Pearl walked briskly. A sack, lightweight yet bulky slung around her shoulder. She knew what she was about to do could never be undone. It was a decision only someone consumed by grief could find peace with. It would be difficult to execute; only a select few may style an Enchantress’s crown. Especially in the way she desired.
Pearl reached the cabin, its door slightly ajar. She took in the scent, a sweet mix of floras and chemicals. Upon entering she couldn’t help but notice the walls covered in hands. Hands in fists, hands open, hand held firm together.
"Enjoying the view?"
Pearl’s head turned to the hairdresser standing near the sink. She had deep brown skin with yellow eyes glancing slyly in her direction. For a hairdresser her hair was unremarkable, blonde and held together with a tie. Fixated on hands, Pearl’s eyes rested on the gentle, nearly translucent hands on the hairdresser’s neck, gently holding together a bow at her collar.
"You may call me Indium. You are welcomed with open hands, as you can see."
Pearl had believed the hands to be artifacts or trophies of some kind, yet just above the sink a stationary pair clasped together came to life, turning downwards with fingers slightly curled as if preparing to work.
"Sit, I insist."
Indium gestured toward a chair in front of the sink. Above the sink were a few rows of shelves with colorful concoctions. All around the rest of the wall space were more hands. Unlike hands in other parts of the cabin, the ones nearest to the sink were holding a variety of tools relevant to hair styling. Eying the sharpest tools warily, Pearl turned and gingerly took a seat facing towards the opposite wall, clutching the sack in her lap. She was startled by a pull at the back of her head as Indium switched on the faucet and gently pushed her backwards into the sink bowl. The hands above now busied themselves with raking through and de-tangling her mane while water ran through it.
Indium reached out along the wall searching among the hands holding various hair tools. She touched one with a brush. It loosened its grip on the handle and she took it to start working on Pearl’s hair.
Pearl relaxed into the hands’ mechanical and thorough touch, into the brush running through the length of her strands. She couldn’t help being transported back to when she last felt hands at work like this, realizing no one other than *her* had ever styled her hair. She remembered deft fingers braiding ancient patterns upon her scalp. The creativity is unmatched, no matter how many millennia it has been done.
She tilted her head down so her mother could complete the braid. She reveled in the safety she felt, sitting firm between her mother’s legs. Her genesis. Where she felt at home, beautiful, lov-
"What do you need from me?"
Sighing softly, Pearl lifted the bag out of her lap. Indium took it, letting out a shaky breath when she recognized the contents. She brought the bag’s opening to her face and inhaled, then hummed deeply.
"She loved you so much."
Pearl’s shut eyes tightened, tears blending seamlessly with the cleansing cascade.
"How did you know?"
"Death’s smell can’t be mistaken with anything living."
"Will you use it on me?"
"Of course, such magic is always a blessing to perform when the occasion presents itself."
"How long will it take?" Pearl asked, not referring to the styling.
"The most well known mystery of life is its length."
Indium stopped brushing and pulled up her hair at the base of her neck, raising her neck gently to get her seated upright.
"Will the answer change your mind?"
Pearl’s gaze remained resolutely ahead. Upon her silence, Indium moved the bag to the wall near a grouping of hands. They began to pull out long black strands of hair, separating them into small sections ready to be weaved into braids.
Indium was not only a hairdresser but also a necromancer with the power to call upon Pearl's mother’s spirit in every strand as she wove them meticulously into each plait. She stood behind Pearl, elongating her hair with her hands and breathing hot air into her scalp. Water trickled down into the sink until Pearl felt no more moisture. She ran a hand through her hair and it was soft, dry and stretched, as if it had been combed through with heat.
"The only dead thing on our bodies is hair. As such it is my specialty."
Indium retrieved a comb with a sharp tail end from a nearby hand and began parting her hair for the braids.
"She’s pleased with you."
Unable to move her head, Pearl clenched her fists in her lap.
"Can you hear her?"
"Nothing concrete; hair is closest to our inner consciousness. I feel her emotions and hear distant layered whispers of thought."
"Not many daughters are willing to take on such a legacy."
Legacy wasn’t the word Pearl would have chosen to describe this act. She felt her power, her life would be nothing without the presence of her mother. Of all the poisons to pick, the one from the person who birthed her seemed the most benign.
"Return to me when the power fades."
"When will that be?"
"You will feel it. And I’ll take your hands and lead you to the gates at the end."
Frightened by that particular phrasing, Pearl winced. Indium smiled.
"It won’t hurt."
After some time Indium put together the final braid then ran her fingers through the hairstyle, whispering under her breath. Pearl leaned into her touch, eyes closed trying to make out the spell. Instead another phrase piqued her ears.
She swore she could hear it, as her twists swished about her shoulders, the remnants of a warm embrace she never thought she would feel again.
"Thank you, my Pearl."
Give the first accolade