Reincarnation, despite the various portrayals within fan fiction, did not automatically gift a newborn with adult intelligence.
Infant brains could not handle the complex processes of a fully mature mind, so a reincarnated infant would be the same as any other baby. They would not have instant memories of their previous lives, they would not be forced to spend years struggling with boredom as they waited for their bodies to mature enough to use. For that reason, she didn't remember any of the boring tedium of infancy, or even have the brain power to fully process her circumstances.
Her earliest memory in this life had her huddled in the nook of a tall tree hugging a giant, tattered book, the branches and thick foliage seeming to fold around and shield her as she watched shinobi slaughter each other in the distance.
Her next memory placed her directly onto that battlefield, carefully stepping around the mangled corpses littering the ground until she reached one that was relatively intact. She bent down and began rooting around the pouch tied to his leg, retrieving a single knife (kunai, not a knife, some voice corrected). Eying the kunai speculatively, her gaze slid to the body and she crawled over to him, rolling him over with great effort to expose his front.
Then she used the kunai to cut off his shirt, slicing through the front and the sleeves before rolling him back over to free the remainder of the fabric, and wrapped herself in the bloody garment like a makeshift blanket as she ran back to the cover of the trees.
That had been the first time she remembered looting a corpse, and no where near the last.
Those first few years were simplistic and minimal. She spent her days just wandering aimlessly, making her home in holes and trees and caves with her only consistent possession that giant, tattered tome nearly half her size. She didn't have an explanation for why she felt the need to lug it around despite always leaving her arms sore, it served no purpose. Then again, she didn't have an explanation for many of her actions back then.
Sometimes she'd come across new plants and instantly know to avoid them or that it would be safe to eat. More than once she knew exactly which ones to grind into paste and rub over cuts to avoid infection and speed up the healing process. When she found a spool of wire she knew to attach it to a stick, and to fashion a hook from a broken pin and use worms as bait to go fishing. She even knew to boil water to make it safe to drink—and on that note, she knew how to make a fire.
Even back then, she knew that she shouldn't be this capable on her own. She knew that knowledge had no logical reason to exist in her consciousness. She had been forced to fend for herself for as long as she could remember, starting when she was still a tiny toddler. With no parents or even anything close to a consistent adult figure in her life, she should have no way to understand how to care for herself—and even the fact she knew and understood that spoke of some strange abnormality within her.
Perhaps most disturbing though, was how easily she adjusted to growing up in a series of veritable battlefields.
Blood and corpses littered her earliest memories, but it never really fazed her. Raiding bodies for supplies felt gross, but that stemmed more from hygiene concerns from touching rotting skin than actual discomfort. She'd take the clothes from their backs and wash them to wear whenever she outgrew her own, and would raid their bags for rations and tools to aid in her survival. She never gave them much thought.
(Sometimes, she'd leave flowers around the bodies if they remained more than a day. She liked to pretend she was a forest fairy, banished from her forest home to wander the world and spying on the humans as they fought. Fairies couldn't talk to humans, so she could only go out after they died and leave some sort of tribute in their honor. She'd always move on though, because she couldn't stay around death forever or she'd be tainted.)
Sometimes though, she discovered some of the "corpses" to still be alive.
As she'd approach them they'd open their mouths but could only wheeze or make wet gurgling noises, their bodies twitching and broken beyond repair. She never knew what to do when she came across those people. Being around them didn't particularly disturb her or scare her—in fact, she largely felt indifferent to their agony, though a tiny part felt just a tiny bit pitiful for their extended agony. Killing them would probably be merciful, but something about that left a bad taste in her mouth. More often than not she'd find herself just sitting next to those people, keeping them company until they passed on so they wouldn't die alone.
Every day went like that for probably three years, just a simple, bloody, solitary existence of wandering aimlessly with her only companionship the few dying people she'd find on the battlefields.
That woman had seemed no different.
Sprawled on her back amidst a litany of corpses, the auburn-haired woman was the only person on the field showing any signs of life, staring at the sky with half-lidded black eyes. Her breaths came out ragged and raspy, her limbs splayed limply outwards and her long hair fanned around her head to soak up the blood pooling beneath her. The woman barely turned her head when she approached, her bloodied lips tugging upwards into a sharp-toothed smirk.
"What's... this... a kid?" she rasped, each word slow and careful as if requiring a great deal of effort to utter. She just stared at the woman for a long moment before plopping onto the ground next to her, taking care to stay away from the pool of blood so it wouldn't soak into the ragged yukata she'd snatched off another corpse. The young girl reclined lazily and looked at the cloudy sky, humming thoughtfully.
"Bunny!" she chirped, offering the dying woman a bright smile as she pointed to one fluffy cloud. The woman's eyes creased with amusement, chuckling quietly, and her eyes lit up with delight. Normally near-corpses didn't respond other than stare at her blankly or ask to die. Encouraged by the positive reaction, she turned back to the sky and pointed to more clouds, loudly proclaiming each one's shape. "Duck! Puppy! Knife! Fishy! Cotton!"
"Cotton?" the woman repeated, her body shuddering with a small snicker. "All clouds... look like... cotton." The smaller girl turned to her and pouted, crossing her arms with a huff.
"Meanie," she grumbled, and the woman snickered again.
Hours passed like that, with her just pointing out any clouds that stood out while she waited for the woman to die. Sometimes the woman would chime in with her own observations, naming shapes the younger girl could only vaguely recognize when she looked at the clouds in question. As the sun slowly moved across the sky she felt a growing respect for the woman's vitality, as she continued to hold on longer than any other person she had ever found.
Eventually though, she found her gaze flickering to the setting sun, her lips pursing in a disappointed frown. She knew instinctively that staying in a battlefield after darkness would be dangerous, so with a heavy sigh she got to her feet and turned to the woman. "Sorry," she mumbled. "Need to go." Surprise flickered across the woman's face and she frowned.
"Ser..ious...ly?" she wheezed. "Come on... kid. Don't... go."
"I'm sorry," she repeated guiltily, and quickly left before the woman could respond.
The next day she ventured back to the battlefield only to find several of the corpses had vanished, including the woman's. Only pools of blood denoted their former presence, outlines of bodies that had once lain there staining the dirt. That happened sometimes, though she didn't really get why, so she just shrugged and went about her life, placing a single flower on the spot the woman had occupied before leaving.
Probably a month later she was scouring another battlefield when she saw the woman again. Honest surprise flickered across her face when she spied the familiar figure on the ground and she darted over, dropping to her knees next to it. Once again the woman laid in a pool of blood, though this time on her stomach, and she curiously poked her back.
Or at least, she tried.
Instead she found herself suddenly upside-down dangling from her feet, her eyes now level with the hems of a pair of loose-fitting black pants. Blinking in surprise, she bent her torso slightly to peer up at her captor and found the woman staring down at her. Black eyes flashed with surprise as the woman looked at her, her lips quirking up.
"Well, well, what do we have here?" she asked, mouth curving into a smirk that revealed sharp, jagged teeth. "Long time no see, kid. You got pretty far from the last place, huh?" The child's face scrunched up with concentration as she pondered her answer, before finally giving a small shrug.
"You live?" she questioned, and the woman's smirk faded for a moment and she studied the child. Then it returned with a sharper edge, her eyes glinting with amusement.
"You know, I think I like you kid. You got a name?"
"Nuh-uh," she hummed, shaking her head before flinching. "Put down?" Throughout the whole conversation the woman had continued to hold her upside-down by the ankles, and the constant flow of blood rushing to her head started to hurt.
"No name, huh?" The woman totally ignored the uncomfortable whine, rolling her neck as she thought it over. Then she nodded firmly and declared, "Sute."
"Sute?" the young girl repeated, blinking in surprise.
"Yeah. Foundling. Because I found you."
"...Okay? Put down now?"
"Now why would I do that?" The woman flashed another toothy smirk and Sute shuddered as she saw mischief sparkle in her eyes, knowing instantly that it wouldn't bode well. "I just found you. I'm not letting you go that easily!"
With a quick wave of her arm she'd flung Sute over her shoulder and then took off running. The small girl squeaked in surprise before her hands flew over her mouth, her stomach churning violently as their surroundings blurred. The world continued to spin around her until they finally stopped, and the woman lazily tossed her to the ground. Sute yelped in surprise and staggered to her feet, groaning as she hugged her stomach.
As she struggled to readjust to the sudden stillness the woman called, "Hey guys, look! I found that cloud girl!"
"Cloud girl?" Freezing at the new voice, Sute slowly turned around to see six figures scattered around the clearing, which she quickly realized must be a campsite despite the lack of tents. A dead campfire sat in the center of the clearing, the charred wood still smoldering and smoking slightly, and they used a collection of logs and boulders as seats. One man, with a bizarre tattoo of red bar-like stripes over his jaw, huffed as he examined her. "Tch, she doesn't look like she's from Kumo to me."
"Stop joking around, Juzo," scolded another man, leering at the first with beady eyes from a rather puffy looking face. He had a slight orange tint to his skin, which matched his long and luxurious dark orange locks. "Ameyuri's talking about the brat she saw on the battlefield." One of the other figures blurred and suddenly a gangly giant of a man loomed in front of Sute, bending at the waist to study her more closely. She reflexively leaned back as his long straw-colored hair dangled in her face, her head tilting back to look at his white mask.
"So this is the cloud watcher, huh?" he questioned, his voice just as sleek and slimy as his appearance would suggest. "Doesn't look like much to me." As he spoke a flash of metal appeared at his neck, and he flickered backwards as the red-haired woman abruptly appeared between them, wielding two blades with one pointed his way.
"Don't even fucking think about touching her, Kushimaru," she growled. "This brat's way too interesting to kill off so soon."
As the pair stared each other down Sute's eyes flickered over the other surrounding figures. Absolutely none of them felt familiar whatsoever, and the only real conclusion she could reach was that most of them had intimidating builds and thus were probably dangerous. However, she did find two details of the scene jarringly familiar: a giant sword shaped like a meat cleaver by the guy with red bars on his face, and a similarly large object wrapped in bandages to the point of mummification sitting next to the orange-tinted guy with long orange hair.
As she stared at them images flashed through her mind, cartoon versions of those two swords wielded by people with drastically different faces, and all she could think was, Oh.
That was about when the memories finally started to trickle into her conscious awareness, of a world quite different from this one. Sute could not fully understand just what this sudden influx of memories meant just yet, but they allowed her to at least understand one thing: this was not her first life, and this was not her original world either.
(Later, when she would start to realize the full implications of her memories, she would deeply regret not watching more anime in her old life.)
Hello everyone! So I don't actually have much time to write a complicated author's note, I'm on lunch at work and I'm just posting the file I uploaded last night. But I just want to say thank you for all the comments! I'm blown away by the feedback I've gotten so far, I didn't get a comment on my other story until Chapter 4, but this one I already got twelve! Thanks so much to everyone who's reviewed this, in the future I'll be sure to thank you all personally but today I have limited time.
I really can't say how exciting it is to see how much you guys like this. This is really going to be a crazy ride, I have so much muse for this idea and it's going to go to some crazy places. I'll try to post a chapter every Saturday or so. Thanks again for your awesome feedback, and I hope you like Sute as much as I do!