Kitsune Mori, Part 3 is now up! In September we lost two members of our main cast quite suddenly--Ely and Hanna both had to step away from the podcast due to real life obligations. We've used the last several weeks to regroup and re-cast. Today we are very excited to return to our regular release schedule. Want to discuss the episode, L5R, or anything in between? Join us on Discord!
The samurai reconvene following Crow's early morning venture into the woods, then set out in pursuit of the kitsune poachers.
CAST, CREW, & CREDITS
Ambience: The Bog Standard (Tabletop Audio)
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Wind whistles through the trees. Night has long since taken hold, and a steady rain falls over the forest. It runs off the rooftops of Kitsune Mori Mura’s homes and shops in sheets, filling the air with the scent of moss and dirt.
Kitsune Shio sleeps fitfully atop her futon, her form hunched, blankets twisted around her limbs. In her dreams, the forest grows quieter, darker. The three-legged crow caws at her, its white feathers stark against the trees. It is a yatagarasu. An omen. The crow caws. Its red eye snaps open, boring straight through her. There is a flash of a time before, of a tree, of a nest, of a life. Of a girl.
Shio wakes with a start, a hitch in her chest, her forehead beaded with sweat. She takes in a steadying inhale, staring into the middle distance for several long moments, her breaths coming in a staccato. The rain falls outside the window.
Slowly, she stands from her futon, sliding into her kimono. She takes up her katana with purpose and seeks out Akodo Torokai.
Morning in Kitsune Mori Mura is as normal a time as one can find in the forest. As sunlight filters through the trees, the streets slowly fill with people. The clamor of merchants and laborers mingles with the sound of birds and chittering cicadas at dawn. It’s still early enough to be chilly, but soon enough the food carts’ braziers are lit, sending plumes of warmth and smells of seared vegetables and meat through the streets.
Crow returns from her walk with a spring in her step despite her muddy hakama and the pine needles stuck in her hair. She makes her way to the inn, chipper after her chance meeting with Umeko.
Atsu wanders to the common room to get breakfast, dressed in a rough, simple kimono suited for outdoor work, a battered sugegasa perched atop his head. He carries an empty bag. He loosens the hat’s tie under his chin as he sits, letting it rest at his back while he calls for food. Torokai sits opposite him, having already finished his breakfast. He pores over a scroll while he sips his tea.
Crow bows to them after approaching and invites herself to sit. Torokai calls for more tea. As the yoriki gather, he glances up, carefully sets down his cup, and clears his throat. "Kitsune-san mentioned poachers in the area. She has already gone ahead to scout.” He pauses for a moment, seemingly lost in thought, but recovers quickly. “I would have you accompany me to… follow this lead. We can do what we can while we’re here."
[Crow, chipper, but quiet] "I have an idea of where their camp is. We should set off quickly."
Atsu pauses in his eating, regarding Crow with beady eyes. "Poachers, in such a place as this?"
[Crow, scowling] "They hunt for Kitsune pelts. Among other things..."
Atsu frowns thoughtfully, then smoothes his brow as he shrugs. “I was going to bring my tetsubo herb-gathering, anyway.”
Daiyu takes her seat, bowing to them. "It would do me no favors to let my wits grow dull. I will come."
[Torokai]"Of course, Kuni-san. Do you have an idea of a location, Crow-san?"
[Crow] "I encountered a woman in the woods today. She said she'd seen their tents."
[Atsu] "And we know for certain these are the poachers?"
[Crow seems to have not considered this] "Well… She seemed certain enough."
[Torokai] “We will at least take a look."
Atsu scratches his cheek thoughtfully, and nods in agreement. Torokai rubs his chin, gaze faraway, then takes a sip of tea.
[Torokai] “I will join you on this hunt. I am curious to see more of Kitsune Mori.”
[Daiyu, with surety] "A swift investigation should clear things up. A camp of poachers should make themselves obvious without much question."
[Crow] "And I'd rather dispatch them as soon as possible."
Crow nods before her eyes drift away to survey the common room. Her gaze passes over a woman with a slight build, dressed in a simple, tea-golden kimono tied with a blue sash. Swathes of white cut through her otherwise jet black hair. She is seated by herself, taking occasional sips of tea as she reads from a small book.
Crow doesn't recognize her for a moment, then does a double take. She gestures to her. [quietly] "That's her! The woman I met in the woods."
Daiyu stares where Crow points, making absolutely no effort at discretion.
[Atsu, erupts] "Ooh!" Atsu shoots to his feet. He shakes the floor making his way over to her, then bows and peers at her. "Excuse us, but what is this about poachers?"
Crow covers her face in her hands. Torokai opens his mouth, then closes it again.
The woman doesn’t hear Atsu’s thunderous approach until he’s right on her, and nearly hits the ceiling from surprise. She drops her book reflexively. Her shoulders tense, her smile nervous.
[Umeko] "I--poachers, samurai-san?" She peeks around his shoulder and catches sight of Crow. Her eyebrows rise in recognition. "Ah...yes, I’ve seen them. In the forest."
[Atsu, tilting his head] "Please forgive the questioning, but are you sure they are poachers?"
[Umeko, with a thread of nervousness] “Yes, I’m sure, samurai...”
Crow debates internally whether or not to interfere, but ultimately stands and joins Atsu. Umeko smiles at her, her posture relaxing.
[Crow] "It is good to see you again, Umeko-san. This is my friend, Hida Atsuryokunabe."
Atsu nods in agreement as if to say "oh yeah, I forgot, I am indeed Hida Atsu." He at least has the sense to bow more formally with Crow's introduction, adding a murmured "dozo yoroshiku”.
[Umeko] "It’s good to see you again, Crow-san. Hida-san, they wear the same mon as the others have. I am sure they are poachers."
[Crow] "What mon is that?"
[Umeko, shaking her head] "I don’t recognize it. They may be ronin."
Atsu frowns. He glances at Crow. Would she know them? She is ronin too…. Do ronin congregate? Crow looks up at Atsu as he glances at her, and gives him an unwavering stare. Atsu flushes.
[Atsu, trying to double back] "A-and were they armed? With weapons other than hunting tools?"
[Umeko, inhaling, remembering] "The poachers are armed, yes. Some use clubs. One uses an axe to..." [trails off] "Some use swords. I couldn’t see what kind."
Crow frowns deeply.
[Atsu, loudly] “Hmmm.”
Crow bows. "Thank you again, Umeko-san. We will take care of them."
Umeko bows her head for a long beat, trying her best not to look nervous. "Thank you, Crow-san. Hida-san."
Crow smiles to her and returns to the table, followed by Atsu, but neither sit. Atsu shovels the last of his food into his mouth, then retrieves his tetsubo and his knapsack purposefully. Daiyu sips her tea patiently, waiting for a signal to move. Torokai rolls up the scroll he had been reading and tucks it back into its case.
[Crow] "Shall we?"
[Atsu, rumbling] “Mmm.”
Torokai stands, adjusting his obi.
[Daiyu] "With haste."
Crow leads them from the inn and back the way she came: northward, into the forest.
It does not take long for the samurai to lose sight of Kitsune Mori Mura. The village is so much a part of the forest that the sounds of human bustle and toil are overtaken quickly by birdsong, cicada drone, and the far-off whisper of wind through trees. Somewhere in the distance a fox barks and is answered by the furious chattering of a squirrel.
They travel for some time in silence, wary of poachers who might be listening. Eventually Crow is the one to break the silence, glancing to Torokai, then the others. “I'll scout to the west a bit.” She says without leaving much room for disagreement. Torokai stays the course, warily eyeing the back of Crow's head, but he does not protest.
It’s nearing midday when Torokai suddenly stops, his posture stiff and wary. Atsu and Daiyu stop as well, staring at him in quiet confusion.
Torokai gestures ahead wordlessly. In the distance, there is a flicker of movement: something human-sized stumbles aimlessly through the undergrowth. He weaves and sways with each step as though exhausted or injured, but doesn’t seem to have noticed them.
Torokai hums and crouches low, palm on his katana. He starts toward the man, his steps careful and quiet.
Atsu follows after Torokai with exaggerated care, finger pressed to his lips with a rather unnecessary “Shhhh”. His attempt at quiet is… an attempt. A branch cracks explosively underfoot. He freezes in place, beads of sweat on his brow.
Daiyu eyeballs him accusingly. Atsu holds his hands out towards her in a placating gesture. The stranger looks up, stares at them -- then breaks into a run. Atsu stampedes immediately after him, all concern for quiet lost.
[Atsu, Yelling] “STOP!”
Torokai grunts and grabs the hilt of his katana as he breaks into a sprint. Daiyu trails after them at a leisurely pace, not particularly concerned that the man will get away.
The man is fast, his long legs quickly putting distance between himself and the samurai, but the undergrowth soon becomes an impassable tangle of brambles and branches and boulders. His hair whips over his shoulder as he looks back at Atsu, bearing down on him. He grunts and takes a hard turn westward, scrambling recklessly through the brush with no care for cuts or bruises.
Crow’s wandered far enough to no longer hear the other samurai. The sound of the forest envelops her -- until a sudden harsh rustling stops her in her tracks. She slows her step, hand on the hilt of her sword, as she approaches the source. A few tense moments pass before the brush shakes violently again, and a boar flies free of it and across her path. It runs off, squealing.
Crow sags with relief, only to tense as shouts and the headlong rush of rustling footsteps reaches her. Hand on her sword, she turns and waits. A few beats pass. A bird calls, high and long. Soon, he comes into view: a scraggly, malnourished young man in a torn, fine kimono. His topknot has come loose, and dirty strands of his dark hair frame his tan face. He has the look of a hunted beast, crazed or desperate, but carries no weapon. Seeing this, Crow lets her hand fall to her side.
A branch cracks. His foot catches on a heaved up tree root. Crying out, he trips and tumbles straight into Crow. She grabs his shoulders firmly, grunting as she strains against his struggling, but eventually he’s too entangled and exhausted to resist. She presses his arms to his sides to keep him from running and waits for the others.
Atsu hefts his tetsubo as he catches up to Crow and the man, panting, his cheeks red. The hilt of his weapon glows faintly through its tight wrappings. "IS IT A POACHER?!"
The man doesn’t struggle. He pants as Crow holds him, and his eyes dart as he looks her over as best he can. When he finds no sign of a mon on her kosode, his eyes widen. "Are you--are you with them? Let me go!"
Daiyu and Torokai arrive a few moments later. Torokai’s cheeks are red from exertion, but he relaxes when he sees Crow with their quarry in hand and nods, stepping forward as he bends to inspect what the man dropped: a netsuke shaped like a yak. There’s nothing else.
“We have some questions for you first, I’m afraid.”
[Crow, firm but not aggressive] "With who? Are you one of the poachers?"
[Shoichi] "The poachers? Me? No, no, I’m not one of them."
He looks up at Crow, still breathing heavily. There is dried sweat across his brow. There are purposeful rips in the fabric on the shoulders and back of his kimono, as though his mon were torn off.
Atsu’s attention is drawn to the glow of his tetsubo, and he pauses to stare at it. After a moment he frowns and lowers his weapon. "What were you running from, then?"
[Shoichi] "I was taken some days ago while traveling. I was blindfolded, could not see w--where I was. I don't... It might have been them. I--I don't know."
Crow peers at him searchingly for a few more moments. She releases him. "How did you escape?"
The man slowly stands up and wipes his mouth. There are a few scratches on his face, probably from thorns, and remnants of what may be rope burn are ugly, red rings his wrists and neck.
[Daiyu, doesn’t actually care but she’s sure trying to sound like it] "How awful. Where are you from? Why would they have taken you all the way out here?"
[Shoichi] "F-far from here. Ki-Rin lands. I was taken some days ago, at the edge of Scorpion lands while returning home from court. I don’t know why they took me, they kept asking me questions, talking, and..."
Crow’s brow furrows with concern. Torokai frowns, glancing quickly at Crow then away. "I am glad you escaped, then. What is your name?"
[Shoichi, swallowing, mouth dry] "I-I am Shinjo Shoichi. An emissary for the court. There was an Ide with me, but she’s… she’s gone. I don’t know where.”
[Crow, almost demanding] "You are Ki-Rin? Why would someone kidnap a Ki-Rin and bring them here?"
[Atsu] "Could we perhaps move to a place where I could treat him?"
Torokai hums, his eyebrows drawn and expression serious. Crow's expression suddenly borders on fear. She says nothing else, only nods and averts her gaze.
After a moment’s silence, Torokai steps forward. “Here, Shinjo-san. Lean on me. We’ll find a place to rest.”
They backtrack to a thicket not quite so choked with brambles. Torokai clears Shoichi a seat on a wide, fallen log touched with moss, and offers him a waterskin. Shoichi drinks gratefully as Atsu begins his treatment, cleaning cuts and applying green, medicinal smears to purple welts. Crow stands conspicuously apart, her smile forced. Daiyu leans against a tree to watch.
Atsu finds no shortage of scrapes and cuts to deal with, but eventually runs out of things to bandage. He stands back to tuck his supplies into his bag, dusting his hands on his thighs. Shoichi looks up. The bun at the back of his sable hair has fallen apart completely, his traveling are clothes rumpled and torn, his eye sockets purpled. His eyes occasionally draw to Crow, narrow and introspective. Crow avoids his gaze.
[Shoichi] "Forgive me, samurai. You look familiar..."
[Crow, quickly] "Perhaps we have crossed paths on the road."
Shoichi sits up against the rock, considering the caked mud and loosened stitches on his finely-made gutul. The silence stretches uncomfortably.
[Shoichi, slowly] "Yes. Perhaps we have.”
Crow returns to staring into the woods.
Atsu looks the man in the eye frankly. "Have you been eating leaves? Do not lie to me."
Shoichi stares at Atsu for a long moment. [laughs hesitantly] "Only...berries. Roots. I followed the foxes through the forest. I would’ve likely died well before this if I hadn’t.”
"There were no guards? No one whose face you can recall?"
[Shoichi] "No. Nothing I can remember.”
[Crow, not leaving time for anyone to argue] "The poachers are still at large, and I know nothing of medicine. I will scout the area while you tend to Shinjo-san." She doesn’t give anyone a chance to protest before she sets off into the trees. Torokai frowns after her, but does not call her back. He sighs heavily and takes a few steps away to stare into the trees, wary of watchers.
[Daiyu] "Could you think of anyone who would have wanted it so that you did not arrive at court? Or do you think this is unrelated?"
[Shoichi, hesitantly] "Many, Kuni-san; I’m of the court.” He smiles, wryly. “I could easily blame bandits. But that is often not the truth of such things."
[Atsu, grunts] "It is easier when your foe stands before you, instead of behind shoji."
[Shoichi] "Indeed… [sigh] very often."
Atsu dusts his hands. "Are you able to walk on your own?"
[Shoichi] “I think so.” He forces himself to stand with a pained grunt. “Thank you, Hida-san.”
A silence passes. Torokai folds his arms.
“We will wait to see if Crow-san finds something.”
[Daiyu, half-heartedly] "Of course." Daiyu gives the others a feigned smile, looking out towards where Crow disappeared.
Crow moves quickly through the forest, outpacing the sounds of the other samurai within minutes. The trees ahead soon begin to thin enough that threads of sunlight trickle through the canopy. When she looks up, she can even see the sky--and in it, a trail of campfire smoke.
She slows her pace, choosing each step carefully as she heads in its direction. It’s likely the poachers’ camp Umeko spoke of-- and she wants to get a feel for the number they may have to fight.
It does not take long for her to catch sight of a clearing ahead. Crow ducks down into a stealthy crouch, keeping tangles of brush between herself and the open ground.
The trees open up and reveal a circle of tents surrounding the smoking campfire. Five men are gathered around it, but there could be more hidden in the tents. All of them are armed, but they seem at ease; none of them keep watch. One of them pokes a pot of something simmering over the fire while two others sit and eat. The final pair spar, laughing and jibbing at one another between traded blows.
Crow’s eyes narrow as she unslings her dai-kyu from her back. Still crouched, she nocks an arrow as she moves onto a small knoll overlooking the camp. She takes aim at one of the men sparring and, just as he raises his sword arm, releases. The arrow plunges into his side. He grunts and stumbles onto one leg into the dirt. His sparring partner gapes at him in shock.
Crow nocks a second arrow and lets it fly, straight through his torso as he opens his mouth to call out. He goes down with a wheeze, his sword dropping to the ground with a dull thump.
[sparring partner] “W-we’re under attack! There’s someone in the trees!”
Crow moves, low to the ground as she skirts the edges of the camp. She pauses and looses an arrow. It sinks into the sparring partner’s arm, and he nearly drops his katana.
[grunt] “There!” He spots her through the trees and points. The tall, broad man at the cooking fire fumbles with the pot, dropping it onto the ground with a clatter, spilling rice into the dirt. He pulls an enormous, conch horn from his obi and blows. It blares through the trees with stunning intensity, setting a cloud of birds aflight.
Atsu whips his head around at the horn’s call. He immediately charges off towards it like a rampaging bull. Daiyu stiffens for a moment, then sprints after him.
[Daiyu] “Stay with Akodo-sama, Shinjo-san!”
Back at the poachers’ camp, Crow slings her bow over her shoulder. As she draws her katana, Atsu and Daiyu burst through the trees a few paces behind her, glancing around at the unfolding scene. As more men spill from the tents in the encampment, Crow shouts a kiai and leaps at the first target she sees: the one who spotted her. Her blade takes one of his arms off in a single sweep. It flops to the ground with an awful thud, sending him collapsing into the dirt, blood pouring from the stump. He crawls away on his knees, clutching what remains of his arm.
Atsu stalks forward and brings the tetsubo down onto the poacher’s shoulder with a sickening crunch, sending the horn spinning from his hand. The poacher stumbles, but quickly brings his katana up. Another man, unwashed with dirt smeared on his cheeks, wastes no time in closing the gap. Atsu weathers the first cut with a grimace, but the second catches him off-guard. The blade slices his belly, opening a line of red across his kimono. Atsu grunts in stifled pain. He manages to stay on his feet, but wobbles as he moves. Blood quickly pools across his obi.
Crow hesitates as she looks over the battle, weighing her options, her decision made when she sees Atsu in trouble. She bolts to him, hand tight around the hilt of her sword. Crow’s blade whistles through the air. The poacher barely has time to raise his katana. Steel grinds against steel, until finally Crow overpowers him and the blade bites deep into his shoulder, through his chest, dropping him onto the ground with a thump.
She follows through, an arc of blood following her blade, bearing down on a poacher side-stepping the Hida’s mighty swings. He retreats a step, but Crow is too swift. Her sword catches him in the gut. Blood wells against his ratty kimono. He grunts, shouts a gurgling kiai, then lurches forward into the dirt, unmoving.
Daiyu comes to a sliding stop in front of Atsu, her feet sliding into an aggressive stance. She draws a scroll like a katana, holding the case in front of her like a saya. Sunlight tangles around her hand and wrist, coalescing into a blade of dancing red flames. The firelight gleams against her grin. Two poachers glance at one another, huffing and heaving, foreheads covered in sweat. Their stances are low and rigid. One grips a notched, battered sword, the other a bow.
The poacher quickly nocks and looses an arrow. Daiyu side-steps without batting an eye and the arrow cracks in half against a tree. She flexes her free hand, hat over her eyes, the fiery blade held straight out at her side. She lunges, raising it high above her head, bringing it down. It cuts straight through to the bow's wooden core, setting it aflame. The poacher tosses the bow into the grass with a grunt and draws his curved sword, chancing a swing at Daiyu. Atsu dispatches him with a single heft of his tetsubo. He breathes heavily and moves more slowly than usual, his wounds catching up with him.
Crow twists reflexively, caught off guard by Daiyu rushing in, a katana blazing in her hand. She adjusts quickly enough. Crow’s sword whistles through the air, severing a poacher’s arm mid-strike, leaving it to flop limply on the ground. He remains standing for several long, long moments. Blood runs between his teeth. He slumps backwards, clutching his stomach, murmuring, pleading.
Crow doesn’t flinch, her features twisted with rage, his blood spattered across her face and forearms. She throws her weight into the blade and runs him through with a loud, wet crunch. He goes to his knees, slides into the mud, and drops, his sword thumping dully beside him.
The samurai dispatch them until only one remains, and they are all that is left standing of the ten of them. The one who first spotted Crow in the trees writhes in the dirt, a line of red along his hairline, screaming and holding what remains of his arm.
Daiyu lets go of her blade as the fight ends. It dissipates with a soft breeze and is gone.
Crow flings the blood off her blade, nostrils flared. She loses conviction by the time she storms over to him, perhaps out of pity.
Atsu staggers behind Crow, arm clutched to his injured side. He drags his tetsubo behind him. It's obvious what he wants to do.
Crow holds out an arm. "No. Leave him." She wipes her sword on her sleeve, leaving the presumable interrogation to Atsu and Daiyu. She starts toward the largest tent dominating the center of the camp, her expression stoic.
The central, largest tent is a grisly scene. On the far wall are cages, some empty and unused. The rest are filled with foxes, most dead. Pelts dry on racks. On long, unrolled sections of cloth are vials containing red liquid, certainly blood.
Crow staggers, holding a forearm to her nose. Her expression shifts from rage, to sadness, and then back to rage. One of the cages rattles as she steps further inside. Inside is a fox, alive and seemingly untouched, chattering against the thin bars, its pelt silvery white, touched by black around its paws and hindquarters.
Crow swallows and grits her teeth, kneeling down to open the cage, but she’s stopped by a hefty padlock and a rusted chain. She finds the key next to a series of dried, rolled pelts bound by twine.
[muttered, comforting]. "They are dead now. You're safe."
The cage groans with rust. The fox chatters nervously as the door opens, not eager to move. Dried blood cakes its paw. Crow slowly, slooowly reaches out, trying to get a better look at what looks to be a cut from a trap or snare.
Crow smiles despite her stress and scoots back a bit to give the fox room. She reaches into her kosode, fumbling around for a moment, and offers it a small strip of dried meat. It cranes its neck hesitantly and takes it. At first, the fox is hesitant. It slowly, slowly creeps out of the cage, not breaking eye contact.
[Crow] "Can you speak? Are--are you kitsune?"
The fox meets her eyes, blinks once, looks to the meat. It takes a step forward, experimentally. When it isn't shoved back in the cage, it drops on all fours and chews. It dips its head, an approximation of a nod. It keeps chewing on the strip of meat, then chirrups to ask for more. Crow settles on her haunches, reaching into her kosode for a more substantial handful of dried meat.
[Crow] "Do you know what they were doing?" She gestures to the cloth covered in blood and strange instruments."It looks...horrible."
The kitsune stands unsteadily once it's finished eating. It nudges the vials. They slosh with the consistency of blood. It nudges the vials again in indication, likely too weak to take its human form
Crow frowns, but leaves the fox to eat its fill. She turns a vial over in her hand, examining it, and a deep frown creases her features. She sets it back down quickly before searching the rest of the tent.
[Crow] "You can come with us if you’d like. We will keep you safe, and I will take you wherever you need to be."
While Crow investigates, Daiyu turns to Atsu, already waving her hand. Droplets of water from the air gather into a small orb that floats lazily an inch above her palm.
Atsu mutters his thanks to Daiyu, taking the hint. He rummages around in his belongings for makeshift bandages, anything leftover from treating Shoichi earlier. Daiyu tends to herself, thanking the local spirits for their assistance in the battle when she's finished.
Her eyes slide to the poacher, who clutches what remains of his arm with a bloody hand. He bites down on cries of pain, huffing and heaving. "Who--who are you?!"
Atsu turns a smoldering stare at the poacher, hoisting his tetsubo high into the air. He brings it down tip-first, then lodges the head spike into the soil, leaning on it for support.
"You will answer our questions, if you wish for a swift death.”
The man looks at Daiyu, then Atsu, wide-eyed. He nods.
"How many more of you are there, and where are they?"
He grits his teeth, holding the stump where his arm used to be. "I - I don't know. A few more -- Five. They're in the forest, at o-other camps."
"Are you responsible for the kidnapping of Shinjo Shoichi?"
The poacher looks confused. He grunts and stifles a sound of pain, breathing heavily, nostrils flared. "Kidnapping? No. No."
Atsu glances at Daiyu, silently asking if she has anything further. He roughly yanks the man's stump outward and, equally rough, wraps a strip of cloth around it, tying it off.
Daiyu stares the man down, giving little response.
[Daiyu] "If he knows nothing that can help us, then he's only a nuisance." Daiyu gives Atsu her 'this is a bluff' face. It looks exactly the same as all of her other faces.
Atsu makes a labored grunt in the form of "aa", in agreement. He unhooks his tetsubo from the grass nearby. As he hefts it above his head, the man grasps for something to hold onto, dragging himself away. "P-please, don't - what do you want! what do you want to know -- I'll tell you."
Atsu stares at him, nostrils flared. He rests the end of his tetsubo on the man's shoulder, so that he can feel the full weight of it.
Daiyu raises an eyebrow at Atsu. "You are here to poach. Is that all?" [pause] "And do you have a leader? Anyone outside of this forest?"
[gritting teeth, bending beneath pressure] “Y-yes, outside the forest. Not just here. I-I don't know who told her to send us. I'm just following orders."
Atsu presses the tetsubo downward, leaning all of his weight onto it. "Her?"
He cries out in pain, gritting his teeth. "Y-Yes, our leader. Her name is - is Sairou."