AN: So here's the story. The premise is simple. Naruto has a ton of potential. Massive chakra reserves, ridiculous recovery, an iron will, and Kage Bunshin to name a few of his advantages. In canon, this mostly means that everyone and their grandmother can beat the crap out of him. I'm not really on board with that.
The story is based on Soulblazer87's Leaf Style Maelstrom, which I am rewriting/repurposing for my own uses with his permission. Whether or not I'll still have permission after I completely butcher a few chapters remains to be seen.
There will be many similarities to Leaf Style Maelstrom and I'll even rip text straight from the source, but there will be significant differences in characterization, plot, and dynamics. This is meant to be a more serious take on the idea. Partly because I can't do humor near as well as Soulblazer87.
I may have gone overboard with the jutsu theory in this chapter. It's not necessary to pay much attention to it, although it is my justification for why Naruto is going to get as skilled as he will in such a short period of time. If you want to nitpick the details I'm more than happy to receive criticism, especially if I contradict myself or my explanations are unintelligible. I'm going to try to have consistent depth and nuance when it comes to jutsu and skills, and this is laying the groundwork for that.
(Edit: 10/14 - removed footnote numberings from story content)
(Edit: 11/9 - Information on romance in the top AN of the second chapter. Whatever happens will be het.)
(Edit: 6/13/14 - Typo corrections, courtesy of Walk The Max Planck.)
~~~~~~~~~~~ Konoha's Maelstrom ~~~~~~~~~~~
~ Chapter 1: The Fundamentals of Ninjutsu ~
Naruto sighed as he took off his orange jumpsuit and dropped it haphazardly onto a chair, too tired and preoccupied to even think about cleaning it.
Too darn proud and happy to care either!
He had just become a shinobi! After three years of failure and ridicule, he had done it!
And all it took was sneaking into the Hokage Tower, stealing a scroll and learning an awesome jutsu from it!
That jutsu was the center of his thoughts. Kage Bunshin was amazing! He'd spent years unsuccessfully trying to make the Bunshin work, but a few hours with the Scroll of Seals had given him a skill that could defeat a Chuunin! Granted, the Chuunin in question was Mizuki, but the grey haired traitor had been able to take down Iruka-sensei, so did that mean Naruto was in some sense better than his academy teacher? Probably not, although mobbing him with clones might work in a straight up fight.
Putting aside the question of how he would match up against Iruka-sensei, the mere fact that a single technique could make him so much better was something that he couldn't stop thinking about. Kage Bunshin was way better than Bunshin in any way Naruto could think of. It was easier to use, it was solid... and that was all he could think of.
Shadow Clones weren't the only awesome things in his arsenal. It hadn't escaped Naruto's notice that he'd managed to defeat the Hokage with a basic henge. And Kawarimi was certainly useful as well, even if he hadn't used it against anyone more significant than Sasuke-teme.
The inescapable conclusion was that Ninjutsu was freaking awesome. On the surface this didn't seem like a momentous revelation. The Shodaime Hokage's Mokuton and the Nidaime's mastery of water jutsu were just the first examples of legendary jutsu to come to mind, and there were countless shinobi with reputations for showcasing exotic and amazing skills. But there were amazing things that he could learn.
Naruto wasn't suddenly going to develop Mokuton or find a mysterious old man in the woods who would somehow teach him mastery of Suiton Jutsu, so the realization that he could learn a useful skill like Kage Bunshin in a few hours was more world shaking than the newfound knowledge of the demon sealed in his gut... or wherever the hell it really was. If one technique was enough to beat Mizuki and graduate, why stop there? He could get better, there were skills out there that he could learn. He wasn't a failure.
So jutsu are awesome. The problem was that he only knew Henge, Kawarimi, and Kage Bunshin. He wanted more. He needed more! If every jutsu he learned was even a quarter as awesome as Kage Bunshin he'd be Hokage in no time!
The first order of business was adding more jutsu to his repertoire. This wouldn't be easy; those that had shinobi in their families had people teaching them taijutsu and ninjutsu and all kinds of stuff, and those with civilian parents could arrange for tutoring or help their children in less direct ways.
Naruto had no one. He was all alone. So he had no one to teach him or show him or to even just be there when he needed some company. The closest he had to a family were the old man and Ichiraku Teuchi and Ayame. He loved them with all his heart, but they weren't there for him like a real family would be. Not that he blamed them. They didn't have an obligation to nurture every adorable orphan in their life... well, maybe the Sandaime did, but that seemed like a complicated issue.
He needed more jutsu. He wanted to have a large family, with many children, and what kind of father would let their child grow up without as many cool techniques as possible? He wanted to leave a legendary legacy for the clan he had yet to build.
"Cool jutsu... I gotta get me some of those," he mumbled to himself.
Easier said than done though, given that he was the scapegoat of the entire village for stupid reasons he couldn't do anything about.
So where could he get some new jutsu? The old man was probably busy, he was the damn Hokage after all. And Iruka-sensei was injured.
Asking the Kyuubi no Kitsune seemed like a bad idea, and he didn't even know how to get in contact with the demon were he even inclined. And what could a mass of malevolent chakra in the form of a fox teach him anyway? Swing your tails and squish things, puny mortal! Oh, you don't have any tails? Sucks for you! And that was assuming the fox could even talk.
But there was no one else to ask. So what could he do?
He spent quite some time tossing and turning in his bed, trying to figure out where he should go from here. Just before exhaustion took him however, he remembered something from Iruka's lectures, one of the few he had ever bothered to listen to. "Every Hokage, in addition to having a mastery of basic shinobi techniques, created their own unique skills that set them apart from their fellows in ways that became legendary. "
So, since he was going to be a Hokage... he needed his own techniques!
That was about the first thought that came to his mind when he woke up. The first one that had nothing to with ramen, that is. But what to do?
What kind of super-awesome-cool technique could he make that no one else had ever made?
It would have to be original, cool and easy to use, strong as well but hard to copy or imitate...
So he did the one thing he thought he'd never have to do...
He went to the library.
Most people thought that Naruto was an idiot and completely inept. That was a mistaken perception. He was actually rather clever.
However, he lacked 'knowledge' and 'understanding', the two things that actually turn intellect and wisdom into an usable force. Which is why every time any teacher actually bothered to sit down with Naruto to teach him something, he seemed to pick it up at light speed. Too bad none of them had ever cared enough to actually see who he was beyond their biased preconceptions. Except Iruka-sensei, but that was recent development.
But Naruto knew he wasn't an idiot. He just didn't know about stuff. Mostly because nobody ever told him anything, they just took it for granted that it'd already been explained to him, going in one ear and out the other. Therefore, since he couldn't depend on anyone any more–he was a ninja now, legally an adult–he had to do it on his own.
And that meant studying, which meant having to go to the library.
Getting into the library was a ridiculous task on its own. First, he had to spend two hours going back and forth between the library and the Hokage's Tower filling out and filing obviously unnecessary paperwork that was solely enforced just to discourage him from getting anything done. He had to verify three times over that he was actually who he said he was, that he was a ninja, that he did have a place of residence in Konoha. From this he learned a valuable lesson.
Use a fucking henge.
Now to find books on jutsu theory, chakra manipulation theory, jutsu creation theory, jutsu analysis theory...
Well, any kind of 'theory' that had to do with chakra, techniques and jutsu.
The first book he found, 'Elemental Manipulation Theory', turned out to be a pile of crap. Judging by its wear and tear it was quite a well read book. Most of it was about fire jutsu, and it didn't really teach any theory. It was mostly along the lines of "Type II Katon projection techniques with a Horse to Tiger lead in can have their effective area increased by adding a Rat before the next Tiger." And then it would go on to list all the other technique specific tweaks that had to be made for that 'general rule' to work for the ten skills that it listed. And then there was a list of fifteen 'Type II Katon Projection' techniques that it explicitly said not to use this trick with, and a warning that using the tweak with jutsu not explicitly listed risked having it explode prematurely. In your lungs.
While that was one of the more ridiculous examples, everything else in the book appeared to run along the same lines. It was essentially a bunch of variations on specific jutsu with its 'theory' being a bunch of fancy but useless explanations about types and charging sequences and whatever else they wanted to print just to make it seem like this wasn't a convoluted list of jutsu.
Having wasted nearly an hour trying to make sense of that pile of crap, Naruto was even more discouraged by his next find. 'The Encyclopedia of Elemental Theory and Alteration Reactions for Ninjutsu, 30th edition' was a massive book that went way over his head. It seemed like it would be a great reference, once he actually could understand things like "pressure induced backflow of tenketsu C34-45, forcing water nature from the low-pressure end of the system at a rate of 60S/(CU * CP). See appendix J3 for curvature conformity of the corresponding e-value to the current elemental ratings."
He guessed that he'd come back to that one in about eighty years.
At this point he wanted to scream in frustration, only managing to hold it in because that would get him kicked out of the library and he wasn't ready to quit.
Naruto refused to believe that he wasn't ready to create jutsu. There had to be a better, more simple approach than spending the next hundred years or so trying to make heads or tails of the Encyclopedia, or just randomly flipping through seals hoping that he didn't spontaneously combust. Although with Kage Bunshin that might make an acceptable last resort.
Academy students didn't really think about how commonplace it was, but Kawarimi no Jutsu was an incredible technique, and it only took five seals! Henge was pretty awesome too, and that only took three. And Kage Bunshin only had one!
Granted, the shadow clone used a special unique seal and the middle boar of henge was actually a weird variation that required twisting and interlocking fingers on the inside. Naruto was still pissed that he'd had to figure out that little quirk on his own. He ignored the traitorous thought that he probably hadn't been paying attention when they went over that bit.
So these amazing jutsu requiring relatively few seals had to mean that he didn't need to know about tenketsu backwash or whatever the crap that was in order to at least start making jutsu. He'd come back to that stuff later, once he actually had some idea what to make of it. Much later.
The third book he found was nothing short of perfect for his needs. Well, he might have been biased considering the utter frustration caused by the first two, but it was a whole lot better.
The title 'Fundamentals of Ninjutsu: A Guide to Mastery, Alteration, and Creation' was kind of dry and boring, but Iruka-sensei used to say something about fundamentals and basics and knowing that kind of stuff being important, so Naruto thought it could be a good start. The stiff binding and dust on the cover meant the book wasn't that popular, so it seemed it probably wasn't very good.
It turned out that fundamentals were a lot cooler than he expected. He was hooked from the introduction. Whoever this S. Hiruzen guy was really knew how to write a book!
"What does it mean to master a jutsu? Many are satisfied when they can perform their skills 'perfectly' ten times out of ten, wasting virtually no chakra. Some are more stringent in their requirements, saying mastery is being able to use the skill under pressure without giving it undo attention. You can draw the bar higher and higher, even so much so that no one could possibly manage to master a single jutsu in their lifetime, but it is my belief that trying to nail down a technical definition for mastery is missing the point.
One can never master a jutsu. Mastery is a never ending journey.
Every time you perform a jutsu, you understand it a little bit more. You will never be able to execute a jutsu exactly the same way twice, but this is not a bad thing. After practicing hundreds of times, you start to gain an understanding that goes beyond the basics. 'If I hold this seal longer, fluctuate my chakra in this way, the jutsu will behave just a little differently.'
The more you understand your jutsu, the more versatile and useful they will be. Maybe your opponent is too fast for your Katon: Gokakyu, but you know how to focus it to trade power for speed. What if you are sparring, and you don't want to hurt your partner? Are you forced to reduce your arsenal, or do you know how to take the bite out of your heavy hitters?
Doing a jutsu perfectly is nothing more than using it the best way you know how in the current context. The more you master ninjutsu, the more you can alter them to fit the situation.
Perhaps you are thinking 'oh, that sounds pretty simple, but it also sounds like a lot of work.' If you aren't, that's what you should be thinking, because that is the most important thing to remember about this approach to jutsu.
You will need to practice a lot. And then you will need to practice some more. And after that? More practice. And practice and practice and practice and practice and practice and practice and practice and practice and practice and practice and practice and practice and practice and practice and practice.
I hope that hasn't scared you off, but that is something that needs to be understood right from the start. You may not be suited to this approach. Most ninja have a fairly concise repertoire of between ten and twenty jutsu, often focusing on only a third of that. This kind of generalist attitude may not work for you.
Although practicing your jutsu over and over again is something I'd recommend even if you don't intend to master ninjutsu, this will require you to commit a lot of time even to jutsu you will never end up using for any practical purpose."
Naruto supposed that could be at least part of the reason it looked like this book hadn't been read in years. This whole mastery thing sounded like a LOT of work. He felt something though, a building tension as he read the introduction, something on the edge of his thoughts that was saying this is going somewhere that kept him from looking for another book.
'Elemental Manipulation Theory' was a popular book. The checkout history and the multiple copies on the shelves proved it. He could see why, with the quick and dirty tricks to altering popular jutsu, and it would almost be tempting if you ignored all the theory. In fact, he was willing to bet everyone ignored the theory crap in that book.
'Fundamentals of Ninjutsu' was something else entirely. It was obviously built on a solid foundation, but it demanded effort and understanding, with the promise that it would all be worth it somewhere way down the line.
It was almost like this Hiruzen guy was challenging him. He was offering Naruto exactly the kind of path to creating ninjutsu that he'd been looking for, and then saying that he probably couldn't handle the hard work. Well he could handle it! He had more stamina than anyone else in the academy, and he wasn't afraid of hard work! He'd just never really known what to apply that hard work to.
"I won't be teaching you tricks to make your jutsu do this or that. I'll be guiding you into discovering those tricks for yourself, so that you understand them inside out. The more you do this, the easier it will get, and you will begin to instinctively understand jutsu theory that if I were to try and explain to you in words at this moment would make you want to bash your head against a stone wall before trying to do the same to mine.
You will make mistakes. You will get frustrated. And most importantly this will take time. Doing jutsu over and over again is a relatively quick and easy endeavor, but you will quickly find yourself getting tired. The limit of how much you can practice will be your greatest barrier.
The next chapter is almost exclusively dedicated to learning about yourself and finding your limits. KNOW YOUR LIMITS! Crossing them can have disastrous consequences. Exhausting your chakra or burning your pathways can lay you out for weeks. Messing up certain jutsu due to tiredness or careless alteration could be even worse.
When you are a Jounin you'll be able to test more dangerous things or skip many safe intermediate steps when testing jutsu using Kage Bunshin, a B-Rank clone technique with the ability to use chakra that transfers its experiences to the user when it dispels.
Naruto's eyes nearly popped out of his head. Kage Bunshin was even more awesome than he thought it was! And that meant that he could do even more awesome stuff! Like try not so safe alterations to jutsu... the blond had to resist the urge to burst out into maniacal laughter for some reason.
Small steps are the key. I will show you how to master your jutsu, the experience you gain will allow you to alter them more and more as you understand them and yourself, and small alterations will become larger alterations, and soon you'll be creating jutsu. The most important part of jutsu creation is creativity. Start simple! If you imagine a grand jutsu, you're stuck trying to fill in the massive gap between the basic projection of flames to that flaming tornado you want.
After you have learned the basic chakra control exercises, which are integral to finding your limits, understanding your chakra, and extending the amount of time you can practice, I will teach you some very simple elemental techniques. Two from each element. Since I don't expect you to immediately think up ways to alter them, I will be instructing you on several things to play around with. Your job is to pay attention to how each thing you do affects each jutsu.
Once you've had some practical experience with a few basic alterations, the theory will be much easier to digest. If I say 'chakra agitation' what does that really mean to you? If I can point to the specific feeling you get from changing a particular hand seal in a jutsu, or in multiple variations, you can know exactly what I'm talking about, and even attempt to add that agitation without altering the hand seals.
You may have heard of elemental affinities. My advice is to forget everything you've heard about them until now. There is an appalling lack of understanding and a multitude of terrible ideas that even Jounin who should know what they are talking about perpetuate.
You will find one of the elements to be easier to manipulate than the others, but it will be a very subtle thing for a long time yet. Ignoring other elements because of your affinity is a common mistake and a terrible response to learning your affinity. It is true that you will eventually end up focusing on your affinity to advance your ability, and given that it takes years of training to use advanced elemental manipulation even for your strongest affinity, you will likely end up training only one of elements you aren't aligned with to that level if you decide to put in the effort.
This does not mean you cannot learn elemental techniques of elements you aren't aligned with, and it certainly doesn't mean it isn't worth the bother! There is plenty you can do without advanced elemental manipulation, and playing around with all the elements is essential if you ever wish to choose a second element to train in.
I applaud you if you stuck around this long, as by now I'm sure you know that the approach to ninjutsu in this book is a lifelong commitment. You may think that this isn't for you, or you may be absolutely certain that it is.
Here is the way to test that."
The way to test whether or not this was something he was suited to was Kawarimi no Jutsu. Or rather, a version of the Kawarimi that had 27 hand seals, and not just the standard twelve. All but three of the hand seals from the new version were from what the book described as the 'First Expansion Set', which contained 80 new hand seals.
Some were familiar, like the specialized clone seal he used for Kage Bunshin and a few that were slight variations on the standard zodiac. Others were completely new, and worse still were quite a few that required near painful contortions of his fingers.
Twenty seven seals was absolutely worthless for a practical Kawarimi, so it was a good thing that it wasn't supposed to be used in battle. All you did with it was practice.
Apparently, the five seal Kawarimi was a bastardized version of the 'true' Kawarimi. Any jutsu that was designed with any sort of complex theory couldn't really be developed with with just the standard zodiac seals. They were developed with the first and second expansion sets, and then 'compressed' down to more workable seal sets.
Most jutsu evolved continuously as ninja made slight alterations, but the really groundbreaking stuff was esoteric and generally not used until compressed. Sometimes it was a matter of expediency. Kawarimi was an emergency jutsu. You couldn't stand there for 15 seconds trying to contort your fingers through unwieldy seals that were far too varied. You needed something quick with familiar and easy to transition hand positions.
So the five seal zodiac version did the trick. It was inferior to the expanded versions in almost every way but how quickly it could be used. It was disorienting. It required a very firm understanding of the relative position of what you were trying to replace yourself with. The more the difference between your mass and your target's the harder it was and the worse the backlash and disorientation was, and that was on an exponential scale.
So the book said to practice with the expanded versions a lot, and then try to make the chakra flow the same way with the compressed version. It recommended starting out with just the expansion that reduced disorientation and focus on that. It also warned that this wouldn't have a quick payoff, and that was why it was a test.
If you could stick through it for months before getting any progress, and then you actually felt like the progress you were making was worth all the effort, then you were probably suited to really mastering ninjutsu, as opposed to just getting pretty good with the ones you knew.
Naruto wasn't deterred. The more the book talked about how much work and how hard that work would be before he would get anywhere, the more excited he got. The reason?
"Kage Bunshin," Naruto murmured aloud, practically drooling, his voice dripping with reverence and anticipation previously reserved for Ichiraku's ramen and the color orange.
He started chuckling, at first barely more than a rumbling purr in his throat.
"fu fu fu... haha... mwahahaha-AH! OW!" Naruto's head was slammed into the table as a heavy book cut off his first real (and rather pathetic) attempt at evil laughter.
"You're in the library, so be quiet!" The girl who'd just rudely bashed his head in hissed at him, leveling a rather forbidding glare on him. Or what would have been forbidding had it not been for the thick circular glasses and unkempt blonde hair.
"Sorry," Naruto apologized, more out of habit than any real contrition. He was no stranger to people inflicting head trauma on him when he got irritating. The girl stalked off, apparently satisfied.
"Spoilsport," he grumbled when she was out of sight. Didn't anybody realize that sound effects were an essential part of studying? Refocusing himself, he went back to his book. For now, he had more studying to do.
When Naruto mentions being able to defeat the Hokage with a basic Henge - Naruto doesn't know at this point that his solid henge is something completely unprecedented.
The information on Kawarimi and Kage Bunshin is canonical, from the number of seals to the specific ones. Henge was a bit of a toss up, but I decided to go the route where Naruto is the only one who uses a physical transformation. Canon appears to suggest that it is a physical transformation for everybody, but Naruto is the only one I've ever seen make use of that fact. So in this continuum, Naruto couldn't perform the illusion for the same reason he couldn't do bunshin (massive reserves forcing poor natural chakra control), but at some point he botched a seal practicing and it appeared to work better, so he kept tweaking the seal and how he did the jutsu until it seemed like he figured it out, but it turned out to be a new technique. Not that anyone knows that yet.
I've seen people make a huge deal out of affinities, and make it oh so hard for anybody to use anything they aren't aligned with, sometimes even impossible. I don't think that's supported by canon at all, so its not happening here.