Spirit power made healing from most minor bruises that much easier, and I was back to public facing condition in no time. What sucked though was spirit power didn't help one bit with growing hair back.
The destroyed table lay broken in heaps and the bits of food here and there made the scene all the more tragic. But even the unnecessary waste couldn't hold a candle to the severity of my sins.
"Fix this." Zhuqing's pristine face was the very image of the buddha, serene, and yet the fires of hell raged like wailing brimstone towards the skies behind that stoic façade.
The smile Rongrong had on was just as angelic, but it was the sort of grace beyond transcendental rage. "If grandpa Sword found out about this…"
She didn't need to finish that.
Zhuqing kept her raven hair long, reaching up to about half way down her back. And I'd ended up zapping it as far up to her shoulders. Rongrong on the other hand kept her hair shorter by shoulder length and I zapped it to by her ears. I didn't know jack shit about cutting hair, but I remembered enough from my old life whenever I accompanied my mom to the hair dresser to recreate what someone cutting hair looked like. Zhuqing would likely do well with a bob, and the only way I was gonna fix Rongrong's hair was by turning that into a layered pixie cut. The singed parts cut in too deep for any quick fix to be applied.
I wasn't an expert, but I did have excellent muscle memory and an even better eidetic one thanks to my Crown. I didn't know much, but the very real threat of bodily harm was a damn good inspiration to learn fast.
"I can fix this," I said. "But you'll need to trust me."
Zhuqing didn't flinch, but Rongrong looked like she was about to cry.
With a withering gaze she said, "That's not how you apologize."
I knew better than to say anything unnecessary "I am sorry, and I swear I'll do something to make this right." I pursed my lips, not really sure what was needed from me besides a solution. "I promise."
Rongrong shook her head, the singed parts of her hair wafting against the wind. "That's not what I meant."
Zhuqing grunted with disdain. Things were going so well between the three of us just now and for all of it to be undone by this was a harrowing experience.
We cut the trip to the library short so I could make it up to them come dinner time. It was a good thing everyone was still out and about and that we didn't see any people on our way back to the dorms.
Zhuqing was pissed, but Rongrong just looked disappointed. They then slammed the door to the girls' shared room, and I pumped my body up full of spirit power and ran straight for the city.
I already had some sharp scissors I'd gotten Tang San to make for me before, primarily for working on crafts and stuff, but I could use them for hair. Probably. Next thing I needed was a comb for fine work, and the mirrors I already had stowed away in Inventory. The most important part then was practice.
I wasn't about to let just any sort of haircut fix this, I needed it to actually be good.
I went straight for the slums of the city without regard for how much spirit power I was exhausting with strengthening my body. After learning how to better push spirit power out into my limbs, I was practically flying through the goddamn woods like a certain blonde ninja. It was liberating. And the sheer thrill of cutting through the air almost, almost, made me forget the horrors that awaited my sorry ass if this haphazard plan fell through.
I kicked up a cloud of dust when I entered the city proper and blazed a warpath towards that seedy bar I bought information from before. Cusses and startled citizens got in the way, but with the increase of my spirit power also came an accompanying increase to my perception outside of the boosts provided by my Crown. It wasn't as good as using my sprit, but it was enough to avoid ruining someone's day.
Left, right, over that peddler's wooden cart. Then a quick cartwheel between two women gossiping, a quick limbo to avoid a man carrying a large barrel, then a vault over a group of children making their way to I didn't care where. I hit the entrance to the slums at a dead run, even going up by the sides of the walls where the turns were too sharp.
I arrived at the unnamed bar and made a dash for the dirty counter and set down a bag of gold, five hundred pieces total, in front of the same old man.
"I need women. Now."
The old man had a twinkle in his eyes. "Of course, honorable spirit master."
"I need them to let me cut their hair however I want to, but I promise I won't make them look ugly." I'll try, went unsaid. "And I'm willing to pay big."
He smiled a wide and lewd grin. "I see you have a fire in you."
"Wait, no." I shook my head. "I don't plan to sleep with them at all." I wasn't even old enough yet to get an erection.
The old man flashed a frown for the smallest moment. "I've had worse requests." He shrugged. "Whatever makes you happy, good sir."
He knocked on his bar counter three times and a ragged youth whose hair covered his eyes walked up to him. The youth met my gaze. He was still much taller than me.
"I need three at least, and their hair must be half-way down their back." I just needed people after all. "Even men are fine. And I need a place hidden from view."
"You heard him," the old man shooed away the youth. "Don't make him wait."
It didn't take too long for the youth to come back with three dirty looking young women, two aunties, and three guys. They all wore the sort of clothes you just knew came from the slums, and their shoes were nothing but straw straps. I took back my bag of gold and gave a hundred straight up to the old man and another hundred to the youth.
I wasn't a charity worker, but I'd be damned if I didn't do a little something to ease my own privileged guilt. I couldn't change these people's lives. But that didn't mean I couldn't do something at least.
The youth led me to a room upstairs together with the eight scared people and left us alone. The women sat on the one seedy bed illuminated by a lone window on the ceiling, and the men sat on the floor. This all looked like the start of a serial killer movie.
I brought out the same bag of gold and said, "I'll pay you all a hundred gold coins, fifty first before I cut your hair, and the other fifty after."
I pulled out sets of fifty and give them to the people there, counting it out before them and putting each set of payment into a little bag. It wouldn't do anyone any good if the assholes here got wind of the riches they'd made here. I then wore my Crown and expanded Domain to cover all of us.
All of them inched back towards the walls once they saw my spirit.
"I swear I won't hurt anyone, and I'll do my best to make you all look beautiful." It wasn't a lie, but it wasn't a guaranteed truth either.
The men didn't look too pleased, but the resolve behind their eyes told of harsher realities waiting outside. At least the women seemed more intrigued, and yet the fear remained all the same in each of them. I also didn't like the vibes this scene was giving out, but I needed to save my own ass first and foremost.
After that very, very awkward first impression. I set about my work. I summoned some large basins of water to wash everyone's hair with a little olive oil and some crude soap. I then dried their hair with some cotton towels I didn't have much need of anymore. They all took the worked cloths and held them like treasures, and I guess such soft textiles would be divine compared to the rough spun robes they all wore—assuming it was even spun and not just picked up off the streets. Or worse, off some corpse.
After drying came the first experiment.
I started with one of the teens and summoned an array of mirrors, plus my personal fluffy chair to make this all a little bit more bearable for these people. All of this occurred under the light of my Domain as I needed to catch every last detail of this practice run so I spared no effort. Everything my light touched, I could almost feel directly. Bad wording, but if I wanted to learn as much from this, then I couldn't pull out any stops.
Each strand was unique under the light of my crown, the clarity from it allowing me to feel how smooth each strand was. Even how dry her scalp was or the length of her hair as a whole, and so was I aware of each hair as if I'd known how each one grew to be. I took out my pair of scissors and a wooden comb I bought off the streets.
If everything went well, this could be another great business for the future next to that sausage cart for Oscar, or maybe to that dynamite factory. Straight up nitroglycerin was too dangerous to leave to careless hands. I could also probably make a lot from doing large scale mining operations the likes this continent has never seen, but for now, self-preservation took precedence. And maybe a little bit of remorse for ruining Rongrong's hair.
Okay, a lot of remorse.
"Please be gentle," the teen said.
Ah, right, Zhuqing's hair too.
I rolled my eyes and began combing the girl's hair straight down to lie flat against her back. Washing it all with soap made her hair harder, but still more manageable compared to without it. After having it all drape to just above her butt, I then took her hair in a bundle with my hand and gripped it tight before cutting it all off to reach by her shoulders.
All the women gasped in surprise, more so the one in front of the mirror.
"Don't worry, I know what I'm doing," I lied.
She looked at me with eyes wide open and frantic. "O-okay."
I straightened off the crude cut and balanced it out by tapering the hard edges, cutting vertically to even the line the hair made when let down as well as make the, uhh, hem of it look more natural. I wasn't too sure of the terminology but whatever. After cleaning, the hair hem wasn't as clean as I'd have preferred, but it wasn't that bad for a first try.
Focusing on the sense of non-straightness, I allowed my Domain to show the mistakes with greater clarity. I felt the uneven edge her hair made, and I cut some more of it off to chase the shorter edges.
The girl looked puzzled at her reflection, but it wasn't in the incredulous or outraged or weirded out sort, instead more of a sort of wonder.
I then summoned a smaller basin of water and wet her hair some more so I could work it in clumps. I didn't know fuck all what I was doing, but I trusted enough in my modern sensibilities and let my hands do the talking.
I had her crane her neck forward and brushed all her hair up to the other side to drape against her forehead. I combed parts of the clump of hair up and kept them between my fingers before making a straight cut across. I was working with an image of what I remembered, and then built up from there.
I remembered that's how the hairdressers used to do it, and I guess it all should somewhat look natural from there.
For now, symmetry was the game, and based on this first cut I tried my best to stay true to her hair hem and the beginnings of the layers I were doing.
Layer after layer, cut after cut, I'd comb and continue to wet her hair to make it pliable enough for the acrobatics I was making it do. Every now and then I'd comb the already cut sections of hair down to see how it measured up overall, I'd correct the uneven edges here and there, and level the straightness of it when all draped.
Eventually, and finally after the last layer, I combed all that wet hair down to her shoulders to observe my work.
I couldn't tell the shape because it was all wet.
I dried her hair and observed my work.
The tapered edge was acceptable thanks to the amount of detail provided by my Crown's increase in perception, and the attempt at layering her hair at least met some success. There was no one visible lump of hair but a sort of cascade that started about the highest part of her neck and gradually receded to the tips of her shoulders. There were a few uneven cuts a few quick vertical cuts helped to tame, and I could've done better with the gradualness of the layers, but it wasn't bad for a first try.
A few more quick comb downs here, and a few snips there, and the unevenness wasn't as noticeable anymore.
When I finally deemed it done, there were no words shared in that room.
But the girl whose hair I cut couldn't get enough of her reflection. She looked at it from the sides, turned side to side, I even picked up another mirror to show her the back. It was mesmerizing to see such a familiar hairstyle, and I wanted to give myself a pat on the back for bringing this bit of home here. She wasn't smiling, but she couldn't remove her eyes either from the way her hair seemed to just fall in strands and flow from her fingers.
I then led the first girl to sit back on the bed, and the next one sat on the chair directly without waiting for me.
"What did you do?" the second girl asked.
"Does it look bad?"
"No?" one auntie there said.
"But it's not something we've seen before," another of the teens said.
The men only stared.
"I can't stop looking at it," the one whose hair I cut said. She kept turning her head some more, observing the way her hair cascaded with her movements. "And how is my hair so… soft!"
I next needed to figure out how to do a pixie cut then to polish up my skills some more after.
The eight left that room with wide smiles on their faces and lighter heads with much less hair, and when we all went down to the shop, there was no shortage of mesmerized gazes all locked on them. I was at a level I was confident enough to not get slapped after working on a lady's hair, and the men were sporting some layered locks too. So uhh, go figure.
A guy even tripped against a chair from looking at the giggling women. Their clothes were still the same rags before, but their faces at least weren't as sullen now. A few gold coins probably helped. But I'd like to think I was able to give them a little something more than just that. Hopefully.
Rongrong watched me work through Zhuqing's hair with mastered precision and great care, turning her ruined black locks into an elegant straight bob. The indignant cat at least let me work on my mistake long enough to make it look decent.
I finished off everything by holding up a mirror behind Zhuqing, allowing her to see the back of her hair from the reflection in front of her. She flitted her hair back and forth and watched it flow with each turn of her head, and the strands fell in line, thick and alive. I first soaped up her hair before finishing it with a quick rub down of olive oil and a few mountain flower extracts to give it a light and refreshing scent.
I was never one for the arts, but this exercise in hairdressing was something I didn't hate.
Zhuqing stood from her seat. "Good."
She sat next to Rongrong with a hand mirror still in her grasp.
I offered the pink-haired girl the chair. "Please?"
She sighed and gave in, and sat.
I summoned a basin of water. Rongrong had already seen what I did to Zhuqing, so she already knew what to expect. I held the back of her head with a hand and slowly let her lean back to allow her hair to settle by the water.
Carefully, I washed and soaped her hair to get the food and oil out she'd missed. The traditional method for washing hair here was to use a fermented mixture of rice water and some essential oils, but that left a bad smell and was usually something not done everyday. The soap I used was something I'd made myself in my free time, just a simple saponified bar of more olive oil. It was the easiest to obtain, surprisingly enough, and there was always a steady supply of it in the markets any time.
Her eyes were on me as I massaged the roots of her hair with the soap. Her wet pink hair shone under the light of my Crown, and each strand and breath of hers I felt through my Domain.
I finished rinsing and dried off her hair with a cotton cloth, then applied olive oil to put back the moisture into it and wiped it off again to remove the excess. I didn't need to use the olive oil so early, but I felt like it added to the ease of handling. I couldn't help how my fingers would brush against her cheeks at times, more a consequence of the positions I needed my hands in to be able to do what needed to be done.
Rongrong sat back on the seat straight up as I directed her.
I took a deep breath. "I'll begin cutting now."
She clenched her jaw as I gently bunched the rest of her hair behind her and grasped it firm. I set the scissors against it. The indignity Rongrong displayed when I'd cut that section off her hair would've killed me on the spot had she been a battle spirit master.
I set the cut off hair near her with reverence. From shoulder length all the way down to the beginnings of a very short bob, the longest strands fell to level with her chin, and nothing else draped lower than that. The change was immediate, and at least she didn't kill me outright. She still had her own Godly Zhuge Crossbow, and even if I were expecting it, I wouldn't be able to guard against the absurd weapon if she chose to use it.
There were still so many singed parts despite how much I'd already taken away. It needed to be shorter. I combed her hair all the way over to her forehead with the comb and took lengths of the last strands squeezing it between my fingers before snipping away.
This trailing edge I then used to begin shaping the overall look, making sure to follow a sort of rounded gradient as I matched the next length of hair to cut. Comb a few strands out and hold it straight, then compare it to my leading edge of hair. Snip. Repeat.
Each beginning I traced back to the root with the back of her hair as the base and radiated outwards, and what began as a side heavy bob with a light back turned to a wild and fiery duck tail that brought out the brilliance of her jeweled hair. This kind of variation in coloring was most likely a consequence of her spirit just like my head of blonde hair.
Soft edges, untamed, feminine yet free. It was an image and an impression, the person I'd gotten to know over the years made real by this transformation. I didn't know if she hated what I'd been working at with her hair, but I hoped the message came across.
I'm sorry for what I did.
I finished off the shaping by softening the last leading edges with a few more masterful snips all under the light of my Domain. Not a single millimeter out of line, each one deliberate and intended. I tousled her hair to shake away the excess hair, and shaped it with my fingers to set her bangs to just above her eyes, the back of her hair to fly away and the sides to lie flatter but still unrestrained.
It was a radical change from the straight locks she'd sported, but I felt this was closer to the Rongrong I'd gotten to know.
I took a deep breath and hoped for the best. "H-how is it?"
Big pink irises blinked wide and hard. She turned her hair left and right observing the way it bounced as she moved. The olive oil helped return the nutrients and oils stripped away from soaping and gave back some of the life with damaged strands. There were better treatments from back home but I didn't have enough know-how to recreate them here. People actually devoted years and millions of dollars and research into that, and I didn't have that same luxury here.
"It's different from Zhuqing's," she said. It was a statement, the tone unhurried. It didn't catch or rise, flat. I couldn't tell what she'd felt from that but her heart did not waver, nor her eyes unfocused. She met my eyes with resolution. She did not jitter or fidget.
I felt like a creep for keeping my focused light on her, but I wanted to know if she didn't like it. I needed to know she didn't hate it.
She broke eye contact first and turned her head to the side, a light blush rising from her cheeks. "It's alright."
She glanced up from her downturned position.
It was difficult to look away from her.
"You can stop staring, you know." She was starting to get a little redder up to her ears and neck. It was liberating to see the neat look she now sported.
I retracted my Domain and the world became less real, yet there she still was, as bright as ever.
She pouted. "Is there something on my face."
"Ah, nothing." I put everything back into my Interface and left their room without a word, not even taking the time for a quick wave or anything.
And that was how I found myself staring at Xiao Wu who was just about to enter their room, Tang San next to her who was seeing her off.
"Jin?!" she said with surprised glee.
Her big eyes had a sly light behind them. "But, Jin?"
"I ended up burning their hair. Then I fixed it."
Tang San and Xiao Wu tilted their heads at the same time. "You did what?" she said.
Their door opened and out came Rongrong with her new hair. It was even better out in the light of the setting sun.
Xiao Wu went through five stages of something, each one marked with a vastly different expression from the last before settling into confusion. Then I saw the moment the light bulb clicked on. And then came a raised brow and an elbow to my side. "I didn't think you'd leave your mark so literally."
Rongrong glowered at me. "What did you tell them?"
"You look different, Rongrong," Tang San said.
The two girls looked at him with disdain, although Xiao Wu was more of a slight annoyance.
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