watched his opponent cover the newly inflicted wound.

"Looks like you're not the only one to make adjustments to your weapon" Takaru stated, glancing at Kusari with a smirk. The chain master merely stick out his tongue before staring back to the battlefield, where the blond leaf-nin started spinning the opened end of his weapon wildly.

With a sudden toss towards the sky, Toku performed a quick seal, making senbon shoot out from beneath the umbrella; a fact that made Genmei flinch at the sight. As the the needles came closer though, Tokame went through a set of symbols of his own and clasping his hands with the last one, he called out: "Hijutsu: Gokou Heki!"

The instant senbon came closer, they got deflected by invisible wall, falling harmlessly to the ground.. The whole stadium let out a shocked gasp, yet the blond leaf-nin merely narrowed his eyes at the predicament. In a surprising fashion, he sent his furikan into motion again, having it wrap around his adversary, like it meant to trap him. However, even as the chain circled around Tokame, a significant space between him and the steel was left, keeping the Kusa gennin in a protective bubble.

"That's... new" Satsuki stated, widening her eyes in disbelief. Funbo, in turns, narrowed his, unsure if what he saw wasn't a hallucination. Confused, Shino glanced at his former teammate, yet managed to keep his usual, emotionless exterior: "Hinata?" he asked, but the kunoichi was way ahead of him:

"Byakugan!" she called out as veins spread around her eyes.. However, what they saw, made the jounin back away. Even on the contestant platform, there was no calm: "What the hell is going on?" Kai demanded, turning towards the Grass team, completely clueless. For once, he was not alone.

"Remember back in the eliminations, when Tokame fought that rain-nin?" Hizoku asked, receiving nods from most gennin gathered. "I said that he could manipulate light to achieve an effect similar to genjutsu" the redhead announced calmly, carefully choosing his words. "In truth, Tokame could've finished that match any time he wanted... he merely wished to keep his abilities secret as long as possible to save the element of surprise for... later" he proclaimed, biting his own tongue in the last moment. "And thus, I also withheld it for that sake..."

"So what are his abilities?" Kumiko pushed, yet the spear-wielder didn't answer. In stead, Tobane replied: "The most devastating bloodline in Kusa... possibly in the whole world as there are no limits to its power... none that we know of anyway" she stated, keeping everyone on edge. "Tokame's skills aren't just about bending light... he can manipulate it whichever way he desires!"

-power beyond measure! Can Toku withstand the onslaught?-

Yeah, not sure if Tokame's abilities were that great a secret, but since the beginning he was supposed to manipulate light in a wide frame... his elimination fight was but a prelude ;) And, the happenings of this chapter were originally supposed to take two installments to finish, but I shortened it to speed up the completion of the tournament's first round... Torune was supposed to tie with Hari from the start though ;)

Ninpou: Kamaitachi no Jutsu (Ninja Art: Wind Scythe Skill... although the exact translation should be Sickle Weasel Skill, named after a youkai in Japanese folklore)

Hijutsu: Gokou Heki (Secret Skill: Halo Barrier)

Konoha #7 (Naruto): Murasakki Kumiko, Tanken Ibuki, Gekido Takaru, Hagane Kusari, Haisha Kai

Konoha #3 (Shikamaru): Konpaku Rei, Rikoteki Kogane, Amagasa Toku, Debano Kitsune, Gusoku Hanamaru

Konoha #4 (Hinata): Igaku Mikka, Inuzuka Tsume, Benda Kokoro, Hatake Senkou, Kobushi Galu

Konoha (Shino): Manako Akira, Tanken Funbo, Horohoro

Suna #1 (Temari): Honemaru, Tarakudo, Takai

Suna #2 (Kankuro): Sabaku no Sabure, Dekai, Karame

Kusa (none): Hokku Tobane, Kanraku Nezumi (currently in medical wing for treatment), Kuchibashi Taka, Kyohaku Tokame, Wanabi Hizoku

Tsuki (Hinami Hoshiru): Junsei Teela, Kihako Tasuki, Chishio Kumo, Chishio Nobu

Kane (unknown): Futatsu

Kumori (Tategamaru): Saiken Tenma

Fight 15: Amagasa Toku (29) vs. Kyohaku Tokame (30)

Fight 16: Kobushi Galu (31) vs. Karame (32)

Fight 17: Takai vs. Wanabi Hizoku

Fight 18: Tanken Funbo vs. Gekido Takaru

Fight 19: Benda Kokoro vs. Tarakudo

Fight 20: Manako Akira (automatic win)

Fight 21: Sabaku no Sabure vs. Debano Kitsune

Fight 22: Kanraku Nezumi vs. Horohoro

Yeah, not as many matches in round two as you expected, eh? I do hope I manage to get you by surprise every now and then with that. Two more fights and round one is finished :) I'm most anxious to get to Galu vs. Karame as the green-haired didn't get a chance to fight in a really long while ^^'

Well, review and until next time.