The next morning when I awoke the sun was already creeping up the sky. Unusual for me, but I supposed I needed the rest. Mother was already gone off to work, and after changing, grabbing a bite to eat, and brushing through my dark, tangled mess of hair, I headed out into the streets towards the Cutting Center.
When I arrived, the receptionist looked at me with a strange expression. “Mr. Sallon is in his office, Miss,” she said. “He’s expecting you.”
I nodded and climbed the stairs, feeling her eyes on my back. Had news already gotten around about Mr. Teller? Or did Mr. Sallon already tell everybody that I had gone to the Otherworld?
I knocked on the door of Mr. Sallon’s office, before stepping inside.
“Good morning, my dear,” Mr. Sallon greeted me, standing up and pulling out a chair.
“Good morning,” I replied. “I’ve come to talk to you about Cutting.”
He nodded slowly and sat back down, clasping his hands on the desk. “I figured as much. You’d like to make it the official and only way of Cutting, I presume?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “I have done it successfully, and without damage to myself or the soul. I feel like with a little more fine tuning we could perfect this system.”
“First of all, please drop the “sir”. Call me Gregory.” He regarded me curiously. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to do this unless you show me how it works first hand,” he said.
I was taken aback. “You want to go to the Otherworld? Before any tests are done?”
“Should I not?” Mr. Sallon asked. “You survived, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” I said hesitantly. “When would you like to try it?”
He smiled. “How about…Now? I have some souls in need of cutting.”
I considered it. “We’ll need a powerful Cutter on the other end, just in case something goes wrong, and also to pull the soul-string back up with us attached.”
He stood up again and rang a bell beside the door. A few seconds later, a young boy appeared. “Can you ask Arabelle to come to my office please?” He asked. “If she’s busy, leave her a note.”
The boy nodded, and ran off down a hallway. I glanced at Mr. Sallon doubtfully.
“Don’t worry,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not just choosing her because she’s my wife. She really is one of the best cutters here.”
I blushed; embarrassed that he knew what I was thinking. “I didn’t mean that-,” I stammered, backpedaling.
He chuckled again, and I stopped talking. “Why don’t you brief me a little more on how this will work,” Mr. Sallon said. “I get the sense that there’s something you haven’t let on.”
I nodded. “We first locate the soul, like normal. Then, both us and the anchor person (in this case it will be your wife), go down to the regular cutting place. Now, if you look closely you’ll be able to see two strands instead of one, but they look like they’re completely melded into one. At this point we continue swimming down, as we get closer to the Otherworld it will be easier to go down, and will actually end up pulling you down like a current. The Otherworld itself is a foggy surface, that doesn’t look very stable, but it held me. The soul should be on the other end of the line, right next to us, but I’ll warn you that they are a bit blurry, and you can go through them.”
At this point Mr. Sallon frowned. “Go through them? Like a ghost?” He asked.
“A little. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll see soon enough.” I paused. “While I was down there, I felt like Darren- my brother, was speaking directly into my mind. It was an odd sensation, and a little bit creepy. Also, the fogginess on the ground and soul tried to wrap itself around my hands and legs, like it was trying to absorb me.”
“You said this was safe!” Mr. Sallon yelped.
“It is!” I insisted, searching for words. “I stayed there longer than I should have, talking to him. Besides, I’m fine aren’t I?” He looked hesitant and I added, “You don’t need to go. We can get someone else to test it first.”
He shook his head. “No. I’m coming.”
“The fog was the creepiest part, but Darren couldn’t see it. All he saw was a field and other souls. The trick is, getting the soul to say ‘I release you to carry the burden of life on your own,’ then the string will appear tied to there wrist, and we need to undue the soul-string without breaking the memory-line. After that, we tug on the string, a sign for the anchor to pull the rope. It will be difficult at first, because of the force pulling us to the Otherworld, but I managed last time. We’ll probably have to pull ourselves hand over hand up the soul-string. I nearly couldn’t do this last time, but this time I’ll be more prepared. And the fog tried to grab me and pull me back down, although hopefully if we don’t stay as long it won’t this time.”
I glanced at Mr. Sallon, who looked horrified. “This won’t be easy,” he said.
“No,” I agreed.
“We need to figure out a new system of doing this, Miss Alander,” he said, and I nodded again.
“I might have an idea,” I said.
He looked at me, interested. “For a new system?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “I’m not sure whether it’ll work, but we can test it out if you want.”
“What’s your idea?” He asked.
I fidgeted with my hands. “Well, to tell you the truth, I’m not entirely sure. I want to see whether it’ll work first.”
“But how will we communicate?” Mr. Sallon asked. “We can’t talk when we’re in trance.”
“I know,” I said. “You just have to trust me. Besides, this way we won’t have to go to the Otherworld.”
A knock sounded at the door, and Mr. Sallon opened it to Arabelle, her blond hair in a bun on the top of her head.
“Hello, my dear!” Mr. Sallon said. “Good of you to come.”
She smiled and turned to me. “Good morning, Miss Alander,” she said before turning back to Mr. Sallon. “Would you care to tell me what’s going on here?” She asked him.
“Miss Alander here took a trip to the Otherworld a couple days ago,” he said bluntly. “She managed to cut her brother’s soul without losing her memory of it, and now she’s going to take me, but we need your help.”
She looked from me to him, a shocked expression on her pale face. “You did what? The Otherworld? How?”
I sighed and repeated what I had just told Mr. Sallon.
“She has some plan for a better way of cutting,” Mr. Sallon interjected. “A way that doesn’t require going to the Otherworld.”
Arabelle nodded. “I should hope so. Are we going now?”
I looked at Mr. Sallon, who said, “I’m ready when you are.” He grabbed a slip of paper from his desk and read it out to us. “Alexander Suro, he lives at 36 Merchant’s Road.”
I nodded, and slipped into the trance, surprised at how much easier it was then when I first learned how. I glanced around me, and saw Mr. Sallon and Arabelle next to me, already moving towards Alexander Suro’s soul. Once I reached it, I waited for Mr. Sallon and Arabelle to catch up, before diving down. As I pushed myself downwards, I glanced at Mr. Sallon, hoping he was watching me. If I decided to change course and try my new plan, he would have to know to stop, and it might be at a difficult point.
As we descended I could feel the current, and slowed my “swimming” to just drift along. I kept a watchful eye on the soul-string and memory-line next to me, which still looked like one strand. The current picked up again, to the point where I didn’t need to swim at all. Now, the soul-string seemed to start to separate from the memory-line, but not enough to be able to cut it.
I waited until the current was pulling us even more strongly, and I started to slow myself down by swimming upwards. Mr. Sallon followed my example, swimming up while the Otherworld pulled us down. I stopped completely, right before the current got almost unbeatably strong, and stayed in place, working against the Otherworld’s force. Still holding my position steady, I floated closer to the soul-string, almost touching it, and saw Mr. Sallon do the same.
He pulled out a knife, and floated even closer. Intrigued, I followed him, and saw what he was looking at, a space between the soul-string and memory-line. He very carefully reached in between and sliced the soul-string, which then slowly dissolved. The memory-line was still intact, swaying slightly.
Elated, I turned, and pushed myself upwards with all my strength. At first I couldn’t move, but then I slowly started moving back up. It was difficult, but not nearly as hard as when I was down in the Otherworld. Mr. Sallon was progressing with more ease, but he too seemed to be struggling. As we got farther up, it became easier, until there was almost no extra pull dragging us down.
Once Arabelle saw us, she awoke from her trance, and I followed suit. Mr. Sallon woke just a second after us, his eyes lighted up with excitement.
“That was quick,” Arabelle said, looking between us. “You went al the way to the Otherworld in that time?”
Mr. Sallon shook his head. “We didn’t need to! Once we got low enough, our dear young friend here started examining the soul-string. I followed suit, and noticed there was a gap between the two strands at a certain point.” He grinned happily. “At that point it was just a matter of slicing the right one!”
Arabelle stood and embraced her husband. “You did it!” She exclaimed, then turned to me and did the same.
Startled, I returned the embrace, smiling shyly.
“Thank you,” she said to me sincerely. “What you’ve done is so important, it will help so many people”
I smiled again. “I hope so,” I replied. “But Mr. Ledwell’s the one you really need to thank. He did so much research beforehand.”
“Jonathon?” Arabelle said, looking at Mr. Sallon for confirmation, who nodded.
I turned to Mr. Sallon. “Is this going to be the new way of cutting now?” I asked him.
“We’ll need to talk to the princess,” he said. “She needs to give us permission before we do anything.”
I gasped. “The princess?” I said incredulously. “You mean, the real princess?”
Mr. Sallon laughed and nodded. “I’ve spoken to her once before, when I became the head cutter. This sort of project will affect the whole city, and we’ll nee her approval.”
“You’ve spoken to the princess?” I asked again, astonished.
He nodded again. “Why don’t you go home, and come back in a couple hours. We can go over to the palace together, and try to get ourselves an appointment.”
“Alright,” I replied. “I’ll be back here in two hours.”
I stood, and opened the door, but stopped before I closed it behind me.
“Mr. Sallon?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, looking up at me.
“Thank you,” I said quietly.
“Thank you, Miss Alander,” he replied. “You know, one day I think you might be the head cutter here in the city. You certainly have the potential.”
I grinned and closed the door behind me. Head cutter? What a miracle that would be!
Jogging down the stairs, I left the cutting center and headed back towards Rowan Lane. What was I even supposed to wear to meet the princess? I had a couple nicer dresses that I had bought since moving to the city, but none of them were as nice as Mr. Sallon’s crisp suits. I stopped at my house, and went straight to Mother’s room, filling a small pouch with clinks.
Mother didn’t mind me using the money we had occasionally, and she would definitely want me to look respectable when I met the princess. After grabbing a slice of bread, I headed out to the merchant’s district. The main shopping street was on the other end of the district, but I had two hours, and all I had to do was find a nice dress and brush my hair.
I loved walking through the merchant’s district, which, in my opinion, was the most charming. It probably wasn’t as beautiful as the noble district, but the rows of pretty little shops and small houses in the merchant’s district were more appealing than the large mansions and manicured streets of the other.
I passed the marketplace, which was teeming with food and cloth, although less crowded than the city-center, and continued on Merchant’s Road, the main road of the merchant’s district. Once I reached Lamar’s Avenue, I skipped over the fancy shops, and found a smaller one near the end. A little bell tinkled overhead as I walked into the building, and a young woman who was organizing a shelf came over to me.
“Good afternoon, Miss, how can I help you?” she asked in a cheery voice.
“I would just like to browse, please,” I replied.
“Alright, the casual dresses are on that side, the fancier ones are over there, and skirts, blouses, and pants are at the back.”
I thanked her, and headed for the fancier rack. A lot of the dresses there were simple gowns, but one section near the back showed promise. I flipped through the dresses, before finding a nice blue knee-length one with a fancy design. I hurried to try on the dress and pay for it, and then headed back home with my change.
Leaving the clinks in Mother’s room, I brushed out my hair as I thought out what I would say when I met the princess. Hopefully Mr. Sallon would do the talking, after all, he had already met her once.
An hour later, I found myself walking through the noble district with Mr. Sallon. It was hard to not be blown away by the sheer extravagance of the district. Each house looked like a palace to me, and their yards took up an entire block. I briefly wondered how everyone managed to fit in the district, before remembering not many people were rich enough. As we got closer, the houses were even more beautiful, with sprawling gardens and fountains.
I could see towering spires above the mansions, generally the only part of the palace I could ever see from the city. When the palace itself came into view, I stopped, astonished. The whole building glittered brightly in the sun, with arched doors and windows, and ivy crawling up the sides. The towers I could see from afar were now even more complex, reaching up from the palace like fingers. Next to the palace was a tall building, which looked plain next to its neighbor. This was the Orderer building, where major trials took place, and the Head Orderer worked.
I jogged to catch up with Mr. Sallon, who was still moving steadily to the palace. We walked in silence until we reached the front gate. The door was open into the main hall, and I could see soldiers and stewards waiting inside. We crossed the threshold into the palace, and the high ceiling and impressive tapestries took my breath away. It reminded me of the library, with its chandeliers and cavernous ceiling.
“We’re here to see the Princess,” Mr. Sallon told a steward standing at the far end of the room.
“Who are you?” He asked, looking at me doubtfully.
“Gregory Sallon, the head cutter. This is one of my colleagues.”
The steward nodded curtly. “Wait in there,” he said, gesturing to a room on the right.
We walked into the waiting room, which was less grand than the hall, although still striking. I sat down on the bench, and Mr. Sallon seated himself opposite me.
“Did you have much trouble convincing the Orderers?” I asked him as we waited.
“Not at all,” he replied. “Apparently they’d already been tipped off by someone. They were planning to come out and investigate the office themselves when I popped in and said the same thing.”
I smiled to myself. Good old Mary! I thought. It’s doubtful Mr. Sallon could have convinced them himself.
“Mr. Sallon?” A butler was standing in the doorway, gesturing towards the door on my left.
I swallowed nervously and stood, brushing off my dress and running my fingers through my dark hair.
“What do I say?” I whispered to Mr. Sallon as we crossed the room.
“Curtsy, and don’t say anything unless she asks you. I’ll do the talking, don’t worry.” He replied.
“Don’t forget to mention Mr. Ledwell,” I said, and he nodded.
The butler opened the door, and we stepped into the grand throne room, ornately decorated with gold. At the far end stood a single throne, and on it sat the princess. The butler walked to the end of the room, and announced us stiffly. I dropped into a deep curtsy, praying that I wouldn’t lose my balance.
“Gregory Sallon,” the princess said, in a melodious voice. I had heard her speak before, but never this close. “To what do I owe the honour?”
Mr. Sallon rose, and I followed suit. “Your highness, miss Alander here has worked with Jonathon Ledwell, a fellow cutter, to discover a new way of cutting. She tried this version of cutting, without my approval, and told me when it worked.”
The princess raised her eyebrows. “Without your approval?” she said, looking at me. I blushed and looked down. “And you take her word for it?”
“I tried the new way as well, and we refined it to a safe system that doesn’t severe your memories,” Mr. Sallon replied.
She looked from Mr. Sallon to me, and back again. “Without losing the memories?” she said to confirm. “Won’t the soul then pull you into the Otherworld?”
Mr. Sallon shook his head. “No, that’s the beauty of this system. The soul-string, which drags living souls into the Otherworld, is still cut, but the memory-line remains intact.”
“If this works, it would be a feat of wonder indeed,” the princess replied, looking impressed but doubtful. “How long has it been, since you tried this- new way of cutting?”
“We successfully preformed it earlier this morning,” Mr. Sallon replied calmly.
“This morning!” She exclaimed. “How do you know it’s safe?”
I could see Mr. Sallon’s mental turmoil as he decided how deeply he could go into the scientific cutting procedure. “Like I said earlier, your highness, the soul-string is still intact. Nothing bad will happen as long as that is the case.”
“And how do you know that?” The princess said sharply. “This is the first time it has been done, isn’t that right?”
Mr. Sallon nodded reluctantly. “Well, yes, but we can determine certain things based off our research.”
She nodded. “And what do you have to say about this?” she asked, looking at me.
I started, and struggled for words. “Oh, well, I agree with what Mr. Sallon said, your highness,” I stammered. “Based on both first-hand experience of this new way of cutting and the theory of it, there shouldn’t be any way that a soul can start to go crazy.”
“What prompted you to do this in the first place,” she asked me, cocking her head.
“My brother, your highness,” I said softly. “He died of the plague a short while ago, and I was determined not to forget him.”
Her expression turned sympathetic. “I’m sorry,” she said. “The plague cost us many people. I’m sure many people, especially cutters, have the same train of thought when they lose a loved one though,” she continued. “How did you figure it out?”
“Luckily, I found that Mr. Ledwell had already been researching this,” I replied. “He showed me his research, and after the first attempt, which was successful, Mr. Sallon and I managed to puzzle out a better way.” I didn’t mention that I had gone to the Otherworld, or how dangerous that first trip seemed. Glancing over at Mr. Sallon, I saw him give me a slight nod, and I knew that I had made the right decision.
I looked back at the princess, who began speaking again. “It seems that the only responsible way to do this is to monitor the effects of this new way of cutting,” she said. “In two weeks, if the situation remains the same, and the way of cutting is safe, you have my approval to implement it as the official way.”
Mr. Sallon hid a smile as he bowed. “Thank you, your highness,” he said. I curtsied and murmured my own gratitude, before following Mr. Sallon out into the waiting room and then the hall.
“That went well,” Mr. Sallon said, grinning, as we left the palace.
“It’s not official yet,” I reminded him, struggling to keep up.
“It will be,” he said confidently. “She’s giving us two weeks, and we both know that this way of cutting is safe. Now all we have to do is wait until we can prove it.”