Heroic: Deadmines is really fun, guys. Vanessa's nightmares are the shit.

Merry Belated Christmas?

I got a cartilage piercing and now my neck is stiff as heck because I have to sleep on the right side of my face... ;_; There's a knot in it as we speak. Oh, woe is me.

Hope you all are enjoying the Holidays!


Sakura unfurled her map as Kosuke led both their horses, glancing at the markers at the map and scanning their surroundings. As they moved forward on the beaten path, she caught glimpses of their final marker - the Savage Thicket. Endless fires licked at the edges of the blackened forest before them, the trees scarred and burnt.

"Kosuke!" she called, and he twisted the reins, pulling on them as the two horses nickered softly and came to an abrupt halt. Sakura carefully marked a trail around the burning forest, and together they carefully guided their horses around the flames, and Sakura desperately wished she could bring this everlasting fire to frozen halls of the Citadel. But she and Kosuke were made of the cold, fashioned from icy undeath, and they alone would not be able to set Icecrown ablaze. How desperately they wished to be free of the Lich King - how they yearned to burn the frozen fortress down! But they were two in a sea of will-less servants, and the only ones they could wish to convert were the Death Knights themselves.

So for now they reveled in the fire, soaking up the heat and the warmth and the sun of Sholazar Basin - hopefully the fresh memories would save them from the Lich King's icy grasp. Unbidden, Sakura's thoughts raced to see Sasuke, a great katon erupting from his lips and billowing out across the lake outside his parents' home. She could taste the smoke in the air, and as he looked at her, eyes torn between sadness and relief that she was there, he tasted of smoke and campfire. She thought back to feel the heat on her skin, and wished that his flames would last forever in her heart. She ached for him, but lingering on Sasuke did nothing for her nor Kosuke. So she swallowed with great difficulty and turned back to the map, analyzing the best route to get to the Citadel. They would have to avoid footholds of the Ebon Blade; although Mograine trusted them, this close to the Citadel and the Lich King himself would hear the whispers of his former servants, either by scrying orb or word of mouth.

Far ahead Sakura could see the snow-covered, desolate peaks of Icecrown, glimmering dully on the horizon. For miles and miles she could see the barren wasteland of the Glacier, snow drifts piled upon it and tiny figures moving to and fro, Icecrown Citadel looming ominously in the distance. She could see the spiked, blackened steel walls of the different gates driven deep into the thick glacier, rooted firmly with magic.

The air grew colder and colder as they traveled up the steep mountain path, but neither noticed. They weren't really alive, after all - extreme temperatures did not affect either of them in the least. They looked down the valley several times, longing for the jungle as the altitude climbed higher and higher. Wildlife and plants grew sparse, the dirt caked and frozen beneath their feet. Their breath condensed into the wind, forming puffs of white smoke. She tilted her head towards the sky and drank in the sunlight, although the warmth could barely be felt. The icy grasp of the Lich King, the glacier, and the Scourge poison embedded deeply within the ice seemed to block the sun's heat and light. The expanse of blue before them was as gloomy as Duskwood's forests, filled with crawling abominations and undead.

Ino flicked her long blonde hair over her shoulder, several fingers traveling up to play with the small hoop in her ear, staring out over the canals. The stagnant water still carried the taint of blood, a murky red that stunk of iron. She stood with her feet slightly spread apart, exuding an air of confidence. She drew the eyes as easy as she had in Konoha, young men staring at her in awe and admirability and the women burning holes into her back with jealousy. She and the other shinobi had not altered their outfits to fit in with the general fighters; they stuck out like sore thumbs in a crowd, but they preferred it that way. When confronted by disapproving military commanders, they simply replied it was far easier to pick their comrades out in a crowd, and they were under the jurisdiction of their home country, not the King's. She smiled as a large wet nose gently bumped the small of her back, turning to ruffle Akamaru's fur. Several patrolling guards gaped at the size of the dog, outfitted with a saddle and happily supporting his master. Kiba swung off the dog's back and came to stand behind her, flashing her a heart-stopping grin.

"You've got quite the fan club going on," he purred, "I've heard quite a bit about you."

"The same goes for you," she shot him a cheeky smile, "you wouldn't want to hear the things these women say about you." His face paled for a second before he sucked it all up into his massive ego. He puffed his chest out and smirked at her, the red tattoos on his cheeks gleaming brilliantly in the sun.

"They all would love to court you, love. All I could hear in that stupid bank was how great your ass and tits were, and all the women were mouthing off about you... but I shut them up, don't worry. Only problem is... uh... I kind of told them that you were my girlfriend. Hope you aren't angry, love."

"So the great Inuzuka Kiba wants to be my boyfriend, huh... I suppose I could maybe accept." He rolled his eyes and snorted.

"They wouldn't stop bombarding me with questions on how to talk to you and if I could introduce them... and I didn't like some of things the women were saying about you. I just got fed up with it and said, 'excuse me, that's my girlfriend you're talking about.' They all shut up pretty quickly." Ino laughed, tossing her head back and exposing her long throat. Kiba watched her neck and clavicle, entranced. He smirked at her again wrapped an arm around her waist. "Why don't we have some fun, babe?" he asked innocently, giving her side a squeeze. She rolled her eyes but complied, leaning up to give dog-breath the kiss of his life, smirking into his mouth at the groans and gasps of civilians and soldiers on the street.

"We're evil," she laughed, licking her lips as she pulled away. She tried to conceal the slight glaze over her eyes, she was pretty sure he'd just given her the kiss of her life too... not that she'd ever admit it. He grinned boyishly at her, giving her a little wink. Ino turned away, fighting a blush. Kiba was highly attractive, and the kiss that had transpired between them... it sure had a lot more sparks than the one she'd shared with Sai and Shikamaru, combined. It had been a bitter breakup, her and Shikamaru. He fell in love with the fiery blonde from Suna and hadn't looked at Ino the same way since. She still smarted from the blow, but was determined not to let it show. She quietly left the team - at least, temporarily - and had started hanging out with Kiba a whole lot more. He was funny, passionate, nice, and very attractive, not to mention a great friend. He'd helped her go through ice cream cartons and shoddy romance movies and thousands of tissue boxes during her breakup. She'd questioned him of ulterior motives, but he'd merely shrugged and reasoned with her - with teammates like Shino and Hinata, he never really had that much fun or drama in his life, and he was tired of it. Kiba thought Shikamaru a no-life bastard. Ino, still hurting over the break-up, never agreed but was grateful for his vehemence in her place. "Let's go patrol the forest, shall we?" Patrolling duties were mostly heaped upon the shinobi - the plan was genius, really. They would do the job of patrolling whilst they learned the layout of the forest and the towns within Elwynn. Ino spun a kunai around her lithe fingers, sliding it into her pouch and leapt off the roof, and swung up into the saddle behind Kiba as both and he Akamaru touched down beside her. The civilians in Goldshire gawked at their strange attire - at his jacket and long pants, her purple crop top and skirt, fishnets on her arms and legs.

Ino wrapped her arms around Kiba, sending electricity down his spine. He grinned and Akamaru barked joyfully, bounding from a standing position to rocket down the square. They leapt over the fence, sending forest spiders and boars scuttling off as the giant dog bounded through the forest.

"First stop, Fargodeep Mine," Ino yelled, "it should be up ahead... just look for Kobolds, he said. We're to scout the entire mine." They slid off Akamaru when they spotted the vicious rat-like humanoids, and as Ino approached one it let loose a shrieking squeal and hurtled for her. It clearly meant to attack. It was dead before it had taken four paces, falling back with a kunai straight through its heart. The blonde retrieved her kunai, and glanced back at Kiba to see him staring at her with something like awe. She sharply turned her head to hide the blush and made to stride forward, kunai sliding to her fingertips when Kiba called her name.

"Let's try this first," he said, jumping onto Akamaru's back. "Get on!" Ino jogged over and jumped up behind him, and Akamaru traveled to the cliff overlooking the tiny valley which housed the rundown mine. He growled, long and low, escalating in loudness. The Kobolds around him cowered and squeaked, and they all dispersed as the giant dog made its way down the path.

"You no take candle!" one shrieked, hurriedly clearing the way. Ino tightened her arms around Kiba's waist as they entered the mine, the gleaming eyes of Kobolds enclosing on them from behind. She whipped out her kunai and let them dart around her hands like silver fish, and they backed off somewhat. Kiba grinned, fangs elongating as he bared them at the Kobold in front. They made a devilish, frightening picture, and they scampered out of the way and let the two intruders inspect the mine. Once satisfied, Akamaru turned around and bounded down the shaft back to the forest, and Kiba didn't miss Ino's sigh of relief. The death grip she had on his waist loosened somewhat, to his mild relief.

"Afraid of caves?"

"Let's just say the last time I was in one... things didn't go so pleasantly."

"Fair enough," Kiba replied, riding along the banks of the river bordering Duskwood. "Man, that place looks creepy as hell," he shuddered.

"I'm glad we're not assigned there... patrolling Elwynn is hardly a challenge, but I'd take this over there any day. Sucks for Suigetsu and Karin," Ino shivered against him, and Kiba welcomed her embrace. He swung Akamaru around and they made for Goldshire, getting on the roads to survey the rest of Elwynn Forest. "All's left is Northshire Abbey... better check it, just to make sure." Kiba nodded and let Ino direct the way, and they both stared at the walls built to keep enemies out. Elite guards stood at the entrance, protecting the newest recruits and trainees.

"Newbies," Kiba tossed Ino a wolfy, heart-stopping grin, and she felt her stomach flutter with butterflies. She rolled her eyes, slapping him upside the head. "We were once rookies too. Don't get cocky," she warned, but the smile on her face proved otherwise. They swung off Akamaru and he trailed along behind them, drawing admiring and awe-filled glances from the new recruits. "Great," Ino mumbled. "Just what you need. An ego boost." Kiba merely smirked.

"Aw, are you jealous, dollface?"

"Don't call me that," Ino growled, and he winced. Kiba swore he saw more and more of Sakura in the girl with each passing day. At least she hadn't resorted to violence... yet. Kiba jerked around in surprise and gave a yell as something scorching grazed his face. Eyes wide, he swore he'd seen a flicker, a rush of fire. The scent of singed hair reached his nose, and he spun around, nostrils flaring, canines elongated in anger. Ino whirled around as well, shuriken ready to fly. They encountered a pasty-faced initiate, sweat rolling down beads on his face.

"Hey!" he yelled, "what the hell?"

"I'm so sorry!" the young, apprentice mage stammered, saluting fearfully. "I meant no harm, sir! I was aiming for the target, and well, as you can see, my aim was well off, and - "

"Oh, shut it," Kiba snarled, fingering the ends of his burnt hair. "Damn it," he swore, glaring angrily at the quaking young boy.

"Oh leave him alone, Kiba. He's only about thirteen." Ino did not falter under Kiba's furious look, and she rolled her eyes, raising her chin in defiance. "Don't mind the hothead, kid," she told the scared-to-death trainee, smiling encouragingly at him. "We all make mistakes, he's just a girl about his hair." Ino grabbed Kiba's forearm with a vicelike grip, and though Kiba wanted to pound his face in, Akamaru's hackled raised next to him - he followed Ino's heed and followed the young woman to Marshal McBride, grumbling the whole way. "Oh shut it, you big baby. He barely even grazed the ends." The Marshal apologized profusely, but Ino elbowed Kiba hard in the gut, smiled sweetly, and told him not to worry. Before Kiba could fully recover, she dragged him into the circular abbey, and they checked each of the wings together, finally heading up to the bell tower. "Good boy," she crooned, and Kiba grit his teeth as he heard Akamaru bark in laughter. The dog barked twice more, and Kiba bared his fangs.

You're whipped, Akamaru had said. Kiba wanted to pummel his companion to the ground when he got back outside... but as he gazed at Ino's lovely behind, leading him up the steep stairs, well... he forgot all about that and the young mage boy all together. He snapped out of his trance when he bumped into a glaring Ino, whose eyes told him she knew exactly where he'd been looking.

"Look, but don't touch," she growled at him; feisty. Kiba liked that. She was certainly an Alpha female, and could give almost any Alpha male a run for his money - except him. Kiba grinned in anticipation.

"I need to go to Northrend," Sasuke snarled, eyes dark with fury. He slammed his hands down on Mograine's desk, eyes shuttering red. The sharingan entrapped the death knight and pinned him there, wheels spinning menacingly. Desperation shone through his every pore, and all Mograine could see was a broken man, standing on his last legs. "I lost her twice - once when I made a foolish, awful mistake... and once when she died. I am not going to lose her again!" he roared, and determination burned in him hotter than fire. Seeing him made Mograine ache for life, for the glorious feel of the sun shining down on his face, the lust for hot blood pumping through his veins, longing for the steady thump in his chest. Sasuke made Mograine feel alive, even in the most tragic of ways. Mograine could see that the other Death Knights felt it too, the way they longed to be around the furious, inferno-filled young man. His undying devotion and passion was refreshing to them, inspired them, gave them the taste of life they longed for.

"Alright," Mograine finally acquiesced. He knew the boy's pain well. He'd lost the love of his life... but unlike Sasuke's, she was gone forever. "We leave in two days." Sasuke gritted his teeth and snarled quietly, but he knew there was no other way. He could not traverse Northrend without them, he knew that, and they needed the time to gather munitions and supplies.

"Thank you," Sasuke said, low and rough, eyes glowing with banked fires. He saluted respectfully and turned to leave the room, leaving silence in his wake.

"He's full of fire, that one. Dangerous." The comment came from Thassarian, who pushed off from the wall to stand in front of Mograine's desk.

"Yes, but he'll bring something different to the table - something we desperately need. The boy would've gone to Northrend without us - it is best to have him by our side. He is too consumed by his dedication to Sakura, but that is no matter. You saw the way he would fight for her... he'd give his life a thousand times to save hers just once. He's what we need. The Lich King will not be expecting him. He thinks we have lost the fight, that we have lost all of our morale. He will booster our spirits like never before. He will raise hell on the battlefield that we have not seen for a long time. Trust me, Thassarian. He is exactly what we need." Mograine eyed papers crushed by Sasuke's fists, and allowed hope to bloom in his chest for the first time in a long while.

"But is he willing to wait? Can he wait?" questioned Thassarian, and Mograine looked away, silent for a long, long time.

"I don't know, Thassarian. I don't know," Mograine sighed, troubled.

Back in Goldshire, Ino kicked her feet up onto the bed they'd rented at The Lion's Pride inn, sighing in pleasure as the mattress cradled her body. She wasn't used to riding in the saddle. She glanced around the rented room, staring at the large blue canopy overhead, and moved her head to scan the rest of the room. It was warm and inviting, but rather bland and boring according to taste. There was nothing to do but sleep, and Ino, while tired and exhausted, was in no mood to sleep. She grabbed the keys and let herself out, making sure to lock the door as she headed down the stairs. When she reached the bottom she roved her eyes over the room. It was filled with weary adventurers, their packs and swords hung over empty chairs, looking worse for the wear. They quietly sipped at mugs of beer and lounged comfortably in the atmosphere, tavern music coming from the back corner where musicians played for money. Ino tossed a couple of gold coins into the empty mug. She and Kiba, full of color and life, didn't really belong in the old, well-kept inn. They were too vibrant and bright for the relaxed atmosphere. Ino was just glad it was clean and rumored to be the best alehouse in the Kingdom - she walked over to the bartender and came back with a mug of beer, noticing with chagrin the number of civilian girls surrounding Kiba. She rolled her eyes in disgust, they were only feeding his larger-than-life ego... and it when came down to it, she was currently the only person he could take it out on. She made her way over, squeezing through the throng of girls clustered around the handsomely smirking shinobi. Ino rolled her eyes and dropped in, attempting to move Kiba's pack to the floor and seat herself down on the chair. A noise of surprise sounded from the back of her throat when Kiba suddenly rolled forward and seized her by her belt loops, pulling her down gracefully into his lap. Ino rolled her eyes at the firm hand at her hip that kept her firmly cemented in his lap, glaring angrily at him.

The girls around them reluctantly drifted away from the table, throwing admiring, lustful glances at Kiba, and when they were out of his sight, turned vicious, furious glares on Ino. She sighed at her rapidly tarnishing reputation, punching him in the gut.

"What was that for?" he whined, nuzzling her neck to make the stragglers leave.

"Now every girl in Goldshire hates me, for sure," she grumbled. "No thanks to you."

"Ah, but we are dating," Kiba smirked, and Ino had to avert her eyes to refrain from kissing him, or something similarly disastrous. "Besides, you can't say you don't like this." Ino secretly agreed, but simply punched him in the stomach once more. She blushed lightly, playing it off as the alcohol from the beer. She tried to ignore his large, warm hands on her waist, the warmth of his chest flush against her back. She glared at the mug of beer. It was making her weak, she surmised. She ignored the fact that most of it was based on her attraction to Kiba, and blamed it on the alcohol. She leaned into him and felt his chest rumble as he talked and laughed, sending pleasant shivers down her spine. The shared the mug of beer, not wanting to get tipsy or have a slight hangover in the morning. "Besides," Kiba said, bringing her out of her reverie, "You've made me quite hated amongst the guys as well. Take a look around right now." The last sentence was whispered through her hair, breath hot against her ear. Ino discreetly took a look, and was shell-shocked. Many of the men were blatantly staring.

"It's probably the way we're sitting," Ino shot crossly back, still stationed in Kiba's lap.

"Ah," he replied smoothly, "but you haven't gotten up yet." He smirked as Ino half-heartedly slugged him, grinning with pride. Secret was, she'd been making his heart race. He had one of the most gorgeous women he'd ever met in his lap, trusting and leaning into him. She was beautiful and smart and sexy and clever... what more would a man want? She was unafraid of rising to his challenges, something that meek Hinata or Shino never could or would. She challenged him for dominance, every minute of the day, and that really excited Kiba, made him enthralled with her. He smirked smugly at the jealous men ringed around the inn, and caressed her side with a hand absentmindedly, unknowingly sending delicious shivers down her spine.