Red Spider Lily

It was late afternoon. The world was a lush green, with trees of all kinds growing merrily, intertwining with invisible cicadas singing. The sun was at its prime, casting warm rays down from the azure blue sky. Wild grasses stood proud, swaying to the songs of the earth. Leaves scattered in the wind to cover the forest floor with yellow and green.

A boot came down onto nature's carpet with a crisp crunch.

"Whoa! The weather is so good today!" Namazuo threw his hands up.

"It is hot." Honebami stated, not far behind.

He wasn't wrong. The sun baked the earth to emanate its own heat, enveloping them in its humid embrace. The wild grasses were agreeing even, nodding away.

"C'mon! At least it's not raining!" Honebami is a really depressing person, Namazuo thought. The weather's great; why couldn't he see it?

There was silence, then Honebami replied, "Yes, at least it's not raining."

"See?!" Namazuo turned around and grinned. The leaves crunched, again and again.

"At least I don't have to clean the horses with you."

"What? Why?" Their saniwa always made them do chores when it's raining, and never let them out for battle. It was something about 'NO WET SHOES IN MY HOUSE', as he heard a few days ago when their saniwa yelled at one of the newer swords when he came back sopping wet.

"You're always slacking off." Honebami's footsteps were quieter when he walked onto the leaves.

"No, I wasn't! I was—"

"—Busy threatening the newer brothers with horse poop." He sighed.

Namazuo scrambled for an explanation. "That's—that's how you get to know them, right?" More people kept coming these days, awakened by their saniwa. He changed the topic. "Alright, alright—What did our saniwa tell us to do out here?"

Honebami sighed again, a longer one, almost synchronizing with the cicadas. "You weren't listening, were you?"

"I did! I just forgot!" Namazuo walked backwards, facing him, tossing a loose strand of his hair back.

Honebami ran a hand through his silver hair, the other gripping his wakizashi. "Our saniwa told us to scout ahead before night falls, because we are leaving come midnight. If there are any signs of the enemy, we have to report in, and the First Division will deal with them to clear the way." When Namazuo nodded, he continued, "Our saniwa specifically stated that she does not want any more casualties."

They lost a few of their brothers over the past few days. That fact was like a dark cloud, omnipresent among their brothers and their saniwa.

"I see." Namazuo said. "Well, Honebami, you've got a good memory, eh?" He turned around and ducked under a low-hanging tree branch.

"What is the point of that when I can't remember anything?"

Namazuo was taken aback. He didn't know what to say. The cicadas keened louder, as a large cloud passed by and covered the sun. He placed a hand on a tree truck as he walked.

There was only silence, and the chirping of cicadas.

"Why—" Honebami started, "why did our saniwa put me with you these past few days? Even when doing chores, even when on the battlefield..."

Namazuo knew why. Their saniwa told him. They were forged by the same smith, Awataguchi Yoshimitsu, together with a third brother, Ichigo Hitofuri, and were together during their time with their master Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Their saniwa hoped Honebami would get back his memories by being with him, as she haven't found Ichigo yet.

Even though their saniwa knew all the facts, that Ichigo and he were burnt at Osaka Castle which was the cause of his own partial memory loss, that Honebami himself was burnt at the Great Fire of Meireki after escaping the fire at Osaka Castle, she did not know them enough.

It was one tragedy after another, of floating to many, many ephemeral masters, before being awakened by their saniwa. What good will it do him to remember? It was goodwill to try to make him feel better, but it was folly. Surely.

It might be better if he didn't remember anything...right?

"Do you really not remember anything?" Namazuo asked.

"Yes, yes, I don't." Honebami placed a hand on his forehead, his lilac eyes flashing with distress. "I only know what our saniwa told us—that I was forged by the same smith and was under the same master as you, and that I was burnt in the Great Fire of Meireki, which caused me to lose my memory. I remember them all, but they are just words to me, Namazuo, words. My mind is just a blank; I can't retrieve anything at all—"

"Honebami Toushirou."

Namazuo gripped both of his shoulders, and shook him back and forth. The cicadas seemed to laugh at that, as Honebami dropped his hand in shock.

"Don't worry about it, relax." Namazuo grinned. "You can't move forward by looking back."

"Namazuo..."

"Oh, look!" When Namazuo turned, he saw a large fruit tree in the distance, standing taller than the other trees in that area, displaying its jewels. He dashed forward.

"Don't go too far off." Honebami said, but it was too late. He was off like an arrow, aiming for that fruit tree. He could only follow.

The fruit was small, round and red, dangling at the ends of the branches, tempting whoever that passed. It grew in clusters, claret agglomerations shining in the sun.

When Namazuo reached the foot of the tree, he started jumping up and down, reaching for the heavens.

"Namazuo, stop. You are too short." Honebami told him once he made it to the tree as well. He stood there, watching him jump like a monkey.

"No, I—" He jumped again. "The tree is too tall!"

"You can't do it."

"Yes I can!" He unsheathed his wakizashi, and tried to cut the nearest branch off. But it was still out of reach. The wind blew, rustling the leaves of the forest, the equivalent of laughter.

Honebami sighed. "That's not what your wakizashi is for."

"Then—" Namazuo sheathed his steel, and grabbed onto the trunk of the tree. Bark came off in flakes, but he managed to find secure handholds.

"Why are you so insistent on getting those berries?"

"You'll see once I—whoa!" His foot slipped, and he hung with one hand.

"Namazuo!"

"I'm fine, I'm fine." He laughed, and tried to reach up again.

"Tsk." Namazuo heard Honebami, and then there was a force pushing up from his feet. He looked down, and saw that Honebami was trying to boost him up.

"You're a pain," he frowned, "now quickly."

Namazuo smiled.

"Thanks a bunch!" He made it up with no problems, and cut a cluster of the red fruit. His brother caught it.

"Try it, Honebami!" Namazuo called from the top of the tree.

"Is it poisonous?" He looked at the bunch suspiciously.

"Yes, yes, it makes you smell like horse poop—"

Honebami plucked a scarlet orb, and popped it into his mouth. Namazuo watched, and laughed when Honebami made a face.

"It's too sweet," he said, as he plucked another one and ate it, "but I like it, strangely."

"Does it look familiar to you?"

"Hmm?" Honebami held the cluster of berries out in front of him, tilting his head to the right. The berries glistened as he held it this way and that.

"Should it?" He said after examining the fruit.

"Nope, not really. Hey, pass it to me too! I wanna eat it!"

That fruit tree was the kind that grew near where Toyotomi Hideyoshi, their master, lived.

Honebami ate another one. "You have to come down to get it."

Namazuo couldn't remember a lot from their time with their master, except for the fact that Honebami thought those berries were pretty, and he wanted to try them sometime.

"What? Okay, I'm coming!"

Honebami rested beside the window, while Namazuo was placed deeper in the room, so he didn't know what he was talking about most of the time, until their master took them out.

The berries grew in the cool autumn, towering over their master's house, red gems hanging on the highest branches. Their master couldn't get to it, and whenever it fell it would either be crushed underfoot by passersby or eaten by other animals. It was always by the window when one looked out, no matter the season; an eternal fixture, as far as they knew. Maybe it wasn't the same fruit, but it was red.

You really don't remember anything, do you?

Namazuo's foot scraped against bark, and then he felt nothingness. The wind howled at his ears, as green and yellow flashed before his violet eyes.

"Waaaahhh!"

Spider lilies.

It felt like a long time. The leaves scrambled to make way.

Red spider lilies.

"Namazuo!"

"Oof!" The impact knocked the wind out of him. His mind was giving off fireworks. Namazuo lay there, dazed.

Was it this bright? The sky was a fierce vivid orange now, descending into deeper tones of red. A few birds flew past. Then Honebami appeared in the corner of his vision, his mouth a thin line.

He sighed. Namazuo laughed.

"I'm fine, I'm fine!"

"You could have broken a leg there."

"Ah." Namazuo dismissed that, as he got up. "Do swords have legs? Nope." He hopped around to show that he was fine.

"Wouldn't that be even worse?" Honebami said, "You'll break yourself, and you'll disappear."

Namazuo paused. Just now, I remember...the red spider lilies.

The red spider lilies that decorated our master's grave.

"Oh. You make sense." Namazuo replied.

Twilight blue battled with the evening red for the sky, sending forth splashes of indigo. The sun was receding. Night was fast approaching.

"Honebami, let's go bac—"

Namazuo leapt to his battle stance. Honebami did likewise, one hand on his wakizashi.

I sense eyes on us. And killing intent.

He snapped his head left and right. The forest had taken on a sickly moss colour, with haphazard splotches of darkness. Even the cicadas stopped singing. The forest was still.

Is it?

The forest remained still.

Namazuo could hear his heart thumping. He slowly exhaled a shaky breath, not knowing he held it.

Nothing moved.

He gritted his teeth and held the hilt of his wakizashi tighter.

"Something's coming." Honebami said.

There was a slow rustle, far off at first, but it slowly became louder, on Namazuo's left. Both of them faced the source of the sound.

A black figure burst from the foliage, roaring. Namazuo unsheathed and swung his steel at it. It recoiled, and stepped back to put some distance. Then Namazuo saw it: its sickly purple glow, of a corpse with the legs of spiders.

He heard the clash of weapons, and saw that another of the same one attacked Honebami as well.

"Do we need to call for help?"

"Too far away." Honebami replied, as the grass shuddered again.

More black figures surrounded them, glowing eerily with red, green and purple, slowly advancing.

"Ah...we ran off too far, didn't we?" Namazuo remarked.

"You think?"

The creatures pressed in closer, tightening the circle. Namazuo held his wakizashi out, ready. It clanged with something.

"Tsk, Namazuo." Namazuo realized it was Honebami's weapon that he accidentally hit. He forgot his brother was left-handed.

"Hey, Honebami."

"What?"

"Do you trust me?"

The creatures all roared, a single howl for blood.

"...Yeah."

"Then I've got your back."

And so they stood, back to back, waiting.

One mark of trust is to count on someone to watch your back on the battlefield. Those were the only words from his master that Namazuo could salvage from the shattered remains of his memories.

The red and orange were chased out of the sky, and midnight blue shared the skies with twinkling stars. The forest became black and murky, lit up by the wispy glow of those vile creatures. That took my brothers.

They all surged forward.

Let the dance begin.

The battlefield was a blur with dancing lights and the clash of steel. Namazuo managed to strike a bony reptile, slicing it cleanly in half. There was a flash of light, and he held up his weapon to block. The impact was crushing, but Namazuo held his ground, pressing upward with all his strength. Honebami ducked under and swung his wakizashi, opening up the creature's stomach. The inside was a hollow space, with no trace of blood. The creature howled and swung his sword back. He then got out of the way as Namazuo aimed and struck it through its neck. It dissolved into nothingness.

The sounds of battle resonated loudly in the forest, replacing the merry cicadas. The scent of corruption hung heavy.

Honebami parried an incoming attack on his right, before kicking the enemy away. Namazuo got around the back and finished it off.

Namazuo knocked back an opponent, leaving Honebami to press forward while he slashed at one coming from behind him.

Why are there so many? Namazuo thought. Again and again, they cut the creatures all down, while they slowly chipped away at their strength.

One creature towered massively, and swung its blade from the side. Namazuo held his vertically to stop it. Metal clanged loudly beside his ear, and he almost fell over by the sheer force of the giant.

There was a sharp pain that shot up his right arm, and he realized that even though he stopped the attack, the giant's long blade had bit into his flesh.

"Incoming!"

Namazuo pushed the blade out of the way and dodged left, as Honebami crashed down onto the giant from above.

He gripped his right arm. It was bleeding. He looked up, and saw Honebami bent over from where he slain the creature, back rising and falling laboriously.

Namazuo didn't know how tired he was until he walked over to where his brother was. He was heaving, hungrily sucking for air.

"Honebami..."

Honebami didn't respond, and was holding his wakizashi that was stuck in the ground to support himself. He saw that he had a gash across his thigh, a mouth spitting black blood in the darkness.

"You okay?" Namazuo asked. Honebami nodded, and stood up, still panting.

"Let's go back."

They walked slowly, weary from battle, weaving through the trees.

There was a single sharp whistle, and Namazuo instinctively jerked his head left.

The tree in front of them burst into flames, a single arrow lodged in its truck vibrating like a bee.

Fire...

The red flames were hot fingers reaching out, setting more trees alight. The heat caressed Namazuo's face, and he recoiled.

Fire!

"Waugh!" He stepped back and lost his balance, falling onto his injured arm. Pain exploded up his arm and blocked out everything, a numbing sensation.

"Namazuo." He heard a distant voice, but it was overpowered by the thumping of his heart.

And the screams from the castle...

"Namazuo!" Honebami called out again amongst the groaning of more creatures.

It's all happening again...

Namazuo was tugged up to his feet. He barely registered any of that.

"Namazuo. We need to go. There is a whole army of undead after us." Honebami enunciated every word, and pulled him forward. He let himself be dragged.

The trees lit up and bloomed with red and orange, one after the other. The heat blossomed outwards, groping for him. Namazuo found his legs again, and he ran. The fire raced against them, dying the forest in crimson.

Just like the red spider lilies...

Everything will be razed to the ground. Everyone will burn into nothingness.

Get me away from here!

"Ah...ahh!" Namazuo yelled and dashed away blindly. No...No! Not again!

"Namazuo!"

He kept screaming, and never stopped running, even when he felt the heat come up to his face. He looked up and saw the burning tree, arms open in embrace. I'm not going to stop in time.

I'm going to be burnt again.

"Namazuo!" Something cane at his side and threw him to the left. He crashed onto the forest floor. Honebami must have knocked him aside. He gulped in air, and choked at the smell. He protected his head with his hands.

"No...nononono..."

"Namazuo." Honebami said in between his laboured breathing.

"I don't want to be—"

"Namazuo Toushirou."

Honebami grabbed his wrist and pulled him upright. The force of his words made him stop halfway. The fire surrounded them, and spread deeper into the forest. It was a crimson cage, a crimson cage...

"Look at me." He commanded. Namazuo raised his violet eyes to meet his brother's. His silver hair was carmine now, flickering and reflecting the fire around them. His eyes were wide open, lilac irises dilating unsteadily.

Honebami was scared.

"Please get a hold onto yourself." His voice was shaky, even though he tried to keep it even.

"I-I..." Namazuo couldn't get the words out.

"Do you think you are the only one afraid, Namazuo? Do you?" His voice broke, and he was yelling at him.

All at once, the words came tumbling out.

"It's exactly the same...it's exactly the same, Honebami! You know that some of my memories were lost, right?"

His brother was silent.

"But I...I didn't lose this memory of the fire. I remember everything that happened at Osaka Castle, do you know that?! There were people screaming, everything was red, and the fire was so, so hot and painful..."

"Namazuo!" Honebami shouted.

"I remember them all! I remember nothing but the fire!" Namazuo yelled back, his hands trembling.

"Please...I don't want to be burnt again...it's...so painful..." Namazuo pleaded, and hung against Honebami's hold. "You don't remember anything, so it's good for y—"

"You're wrong." Honebami replied.

Namazuo shook his head.

"You're wrong, Namazuo!" His brother yelled into his face. Namazuo looked up in shock. He'd never seen Honebami so angry before.

"When I was awakened, I may have told our saniwa, told you, told everyone—that I don't remember a single thing from my past." Honebami gritted his teeth. "That is not true."

"Then...what is true?"

"The only thing left in my memory are flames. Flames that burnt away everything about me." He paused. "I'd rather not remember anything if all I can recall are the fires of Meireki, Namazuo!"

Namazuo couldn't say anything.

"So please...I'm as scared as you are. Don't give up on yourself. I can't hold back all those creatures on my own."

"But the fire is...everywhere. We can't get out. Everything will happen all over again…we'll just sitting there, helplessly burnt—"

"No, Namazuo! Listen to me." Honebami shook him, then slowly enunciated, "It is different this time, Namazuo. Different. You are an awakened sword. I am an awakened sword. We have a different master, our saniwa. You always tell our saniwa that you won't look back even if your memories are gone, right?

"Swords don't have feet, Namazuo, but we do. We can walk away from this fate."

Namazuo swallowed, letting the words sink in. He found his feet again, and Honebami let go of his wrist.

"Please."

"I understand. I'm sorry." Namazuo straightened himself.

"Do you still have my back?" Honebami asked.

Namazuo took a deep breath, and smiled. "Yeah."

"Then I'll have yours." A small, faint smile appeared on his brother's face.

There was a commotion behind them, and Namazuo saw that the undead army has caught up with them.

"Let's go." And they ran.

They dashed against all the embers and against the fires that lit up the night like day. Namazuo felt a hot tongue lick up his back, and when he turned he saw that a creature has slashed him.

"Don't stop running!" Honebami had his wakizashi out, and was fending off the enemies that were ambushing them.

Namazuo swung his blade this way and that, but it did not prevent a dagger from plunging into his shoulder. He held his ground and kept going. As long as we can make it to our saniwa...!

Honebami was in front, and when he deflected an attack, a giant burst out from the flames and struck him at his side.

"Honebami!"

His brother lost his momentum, and fell over. Namazuo dashed forward and finished the creature, before rushing to his brother.

"Honebami!"

"Don't slow...down..." It was a deep wound that skewered him, and blood was spilling out between his fingers that held the wound.

"Uggh!" Namazuo grunted as sharp objects pierced into his back, driven in by some unseen force. He saw feathers sticking out from behind when he turned.

It took all his strength to stand up, ignoring the arrows in him, and more to drape Honebami's arm around his neck.

"Leave me..." Honebami weakly said.

"Nope. We're going to walk away from this fate." Namazuo managed a grin. He helped his brother up.

They kept going, one step at a time. As long as I take one step, it is one step away from the fire, and into the future.

"Namazuo..."

"Almost there!"

"I have something to tell you...later...I remember…"

"Okay! So hang on until then, yeah?"

Honebami nodded.

Namazuo's vision was starting to blur, the reds and blacks swirling like in a boiling pot. His head felt light, and Honebami was getting heavier.

Keep...moving...forward...

The heat now felt like a mother's embrace, tempting him to slow down, to rest. It bore down onto him, the scent of thick black smoke choking him.

They were all telling him to give up.

The roars of the creatures seemed so far away, as was his injuries. A bony snake slashed at his back, but he barely felt anything. His vision was darkening. There was a thumping sound, like running footsteps, coming from behind them. We won't be able to take the attack.

And Namazuo knelt over, there was a clash of metal on metal. The ground rushed up to meet him.

"Namazuo! Honebami!" A feminine voice cried out.

"Saniwa! Please stand back! It is dangerous." A second voice rumbled.

"First division, deploy!" Someone yelled, and more footsteps came from in front of him.

Hands came over to help Namazuo up. Are we...saved?

"Save my brother...first..." He managed to get out. He closed his eyes.

"We need to bring them back. Can we leave the battlefield to you?" Their saniwa commanded.

"Understood. We will eradicate them."

"Put out the fire!"

"Second Division is on that, saniwa! Let's go!"

Footsteps thundered around him. Namazuo felt that he was being hoisted up and carried. We're saved. He couldn't help but smile.

"Hey look, Namazuo's grinning like a fool!"

"Ha! Must be dreamin' 'bout all the horse poop he can throw once he's better."

He opened his eyes to find out who that was, but he saw Honebami on the back of someone.

"Back then...were there...lilies?" Honebami asked weakly.

"Yes. There were red spider lilies on our master's grave."