Gossip, is an idle talk or rumor, usually about someone's private life or secrets. It's juicy, it's addictive, it keeps you on your toes because you never knew whether it's true or false.
Or at least, that's what Yamanbagiri saw at some device called... what did Konnosuke say about it? Intra... inter... internet? Not long ago, the fox gave him some kind of weird thin rectangular-shaped box. A gift from master.
Turns out that the thin black box is a futuristic device called laptop. Konnosuke said that master usually uses this thing to help them completing numerous tasks much faster. For example, collecting data of the collected swords so far, taking notes of the revisionists' strategies and then making the counter-attack plan, etc, etc.
"As the current retainer for master, they wanted you to have this," the fox said, "it should help you when you're doing your tasks. Or perhaps when you're bored out of your mind. Let me teach you how to operate it."
After an hour and another half of it, Yamanbagiri knows the basic control of the device, and also the applications in it. The learning process was slightly tedious, considering that he's an ancient relic from the past trying to learn something from the distant future, but he can't say that it's not worth it.
He's reluctant to admit it, but he felt happy that his current master bestowed him an important thing like this and not to mention -although indirectly- teaching him how to use it.
Alright, it's not the time for him to talk about his new companion, Laptop-san.
Recently, a new gossip in the citadel have been spreading around like a wildfire. The one who starts it, the first Uchigatana didn't know, but now everyone's talking about it like some kind of a new fashion trend.
Like when Tsurumaru brought home those lame 'COOL' glasses.
But no, the topic was not about the Tachi's incredibly lame glasses. It's about their master.
Now one might think that as the retainer and the first sword to arrive here in citadel, Yamanbagiri had seen their master's face at least once, but in reality, he has never met the Saniwa in his entire life.
Not even once.
"But it's strange!" Yamatonokami once said, in one of their fieldwork duties, "how come that we hadn't seen Master ever since we arrived here? Don't they need to get out from their room sometimes?"
"They're probably really busy," Izuminokami said.
"But at least they could go out and meet us for a while, couldn't they?"
Tsurumaru piped in, "or maybe they've got some secrets that they can't show! Who knows? Maybe they'll surprise us when they actually showed up!"
"You mean... super dirty secrets?!"
Yamanbagiri ignored the other swords' banters until Hasebe showed up and scolded them for not working properly to fulfill their master's duty.
From then on, other swords started to talk about the topic. Even the ever-uninterested-in-useless-things Uchigatana, Ookurikara, actually started to pay attention to the small talks and rumors about their master.
Kashuu once approached him to ask about their master's ever-lasting absence, and was forced to be disappointed when even the retainer of the citadel remain oblivious about the true information.
Thus, the once small rumors, have turned into such a big topic that not even Hasebe could stop the gossips spreading.
After all, the appearance of their master was a complete mystery to the swords.
A week passed by ever since the 'Master's Mysterious Appearance' topic (-is what Tsurumaru called them, but Yamanbagiri could careless) first mentioned. Yamanbagiri, as per usual, headed to the master's room.
He was never allowed to get inside though. He usually sat in front of the sliding door, waiting for a scroll to be dropped in front of him, containing all sorts of duties and dispatchment order for that day.
Which, by the way, is the reason why he's standing there, eyebrows frowning.
Really, he could never understand what his master's thinking.
"...it looks like master has caught wind of the rumors spreading in the citadel," Hasebe said grimly to the gathering swords. Some of them gulped at the mention of the Saniwa.
"Are they mad?"
"Most probably. After all, it's really unpleasant to find out someone's been talking about you behind your back, hahaha!"
"Mikazuki-san, this is not the time to laugh..."
"I-I wonder if master's angry..."
"I swear it's not me who spread the rumors!"
One cough from Hasebe and everyone eventually fell into silence.
"Fortunately, no, master's not mad," relieved sighs could be heard, "and they proposed something to relieve some of your... curiosity."
Hasebe gave Yamanbagiri a side glance. The gloomy Uchigatana flinched a little bit, but he eventually relented. He stepped ahead and stood besides Hasebe.
"...they wanted to hold a competition. A guessing competition actually," Yamanbagiri hestitated a little bit here, "they wanted all of us to take part of the competition, no exceptions."
"They wanted us to actually guess their appearance. Draw portraits of them, I suppose."
Murmurs could be heard. It's not really unusual for this kind of events to be held at the citadel, but this is the first time that the Saniwa themselves claimed this to be a competition.
However, everyone's eyes became very determined when Yamanbagiri said, "...the one who can guess master's appearance most accurately will be given a prize and a week-off. No duties, expeditions, or whatsover."
The competition starts.
Not even half an hour later, Yamanbagiri have been approached by almost all of the Tantous and some of the Uchigatanas about the clues for the competition. Now he remembered that he forgot to tell them the clue in the gathering.
"Well, the only thing they said about the clue was that they had black hair."
Although the clue was really vague, the swords thanked him anyway. After that, the citadel has become really quiet. There are only quiet murmurs heard from the Awataguchi tantous when he passed by their room.
"And aren't you going to participate in the competition then, Yamanbagiri?"
Yamanbagiri clicked his tounge when he realized that the 'aruji-con' sword managed to find him. He had been avoiding the other Uchigatana from the start of the competition, knowing that the other sword wouldn't leave him alone to mind his own business and not taking part in this stupid competition.
"...no way. It's too troublesome."
"Master specifically said that 'everyone should participate, no exceptions'. You're the retainer of the citadel, at least you have to be the good example for the other swords."
The blond Uchigatana pulled over his white hood, muttering something about 'I'm just a duplicate anyway... why master would bother to even look at my drawing...?'
"Even if you're not confident that you'll win the competition, at least you have to participate somehow!" Hasebe proudly presents his... portrait of what should be their master, "behold! My self-guessing portrait of master! It may not look beautiful, but I poured all of my love and respect for master through this portrait! I hope that my feelings could reach you, master..."
Sure, a stickman figure could pass your feelings to master. And was that supposed to be hair? If anything, master will be offended with it, is what Yamanbagiri thought, but for the sake of not unleashing the rage in Hasebe's heart, he chose to keep his mouth sealed shut.
"There you have it. Now go grab some ink and paper," Hasebe turned onto his heels, quietly disappearing around the corner. Probably off to go and submit that horrible drawing of his.
Yamanbagiri sighed, and retreated to his own shared room with his brothers.
"Master, are you sure about this?"
Konnosuke sat on the Saniwa's lap, swishing his tail back and forth. The Saniwa's hand feels so soft against its fur, as she continued to stroke Konnosuke.
"It's been a long time since I became a Saniwa. I think this is the best time to show myself."
"By making competition like this?"
"Quite. Although that's not the only reason for that."
The Saniwa's other hand reached out to pick up a hot cup of coffee besides her. She sighed contentedly when she felt the hot, brown liquid traveled past her throat, keeping her body awake and alert.
"I'm kind of curious about what the Touken Danshi thought about me," she sighed, "will they thought me as a woman at all? Or some random wise old man like other sages they knew? My, I can't wait to find out!"
"And you abandoned your actual job for this?"
"You're sorely mistaken, Konnosuke-dono. What I did isn't just a mere competition. It's their chance to show how well they knew about me even if we haven't met before. Besides, one might said, 'for how could people respect you, when the time you spend with them was nil?' How could I expect them to respect me when I don't even show my face around here? Perhaps, perhaps this will be the way to deepen the relationship between me and the swords."
Konnosuke sat in silence, once again was amazed by the complex thought of the Saniwa. The young lady was indeed, in some occasions, are very carefree and sometimes had this child-like innocence, but her wisdom is the thing that made her chosen as a Saniwa.
"To think that master has thought about this that far... truly amazing!"
"No, not really? I think everyone will have the same mindset as I am? I mean, it's logical. The Touken Danshi has served me well, and I love them like my own family, but while I had seen them, they have yet to see me. Wasn't that a tad bit too unfair?"
Falling into a companionable silence once again, the Saniwa and her trusty attendant continued to gaze upon the cherry blossom petals descending slowly.
The Saniwa couldn't stop her giggles. Night has fallen down in the citadel, and after a truly exhausting day filled with shouts of some indignant swords and barks of laughter at the result of the numerous portraits -some disgustingly horrible and some are just too plain beautiful to be a portrait of her, the citadel has become really quiet. The only occupants who were awake by now would be only her and Konnosuke.
"My deepest apologize, Konnosuke-dono, for keeping you here at this late of night," sorting through the endless paper, the young lady admired every single portraits drawn by her dear swords.
"No need to apologize, master. It is also my duty as your guide and assistant." Konnosuke, the ever-determined fox spirit, couldn't even stop his small yawn despite of his burning determination to help his master in any way he can.
"Perhaps you should get some re-"
"I'm fine, master."
The only female in the citadel sighed. Konnosuke's stubbornness sometimes will be the death of the young lady. Although the Saniwa couldn't deny that it wasn't unpleasant at all.
She turned her attention at the heap of portraits in front of her. Most of the tantous drew portraits depicting of a man with body full of armors. One of them (Aizen's work, she noticed), was a portrait of a hardly unrecognizable man with tough looking robotic armors. Absent-mindedly, she thought that Aizen must have imagined his Aizen Myo'ou face when he drew the portrait.
She chuckled once more, and set the drawing aside.
Continuing her inspection at the drawings, she looks and cherishes every each one of them, no matter how horrible it is. Gokotai's work eerily resembles Ichigo Hitofuri with black hair. Yagen's detailed sketch of the full-body portrait with descriptions besides the sketch. Tsurumaru's sketch of what meant to be an old man with long black hair and equally long beard (the Saniwa tought vaguely that she shouldn't have given Tsurumaru a Chinese folktale book; the Tachi was really engrossed about the old wise men in it nowadays...). Ookurikara didn't even bother to draw her properly, simply a circle with two black dots and thin line in it. She supposed it's her face in his mind then.
Nope, to say that she wasn't disappointed was a lie, but she can't help but laughed at the simplicity of the portrait.
Mikazuki and Kogitsunemaru's portraits were really... different, if she must say. The white-haired Tachi was surprisingly good at drawing, considering that the portrait in her hand was a man with long hakama, and it was really beautifully drawn too. Mikazuki's.... well, dare she say, the old Tachi really needs to improve his knowledge about human bodies proportion. Human's shoulders weren't supposed to be that crooked.
Another look at Hasebe's and Yamatonokami's -she concluded that both of them sucks at arts, not that she didn't appreciate those, she turned to look at Kashuu's drawing, and immediately paused.
Well, she's one of those people who believed in what humans' call 'coincidence', but this kind of situation was just too plain impossible to be passed as a mere 'coincidence'.
With a shocked look, she gazed at the same pair of red eyes, staring back at her from the portrait of a beautiful woman. Kashuu Kiyomitsu's portrait was too similiar with her, with that black long hair and a strikingly pair of red eyes, which unmistakenly, was the same as hers.
She shook her head. No way. There's no way the Uchigatana would know. She almost always spend her time in her room, never getting out when the sun's still shining and the citadel is still bustling of life and activities. No one, not even Yamanbagiri, her retainer, ever seen her.
So how come Kashuu Kiyomitsu's portrait has a 100% similarity with her?
Pushing the insecurities and mild panic to the back of her mind, she put the portrait carefully besides her, like it's made of glass and could break had she treated it roughly. She tried to pass it off as it's just a coincidence, Kashuu didn't mean to actually made that marvelous portrait of her, it was just coincidence.
"Konnosuke-dono?" Still looking at the papers in front of her, she asked, "do you think Kashuu-dono knows already? But... he had never seen me before. What do you think? Is it just a mere coincidence at all?"
Frowning at the absence of response, the lady turned to look at Konnosuke, only to find him sleeping. In front of him, laid Souza's portrait, again, a middle-aged man clad in what the Saniwa recognized as a Daimyo's prized kimono from countless history books she read.
She shook her head fondly at the sight of the sleeping fox. Carefully, she retrieved a small piece of blanket and draped it over the tired fox.
She stared at the pile of papers, and sighed. She had planned to finish looking at all of them and put them inside the wooden frames she bought back in her world, but without Konnosuke helping her...
"This is going to be a long night."
The citadel was in chaos.
Dozens of the portraits that each of them had drawn yesterday, was framed in elegant wooden frames, and hanged in each corner of the corridor, every nook and cranny weren't missed.
Embarassment to those who submit horrible drawings were evident (except Hasebe, who were extremely delighted that his master actually took so much time to frame his portraits -along with others), and praises as well as teasing sounds filled the citadel in no time.
"Really, Kiyomitsu? A woman?"
"I-I mean, everyone was drawing master as some sort kind of tough man, so I think it will look remotely different if I drew them as a woman!"
"That just looked like as a woman-version of you," Yamatonokami deadpanned.
"Master wasn't as ugly as this!" Hasebe cried indignantly at Ookurikara and Mitsutada's equally horrible drawing.
"I participated in this stupid competition, isn't that all that matters?" Ookurikara snapped back.
"Besides, have you seen master's face at all, Hasebe? And you're not the only one to talk. Yours is as bad as us," Mitsutada pointed to the stick-man figure between Sayo and Hachisuka's portraits.
"O-Sayo, are you really sure that this is master...?"
"I think that master is using me to fulfill their revenge, so maybe if I draw them like this... well, I think this portrait suits master the best, Souza-nii."
"Even in this kind of menial competition... does master desire no peace at all...!"
There's a chime of bell, and all swords stood in alert. That was the sign for them to gather in the main tribune.
"What was that...?"
"Probably master's going to announce the winner!"
"Does it means that we're going to see master for the first time ever?!"
No one saw a pair of fond red eyes staring at them in the corner of the hall.
"Everyone, thank you for gathering here," Konnosuke said to all of the swords. The fox ignored the excited murmurs of the swords.
"Before we started to announce the winner, I must tell you that the competition yesterday wasn't just a mere competition," the fox said, "master said that sh- they wanted to know how did you view them even though you have never met them."
Several 'ahh's were heard. Yamanbagiri remained silent, watching the entire scene. The momentary slip from Konnosuke went unnoticed to the majority of the swords, but the Uchigatana's observant nature didn't let the slip escaped. His eyes caught several understanding gazes from some of the Tachis and Wakizashis, and he knew they were thinking the same.
So their master is a woman.
"Konnosuke-dono," everyone's attention was turned to a young woman standing not far from the tribune, "now, now. Let me take it from here, okay?"
The fox spirit stare at the beautiful woman, "m-master! I-I thought you're not going to show yourself?!"
Collective gasps was heard from the crowds, distinctive yells of 'master?!' could be heard.
The Saniwa smiled at the swords, and calmly bowed down to them (Hasebe's surprised yell at the sudden bow from his master didn't go unnoticed).
"Greetings, Touken Danshi. You might haven't seen me before, but as Konnosuke-dono stated, yes, I'm the Saniwa. It was a pleasure to finally meet you all."
Delightfully, the young lady straighten her back, "while this is our first official meeting, I do hope that we can work together. I may also participate in the front lines, so I look forward to learn everything I can regarding to frontal battles from now on."
In no time, the young Tantous surrounded the Saniwa, excitedly asking so many questions.
"Hello, master! Please take care of me from now on!"
"I can't believe our master is a woman..."
"Don't you think Aizen Myo'ou looks cool? Say, master, maybe I could give you one of my shirt!"
"Master! Do I look cute?"
"Do you think Ichi-nii is so cool?"
"Now, now," the Saniwa smiled, and squatted down, patting Gokotai's head, "we have plenty of time. How about we all sit down in the main hall and relax? If you have any question regarding me, no need to keep it in!"
Kashuu hummed happily. He was sooo happy right now! Not only he won the competition, master had also specifically praised him! Does that mean master loves him?
"I maybe a Saniwa for you all. But I won't mind if you call me by my real name. My name is Masaki Kawashima."
After the long, almost endlessly questions from the Tantous, came a question from Imanotsurugi about the Saniwa's name. To the surprise of Konnosuke, Masaki had given them her real name easily. The fox spirit thought that his master would be a little bit secretive about her personal information.
Right now, she was stroking one of Gokotai's tiger, while the Tantou himself was sitting on her lap. One of Masaki's hand cuddled Gokotai's small frame, and he was sweating nervously.
Sensing the uncomfortable Tantou's nervousness, she asked worriedly, "Gokotai-dono? Are you alright? Should I haven't ask you to sit on my lap after all? My apologize."
"No, no! I-It's alright master!" Gokotai said quickly. Golden eyes stared at Masaki's red eyes pleadingly.
The Saniwa sighed fondly, "ahh... Ichigo-dono... you're so lucky. To have all of these adorable boys as your little brothers... strong yet cute at the same time... what a bliss!"
"Thank you for your compliment, master."
Masaki smiled at the blue-haired tachi, then turned to Kashuu who stayed silent all the time, "Kashuu-dono?"
"The portrait that you drew last night..." Kashuu gulped at the intensity of Masaki's stare, "I'm quite curious about it. Because in fact, your portrait hold a 100% similarity with me. If I recall, you have yet to see me."
"Did you know how I look like after all?"
Kashuu shuddered at the pair of red eyes, "n-no. Actually, I... I was picturing myself when I drew you! Then, I saw the others drawing you as a male, so..."
"You decided to draw me as a woman?"
The Uchigatana nodded.
"Interesting," Masaki chuckled a little bit, "indeed, indeed. Now that I think about it, I might look like a female version of you, Kashuu-dono. Truly, this is such a coincidence."
"Now, Yamanbagiri-dono had already told you all that the winner will be given a prize, right? Oh, by the way, thank you for yesterday Yamanbagiri-dono."
The Kunihiro sword blushed at the grateful stare from the Saniwa, and he just ducked his head.
"Since Kashuu-dono's portrait was like the exact replica of me, I declare him as the winner."
In the end, the Saniwa herself presented him with an omamori kyoku, a brand-new scarlet red nail polish, and of course, a week without work!
"You seem to be really happy, Kiyomitsu."
"I am! To think that master herself gave me this precious omamori and nail polish... ah, do you think I'm loved, Yasu?"
Kashuu giggled and rolled over the floor, and Yasusada just stared at his Uchigatana companion weirdly.
"Master, why do you have a dark circle under your eyes?"
"O-Oh, this? I stayed up late at night to check every single of your portraits and framed them. I only got to sleep for about two hours."
"What?! Master, if you didn't get enough sleep, you'll get sick!"
"No need to worry, Hasebe-dono! I drank 8 cups of black coffee and also some tea to help, so I should be fine!"
"Too much caffeine is also not good for your health, master!"