Hi everybody. Here is the 'long-awaited' update for Dark Phoenix. I hope you like it, happy reading.

As always I thank all those that left a review for me to know how you liked the last chapter and also those that have the story on their favourites list.

Information Gathering

Naruto looked at Sandayu with disdain. This plan he had worked out was not thought through. Who thought that dragging a princess back to her home country, when she clearly suffered a trauma, would be enough to make her take over the leadership over some weak rebellion? Even Wave Country had had better starting conditions. Tazuna had been a leader. A drunk and insulting leader, but he had stood up for his people and had done something. He had found a way to achieve the goal of giving his people a future.

The main problem had been that the opponent was too powerful for him alone, even if the people of Wave Country would have all stood up against Gato. The numbers of thugs that Gato employed required ninja intervention. It required the silent assassination that he and Kakashi sensei had performed, no matter how hard that had been. But in the end Tazuna had managed to motivate his people to work for their freedom after the danger was gone. The people were just too scared to do anything that could get them killed.

Here in Snow Country there was no leader that was taking the lead over those that were perhaps willing to fight. They all expected their princess to lead them, when it was clear that she wanted to be anywhere but here. It was a strategy that was doomed to fail from the beginning.

He and Haku had interrogated their captives and had found out that Doto had been aware of the identity of Yukie for a while and had let Sandayu play into his hands by bringing her back to Snow Country. It meant it would be much harder from here on, as Doto wanted the hexagonal crystal that Koyuki wore around her neck. It was supposedly the key to the treasure of the Kazahana family. And he wanted that treasure. The interrogation also gave them a lot of information about the technology of the Snow Country, technology that was far advanced compared to anything that Konoha had. It was clear that they would have to take the chance to take some of it for Konoha and if possible steal some blueprints to recreate the armour.

It would increase the power of their village a lot. The main problem was that they would have to get into Doto's fortress and that was damn difficult. The man was a security nut and it would take time to sneak inside. Especially as there were few animals that Naruto could imitate to get in like he had done with Gato's hideout. Well, perhaps this could be a proper test for his mirage jutsu.

Having enough of listening to Sandayu Naruto spoke up.

"That plan is doomed to fail, as Princess Koyuki isn't very cooperative right now. While she might be willing to take over the place of daimyo once this conflict is solved, she is no soldier and would be a liability in a fight," Naruto told them seriously.

"Finally somebody with a brain," they heard Koyuki's voice from the door, "I have no intention to risk my life in a fight I don't think has any chance of success. My father's soldiers were well-trained, but my uncle still managed to kill him and take over the country. What kind of chance would a rag-tag group of rebels have?"

"None right now, I'll agree with you there. We don't have enough information right now and should gather that before we plan any kind of attack," Naruto stated, "I suggest you go to a safe hiding place once we land and Haku and I go in to gather the information we need. We're the ones best-suited to deal with an information gathering mission. Haku is in his element here and I'm a specialist in stealth. Team Gai will make sure that you're completely safe. Once we know what we're dealing with, and if possible we'll also perform some sabotage unnoticed, we'll come back and put a proper plan together."

"Yes, that makes sense. I agree with that, Naruto. How long do you think you would need?" Gai asked, being serious for once.

"Give us four days and we'll have everything we need. I'll leave one of my kunais with you to be able to get us out quickly in case they find us," Naruto told him.

"How do you plan to get inside that fortress?" Koyuki asked disbelievingly.

"Oh, that's fairly easy as long as we get close to it," Haku informed them, "I have a jutsu that allows me to travel through ice mirrors. I can create these mirrors anywhere within my field of sight. If I get one mirror into a window of the fortress, I can travel there and with one of Naruto's kunai he can follow me once I'm inside."

"So your reach has drastically improved on that jutsu, Haku. That's really useful. I was going to have to see what entrances the fortress had to sneak inside. But this plan is much better. Especially as your mirrors can hover in the air," Naruto complimented the ice user.

"Thank you, Naruto. Let's check our equipment and then get going. They won't expect us to get in on foot," Haku said.

Naruto nodded and the two boys left. They only heard Gai set up some guard schedules for his genin and tell the captain to halve the speed to deceive the snow ninjas when they would arrive. Right now they were safer on the ship than on land where the snow ninjas would be able to use their jutsus more freely. After all, their two ninjutsu specialists were just going to get the information gathering mission done.

Haku and Naruto easily reached the shore and thanks to Haku's abilities managed to get past the guards at the coast without being detected. Haku had simply called a snow storm to hinder their visibility. Once they didn't sense any ninjas close by, they increased their speed. Both of them were naturally fast, so they made good time getting to the castle. Sandayu had told them where it was located when he described his plans to free Snow Country after all. They still needed a full day to get there.

They set up camp to rest for four hours before they would continue. Haku created an igloo for them to use and made it look like part of the landscape to not arouse suspicion from guards at the fortress. Naruto meanwhile, after seeing that there were some crows around here, made two shadow clones and sent them to gather some information on where it would be easiest to let Haku enter the fortress with his mirror. It wouldn't be good if he accidentally broke into Doto's throne room. The crow clones flew all over the fortress and got a good idea where the entry points were. They looked through all the windows and finally decided that a window on the second floor that belonged to a bathroom would be a good place.

Nobody would after all think twice about a person coming out of a bathroom. They would only have to capture two people that went to the bathroom and take their positions for a while. Not that difficult.

After having got five hours of sleep, thanks to having clones doing the watch, Haku and Naruto discussed the plan of what kind of information they wanted to get and how to proceed after they had entered the fortress. Both boys were used to infiltrating bases and decided that each would go for another area. Haku would look for the sleeping areas of the ninjas and normal guards of the fortress to be able to take them out of the equation early on. Naruto would look for the data on the special armour that the snow ninjas used and find out what Doto planned exactly.

He had to have plans for Princess Koyuki, or he wouldn't have bothered trying to capture her. They needed to know what those plans were and what could be done to thwart them. While Konoha normally didn't interfere in internal affairs of other countries, brutal dictators that killed rightful rulers of a country were a problem for everybody, as they tended to be power hungry and didn't stop at taking over one country. They normally wanted to rule over everything. And that was something Konoha interfered with.

When the clones gave the signal that there weren't any guards around to see them, Haku started to create one of his mirrors in the bathroom window. He precisely made the mirror the same size as the window, positioning it a few centimetres away from the window itself, and soon had a second mirror in front of him. He stepped into the first mirror and pushed his hands out of the second one. Then he created a third mirror inside the bathroom. He switched from the second mirror to the third one and undid the mirrors with a wave of his hand.

He was incredibly glad that he had finally mastered this jutsu well enough to not have to jump from mirror to mirror. That had been the first stage of this jutsu. But having the chance to properly work on his bloodline limit, allowed him to evolve the jutsu. Now he could travel to any mirror that held his chakra without having to leave the first mirror bodily. It was like teleportation, just that he had to have a mirror as a destination point. He took out the kunai Naruto had given him and pushed some chakra into it, only for Naruto to appear a second later. They nodded at each other. The first part of the infiltration had worked out perfectly.

They jumped to the ceiling and disguised themselves with cloth that had the same colour as the ceiling. Now they needed to wait for a while until they had two persons that they could take over for.

Naruto and Haku only had to wait for half an hour before two persons entered the room. They quickly took them out and sealed them into a prisoner scroll each. Interrogating them would have to wait for a while, as they worked on a tight schedule. Thankfully both had an identity card pinned to their uniforms. Probably to determine easily who was permitted to enter certain areas. Each of them took the appearance of one of their captives, put the cards onto their chests in the same position where the ones they were now impersonating had worn them, and then they flushed two toilets and washed their hands to keep the appearance of simply having used the bathroom before leaving again. Each of them went into a different direction.

Naruto found the laboratory easily, thanks to having seen the position through a window, while his clones had been spying in crow form. He had left two of them outside to give him a warning if something major happened. Thanks to his mirage jutsu, none of the scientists noticed him while he stood in a corner of the laboratory, keeping silent. He watched the scientists working and listened to their conversations, memorising anything he thought could be of use later on. For example he easily saw the code that one scientist tipped on the number panel on the safe, which opened the safe. The blueprints for the chakra armour were put inside before the scientists left for the day.

Naruto had watched the room for three hours now and he waited for twenty minutes after the last scientist had gone before he went to the safe. He was honestly surprised that there weren't more security precautions to make sure that only identified and cleared personnel had access to the safe. There were no traps, you only had to give the correct combination. Admittedly, the combination had eight digits, meaning that guessing the right combination would be next to impossible for burglars, but there was nothing like a proximity alarm for example.

Thanks to knowing the code, he easily got the blueprints out. After a brief check, he used some new papers that were stored in a cupboard in the room to create a halfway convincing fake. After all, he didn't want to alert Doto to the fact that his headquarters had been infiltrated too early on. He intentionally changed a few things around, especially the power source's set-up. That would make any chakra armour that was created in the future based on these plans, should that happen before they could deal with Doto, fail in action. He repeated the procedure for other technology that looked interesting.

It would be up to Konoha's research department and Kakashi sensei to decide which ones they wanted to use. The original plans went into a storage scroll. Naruto left the rest of the laboratory untouched, as he didn't want to tip anybody off too early on. Right now his mission was information gathering and subtle sabotage. Nothing obvious. He made sure that nobody was outside of the laboratory before opening the door and leaving the area. The next destination he had was trying to find out if Doto had any direct plans for how to capture the princess.

Haku needed an hour to find the quarters of Doto's guards. To his delight a guard schedule was pinned to a notice board, so he copied it down when nobody was around. He also created mirrors in the three windows around the quarters and put a genjutsu over them to make it appear as if nothing had changed. They looked like the windows before, but they would enable him to get into the room at any time. It was another improvement to his jutsu. While he needed to see the place where he put the mirror, he could go into any existing mirror from any other mirror.

So if he had the chance to prepare mirrors in a place, he could return there at any time, for as long as the mirrors still had chakra and didn't melt down. So far his best result was keeping up to six mirrors for four hours on end. After that he lost control over the jutsu thanks to chakra exhaustion. He was still working on the number and the time, but it was already a really useful skill. His plan was to simply put all the guards into a false death state. He still wasn't comfortable with killing people if he had any other choice. And his skills with senbon rarely made it necessary to kill. Instead he delivered his captives to the T & I division to let them be interrogated for useful information.

A look at his wrist watch told him that the main number of guards would return to the quarters in two hours. They would get dinner there, which he had found out on the schedule, and he expected them to go to bed about two to three hours after that. Of course some had guard duty during the night, but the number was far smaller than during the day.

He left the room to follow the schedule of the man he was impersonating. Right now he was expected to guard the north entrance for the next two hours. After that he would have a break. The guards rotated every two hours, which made security tighter than with rotation schemes that had longer periods. You had to exchange more people after all if you were after a specific area.

Naruto had sent five clones under the mirage jutsu out to map out the fortress. It would come in useful once they led a direct attack against Doto. Well, as direct as a ninja would act. Sneaking in and hitting core locations was more likely the course of action. He got a note with the guard schedule from Haku when they crossed paths again and he made sure to not blow his cover. The more time they had to gather information, the better for them.

The real attack would happen soon. Haku would strike against all guards in the dorms and take them out for at least a week. By Haku's estimation, according to the note, that would mean that they had three quarters of all guards presently at the fortress taken out. That would change the odds a lot in their favour. With all the existing machines that Doto could use, it would be needed. And the rebellion of the people of Snow Country couldn't really be called a danger to Doto. They seemingly only had the hope that their princess would take over the lead and defeat the murderer of her father. As if that would be easy.

Koyuki wasn't a trained fighter. She was an actress and traumatised by the incident when she was a child. She might be able to take over ruling the country, if they freed it before that, but she wasn't qualified to lead a fight.

Naruto and Haku watched the chaos unfold in the morning when the condition of the guards that Haku had hit was found out. And there was a number of leading personnel missing. Thanks to knowing who led which unit of guards, they had decided to capture them for interrogation. Naruto had had to create two dozen new prisoner scrolls for it, but he had easily done that. Though he would have to stock up on new sealing supplies when they returned to Konoha. His would last for this mission, he had made sure to have triple the supplies you normally calculated for, but with the pace they were using them up, he would need to restock.

They had given up on their disguises and now hid under Naruto's mirage jutsu to not be found before they could sneak out. It was too bad that during the night there had been some kind of barrier that prevented that anybody could leave or enter the fortress without being detected. And even Haku's mirrors hadn't been able to get them through. It was an advanced sealing array, one which Naruto knew, as it was an Uzumaki creation originally. He suspected that it had been stolen when Uzushio had been destroyed and somehow Doto got hold of it.

You could only deactivate the barrier if you had a special key, and none of them knew where that key was kept. Not to mention that they key could be anything that was decided on while the sealing array was created. Therefore they decided to wait until the barrier was deactivated in the morning. Naruto had unsealed two of his specialised flying devices, which he had created for the invasion of Konoha, but which hadn't been used then, as it wasn't needed, and now the two were waiting for some guards to search the roof. They would follow them and keep hidden until they could take off unnoticed.

It didn't matter that Doto was aware of the attack on most of his guard force, he wouldn't notice what else they had done until it was too late. And Naruto had left a nice little surprise in the storage of the chakra armour. A few explosive notes, try about five for each armour and the large storage room was filled up to the roof, would go off once his chakra signature left the fortress. Which was why he wanted to use the devices and didn't use his transformation abilities. The explosion would probably destabilise his transformation and he didn't want to risk that. The seals, which operated the devices, were tested to withstand any kind of foreign chakra. Once activated, they would only react to another chakra after being deactivated and newly activated.

Haku had been really impressed with this, when Naruto had explained his emergency escape plan. They had discussed how to get away in case something went wrong with their first plan. It was simply common ninja sense to always have a few alternative plans up your sleeve. After all, if they could do it without giving up the possibility of the flying thundergod jutsu being in their arsenal to their enemies, all the better.

Finally a group of four guards went up to the roof, unsealed the door, with one of them giving his fingerprint as identification, and checked if the attackers had hidden on the roof. The inspection came up negative, but none of them were ninjas and none noticed that Naruto and Haku had sneaked out with the group and stayed on the roof after the group left and sealed the door again. Naruto and Haku activated their flying devices and sped off towards the ocean where the ship would now be close to the shore. About half a minute after their take off, the explosive notes activated and blew up the storage room with any chakra armour that was kept in the fortress and which wasn't worn by a person at that time.

Haku just finished his part of the report to Gai while Gai's team listened in. Naruto had done his part first and now they finished the rest of the report.

"Well, that was a very youthful information gathering, Haku and Naruto," 'Gai declared.

"What are we going to do now, Gai sensei?" Lee wanted to know.

"If we want to act, we should first find out what the captives that Haku and Naruto brought with them know, but I'm not that good at interrogation," Gai frowned.

"I can take care of that with Neji's help," Naruto spoke up, "I'm no specialist in that area, but I know all the techniques one can use for it. And with his byakugan he would be perfectly suited to spot if a prisoner lies to me, not to mention that his abilities with the gentle fist can be used to disable certain nerve clusters to make the prisoner talk more easily."

"That's true and I was taught how to do exactly that by Hiashi Sama after the finals of the chunin exams," Neji spoke up, "He called it something that any Hyuga that goes on missions of C-rank and above regularly needs to be capable of to ensure mission success."

Naruto nodded.

"I'll also have two clones draw maps of the fortress so that you can work with Haku on plans to enter it for a direct attack against Doto," Naruto told Gai.

"Very good, Naruto. Your flames of youth burn brightly!" Gai declared.

Naruto didn't comment, but took Neji to a distant room where they could start interrogating their captives. It wouldn't do to have Haku or Lee watch what exactly they would do. Both didn't like violence, even if Haku was less naïve that ninjas often had to use it. Naruto hoped that the drugs he had available would be enough to get the answers that he needed. Otherwise this would become nasty.

It took eight hours for Neji and Naruto to finish questioning their prisoners. The rest of the team had worked on the plans for attacking Doto. But it wouldn't be easy. While Haku and Naruto had managed to infiltrate the fortress, it would be much harder to do so with a whole team, in which most of them weren't specialised in infiltration. Not to mention that the security around Doto himself was much harder to crack than the overall one of the fortress. Otherwise Naruto and Haku would have acted while they were there.

But Doto's personal guards were specially selected men that used codes and other methods of identification to assure that no assassin could get close to Doto. They were also a good bit above the level of the normal guards there. Especially Nadare would pose a problem. He was a high-level jonin and had shown that he shouldn't be underestimated in his fight against Gai.

When Naruto and Neji returned to the group, the prisoners were sealed in the prisoner scrolls again, in worse state than before, Gai asked them what they had found out.

"Most of the ones that were caught didn't know a lot about the security around Doto. They are the ones that keep the low and middle areas of security watched. The group leaders mostly supplied us with the normal procedures of the guards, which are basic ones that we learned of in the academy, and some specifics about one or two areas they knew about. There is a secret passage from the basement to the laboratory that is only known to the guard force leaders, which is mostly used to get secret supplies to the scientists without the majority of the workers there having a clue. It is secured with a number code, but I suspect that the one we got will be changed soon, after all, the break in was noticed," Neji stated and Haku and Naruto nodded, agreeing with that assessment.

"More interesting was one man that was degraded after messing up. He had once been part of the outer guard around Doto and he told us that the guards change passwords every two days and that the inner guards have a tattoo on them that identifies them as such. The tattoo is a white circle with a red, four-pointed star on the inner side of the left underarm. To enter the throne room you have to give the password and have the tattoo inspected by an expert. Any fake is detected. Even transformation jutsu doesn't work for a reason. I guess they use a special kind of ink for the tattoos," Neji continued.

"The outer guards are the first line of defence if an attacker gets past the normal guards of the fortress. Most of them are ninjas of chunin rank from Snow Country's ninja village. They rotate every week. The inner guard are mostly jonin with Nadare as their leader," Naruto now said, "Getting into the building isn't the problem. I left some of my flying thundergod seals in there in about ten places. I can take one of you with a clone each to get us in, but from there the problems start. While we don't have to worry about too many opponents with the chakra armour for now, the ones that we didn't hit with the explosive tags are still a concern. And I bet that they had a good number of other storage facilities that they are now contacting for replacements."

"Why did you blow the stock up then?" Tenten asked.

"Distraction. My intention wasn't simply taking the armour out of the equation, I wanted to make them split up their already decreased forces. Doto knows that Princess Koyuki is back and he wants her for some reason. We didn't find out what reason that was exactly, but rumours went around about some royal treasure. No idea if that information is reliable. If Doto had all of his forces available with chakra armour directly at the base, he would have much more options to act against us and kidnap the princess. Now he has to work around the false death state that Haku put his guards into and, without a medic, you need two weeks to fully recover from that. With a medic you need a week.

"As far advanced as their technology is, I bet that we have at most a week to use the loss of manpower. And the machines that they have built, are difficult to overcome. I know that they have something called a train that they equipped with kunai and shuriken launchers. They are capable of launching a thousand kunai at their opponents with a simple shot. It doesn't have the accuracy a ninja would have, but honestly, you would need a defence like Neji's rotation to protect yourself and others from that onslaught. And very few ninjas have such good defensive jutsus," Naruto pointed out.

The others nodded. They knew that it was true.

"What do we do about the security of the Princess?" Haku asked.

"I think we should leave her in yours and Neji's care. You have your Ice release, which gives you an immense advantage and Neji can see any attacker from afar. Not to mention that he knows rotation in case they decide on a long-distance attack with kunai, like Naruto described," Gai pondered, "Lee, Tenten and I are best suited to go against the ones using the armour and I think Naruto could succeed getting close to Doto. He has the ability to get close to him if he can get a flying thundergod seal onto one of Doto's guards or a place where Doto will appear for sure."

"That would be a possibility, but contrary to my Dad, I haven't mastered the ability to simply attach the seal onto a person just by physical contact yet. I need to place a seal tag somewhere or use one of my special kunai," Naruto admitted.

"It could still work," Tenten spoke up, "You would only need to have a good enough distraction. For example we could place a seal tag like that on one of our prisoners and let him be taken back. They wouldn't know to look out for it, instead they would interrogate the one we let escape. Doto will probably want to hear the report of the escapee in person and then you could strike."

"That could work. And the ones we interrogated have no idea how Neji and I look like, as we kept them blindfolded. They wouldn't know that there was a possibility to be confronted with that jutsu. I'm the only one who knows it after all and while I gained a reputation, it would be improbable that I was recognised during the fight on the iceberg by Nadare. He was after all busy with Gai," Naruto agreed.

"I think it is worth a try," Gai nodded.

Over the next hour they worked out the details of the plan.

And cut for now. Till next time.