As Shadows At Sea raced through the trees toward the caravan, his sister waited in Three Fall's temple with Ashai. Sky had left to see that the town's residents were safe. Ashai opened up to Natsue, revealing her fear about the conflict and the lives it could cost. Natsue tried to comfort her and instill her with courage. Natsue cut off her speech abruptly as she noticed the telltale signs of a powerful spirit. Opening her second sight, she saw a figured clad in wispy scarlet silks, decorated in brass, and veiled. An aura of barely audible whispering voices surrounded her and as she moved, motes of brass sand trailed from beneath the crimson veil. Natsue stepped between the woman and Ashai, and confronted her. The woman responded, "I am Berengiere, Weaver of Voices, Guardian of the Boneyard, and I have come for the girl. Step aside."
Shadows' ploy worked, the the blood apes crashed into the caravan. Unwilling to let the demons wantonly slaughter the caravan, Thrush leaped into the fray. Sabin circled around, watching the caravan's pay chest to ensure it's safety. Starfall called upon her sorcery, transforming her hands to wooden claws. The blood ape that Thrush attacked, stuck back, but Thrush rolled with the blow and suffer no injury despite the demons strength. Shadows At Sea abruptly turned, attacking the ape men following him through the trees.
Natsue recognized Berengiere's accent as being native to Champoor, and asked if she was from the Nighted City. Berengiere said she had not been there for many years, but the voice she used was from there. Natsue asked why Berengiere wanted the girl, and the demon replied that she did not want her, but her master commanded it. Natsue lit her caste marking, hoping to impress the demon with her nature. Berengiere was surprised. "I know what you are, Chosen of the Sun." Natsue defiantly declared that Ashai would go nowhere with her, and Berengiere agreed to the terms, speculating that her master would greatly enjoy her presence.
As the blood apes made short work of the caravan guard and started destroying the carts and goods, Sabin joined the battle to prevent the destruction of the empire's tribute wealth. What good is sacking a caravan if what they transport is destroyed? With skill possessed only by the Chosen, he made short work of one demon. Amid a hail of javelins from the ape men above, Thrush continued the battle with his adversary, flipping out of the way to avoid the beasts grasping clinch. Starfall used her sorcerously summoned claws to "caress" the third, lamenting the violence she had to inflict instead of "what could have been" between her and the demon. In the trees above, Shadows At Sea began to rout the ape men.
Resigned to go with the demon, Natsue sought to leave a sign for her brother to follow her. She slipped of a bracelet, and attempted to surreptitiously toss it to the ground. Berengiere spotted her, and Natsue claimed she was leaving an offering for Might Breaks the Trees. Inscrutable, even to the demon, Natsue's lie held, and Berengiere allowed her to leave the offering. Berengiere led them on a circuitous route through Three Falls to avoid interception. As they went, Natsue let her Anima banner stream out behind her, hoping to alert the others to her distress. She began an inspire speech, but before she said the word 'hope', Berengiere spun, reached out a finely manicured hand, and stole Natsue's voice. Natsue voicelessly finished the word before fear appeared in her eyes. Berengiere held the voice in her fine-boned hands, beginning to spin it into thread with her long nails. "This will make a thing of beauty. It has been an age since last I worked the voice of one of the Sun's Chosen."
The Solars finished of the blood apes and scattered the ape men. As the rush of battle died, they heard the moans of the caravan members to injured to flee. Thrush began ministering to them, granting a merciful death to those to injured to survive. Calling on his Essence, he banished the souls of the dead into the cycle of reincarnation, feeling their lives and hopes wash over him. Sabin secured the caravan's pay chest for himself and surveyed the remaining wealth scattered on the forest floor.
Realizing that the attack could be a diversion, Starfall rushed back toward the town with Shadows At Sea following her.
They arrive in time to see Berengiere approach the gates, and order the guards to their knees with a word. She caressed the face of one of the guards, a red welt appearing where her nail brushed his cheek. Voiceless, Natsue and Ashai followed. Starfall orders Shadows to get the others, and walked purposefully toward the Weaver of Voices.
Seeing the rapid approach of another Solar, Berengiere turned to face her. Her silk garments rustled with a thousand stolen voices, and a deafening susurrus washed over Starfall. Having faced greater tortures, Starfall emerged from the hurricane of sound, and struck at the demon.
The two battled, Starfall slowly gaining the upper hand, until the other Solars rushed onto the open pathway to Starfall's aid. Recognizing she was outmatched by the Circle, she pull aside her veil, unleashing a torrent of burning brass sand. The Solars avoided the avalanche of sand, but by the time they had recovered, Berengiere had vanished.
In the aftermath of the fight, the Solars agreed that they needed to confront Raksi. They would help Three Falls prepare for whatever response the Empire could muster in short order, and try to return before the Dragon-clans could turn their might in response to the rebellious backwater.
The people of Three Falls graciously accepted the remnants of the caravan into the town to care for their wounds. That night, as Natsue's voice returned as the barest of whispers, she asked the others to teach her how to fight. Starfall summoned an Agata and sent it with all haste to deliver Thrush's letter to Little Fish. Thrush hoped his revolutionary contact would come to Three Falls and bring his expertise with him. He could use the wealth taken from the caravan to hire mercenaries and fund Three Falls defense.
Several days later, as Thrush and Sabin continued to train the militia, the local shamans returned from the wilderness. They had refused to cease their practices, and had fled to avoid reprisals from Flames Ascending. The hunters had supplied them with what they needed and carried word to them when the town decided to rebel. They agreed to support the rebellion and pass their blessing on the efforts.
After a day of hard training, her ribs aching, Natsue sat alone watching the sunset through the trees. Ashai came to her an confessed that she was afraid. She feared that Might Breaks the Trees was in love with her, and she did not want the god's affection. She feared for the safety of her people, worried that her choice not to go with the tribute caravan had been the first step on the path to war. She worried that Inti supported the war not because he though it was right, but for her.
Natsue though a moment and replied, " Let me tell you a story and pardon me if my voice isn't very good.
"Once upon a time there was a rich merchant. He had ships and gold and a daughter who wanted for nothing. He was handsome and brave. One night on the sea ships of glass sunk his ships and sooner than you can think they went from Everything to Nothing. No more fancy parties, no new nice cloths, no home, no food. Nothing. Left in the streets with absolutely nothing.
"Her father was so scared and so was she. She didn't know what to do and you know up to this moment that is what she thought she wanted. Her life back, her riches, her comfort, her power and all of it. She learned how to get her life back. How to talk to people, how to watch people, how to speak with honeyed tongue and soon she had all she wanted once more and more. She had control. She was in control of her power.
"And now it's all gone again. I have nothing. I have to start over. I have to adapt and figure out what I want. Which I don't know either. I know it will take sacrifice. It will take effort. With time and effort even a burlap sack can become a ball gown.
"We aren't going to leave you to stand alone. We'll help you and help find others to stand with you. The forest stands stronger together right?
"Take time to think, speak to the others, figure out what you want and what you are willing to give. Talk to the others. They may have better wisdom than I do.
Ashai thanked Natsue and promised to think long an hard about what she truly wanted.
After another day of training, Thrush joined the hunters in the public hall, and spotted Rel Nas, one of the caravan masters, who recoiled from him in fear. Thrush sat down across from him, and Rel Nas called him a demon. In response, Thrush relayed the story of his youth, demonizing the Dragon-clans and the Empire. Thrush relayed that his father was killed and he was forced into the army under duress. He thought if he fought back his mother and sisters lives would be forfeit. When he became older he realized this was a lie to keep him in line and he began to resist. As he told the story, a hush fell over the assembly, and everyone listened to his telling. Those who heard his words were bolstered that their rebellion was just and necesessary. Even Rel Nas was swayed by his words.
Shadows At Sea, being the kind of fellow that he was, realized that the caravan's pay chest was missing from the assembled loot. Remembering that he had seen Sabin with a well made chest, he approached the Bandit to ask about it whereabouts. Sabin said he had hidden it for safekeeping, and they would each get a share. In fact, he offered to give Shadows Natsue's share as well to look after. They shared a drink to their continued success.
Her task summoning Agata complete, Starfall rested under the night sky on the evening before their departure. Sky approached her, and confessed that he had judged her harshly when the first met. He said that he had feared she was the kind of demon that Thrush was not. She had proven him wrong. He stated that he suspected she was from one of the Great Houses of the Realm, and that he too bore the scars of the Blessed Isle. Starfall expressed that being one of the Solar Exalted was the greatest responsibility she could bear.