“Are you actually scared, Flores?” Zoe questioned in a surprised tone.
“N-no, I’m not scared,” Carla Flores half-lied, biting her tongue as she damned herself for getting into this position.
“Good. Every other person that lost their challenge decided to chicken out and quit the club in shame. It’s good to know there are some honourable Scillans like you still willing to stay and take the full length of the deal,” Zoe smirked.
“How many have challenged you this season?” Carla was curious.
“Five others. If it makes you feel any better, you were the closest,” Zoe gave a devilish wink.
Whether closest or furthest to beating her, it still didn’t change that Carla lost. The Enchanter-Duelist Tournament was an annual contest for witches under the Hurza alliance to compete with one another in a form of ritual sword combat. As magical as witches were, the few clans under the alliance held it as a form of traditional art that was to be celebrated.
Zoe Wong was voted the prime representative for Clan Scilla in the under 25 adult bracket, given that she was the captain of her academy’s Enchanter-Duelist club— though it did help that she was the niece of the current coven leader. But it wasn’t a position set in stone— legally, anyone that fit the age bracket was allowed to challenge their representative to take the spot to represent the clan. However, an additional buffer to prevent repeat challenges came in the form of challenge conditions from each representative— something that others would deem as “bets”.
“My challenge terms aren’t like others. If you lose, you have two options: you either leave the club and never participate in the academy’s Enchanter-Duelist activities ever again; or, you get to stay in the club, but you must get a haircut of my choosing. And don’t worry— if you win, not only do you get to become representative, but I must get a haircut of your choosing. Sounds fair?” Carla recalled Zoe’s words right before the start of the challenge.
Carla was so determined to make Zoe eat her words, to nab the contender spot for her bracket and prove that Zoe was no more than just another member of royalty benefitting from the system. But Zoe was tough— despite the many claims of nepotism regarding her contendership, few would say she was bad.
“How short is it going to be?” Carla raised the question, trying to sink herself into the reality of her loss
“Oh, that’s gonna have to be a surprise,” Zoe wasn’t going to give Carla her peace of mind. “But it’s safe to say that it’ll be short enough that you won’t be losing like how you did anymore.”
Carla bit her lip, probably deserving the salt that was being rubbed in the wound. Zoe did have her means on the dueling ground, where certain forms of magic were still allowed. Carla was proud to say that she was actually keeping up with Zoe for most of the challenge, meeting her blow for blow and actually causing Zoe to stagger for a brief moment.
But Zoe was smart— or rather, Carla would call her ‘sly’. With a gust of wind, Zoe had completely messed up Carla’s long tresses to cover her face momentarily when she was about to deliver an opportune blow, throwing her opponent completely off rhythm as she took the moment to recover and sweep her feet from below.
Carla was going to remember that moment for the rest of her life— how she fell backwards after a moment of hesitation from her hair being a distraction. Zoe had immediately stepped on Carla’s blade with her boot as she pointed the sword right at Carla’s neck, the tip just barely grazing her opponent’s chin. It was embarrassing— watching as Zoe just completely flipped the duel on one simple trick to the point where Carla was left completely defenseless. In a duel where the objective was simply to slice off the stalk of flower in your opponent’s breast pocket, it was close to a form of humiliation when your opponent could taunt you with a blade to the chin. And now Carla was going to pay for this humiliation with her hair.
“Here we are,” Zoe announced as they stopped in front of a barbershop. “In you go,” Zoe instructed with a nudge of her head, holding the door open. Carla didn’t even have the time to regard the place from outside. She simply heaved a sigh, taking her first step into the shop to hold her end of the deal.
The interior reminded Carla of those modern barbershops she’d passed by before— how the chairs and decor were all sleek and chrome. There were three barber chairs with wall-length mirrors in front of each, and the walls were plastered with all sorts of pictures with varying styles.
The shop was empty save for a barber (or rather, barberette) that was by the middle chair, who turned to regard her newest customers.
“Zoe! I was just thinking about when you were going to drop by again,” Reese called out to Zoe as they entered. “And you brought a friend this time,” Reese noted as she regarded Carla who was sheepishly waiting behind Zoe.
“Hey Reese! Yeah, it’s been a while. But yeah, two haircuts today,” Zoe announced before turning to face Carla, who raised a brow at Zoe’s last statement. While Carla was fully aware she was there to get her hair cut as part of the bet, never did Zoe mention anything about getting hers done as well. “Here, hang on to my jacket while I get my hair done. You’ll be after me, okay? No need to be scared. Just sit down and relax,” Zoe became unprecedentedly kind as she undid her duelist jacket, revealing her dark blue tank top underneath before passing the jacket to Carla.
“Uhh, okay,” Carla was stunned, absentmindedly taking Zoe’s jacket as she watched the seemingly buff girl walk confidently to the barber chair. All this time when she watched Zoe fight, she’d always been properly clad in her full duelist uniform. It occurred to her that she’d never seen Zoe with her arms so… exposed.
Carla sank herself into the waiting bench, unsuspectingly taking a whiff of Zoe’s jacket. Her cheeks coloured as she unwittingly smiled softly, unsure why the scent of her rival’s jacket made her feel a little… calmer. She snapped out of it quickly, turning her attention back to the barber chair in front of her where Zoe had been seated upright, running a finger through her black bob.
It was her sort of signature-look— her straight, black hair was always tucked behind her ears with a couple clips securing it, not a single lock grazing past the chin. Yet, Carla could make out that the ends were seemingly reaching towards her collar already— perhaps why Zoe coincidentally decided to want her hair done on the same day she was collecting a haircut debt. It was no surprise to Carla that Zoe would keep her hair short— after all, she was probably so fond of using it against her opponents that she never wanted it to be her own liability.
Carla instinctively ran a hand through her own long, wavy hair that was a lovely chestnut brown. She loved her hair, but she also knew the big risk she committed herself to when challenging Zoe. While she was partially prepared to lose it, she was still so sure she was going to win. She blew out an anxious sigh, trying to calm her nerves as she tried to use the scene in front of her to distract herself for the time being.
“How’s our Enchanter-Duelist representative been? Training well, I hope?” Reese asked as she wrapped a strip of neck tissue around Zoe’s neck.
“The training’s not as bad as the millions that try to line up and take your spot,” Zoe casually glanced through the mirror to make eye contact with Carla. “But I think this year might be a good year to take the whole thing.”
“Oh yeah I’ve seen some of the potentials from the other clans. Not as scary as the previous years— you definitely got one of the easier years. Although, Kamere’s duelist does seem to hold some promise,” Reese remarked like a sports fan as she picked up the white cape with red pinstripes that was left on the armrest of the chair. She shook it out before flinging it over Zoe, letting it envelop her body before clipping the ends behind her neck. “So what’re we doing today? Just a good trim before the tourney?” Reese broached the fateful question.
“Nope, I want it really short. Tourney’s starting soon and the Duelist Ball’s just this weekend. I need to look my best,” Zoe determinedly requested.
Carla’s eyes widened, certainly not expecting Zoe to be planning a big haircut out of nowhere like that. “I can do that. How short though? Pixie?” Reese asked, running a few fingers through some of Zoe’s locks to get a feel of the hair.
“Give me one of your scissors buzzes, please. Taper it nice and short on the sides, leave it a little longer on top but make sure it’s still really short that it stays spiky,” Zoe continued as if she had prepared the lines way beforehand.
“Anything for our champion,” Reese delightfully agreed before heading to her counter beside the mirror to pick up her tools.
Carla’s mouth went agape as she heard what just transpired— hardly any of the words that came out of Zoe’s mouth made much sense, but she had the feeling that Zoe was going for something ultra short. Part of Carla was excited to see how it was going to turn out for Zoe, but another part of her was still worried about her own impending haircut. What if Zoe was going to make her get it cut even shorter?
Reese returned to the chair with her pair of scissors, comb, and spray bottle. She started by combing out Zoe’s tucked hair fully, letting it all lay out evenly around her head before starting to douse it with spritzes of water. With her hair all wet, Carla was able to confirm her suspicion— Zoe’s hair was definitely overgrown, reaching closer to her collar than it was to her chin. But that probably didn’t matter now, given that it was going to change a lot in a few minutes.
Once sufficiently damp, Reese put down the spray bottle and picked up her pair of scissors, opening and closing it a few times to get a feel of it. At this point, Carla was inching closer towards the edge of her seat, eager to watch every bit of this transformation. Reese started from the right side of Zoe’s head, combing up a section near the bottom. Without any hesitation, Reese snipped off any hair that poked out through the teeth of the comb.
Carla bit her lip as she watched a few inches of Zoe’s black hair just casually being lopped off as it fell onto her cape-covered shoulder. “Oh my god,” she whispered to herself, trying to stay silent as she paid attention. Reese kept going— she moved in a sort of upwards motion, moving the comb up and snipping the hair right off as she moved upwards.
Snip snip snip snip
That was all Carla heard as she watched Zoe’s signature bob just being snipped nonchalantly. Zoe was seemingly unfazed as she watched the process through the mirror. Reese was starting from the bottom again, moving the comb upwards just shy of the crown as she kept snipping while going along, though the comb moved closer towards Zoe’s scalp as more hair was being sliced off.
Every pass up she made, the hair that was being left behind got shorter and shorter towards the desired length. The bottom part was probably at its shortest, where Carla would swear she could see Zoe’s skin. As it went upwards it was gradually longer, with a relatively long section that was still left beside the crown that Reese was saving for last. At this point the entire of Zoe’s right shoulder was littered with her severed black hair.
“How’s the side? Short enough?” Reese eventually asked as she stopped, running a palm up through the side she just worked on to have a feel.
Zoe removed a hand from under the cape, getting a feel of it. Carla saw Zoe’s expression shift briefly from one of contentment to mild shock, though it quickly settled back down to her sort of unfazed look. If Carla had to take a guess, this big change was probably something Zoe wasn’t 100% ready for. There was something nice about that— watching her get overconfident in the barber chair and asking for something she wasn’t fully prepared for. At this point Carla was taking any victory she could get before it was her turn.
“I can take it shorter with the clippers if you want?” Reese offered.
“No no, the length’s perfect,” Zoe replied with a hint of apprehension that Carla could catch.
“Alright then,” Reese remarked before moving towards the back of Zoe’s head.
She repeated her scissor over comb technique here, starting from the nape and slowly moving up towards the occipital bone as she snipped away. Carla watched as Zoe’s ebon locks were chopped off so nonchalantly as they rained in abundance onto the floor. As much as Zoe did start with relatively short hair, it was still the biggest mess of hair Carla had ever seen just lying severed on the floor. And it was only going to get bigger.
“Have you chosen your sparring partner yet?” Reese kept the conversation going as she found evened up the back nicely into the taper Zoe had asked for.
“Uhh,” Zoe stuttered, perhaps more focused on her hair than the conversation Reese was trying to keep up. “No, not yet.”
Sparring partners were the next most prestigious role in the Enchanter-Duelist Tournament— they were tasked with being competitive partners for each coven’s representative to spar with in preparation for the actual contest. Most sparring partners went on to represent their respective clans in the next year, and were also tasked as “backups” in the event that the actual representative was ever unable to turn up on any of the contests.
“Better make your mind up quick. Ball’s this weekend, isn’t it? Would be a shame to go alone cos you didn’t decide fast enough,” Reese commented as she moved on to Zoe’s left side, starting from the bottom and starting up her scissor-over-comb rhythm once more.
“Yeah,” was all Zoe could say as Carla smirkingly watched her rival being attentive to her own hair being lopped off.
At least if Carla was going to get shorn, she wasn’t necessarily going to be alone. Hell, maybe this was all some weird ploy by Zoe to get someone to actually get their haircut short with her— the only difference being the other person not having an avenue to back out. It was definitely a striking thought, though Carla didn’t pay it much mind as she continued watching the show.
It didn’t take long for Reese to be about done with the left, and now she was starting to blend the sides and back into the layer on Zoe’s crown that was still relatively longer, left in a long sort of boyish cut. Carla could see the cut coming to its proper form, with the sides and back being well-tapered, almost as if it was done by clippers itself. Carla could still make out a fringe that crept just past Zoe’s brows. Though if she had heard Zoe’s request right, it probably wouldn’t be staying that long in a few minutes.
“Spiky on top, yeah?” Reese asked as she moved into the crown.
Before Zoe could even open her mouth to confirm, Carla watched as Reese combed up Zoe’s longish fringe— leaving probably an inch or even less between the comb and Zoe’s scalp before unceremoniously snipping right across the teeth of the comb. Carla felt a jolt through her body seeing the last long section being massacred just like that without Zoe being offered a proper defense.
“Short enough?” Reese asked, though this time it definitely seemed like she was looking for a confirmation. Reese ran a few fingers through the small tuft of hair that was left behind, and by god it was definitely staying upright and spiky.
“Mhm,” was all Zoe could let out, her eyes definitely in a more widened state than when she first sat in the chair.
With that green light, Reese continued on the top— combing up the still-long sections of hair on the crown before snipping right off to the desired length. Never in Carla’s life did she ever think she’d watch such a drastic transformation, and she hadn’t even stepped in the barber chair yet. She was so mesmerised by how Reese worked— how ‘ruthless’ she was in a sense to just go right into business and work so quickly yet efficiently. She watched the rest of Zoe’s hair rain down in front of her face, bittersweetly watching the end of an era as her signature look was gone.
If she was to be honest, Carla lowkey admired Zoe’s bob. While it was always neatly tucked and pinned away, she couldn’t help but look at it every time she was in the dueling arena as an audience watching her spar with some of the other duelists. To think she wasn’t going to see that look for maybe at least a year now— it was surreal to think about it, but Carla was looking forward to seeing how this new look was going to be on her captain.
It didn’t take long for most of Zoe’s crown to be uniformly short, and Reese was just spending most of her time evening out the cut to perfection. Carla could now see the final product— and by god, she was absolutely stunned. The sides and back were cut short enough that she could see Zoe’s light scalp, and the hair tapered up very nicely into the top section. The top section was left longer, but it was still so short that her hair was spiking up naturally all over. As drastic as the cut was, Carla couldn’t help but feel like it was really cute. She truly understood what Zoe really meant to be a “scissor buzz” with the look— the way it was cut so short to almost mimic a buzz cut, just with scissors. While Zoe always pinned her hair out of the way when she had her bob, now there wasn’t a single strand that was going to really distract from Zoe’s sharp features. It was a short enough cut to probably intimidate, but just with enough length to keep it adorable on her.
When Reese was satisfied, she put down the scissors and comb. She then picked up a straight razor from her countertop, using a finger to test the sharpness. Carla was curious to see what Reese was going to do with it— she’d never really seen it being used except on men for those face shaves.
Reese pumped a small bit of shaving cream from a can before spreading it lightly along the neckline and over a portion of Zoe’s sideburns. Starting from the back, Reese began scraping the razor in downward strokes, shaping the neckline to be a perfect line as the razor left clean skin behind. She kept the razor working, slowly moving towards the right as the hairline was perfectly neatened up. When she reached the right side, she had aimed the razor a little higher this time. With a clean stroke she had completely shaved off Zoe’s sideburn, leaving her hairline in a straight line that was probably in line to about the middle of Zoe’s ear.
Reese did the same for the left side, leaving her sides in a crisp and clean state that really matched how short the sides were. After putting down the razor, Reese got out a small towel to wipe off the excess cream that was still lying around Zoe’s neck and sides. Reese then fired up the hairdryer, keeping it a low setting as she blasted the hot wind through Zoe’s hair to remove the stray hairs that still clung to the scalp.
“All done!” Reese announced cheerily after powering down the hairdryer and putting it back on its hook. She picked up the hand mirror before showing Zoe the back. “How’s that?”
Zoe was turning her head from left to right, inspecting this new look that she had specifically requested for. Slowly, she removed both hands from under the cape to start physically inspecting the look. Carla heard Zoe take in a sizeable gasp, and Carla smirked realising how much Zoe was still in shock over the cut.
“It’s perfect,” Zoe remarked, though it sounded a little unconvincing to Carla.
“Now you’re ready to win the tournament,” Reese cheekily said before giving Zoe a little head rub.
After she put the mirror down, Reese undid the neck tissue and cape, whisking it right off her as Carla watched the mound of hair unceremoniously being littered all over the floor. Carla couldn’t but bite her lip as she watched Zoe’s figure being revealed once more. Her new haircut looked really good, but Carla was not prepared for how phenomenal she was going to look with her tank top and ripped arms.
“Thank you so much, Reese.” Zoe complimented as she stood up, a hand still rubbing her head trying to explore her new short ‘do.
She walked through her little graveyard of hair back towards the waiting bench, where Carla was still looking up in awe.
“Do you like it?” Zoe asked, but this time not in her confident or smug tone but rather almost in a genuinely curious way— like she really wanted to know how Carla felt.
“Yeah,” Carla confessed, breathless. “ I think it looks really good on you.”
Carla could’ve sworn she saw a hint of blushing on the side of Zoe as she smiled. “Thanks,” Zoe said, then her face changed back to its usual smugness.
“It’s your turn now.”