Wow, this certainly took a lot longer then I've anticipated it would, especially considering the content of this chapter. I apologize for being this late, but my life has VERY successfully distracted me from writing over the last month. No point in going into details; suffice to say it wasn't pretty.
Thanks for keeping an eye out for this tale; hope you'll find this chapter worth waiting for. True, it may not be grand, but from this point on you'll get plenty of action and character development, so... plus, you get the results of the CHARACTER POPULARITY POLL with this chapter :)
With that, lets move on to the installment itself:
Chapter #25: The Third Exam
Title Page: Shunrai at, what appears to be, a subway station is leaning against the wall, reading a book and awaiting the arrival of her train
"We were getting worried you three ain't gonna make it" Garou announced as Toramaru, Naraku and Buryaku panted heavily after their dash towards the roof. "Seriously, you guys need to stop cutting it that close, otherwise, at some point, you will fail" he added, making Hanomaru nod slightly in agreement.
"Frankly, it's a wonder these losers made it this far" Gaki mocked with a smirk, making the son of Hokage narrow his white eyes as he glanced at his former classmate. Meanwhile Buryaku scanned her surroundings, ignoring the taunt for most part – all Konoha rookies were still there, as was Monuke and his team. She could also see familiar teams from other villages, particularly worrying the ones from Kumo and Sawa: "Forty one squad left... damn, so many..."
Just then another trap door opened, letting in a cell from Kusa, one they all got recently acquainted with; gaining everyone's attention, Kouba scratched the back of his head, embarrassed, as he waved 'hello' to all that turned their attention towards the three.
"See, this is what happens when you slow us down, Nekkei-kun" Hana said accusingly, while her teammate coughed lightly before whipping his mouth. A few moments later Ino walked to the center of the roof, rising her voice so that everyone could hear her: "With this, the three hours of the last squad to enter the tower is up and so... congratulations to you all for passing the second phase of the Chuunin Selection Exam!"
Some of the gennin cheered at their own success, yet most were too tired or composed to join in; others knew much harder tests laid in wait and, apparently, the proctor decided to confirm their worries: "Your third challenge will begin immediately... as soon as your transportation to the spot arrives."
"Transportation?" Akemi repeated, somewhat suspiciously.
"Well, you don't think we can have an exam in such a confide space, do you?" Ino replied, extending her hands to show the square-shaped top of the roof, which towered over the clouds; while, by standard means, it wasn't small, certainly housing over a hundred and twenty people left little room for anything. The jounin smirked at her understanding and then shifted her head to the skies: "And it looks like your carriages arrive" she added as a buzzing sound flied the air.
Immediately everyone glanced up to see a black cloud heading their way. As moments pasted, the cloud grew bigger, only to have the young ninja realize what was coming was a swarm of dragonflies... ridiculously large dragonflies.
The bugs slowly settled on the roof and bent their thin legs, almost laying on the surface. Most people looked confused at the fact, unsure what to do. Luckily, Ino grew tired of that: "Well, what are you brats waiting for? Hop on already!" she commanded. Some of the gennin complied instantly, not bothered by the unusual occurrence; others required a minute to have the information sink in. Eventually, however, all youngsters got aboard the flying insects, which took to the air, taking them to a new location: "Good luck, Choumaru" the blonde jounin thought to herself as she watched them disappear below the clouds: "From here on, the play gets though..."
"I cannot believe we're riding on some, stinking bug" Gouka complained as the swarm descended, pushing through the clouds. Kumo, who was sitting right before her, while Garou and Hanomaru located themselves near the creature's head, spoke up in his usual, monotone manner, not even bothering to face his teammate: "Dragonflies are known for their mobility and size, at least by insect standards; if we are to travel via an inhabitant of a microworld, they do seem like the best choice."
"Okay" the young kunoichi replied, still disgusted. "And why do we have to travel via an inhabitant of the microworld?" she asked mockingly, annoyed at the premise. Meanwhile the swarm made it through the clouds, giving all gennin a bird view of Konoha; some of them gasped at the sight, others looked a little scared; Naraku couldn't help by owe the view as the buildings slowly grew, allowing the Hokage Monument to tower over the landscape.
The insects zoomed over the rooftops, making wind clash against their passengers' faces as they slalomed between towers and trees, leading the group further east. Eventually the buildings became scarce, with water spreading over the ground and an unpleasant stench hitting their noses.
Finally the swarm settled on a relatively dry ground, though the instant Gai jumped off his dragonfly, his sandals sunk a little, staining his feet with mud. Some of the kunoichi and even boys let out a 'yuck' sound; their discomfort reached the point that they got frustrated at the departure of the bugs, who left them at the gates, leading to a secured area, surrounded by steel railing.
Before the group stood a lone figure of a man, clad in a green overcoat with a hood, that was pushed over his head; a high collar hid his mouth, while a pair of large shades covered his eyes, making his features unrecognizable, aside from the Leaf hitae-ate on the forehead:" Greetings" the jounin spoke in a monotone Garou found annoyingly familiar. "I am Aburame Shino, your proctor for the third exam."
"This is so unfair" Shimiru whined at the news, hanging his head. "First it was Choumaru and now Kumo gets his parent overlooking the exam... how come we don't get breaks like that?" he over-dramatized, making Jun sweat drop at the statement: "Hitomi's father was the proctor of the first test" he reminded the skateboarder calmly.
"Yeah, a lot of good that did us, with Neji-san being a robot and all..."
"How is being a robot any different from Hasaki-sensei?" Hitomi asked, managing to keep an indifferent look, despite her parent getting insulted. "Plus, do you truly believe an Aburame will be any better in that regard?" she questioned, glancing at the blond.
The boy with piercings took a quick gaze at the jounin before them and then twisted his mouth, shifting his eyes to the side: "Point taken..."
"I assume most of you are wondering what this place is" the man named Shino went on as the young gennin gathered around him. "But do not worry, I shall explain that. Why? Because this is the place of your, next test; training area number 31, also called Swamp of Sorrows."
"A catchy name" Kouhai noted, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "First it was Tower of Terror, now this... since when has it become cool to use double alliteration?" he asked rhetorically, yet the proctor either didn't hear him or choose to ignore the boy as he went on in his emotionless tone: "As you all signed your agreement forms beforehand, doing so now is not needed, however I advice you listen carefully to the rules of this test. Why? Because this one is going to be much more demanding then your previous challenges."
"How's so?" Toramaru asked curiously, rising his eyebrow to empathize his point.
"Well, for starters, undoubtfully there will be deaths during this exam" Shino explained simply, making some of the young shinobi freeze at his words. Shunrai felt a cold shiver run down her spine as the jounin's statement sink in, forcing her body to shake without her will: "Deaths?" she repeated in her mind.
"In simple terms, you may call this an ultimate survival test" the head of the Aburame went on, still keeping any trace of emotion in check as his hand traveled to his pocket. A moment later, a small map appeared in his grip, unraveled from a scroll, showing a roughly round area. "Let me begin with a little information about the place itself; there are preciously fifty entrance gates leading into the swamp; from each of these gates, the distance to the center is, more or less, twelve kilometers. Naturally, reaching the center, which is an old stronghold used as a line of defense in Konoha early days, will be the goal of this exam."
"Not particularly challenging so far" the black-skinned swamp-nin with drums announced confidently, showing a bored expression, while his teammates remained still, though uninterested. Certainly, with the geographic placement of their village, this sort of terrain was advantageous for them.
"Well, reaching the stronghold is not the only requirement you need to fulfill to pass" Shino responded in a similar manner, hiding the map, while his other arm grabbed a pair of scrolls – one white and the other black: "You will be competing against each other in an all-out battle, in which any technique and weapon is allowed."
"What sort of battle?" Balegu asked, mildly curious.
"For years, this part of the exam was referred to as Battle for the Scrolls" the jounin replied calmly. "There are currently forty-two teams; half of them will receive the Heaven scroll" he stated, holding the white one out front. "And the other half shall be given the Earth scroll. Your task will be to bring both of these scrolls to the stronghold."
"So, basically, only twenty one squads will make it through this test" Akumo made a quick calculation, readjusting his glasses, yet the proctor corrected him immediately: "At best; why? Because there's a time limit – you only get five days to reach the stronghold. Fail to do so will result in ending your participation in this event."
"Wait a second" Choumaru raised his hand, concern written all over his face. "Five days? What are we supposed to eat in that time? I doubt anyone packed that much provisions" he added. True, he was generally just worried over missing lunch, but showed enough dignity to hide that fact, unlike his father all those years ago.
"The swamp can provide you with the food you need" the bug master replied matter-of-factly. "Of course you should be wary that some plants are poisonous and others even eat meat themselves. The conditions are quite extreme, so aside from other squads, you'll need to watch out for beasts, quicksands, dangerous insects and the like; be advised that it is impossible for half the teams to make it through this challenge."
"I'm gonna enjoy this" Toukai stated with an evil smirk.
"Now, allow me to inform you what disqualifies the squad" Shino went on. "Besides failure to deliver both scrolls to the stronghold within time limit, anyone whose teammates are incapable of continuing the struggle will not be allowed to take part in the next exam either; there is also no quitting – if you enter the swamp, you will spent there five days, unless you will manage to obtain the scrolls and reach the stronghold; if that happens, you are allowed to wait within its walls until the time limit expires."
"I'll get bored out of my ass waiting for all the losers to gather" Erikku whined as he gave a quick glance towards Toramaru and his team. The blond boy let out a growl as his eye twitched, yet said nothing in response.
"There is one, final rule" the jounin spoke again, probably sensing the tension, even though he did not show it. "The scrolls must remain untouched until you reach the stronghold."
"Why's that?" Naraku asked suspiciously.
"That is information on a 'need to know' basis and you do not" Shino answered in an annoying manner. "As chuunin, there is a possibility that you'll be entrusted with classified documents; in these circumstances trust in very important. Aside from your survival skills, this exam also grades you on your ability to follow directives. As ninja, you are often forced to act without knowing the full scope of the situation; shinobi should not question his or hers motives, since they are, first and foremost, a tool to their village. Your loyalty is a key aspect, which determines whether you are suited for such life or not."
"Damn, they really are making a throughout test of our character and skills in this" Akai mellowed somewhat, getting nervous. "Acting carefree and open is definitely not gonna cut it..."
"If there aren't any questions, I ask that those who wish to proceed to the exam enter this booth behind me" the head of the Aburame pointed towards a small, square structure near the training area walls, which insides were completely covered by drapes. "Each team will enter the booth alone to receive their scroll, after which you will be escorted to your entrance gate by a chuunin. On my signal, the exam will officially begin."
"I see" Buryaku nodded to herself as the first squad walked into the booth. "We won't know which team received which scroll nor who'll be carrying it. Also, in order to pass, some sort of confrontation with another cell is unavoidable, even if you're good at sneaking around. And, being given this many chances to back down, everyone who'll participate must be confident in their decision, meaning they will not hesitate to go the distance in clearing this test. This is gonna be beyond troublesome... everyone's an enemy!"
Gate #2: Makiba Hana, Ibara Kouba and Utsuru Nekkei
"Dammit, why did it had to be swamp?" Hana whined, doing her best to keep the bottom of her kimono away from the muddy surface. "This is seriously gonna leave a stain! Kouba-kun, I'll be counting on you to keep me clean!" she proclaimed, making her teammate sweat drop, while Nekkei coughed violently.
"Those are gonna be five, very looooong days" the boy in worn-out clothes thought to himself with a sigh.
Gate #5: Kitou, Noroi, Sayoku and Takamu
"I advice you not waste our provisions so casually, Sayoku" the waterfall-nin with the large scroll spoke in a warning manner, without even looking at his teammate, who stood behind him, feeding his hawk a small piece of meat. "We will not be handing out extra rations throughout the test."
Gate #11: Shuri, Kawaridane and Taiko
"This should be a walk in the park for us" the Sawa kunoichi stated with a smirk before throwing Kawaridane a worried look. "If we'll manage to keep him in check, that is..."
Gate #17: Sabaku no Hakachi, Bunraku and Fuugo
"This isn't a big deal" the sand-nin with the headgear assured himself, calmly awaiting the signal. "But knowing Hakachi, there'll be no living with her if we won't reach that freaking stronghold fast enough" he told himself and then glanced at Fuugo. Despite the latter wearing a mask, the boy could easily tell his teammate was aware of that fact as well.
Gate #18: Futotta Orafu, Hakabakashi Erikku and Seiretsu Balegu
"So, who should we play with first?" Orafu asked with a smirk as he adjusted his visor, scanning all squads in the vicinity, while Erikku cracked his knuckles. Balegu remained indifferent to the question, calmly observing the gate as he was anxious to enter the battle.
Gate #20: Uchiha Gouka, Aburame Kumo and Inuzuka Garou
"Survival is our thing!" Garou cheered, tightening his fists from excitement. "We are so gonna rule this one!" he claimed as Hanomaru barked in agreement. Kumo, per usual, gave no indication he had any thoughts concerning the ordeal, while Gouka merely rolled her eyes.
Gate #23: Fuzakeru Muchi, Irezumi Shunsai and Kiganai Henpuku
"The terrain should be somewhat advantageous for us" the rain-nin with a headgear stated, readjusting his hat. "I suggest we make the best of it and show all the losers just how dangerous we truly are."
"Patience, Henpuku" the boy with tattoos, Shunsai, responded, keeping his eyes on the gates. "The exams are far from over and we must tread carefully, so as to not reveal too much before the time is right..."
Gate #27: Nekko Hinako, Nayamasu Gaki and Rock Gai
Kuroki climbed on top of Hinako's head, visibly disturbed as their squad awaited the signal. Gai gave the kunoichi a puzzled look, but the redhead quickly explained: "Cats don't particularly like water" she stated, making the boy nod in understanding. Gaki, on the other hand, only let out a frown: "Guess it'll be up to me to get the job done..."
Gate #29: Gengetsu Moroha, Kurogane Toukai and Kousotsu
"Guess luck is on our side, getting placed so close to those leaf-nins from the other day" Moroha nodded with a smile, glancing at Lee's students. "Shall we finish what we've started earlier, Toukai-kun?" she asked the violet-haired teen, but the boy merely followed her gaze without a word.
Gate #31: Kakeme Juryoku, Makaze Fukaru and Mekakushi Aitou
"So, Aitou, who are we going after first?" Juryoku asked with a smirk, while her teammate remained indifferent. "Any of those, white-eyed freaks have what we need?" she questioned, this time making the blind-folded boy twitch slightly. Luckily, before the situation could escalate, Fukaru decided to step in:
"Juryoku-chan, that is enough; we are not here to cause a rift between ourselves. We'll follow Aitou-san's lead and plan as we move along. There's no point in going after those of Hyuuga heritage in this, particular setting, since they'll spot us a mile away... isn't that right?" with this he turned to his other companion, but even now the final cloud-nin remained silent.
Gate #36: Nekata Akemi, Kagami Akai and Megane Akumo
"Using one's surroundings may prove of key importance in here" Akumo noted, adjusting his glasses. "Think you'll manage, Akemi?" he asked the kunoichi, to which the green-haired girl took a deep breath before nodding.
Gate #39: Shunrai, Akimichi Choumaru and Hisakata Gitou
"Toramaru-kun, I'll do my best!" Shunrai convinced herself firmly, yet her body still shook without her will. Choumaru didn't noticed, being depressed over the 'five days without food' thing, yet Gitou couldn't help but worry over the young kunoichi.
Gate #42: Hyuuga Hitomi, Abunage Shimiru and Hatake Jun
"There is no way I'll be losing to the Main Family" Hitomi stated, shifting her Byakugan towards Toramaru and his squad, who were located relatively close by. Little she didn't took note of was the fact others were interested in that, particular cell as well...
Gate #44: Tetsu, Sabaku no Shikyo and Kobura
Kobura licked his lips as excitement swept over his body: "This'll be fun" he believed, while Shikyo cracked his neck. Their female teammate gave the two a worried look, sensing what was coming: "This is certainly NOT going to be fun..."
Gate #47: Nara Buryaku, Uchiha Naraku and Uzumaki Toramaru
"Just come already!" the blond yelled, eager for the test to begin. "We'll beat all of you senseless!"
Gate #50: Garasu Madoka, Shimura Kouhai and Monuke
"This may be a bit much" Monuke stated with an uncomfortable smile as he scratched the back of his head. Meanwhile, Kouhai was not convinced at all by the display: "This exam gives a great opportunity for anyone who has such desires; I can't allow my mission to go awry; the final act is slowly coming into play – screw-up now is not an option!"
The last, couple of teams arrived at their gates and everyone waited for the doors to open, some more patiently then others; this was their ultimate proving ground, this was where their first, real battle would take place, for some of them anyway. As soon as their way was cleared, the youths dashed right into the dark, gruesome swamp to a face-off of a lifetime.
Toramaru and Naraku were no different from the bunch, yet Buryaku found it more efficient to actually devise some plan and, once the boys noted she fell behind, they stopped, giving her puzzled looks.
"Buryaku, what the heck?" the white-eyed gennin demanded as the kunoichi slowly headed their way, not rushing at all. "We need to find some, other team and grab the scroll! The sooner we do that, the more time we'll have to prepare for the next exam!"
"While that is, most assuredly, true, going in blindly into unknown territory against enemies you know little of is suicide" the girl responded calmly, making both her comrades exchange glances. It was painful to admit, but despite everything that happened to them until now, they had not thought of that. "Our encounter with those swamp-nins in the first test should've shown you that if we're not careful, we're greatly outmatched. Chances are there's a whole bunch of people as strong as those Sawa guys and we know for a fact that Kumo trio or those Snow freaks are not to be taken lightly. Who knows what, other monsters lurked around the contestants?"
"Okay, what do you purpose then?" Naraku asked, managing to calm himself.
"First we need to make preparations" the blonde replied immediately. "We have five days to complete this exam, there's no point in rushing it; the first, three days should give us plenty of opportunities to grab the scroll we need and we won't really benefit from trying to clear this test ASAP. I suggest we handle food and arrange things for possible trouble like getting split up. After all, with Toramaru's eyes, we've got an edge most people don't..."
But even as she said so, none of them were aware that they were being watched by another group of three, each decorated with a headband donning an hourglass:
"Heh, Leaf brats who want to play ninja" whispered the first member of the team, a boy with medium-length, spiky, dark orange hair and shining, teal eyes, which he set of the Konoha trio. His attire was made of a red t-shirt, a brown unbuttoned vest on top of that and gray pants with black, military pattern. With the hitae-ate in its rightful place, he acted as the leader of the squad. "Easy enough prey..."
"Lets not get ahead of ourselves, Homura-san" purposed the second sand-nin, a girl with long, brown hair, clipped in a ponytail and green eyes. Carrying two Fuuma Shuriken on her back, her wardrobe was, for most part, a tight, light-blue outfit with fingerless gloves and high, enforced boots. "That blond one seems like a Hyuuga, we should be careful."
"Like that matters with Homura's abilities" the last of the Suna gennin, a boy with spiky, black hair and red eyes shoot back, smirking wickedly. He wore a loose, green attire with several spears attached to his back and a pair at the belt, one at each hip. His skin covered in tiny cuts, he gave the most unpleasant look of the three. "We don't even need to do anything, Bifuu; he can handle them on his own."
"We'll observe them for a short while" the one called Homura stated in an ordering manner, almost as if he paid no heed to his comrades' words. "See if we can figure out anything about those brats. If we don't... we'll just eradicate them the old-fashioned way..."
-new enemies... who are these guys?-
And that would conclude this chapter.
And 'yes', Homura and his gang were planned to appear in the story from the beginning, only I didn't had a good way to introduce them earlier, so they make their debut now (plus I promised no, new characters will be appearing before the popularity poll results... a promise I already broke by shortening the second exam into one chapter and thus providing you with Takashi's character, who was only mentioned in the Academy years). They're added to the gennin list, of course.
Konoha #1 (Teigo Kinuta): Buryaku Nara, Naraku Uchiha, Toramaru Uzumaki
Konoha #2 (Lee Rock): Hinako Nekko (the redhead girl with a black cat, Kuroki), Gaki Nayamasu (the muscular boy), Gai Rock (the boy with a bowl-like haircut)
Konoha #3 (Shikamaru Nara): Shunrai (the girl with a crush on Toramaru), Choumaru Akimichi (the chubby boy), Gitou Hisakata (the coughing boy)
Konoha #4 (Hinata Uzumaki): Gouka Uchiha (Naraku's twin sister), Kumo Aburame (the boy in green overcoat), Garou Inuzuka (the boy with the dog, Hanomaru)
Konoha #5 (Hasaki Kinzoku): Hitomi Hyuuga (white-eyed girl), Jun Hatake (the masked teen), Shimiru Abunage (the blond with piercings and a skateboard)
Konoha #6 (Hiyoko Shinku): Akemi Nekata (green-haired girl), Akai Kagami (the redhead), Akumo Megane (the boy with glasses)
Konoha (Sai): Madoka Garasu (the girl with gems), Kouhai Shimura (Danzou's cousin), Monuke (the pale-skinned boy)
Suna #1 (Mashino): Tetsu (girl with metal protectors), Kobura (the boy in black), Sabaku no Shikyo (the boy with the gourd)
Suna #2 (Kankuro): Sabaku no Hakachi (the girl with the gourd), Bunraku (the boy with a headgear and scrolls), Fuugo (the masked pipsqueak)
Suna #3 (?): Bifuu (the girl with Fuuma Shuriken on her back), ? (the boy with spears), Homura (the orange-haired boy)
Kumo (?): Juryoku Kakeme (the blue-haired girl), Fukaru Makaze (the blond boy), Aitou Mekakushi (the blind-folded boy)
Ame (?): Muchi Fuzakeru (the kimono wearing girl), Shunsai Irezumi (the tattooed boy), Henpuku Kiganai (the boy with a headgear)
Kane (?): Moroha Gengetsu (the girl with a crescent-moon blade), Toukai Kurogane (the violet-haired boy), Kousotsu (the armored boy)
Kusa (?): Hana Makiba (girl in a yellow kimono), Kouba Ibara (the boy in worn-out clothes), Nekkei Utsuru (the sick boy)
Taki (?): Kitou (the girl with a praying stick), Noroi (the boy with a large scroll), Sayoku (the boy with bandaged mouth and a hawk, Takamu)
Yuki (?): Orafu Futotta (the fat guy with the shield), Erikku Hakabakashi (the redhead), Balegu Seiretsu (the swordsman)
Sawa (?): Shuri (the girl with the pipe), Kawaridane (the double-pupil teen), Taiko (the black-skinned teen with drums)
Now the last order of business is to give you the results of the popularity poll. With this the contest has been closed (at least till its second edition) and the table is as follows (the first number in bracket is the amount of votes the character received, after that are 'voting points')...
Toramaru: hang on, how come you do this so unceremoniously? This is important stuff, dammit!
Shang: Oh what fresh hell is this? What in the world are you doing here anyway, shouldn't you be at the Swamp of Sorrows, getting your ass handed to you by a bunch of other gennin or something?
Toramaru: No way, bozo! I'm here specifically coz I knew you were gonna screw this up!
Shang: Screw what up?
Toramaru: Popularity Poll results! Here, let me show you how it's done! Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to present you the winners of "Those Who Inherit the Will of Fire"... shit, this title really is a mouthful... first ever Character Popularity Poll!
Naraku Uchiha (4/17) – what the... him? No way I'm believing this! I smell a rat!
Shunrai (3/13) – okay, she's kinda cute, so THAT I can believe...
Buryaku Nara (3/13) – you've gotta be kidding me! The lazy bump? Seriously? What is wrong with you people?!
Garou Inuzuka (3/9) – even dog-breath's ahead of me? That's it, someone tempered with those results! I'm sure of it!
Toramaru Uzumaki (2/10) – oh, NOW I'm listed... you know what : why don't you guys just kiss me big, hairy...
Shang: Ekhem... why don't I just cut him off here and proceed with the list without the commentary?
Teigo Kinuta (2/8)
Gitou Hisakata (2/7)
Madoka Garasu (2/6)
Aitou Mekakushi (2/4)
Shimiru Abunage (1/5)
Naruto Uzumaki (1/3)
Fukaru Makaze (1/3)
Akemi Nekata (1/3)
Hinako Nekko (1/3)
Gaki Nayamasu (½)
Akumo Megane (½)
Sabaku no Hakachi (½)
Toukai Kurogane (1/1)
Gouka Uchiha (1/1)
Hitomi Hyuuga (1/1)
Emisu Nekko (1/1)
I must admit some of these results did came as a bit of a surprise for me; while I didn't expect Toramaru to win the poll, I'm somewhat disappointed Teigo scored "so low" - personally I find him as one of the more interesting character in the story. On another, surprising note, Madoka, who had like three-four mentions altogether managed to beat characters that, in my opinion, stand out from the crowd, such as Shimiru or Hinako, for example.
More surprising is that Gaki received a vote... I mean – he's an ass :D Didn't saw that one coming at all and I feel sorta bad that some of the other characters got squat (Kumo, Gai, Monuke, Akai, Jun). Overall I am shocked, but at least I know who to elaborate a bit more on.
Few things aren't that big a surprise for me though and while it is a bit sad that merely 24 characters got into the poll, here's hoping that, by the time the second one takes places, the list will be wider ;)
Thanks to everyone who sacrificed their time to take the vote and who will review this chapter as well. Take care and until next time!