The Sea Tower | Chapter 9

The Seamstress and the Wardrobe

The square was deathly silent where a moment ago it had been as raucus as any midday congregation. Vendors, patrons, and passersby alike were immobile. They stood with baited breath, observing the proceedings in the harbor.

The fleet of ships, for that’s what they were, appeared so suddenly. Those who had been watching had seen them appear from out of thin air. More worryingly, they were plainly foreign vessels. They sailed so close to the shoreline… ships didn’t usually do that.

The appearance of a domestic vessel, the island’s signature guardian, the Devanagari, seemed to be a balm of sorts. It broke the tension to a degree. Sporadic conversations began taking place, low murmurings just shy of outright whisperances. While eased, everyone’s nerves remained taut, as if sensing a tension in the air that couldn’t be quantified.

Treen held her daughters hands tightly, who gripped hers back just as forcefully. Though Dahlia and Minnie’s hands hurt, they dared not tell their mother. Like small animals sensing something greater than themselves enter their environment, they knew now was not the time for talking. They had to stay quiet. And so they waited, and listened, catching snippets of conversations taking place around the square.

“… that looks like Isolde’s flag…”

“… what is the navy doing…”

“… Gardenians…”

“… don’t worry, I’m sure it’s nothing…”

“… who said anything about war…”

“… on good terms with Bartholomew…”

“… absurd… nobody’s… foolhardy…”

“… trust the king…”

“… everything…”

“… is going to be…”

“… alright…”

The fleet of ships opened fire on the Gardenian vessel, ending the conversations. Nobody spoke a word.

Seconds later, the percussive blasts of the cannons could be heard in the square. Muted caricatures of the powerful ordinance that devastated the Gardinian’s ship. But it seemed the sound of cannons somehow galvanized people into action, somehow made the situation more real.

“… oh gods…”

“… this can’t be happening…”

“… they’ve just declared war…”

“… are we being invaded…”

A child began crying, perhaps overwhelmed by the adults’ sudden collective sobriety, unused to the levels of frenetic energy being generated by their parents and other adults.

Treena was shaking, squeezing her daughter’s hands so hard they hurt.

Minnie started crying.

Dalia was lost. Her cherubic face betraying her confusion. She didn’t know what to do. She wanted to comfort her sister, but recognized that something serious was happening and was afraid to even breath without her mother’s permission. She looked to her mother for guidance. Treena would know what to do. The woman always knew what to do, because somehow, adults just always knew what to do. She would tell Dalia, and then she would know too.

Dalia looked to her mother. What was she supposed to do?

Treena had gone rigid, her skin pale, breathing short and ragged. By all appearances, she appeared as lost as anyone else. This was the first time Dalia had turned to her mother for guidance and received silence.

Inside, Treena’s mind raced. It wasn’t so much that she was drawing a blank, but rather, every decision she cultivated seemed to reach the same inevitable outcome. There was simply no place to go.

They were on an island, and Soya’s had been roughly the halfway point topologically speaking. Their home—her husband—were closer to the ships. She worried about him, and if she hadn’t been holding onto the girls, she knew she would already have run off in search of her husband. But she was a mother and had lost the luxury of being selfish. Her heart ached, but he would have to fend for himself and find his way to them. She prayed he would.

They had to turn back, she decided. But there was no way of telling if that route were any safer. All things considered though; she didn’t feel like she had much choice. This was clearly a matter for the navy, and by the looks of it, they were already doing something about it, but this island was no longer a safe place for her children. She vowed to move to the mainland in the future, even if she had to strongarm her husband into selling the shop.

“Listen to me.” Treena said. Her voice was hoarse and came out sounding weak and ragged. “We’re going to go back to Soya’s. Do not let go of my hand, no matter what happens. Do you girls understand?”

Dalia nodded, but Minnie was too engrossed, crying too much, to reply.

Treena shook her youngest by the hand she held, getting her attention.

“Minnie, did you hear what I said.”

She hadn’t. Minnie shook her head. “N-no. W-what momma?”

Treena’s expression was conflicted, stern, but comforting. She squatted down in front of her daughters, and leaned in to be heard while she kept her voice low.

“You need to listen to me.” she said. “Both of you.” she added, remembering Dalia. “We’re going back to Soya’s.”


“Yes, baby. Soy-un.”

“You didn’t blush that time.”

“No. I suppose I didn’t.”

“Momma. Those people… are they dead?” Dalia asked.

“Don’t worry about them right now. Just do as I say. Hold my hand tight, and don’t let go. No matter what. Understand?”

Minnie nodded.

“Good girl.” Treena kissed each of her daughters on the head, then stood. “Let’s go.”

They began moving through the square slowly, extricating themselves from the throng of bystanders while making sure they stayed together. They weren’t the only ones to begin leaving, but most people stayed to watch. They exited the square without much hassle, starting up the road which would lead them to Soya’s. They passed families they knew, saw faces they recognized and others they didn’t.

Owen, the tanner’s son was out with his mother Molly. She held him to her bosom, and he sobbed while she spectated. The Elsing family, Ingrid, Steff, and their two sons stood huddled together in the street, hugging collectively. Their groceries lay forgotten at their feet, spilled out and forlorn. Little Becca was crying on the side of the street, alone after having lost a parent, likely mother. Dalia turned to alert her own mother to the girl’s plight, but a passerby approached the girl first and began speaking soothingly to her, presumably trying to coax the whereabouts of her parents from the child.

A woman screamed, prompting Dalia and her family to turn around towards the source of the commotion. The ships were firing again—at the island!

Buildings crumbled into heaps of derilect masonry while catching aflame; smoke spewed forth from their foundations.

“Dear gods…” Treena said huskily.

As one, everyone panicked. Women screamed, men cursed, and suddenly everyone was running in every direction at once.

Though it seemed as if one place was targeted, neither was any place made safe by such wreckless abandon. Cannon fire struck the port near the fishing wharf. The Temple of Apeiron, where practitioners went to worship the Supreme God of Life and Death, suffered a blow to its domed ceiling, which collapsed. The symbol of the temple’s deity, an anke staff entwined with snakes representing life and rebirth or infinity, toppled. The square they had just left was decimated. Flame,  ash, and blood now added to the decorations festooned around the town square.

Minnie shrieked, breaking down into sobs again.

Struck mute, Dalia couldn’t fathom a response to what she was seeing. Standing frozen in place, unable to interpret the events taking shape before her, she suddenly found herself seeing the world in a new, scary way. What was once previously unthinkable, was now transpiring, and she was lost; trapped, an observer in her own body.

She took in the rubble in the square. The red stains. Were Owen and his mother somewhere beneath all that? She felt sick, disgusted, choosing to look at her own family instead.

Minnie was crying, but Dalia could only hear the roaring of her own blood coursing through her veins, the thunderous beat of her heart as it hammered away in her chest, and the ringing of the temple bells. She didn’t dwell on the knowledge that the bells were no longer in the belfrey, instead laying dormant, buried underneath the rubble of the the house of worship.

Everything was too loud. Minnie wouldn’t stop crying. The bells kept ringing in her ears. Her chest hurt with how loud her heart was beating. Why wouldn’t the noise stop?

The world began to blur, losing focus. The light around the fringes of her vision dimmed. Her heartbeat slowed…

Dalia gasped, remembering to breath.

The world slammed back into focus. The next thing she knew was the road; she was staring at the cobblestones as they swam past her vision.

Treena was pulling hauling both her daughters by the arm, bodily dragging them down the street.

“Run!” she shouted. “Girls, I need you to run!”

Dalia ran as fast as her legs could carry her, which still wasn’t as fast as her mother’s legs wanted her to move. Minnie was fairing even worse, still caught in a fit of tears, her feet hardly touched the ground by how much Treena was propelling the girl forward.

“Don’t look back. Just run.” Treena told her daughters.

Dalia didn’t need to look back, the sounds she heard told the whole story, a macabre portmanteu of devastation, syncopated by thunderous booms, grinding rubble, crackling flames, and the screams…

Soon they were upon the bend in the road which would lead them to Madam Soya’s. Treena’s thinking had been that as a blessed woman, and the king’s former retainer, they might be safest in her shop, finding refuge if only until they might plot a safer plan of action.

“I see it.”

Dalia was already panting, feeling more breathless than she had been while holding her breath. Her legs quivered, and while the pain in her chest had subsided, she felt weak, almost drained of all her energy. She looked up to Soya’s atelier. The red thatched roof tiles cinched to a connical point, blending well into the mass of masonry buildings surrounding it which mirrored the islands distinct architecture, a mimcry of Aeria’s distinct architecture.

The sight of Soya’s reinvigorated the girl, and she muscled through her flagging reserves, wheezing as her breaths dried her throat to rough parchment.

A building exploded to her left, and the trio shrieked. They were showered with finely shattered fragments of glass, with Minnie taking the brunt of the debris. Treena dragged them over to an alley, one side of the divide abutting a shop with a second floor loft and the other a multistory residence. Once ensconced in the alleyway and checked over her daughters, begginning with the youngest.

“Are you girls okay? Minnie, look at me.” She held Minnie’s face, and turned her in all directions, even lifting the girls shirt to check for hidden injuries. “Are you okay?”

Minnie was crying. Dalia wanted to cry too, but knew that now wasn’t the time. She had to be strong, and couldn’t be a burden to her mother.

“Yah-huh.” Minnie sobbed. It was as close to an affirmation as the girl could summon under the circumstances.

“Dalia, are you—”

“I’m okay, momma.”

“Are you sure? Let me see.” She checked Dalia over quickly, giving the girl a cursory appraisal. Satisfied she looked down at herself, and concluded that she was fine as well.

Treena took her daughters by the hand, guiding them close to her side, and peered out onto the street. The cannons sounded distant now, but every now and then a loud crash would sound from nearby, signaling that nowhere was safe. But from the looks of it, the more densely populated areas of town were taking the brunt of the onslaught. If they hadn’t left the square when they did, they likely would’ve never made it out alive. Not that their prospects were looking any better…

Treena hesitated at the threshold; indecision warred in her eyes as fear gave way to doubts, causing her to secondguess herself. The alleyway crafted an illusion of safety, mesmerizing its occupants with large, high walls on both sides, and two avenues of escape should they be needed. Outside was chaotic, a shower of shrapnel and ballistic munitions. She shuddered, swallowing.

They were in a residential district now, and across the way lay a stone house resembling a more modest version of Soya’s atelier. The trio’s ragged breathing filled the alleyway, so no one heard the footsteps coming until a new face was upon them. A woman ran past carrying a child, mounting the steps to a house on the opposite side of the street. She locked eyes with Treena, and there was a moment when one or both might speak, then she entered the home and shut the door. Treena didn’t need to hear the sounds of the locks to know they had were being secured.

A part of her cursed the woman. The part of her that wondered if she would behave differently were the roles reversed, she quelled fiercly with a mother’s bearing.

“It’s okay.” Treena said. “It’s going to be okay. We’ll just stay here, until—”

The house across the street was struck and the home collapsed. The girls ducked low, holding each other.

Treena could only imagine the horror that awaited inside, a mother clutching her child protectively, both buried under the rubble of their lifelong home, buried underneath the very stones containing the memories they’d cultivated together. In their stead, she saw herself, holding her two daughters. She wreched on the alley floor. Minnie, prompted by the smell of bile, did as well. Dalia, who had the misfortune of experiencing the sick inducing smell before to the same effect, wisely turned her nose up in disgust and made a concerted effort to breathe through her mouth. The thick scent of char hung in the air from all the surrounding fires, helping some.

“Okay. We’re leaving.”

“No-o-oh…” Minnie cried. “No, no, no. I don’t wanna die.”

Dalia agreed with her sister. Death awaited them out there. Hadn’t they just borne witness to it?

“We’re not safe here. That,” she jutted her chin out to the remains of the home across the road. “could just as easily happen to us here. We need to get to Soya’s.”

“B-but I’m s-sc-scared.”

“I know baby, but we’ll be safe at Soya’s. I need you to be brave, okay?” she held Minnie’s face in her hands. “Soya is blessed. We’ll be safe with her.”

“Being blessed is good?” Minnie asked, coherent for the first time since their ordeal began.

“Yes, baby. Being blessed is the best thing that could happen to a person. It means they’re a god’s favorite child. Rhiannon will protect Soya, and if we’re with her, she’ll protect us too.”

Minnie stopped crying, an expression of comprehension overcoming her features. Dalia’s heart skipped a beat when her sister met her eyes, but it was fleeting and they were soon filled with fear again when another projectile struck nearby. Did the gods really protect those they blessed? Would Hessian protect her and her family now, after all the years she’d spent cursing his name and rebuking his gift?

“Hold my hand. Don’t let go.” Treena commanded.

Both girls nodded.

Treena stuck her head out of the alley. She hesitated, taking three deep breaths, then ran nearly full tilt in the direction of Soya’s. After they left the confines of the alley, the shop side of the divide was struck and collapsed into the alley, crushing the garbage bins inside. The girls shrieked while Treena stumbled over herself, nearly pulling the girls down in a group pile. She silently thanked the gods while regaining her balance; also praying that Apeiron wouldn’t take them all just yet; not for a long time yet to come.

Dalia froze mid-stride. She stared back down at the town. Large swaths of her home had been largely reduced to fire and smoldering plumes of black smoke. A firm yank from Treena turned her around, and they were running again. Soya’s sat on the hilltop.

The hill was the highest elevation on the island. Though the surrounding destruction was becoming comparatively minimal, the evidence of the town’s razing, in the form of a strong scent of smoke, had found its way up there as well.

As they neared, Dalia felt magic building. Unfathomable amounts of it, dense and ubiquitous, like a second ocean had engulfed the world. It resonated with her own magic, bringing the stain she tried to hide to the forefront. For the first time in years, she heards the flames. They came alive again, speaking directly to her as she passed the burning wreckage littering the road.


… Dalia…

… don’t go…

Then the magic vanished, and the voices stopped. In her distraction, she must’ve missed that they had arrived. Soya stood at the threshold of the door, wearing a crimson cloak of the finest quality, a worried look gnawing at her brow.

Dalia wasn’t imagining that Soya was looking directly at her. Somehow, Soya always knew where Dalia was, when she was coming and when she had left. In that moment, Dalia’s suspicions of the matron were confirmed.

A second building of magic, more intense than the first was taking place behind them, and Dalia couldn’t help but turn around, noticing in her pheriphery that Soya’s lip quirked in a rueful facsimile of a smile. She supposed that Soya’s suspcions, had the woman held any, had also been confirmed.

Fire—it came alive. Suddenly, the entire town was breathing, a living entity of flames. Dalia could see it now, hear it, feel it. It called to her. And on the horizon, a dull glowing point of interest—the potential for flame. It arced toward her, and though incongruous to her vision, she had no trouble keeping track of it as it neared. Too late, she noted its trajectory. Turning her head, she locked eyes with Soya. The sad smile on the woman’s face told her that she had noticed it as well. Her end was coming.

Soya disrobed, unclasping the cloak she wore and throwing it at them. It flew, almost as if acting independently, and spread wide to obscure their vision. A moment later, it enshrouded, them and the velvety material turned translucent, allowing them to see Soya smiling back at them sadly, hands clasped to her bosom, before her house was struck and exploded behind her in a conflagration of flame and debris, engulfing her still form.

“No!” Treena screamed. “Soy-un!”

Debris rained down ontop of them, showering them with smoldering stones of masonry. The impacts were muffled and hardly felt, as if all the force had been dispersed immediately upon impact, and left concentric cirlces rippling in their wake.

Treena somehow knew that they were under Soya’s protection; the same protection she had forsaken, which could’ve been used to save herself, had been instead used to save them. Her tears renewed in the face of the final act of the woman whom she had come to know as a surrogate mother.

Soya was dead. Dalia felt her absence as keenly as she had always felt her presence. One moment she had been there, smiling at them with the grimness that comes from the knowledge that your own death is impending, and the next she was just gone.

Though Dalia’s attention had drifted away from the earlier resurgeance of magic she had felt, it swiftly cut out, dying down to a low level, background noise to her subconcious. Like Soya’s passing, its absence was as noticable. She dared to look back.

Dalia gasped, unbelieving of what she was seeing.

“Momma… look!” Dalia said excitedly.

Treena turned, puzzled by her daughter’s sudden exhuberance. She gasped herself at the sight of the ships stopped in their tracks. They were longer were they firing.

Soya… she thought… only a few seconds earlier, and Soya would still be…


The rapport of cannon fire, where it had once been terror inducing, was a serenade to behold.

The Devanagari opened fire, unleashing a torrent of its own brand of devastation, and it stirred within her a perverse pleasure to see one of the enemy ships destroyed; and with it, a number of Soya’s killers brought to justice.

Treena had heard the rumors. She hadn’t believed them, despite spreading a few along the gossip chain herself. But it appeared that there was more to the island’s staple battleship than met the eye. Perhaps the rumors had more truth to them than she knew. Perhaps…

She shook her head to free herself of those thoughts. Now wasn’t the time for misplaced optimism. The lull might not last. Likely, it wouldn’t.

Treena knew she had to act. She looked down at her daughters, then up at the transluscent fabric, taking in the intricate patterns which bloomed into existance kalleidoscopically, only the burst and fade into the nothingness from which they came. She knew the cloak was invaluable. It was the salvation she had entrusted her daughter’s lives in finding at Soya’s. The woman had come through, and she would never be able to repay her.

This cloak, she knew, was the key to their survival. But where would they go?

She looked back down the hill, towards the harbor. As far away as possible, she decided. Taking each girl by the hand, she pulled them up onto their feet.

“Girls, let’s go.” she said. “We’re leaving. It’s not safe here.”

Neither girl argued, aware it wasn’t the time to be disobedient or inquisitive.

Treena knew that the far side of the island would be best. Unfortunately, their most expidiate route was obstructed by the remains of Soya’s atelier. She dared not risk injury climing over the rubble, especially since parts of it were still smoldering. Not inconsequentially, she dared not find Soya herself, buried underneath the ruins of her own home.

They traveled under the cover of cloak, keeping their paces measured. It slowed them, but they weren’t prepared to forego the safety of the garment.

The roads in Istan weren’t named, not like those in Aeria named after politicians and past royal leaders and family members. Ergo, the road to Soya’s was aptly referred to as such.

They backtracked a few paces, turning onto the road to Hammer’s, the blacksmith’s residence who’s father had been a blacksmith before him and had encouraged his son to the craft. Fortunately for Hammer, the profession suited him just fine. Beyond Hammer’s, they would be able to turn onto another road, this one leading to the farmer’s groves, where all manner of agriculture was cultivated, but not least of all, the citrus fruits for which Istan was locally famed. The many acres of fields and crops were layered over a large percentage of the island’s overall topography. Treena hoped to hide themselves beneath the landscape’s benign nature, hoping it was remote enough to avoid a secondary assault should one come while praying it wouldn’t.

The road to Hammer’s was nearly pristine compared to the winding cobblestone streets leading up to and intersecting it. The road was empty and the only sign of malfeasance were the mess the few townspeople present at the time had made in their haste to expidite a quick departure.

They could still hear the distant pops of cannon fire, but the harbor was firmly out of their line of sight now.

“Hurry girls.”

They passed by Hammer’s. It was rumored that the man was so dedicated to the craft that he had a forge built into his home. The acrid smell in the air had her believing that there might be a nugget of truth to the tale. The modest single story home passed them by in a blur. Handicapped as they were in movement by the cloak, their single-minded focus to reach safety left them with little attention to spare. At least, until the agricultural road neared.

Poyo’s was the first farm along the road, and those without greater dealings with the rest of the rural families and businesses often referred to it exclusively in regards to the comely woman. The cobblestones yeilded to free ground, heavily traveled dirt, trampled and compacted into a surface just as hard. High grass abutted the road, adorning it with long chutes that lent it a sense of enclosure. A sharp hill crested just ahead, where the road doglegged and the hill peaked. After they crossed that threshold, the rest of the island lay downhill.

“We’re almost there, girls. Keep going.” Treena said, panting from their combined exertion. “You’ve both been so brave today. I’m very proud of you.”

They reached the top of the road. At the curve in the bend, where the grass obscured the slope, Treena pulled aside the tall grass to peer below.

The fields were burning.

Minnie crumped to her knees, sobbing. Dalia went to her side, and held her to her own.

“Momma?” she asked, looking up at her mother. “What do we do now?”

But Treena was frozen—in shock, indecision, disbelief… fatigue and incredulity.

“Momma?” Dalia repeated.

Treena blinked, coming to herself. “I…” she said hoarsely. But what could they do?

The town and surrounding fields were burning. The enemy was at their doorstep, and their only champion had apparently been defeated. The cloak might protect them to an extent, but she was fairly sure there were limits to its protection. A collapsing building might still crush them, or a fire might still burn them. There were just too many variables, too many unknowns. But what she did know was that if they stayed, eventually the fire would reach them, and if they waited too long to act, they would be trapped by the spreading flames, waiting to be consumed.

Treena swallowed. “I…” … don’t know.

Their only avenue of escape seemed to be towards the water, but the only ships within reach were currently stationed at the docks—the same docks in the harbor where the enemy ships were striking out from.

But that was suicide, wasn’t it?

“What do we do?”

Treena turned back to look at the razed town. Most of it still lay intact. The fires, while spreading, were contained to some areas more than others. The enemy had stopped firing… for the moment. The plan forming in her head was feasible, if foolhardy. But mostly, it was crazy.

She looked down at her daughters, curled in on each other. The sight of them broke her heart. She was at the precipice of strength, looking down on ruin, wanting nothing more than to lose herself to her warring emotions. But while her wounded heart bled for her daughters, and it would keep beating for them too.

“I don’t know…” Treena said finally, indecision bleeding into her tone.

She looked out towards the town, the battlefield, and west towards Aeria. It was perhaps too much to hope to see a fleet of reinforcements on the horizon. They were on their own for the time being. The tower of the palace gleamed beatifically, mockingly, both a symbol of power and yet powerless when its strength was most needed.

The wind whipped at her hair. A stray flake of ash landed on her nose; more soon followed.

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