The next morning I forced myself to go back to work. Mr. Salon didn’t know why I had left work the previous day. It wouldn’t do me any good to get fired. When I reached my office I found a note taped onto my door.
Please come see me in my office as soon as you read this note.
I swallowed and ripped the note off my door before walking in the opposite direction, towards Mr. Salon’s office. It was located at the very end of the hallway on the floor up from the offices, where all the special Cutters worked. I knocked loudly on the door, and he opened it immediately, a grim expression on his face.
“Please sit, Miss Alander.” He gestured to the chair on the other side of his desk and settled back in his own.
“I know what this-“ I began.
“Wait!” He interrupted. “Let me speak first.” His voice was as hard as steel and I flinched away.
“Of course, Mr. Salon. Please continue.”
He pressed his fingertips together and rested his arms on the desktop. “Firstly, I heard the news about your brother, and I’m very sorry for your loss.”
I bowed my head, forcing myself not to cry. “Thank you Mr. Salon.”
“However!” I took a deep breath. This was it. “Teller did warn you of the dangers of cutting when you spoke to him all those months ago, did he not?” He asked.
“Yes, Mr. Salon.”
“And he did mention that you must cut whoever’s notice you receive.”
“Yes-“ The words stuck in my throat but I forced them out. “Yes, Mr. Salon.”
He continued, mercilessly interrogating me. “And you were told that you may not, under any circumstances, leave work during hours, without explicit permission from me or another member of the Cutting Center authority, hence you will be dismissed without delay?”
This was it. “Yes, Mr. Salon.” And for good measure I added, “I’m very sorry, Mr. Salon.” I stood up and turned to leave.
“Please remain seated Miss Alander!”
I turned back slowly and sat back down.
“I’m not done with you quite yet!” A ghost of a smile flickered over his lips. “Due to the fact that we are short on Cutters, I will let you remain on a warning.”
My jaw dropped, shocked.
“If you ever break this rule again you will be fired without delay. Do you understand?”
I nodded mutely.
“Good.” He rose. “That will be all.”
I stood as well, but didn’t leave. “Mr. Salon, may I ask you a question?” I asked.
He raised an eyebrow. “Of course. Anything.”
“Why did you let me stay?”
He didn’t expect me to ask that question, I could tell. “I told you. We’re short on Cutters.”
I shook my head, frustrated. “I know that’s not the only reason. Why did you let me pass with only a warning?”
He sighed, but I was glad to see he actually considered the question. “I suppose it’s because I know what it’s like to lose a brother.”
It was my turn to be surprised. “I didn’t know you had a brother.”
He smiled sadly. “Not many people do. He died when I was about your age.”
“I’m sorry.” I whispered.
“Don’t be. Save your apologies for yourself.”
I nodded my thanks and rushed out the door. “Oh! Miss Alander!”
I turned, surprised.
“When you lose a loved one you’re often not in a good state of mind, which is necessary for this job. To allow you to grieve, you’re allowed two month’s leave. It will start tomorrow.”
I real smile broke over my lips. “Thank you Mr. Salon, I’ll get as many cuts done as possible today!” I closed the door to his office and hurried down the hallway to the stairs, then across the second level hallway to my office. Little did he know that I was assigned to cut Darren, and that I wasn’t planning on doing so anytime soon.
As I’d promised, I tried to get almost all the cuts for the next two months done. They weren’t many, I only had them down about two weeks in, and I’d put Darren in the two months away slot, so I could deal with him when I got back. Still, doing two weeks worth of cuttings in one day was a lot of work, so I skipped lunch, and stayed a double shift, thinking of Darren whenever I got tired or hungry.
The day passed quickly, and instead of going straight home I decided to take a detour. I turned away from rowan lane and started towards the library. The building comforted me, as always, despite it's intimidating size. It was lit only by a few large chandeliers hanging from the cavernous ceiling. Each little section of books was it's own little alcove, spread out around the middle like flower petals. The desk had it's own alcove in the middle of the room, facing the door. A large spiraling staircase hugged the wall, wrapping itself around until it reached the small attic that was supposedly haunted. Darren had come home one day claiming that the attic is haunted and that everybody in town knows it. He said that him and a bunch of other boys from his class were going to break into the library and see for themselves. Mother, of course, forbade him to go within a hundred feet of that building when it wasn’t open. Darren, of course, sulked for the next three days straight.
I forced back tears when I thought of Darren, and walked up to the desk. I rapped my knuckles loudly on the wood to get the librarian's attention.
"Hmm?" The elderly man with spectacles sliding off his nose had been sorting through books, and looked up at me absentmindedly.
"Do you have any books on the original Cutting town?" I asked. Although I had been to the library before and knew where the history section was I figured it would be quicker to just ask.
"Well." He considered for a moment, waking up from the hazy state he was in and regained his voice once he was back in his element. "A strange request, to be sure." He paused, chewing on the end of a quill. "Do you mean what happened in the first time of Cutting? That's in almost all history books about the original mages." He looked up at me with a piercing gaze. "You do know about the history of Cutting, don't you?” I nodded, and he turned back to his book sorting, satisfied.
"What I'm actually looking for ain't just the history. I'm wondering where the first Cutting town was."
"Oh." He considered for a while. "You may be able to find something of the sort in 'Before the City: What Happened Then?'" Seeing my confused expression, he added, "The title is a mouthful, to be sure, but it's one of the only books we have on the finer, non-Cutting details from before the City."
And you say “to be sure” a lot, to be sure. I thought to myself.
"It's in the history section,” He added helpfully.
I thanked him and moved to the back of the library where the history alcove was. It took me a while to find the book, thumbing through the W's until I found the right title. Aware of the time constraint I skimmed over the chapter titles in the table of contents until I found a chapter on the founding of the towns.
"Over time more towns were created, some even larger than Brutehaven, depending on how many Cutters there were." I read aloud. "Brutehaven." I rolled the word around in my mouth. I had never heard of it, which meant it was probably off the main railroad, far out in the outskirts. The farthest town from the City I knew of was a somewhat large city called Artona, which was still part of the tracks.
I replaced the book on its shelf and hurried out of the history section, heading instead to the maps. One entire wall in the library was covered with maps, mostly of the city or the region surrounding it. None of the ones in the front had Brutehaven, but I refused to give up.
In a corner near the far side of the wall I found a map that showed not just the inner city region, but also the few towns beyond the border, few of which were connected to the city network.
The city was the center of the city region, with the railway like a web around it. All cities in the inner city region must use the Cutting Center, the cities outside; however, have a choice, as the princess technically does not rule them. Most do follow our laws, however, as they have no ruler as there own, and the Orderers are necessary in all towns. Beyond the outer region was the desert that the Falantes had originally came from.
As I’d expected, the closest town on the railway was Artona, also outside the inner city region. There was a large road, called the Traveler’s Road, which started in Artona and swept around all the non-railway towns back to a town called Harborton, also outside. I marked down all the towns that I would pass to reach Brutehaven on a small notepad I carried in my purse, then, content with my information, I left the library, hoping that Mr. Hillington was still at the Center. I half-ran down the street, praying to the council. Once I reached the Cutting Center I grabbed the door handles and tried to wrench the doors open.
Unfortunately they were locked, and I dug around in my new purse, looking for my keys among the clutter. I found them and kept them clutched in my fist, before clumsily unlocking the door, my fingers still not used to working with keys. I removed my keys from the lock after unlocking the door and pulled them open, nearly flinging myself onto the street. I rushed in, only to find it vacant of noise and people. Still refusing to turn back, I crossed the waiting room and pulled on the door. It was also locked, and I didn't have the right key to access the training wing.
I ran back out of the Center and into the street, turning once again towards Rowan Lane. Once I reached the house I unlocked the door and pulled it open. Mother was gone, as I'd expected, so the house was quiet. I walked into Mother’s room and straight to the little desk she had under the window. In the smallest drawer was the small collection of spending money we had, and I grabbed enough to pay for a night’s stay at a cheap inn for a week or so. I figured it would take about that long to get to Brutehaven and back, and once I was there I would talk to someone who might know how to cut someone without losing memory of them. With any luck I would be in and out of there in a day, information safely sealed in my mind.
I debated leaving a note, but Mother couldn’t read, and I wasn’t about to leave without telling her where I was, not now.
The Cutters had taken Darren’s body last night, and there wouldn’t be a funeral. For that I was grateful, it meant I wouldn’t be able to miss it. With a vague notion of where Brutehaven was, I headed to the train station. I would need a train ticket to Artona, and perhaps they could also supply advice for travelling to Brutehaven.