Skip to Content

Into the Cut

Into the Cut is a story

it was told by emsenn

it is about Teraum

it was released on Jul 12, 2020

Jumps Too Far felt the clay soil stretch into the precipice as they leaned further around the bend. There wasn't any need to be this cautious: the hare they were hunting was out of breath, and the only way to run was past Jumps Too Far. The hare knew this too, which is why e tried to run for it.

“Tomorrow,” Jumps Too Far said later, back at the camp. “We'll need to head further west.” They pointed at the iron pot in front of them, tucked into the coals of the fire. “We've killed enough of the Rabbitfolk's community here, and we don't have any of the answers we came out for. So we need to go deeper into the Cut.”

The seven other warriors traveling with Jumps Too Far didn't have to say anything. The water had vanished from the canyons: finding out why was all that mattered.

The following morning, and for several mornings after, the group traveled west, following the flow of water back to its source. Sometimes, the water was on the surface, flowing as a slow creek. But most places, the flow was too weak, and the water was moving invisibly through the sand that lined the bottom of the valley.

In places where the sides of the canyons closed in too close to navigate with the sun, and the path was too windy to follow, Jumps Too Far read the horizontal stripes in the stone of the canyon walls, comparing the pattern to a map made last year.

When they were past the western boundaries of the map, Jumps Too Far had to rely on their knowledge of the plants and rocks and infer which way led to the source of the canyons’ water, and which ways were fed by runoff. A few times, they were wrong, and the group spent some hours wandering toward a dead-end, and they would have to walk back to the last turn.

Stories from scouts in the past said that inside the Cut was a great oasis, with animals and plants not seen anywhere else. That's why Jumps Too Far got so excited upon seeing a flower that was entirely unfamiliar to them, grasping itself onto the trunk of a familiar tree, a grabs-you willow. The group made camp nearby, noticing other changes from home: dry tall grasses rustling out of the shadowy corners of the canyon, and splashes of lichen that seemed to floresce in the setting sun.

The next day as the group traveled, the walls of the canyon rapidly diverged to the east and west, until it seemed that they were no longer walking in a canyon. And even though the plants were unfamiliar to Jumps Too Far, they could tell that the communities of flora here were unhappy. Patches of barren soil held the dessicated remains of adult grass rhizomes, and every tree was dry and fragile to touch. The sounds of bugs rose only occasionally, a frantic sound that seemed to carry the desperation of a population too small to find real community.

It was early the next morning when Hollow Tree, another in the group, noticed a strange smell on the wind. “Maybe it's fire, but it's not our kind of fire?” she tried to explain. Hollow Tree was the youngest in the group, and her sense of smell far sharper than the others had, even in youth. Sniffing, she pointed to the southwest. “That way.”

By lunch, the white smoke that carried the smell was visible in front of them. Jumps Too Far carefully climbed into a dead and dry tree, and took a glass-lensed telescope from their bag. “The smoke is coming from a big house. Very big. Bigger than our village, this one house.” They kept looking, focusing on one spot or another. “I see humanfolk outside, moving barrels. And what looks like big snakes coming out of the house, going north.”

Shouts First volunteered to get closer, and when he came back, he said he saw about 20 people. In addition to the big house, which was making an awful sounds that Shouts First described as “burping screams,” there were several canvas tents around the building, and a few wagons, along with a dirt path heading south somewhere. The snakes coming out of the house were big iron pipes, and Shouts First had gotten close enough to touch one and said it was cold to the touch. “The people all seemed really focused on bringing barrels out of the big house and putting them on wagons.”

“But there was something really strange, on the west side of the building,” Shouts First said, and paused. Jumps Too Far was expecting this: Shouts First always loved to milk his scouting reports.

“Giant dogs. Giant dogs. As giant to dogs as the big house is to our houses. And the humanfolk? They were brushing their fur, and bringing them big bundles of grass, and talking to them!” Shouts First continued explaining the giant dogs, and how the humanfolk here seemed to serve them.

“Even though the humanfolk are more like us, we should respect their heirarchy: tomorrow we'll meet with these giant dogs,” Jumps Too Far said, and the group moved back east some ways to make up camp.

The next day the group walked up to the big house in the early afternoon. The humans whispered to themselves and went to their tents, so the group continued on to meet with the giant dogs.

They were rather like giant dogs, but up close it was easy to see some differences. Instead of paws, they had hooves, and big bushy manes covered their neck and shoulders.

“Hello! I greet you with respect,” Jumps Too Far began. The giant dogs all took some steps back, but one then stepped forward and looked at Jumps Too Far. “My name is Jumps Too Far, and I come here from the Sharp Water Fruit Tribe. For several seasons, water has not flowed through the part of the canyons where we live.”

Jumps Too Far heard a sound behind them, and looked back. The human people were standing outside the field, and several were now carrying spears and clumbs. The giant dog stepped closer to Jumps Too Far, and snorted while maintaining eye contact. Jumps Too Far did their best to stay respectful.

“We were wondering if you knew what was causing the drought, or if you would be willing to help us find its cause?”

The giant dog took another step toward Jumps Too Far, who gave a slight bow. Then, the dog sniffed the air, shifted its weight onto its back legs, brought up its front legs, and sunk them quickly into Jumps Too Far. Jumps Too Far collapsed under the sudden strike, and the others in the group step forward to defend them. As they stepped forward, the giant dog let out a bristling whinny, striking out with its front hooves again. Shouts First stuck out their spear handle to try and block the blow, and was knocked aside.

The human folk outside the field had begun running up, shouting and waving their weapons at Jumps Too Far and the group. One threw a barrel toward them, and it shattered against the hard soil, splashing them and the giant dogs with water. The other giant dogs were running frantically around the field. “Run away!” Jumps Too Far shouted. They tried to lead the retreat, but the pain their shoulders was too much, and they slumped against the ground unconscious.

Hollow Tree and another grabbed Jumps Too Far between them, and began moving toward the northeastern edge of the field. Shouts First tried to defend the group from another attack by the lead giant dog, stabbing up into the dog's chest. The dog immediately bucked and staggered before falling onto Shouts First.

The rest of the group made it past the wooden fence bordering the field. The humans stopped chasing when they got to the fence. When the group got to the iron pipes running north across their path, one shouted out “Shouts First!” pointing back to the field. The rest of the group turned back, ready to try and rescue their friend. But they could see the humans dragging the fallen giant dog off of him, and could see that their friend was dead.

That evening at camp, Jumps Too Far was given some medicine that helped with the pain of their broken shoulders, and the group held ceremony for the Shouts First's death. In the morning, Jumps Too Far spoke.

“Negotiating with the giant dogs didn't work, and it's clear the humanfolk will follow the dogs’ lead. And I suspect they may be the cause of the missing water.” Jumps Too Far laid out their evidence: the barrel of water thrown at them, the barrels being loaded into wagons, and the iron pipes running north. The group discussed whether they wanted to attempt further communication with the giant dogs, or investigate the pipes.

It was eventually decided that four of the group would investigate the pipe, while Jumps Too Far and Hollow Tree would return to the community, so Jumps Too Far could have their injuries treated, and share what they've learned so far.