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The Magical Rose

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“So what is so important that you just had to show me right now?” Lisa asked carefully as she walked down the rickety stairs that led to Taylor’s Workshop. The place that had been, at one point, called the basement. Once.

They’d smashed far too many toes on far too many sharp corners to call it the basement anymore. The blood, sweat, and tears this unholy place had absorbed over the course of a weekend had given it a much-needed upgrade. She might be exaggerating a touch, but you can only smash your toes so many times before you start to hold a grudge.

“You’ll see it when you see it! Just like everyone else, my assistant!” Taylor teased as she bounced her way down the stairs two at a time in excitement. “You already know the rules!”

“... Yeah…” Lisa sighed the sigh of someone that had just heard something that they’d heard a hundred times before. “I know. A magician never reveals their secrets.”

“There we go!” Taylor chirped, now out of Lisa’s sight.

Lisa wasn’t exactly enthused with how tightly Taylor clung to that rule, what with her curiosity doing its damnedest to burn a hole in her skull...but she was used to it. Everything screamed at her that there had to be a trick. Some sort of Tinker-tech. An odd Parahuman power. Something.

Everything also told her that none of that was in play. Her subtle, and not so subtle prodding. Her own powers. The fact that she had been sawed in half with no harm. That certainly convinced her that Taylor really was magical.

“Alright,” Lisa started once more as she reached the landing. “What is it?” The blonde then looked up. Then a little more up. Just a smidge. “Besides big, I mean?”

At this point, that was all Lisa could comment on. The sheet over whatever it was that Taylor was so happy to show off prevented her from seeing it directly. But she could tell it was big. It nearly touched the ceiling, even with it being wedged in between the support boards.

“I’m glad you asked!”

Lisa, grudgingly, clamped down on her powers as hard as she could, an act that got easier and easier each time she did it. It was...inconvenient…to cut off her greatest advantage like that...but she wanted to be surprised. Not for her sake, but Taylor’s.

Seeing that Lisa was surprised always made Taylor’s day...and it didn’t hurt Lisa to at least try.

“Now!” Taylor cleared her throat and stood up straight, her stage persona now out in full. “Behold, my audience! Feast your eyes on my latest addition to the act!”

With a twirl of the wrist and a swish, the sheet was pulled away...and Lisa started rubbing nervously at her neck as a bead of sweat appeared on her brow.

“An old classic!” Taylor twirled on the spot, her sneakers squeaking loudly on the floor as she did so that she could run a paper that she’d pulled out of...somewhere...along the edge. An edge so sharp, that Lisa didn’t even hear the paper get cut when it separated into two perfect halves. “THE GUILLOTINE!”

Lisa, instead of clapping like had most likely been expected of her, gulped and continued to rub her neck...and was that dried blood on the blade? Fake or not, that wasn’t helping. “I...thought we were a family-friendly magic show?”

Taylor’s pose and smile held for a second longer...and then she sagged in disappointment. “Of course we are...and you’re no fun,” Taylor mumbled, sounding somewhat put out as she began fiddling with the equipment with the ease of long practice. “You act like this is actually going to hurt you or something.”

A testing pull of a string. A swish. A metallic thud and a clink... Lisa flinched. Swore that her pupils had just shrunk down into pinpricks… She may have known, after living with Taylor for as long as she had that this was non-lethal...but there was a difference between knowing and knowing.

“... It’s very convincing.”

She knew whose head was going where. What she was feeling right now, emotionally, as she looked at this French executioner’s tool was completely rational!

“That’s kind of the point. Wouldn’t be much of one if the audience didn’t feel like there was at least a little danger, right? It is safe though. Totally. A hundred percent.” Taylor explained, her voice filled with a quiet sort of hope as she started hauling the blade back up to the top. “Just put your head in and you’ll see!”

Lisa stared at Taylor. That was all she could do. The sheer insanity inherent in her friend’s statement didn’t exactly leave her with much room to do much else...besides running out screaming anyway. An option that wasn’t really an option at all, seeing how it would hurt Taylor’s feelings.

That was fine though. That last option was just the one that had popped up first. That didn’t mean anything. She was a smart girl, damn smart if she was honest. If she just applied herself she could get out of this—

“Sure. I guess I could give it a go.”


Fuck.


After her unthinking acquiescence, Lisa found herself caught up in the whirlwind that was Taylor at her most excited. Hand-in-hand, hair tied back, a pillow placed under her knees as she stared very intently at the wardrobe across from her while she had the stocks placed around her neck.

It wasn’t exactly her first choice on the last thing she ever wanted to see if this went wrong...but it was definitely not the worst… It was pretty. Handmade. Surprisingly sturdy for something that Danny had put together out of some sanded 2x4s, pipes, spare furniture wheels, and a couple buckets worth of paint.

The fact that Danny had recently taken up woodworking as a side job, turning thirty dollars or so in supplies into something worth a hundred or more was just a decent bonus. It had really upped the standard of living around here and Lisa couldn’t help but appreciate the rising quality of their shampoo-and click went the lock, oh shit.

“Almost forgot!” Taylor said, grabbing a nearby laundry basket stuffed with dirty laundry. Laundry that she, thankfully, replaced with something a lot cleaner before she put it under Lisa’s head to catch it.

A noble final resting place, it most definitely was not.

“You ready?” Taylor asked, oblivious to Lisa’s internal screaming. Obviously, seeing as it was internal...but would it kill her to read the mood a little?

“As I’ll ever be, seeing how you’re going to take my head off right now.”

“That’s the spirit! Now, try not to move! I don’t know what’ll happen if you do. Probably nothing too bad but...try not to.”

It said how much that Lisa trusted Taylor that she wasn’t screaming bloody murder right then.

“3. 2. 1! Showtime!” Taylor said just before she pulled the cord.

She clenched her eyes shut, tears threatening to pour out as, with a swish, she felt pain. The shadow of death as that blade fell into her neck. Right through it, even as she clenched her fingers and waited for the dying sparks in her brain to go…

Wait. Her fingers. She opened and closed them in testing motions. Nope. Not phantom sensation. She slowly opened an eye, scared of what she might see that wasn’t just Taylor’s assumably fresh underwear… Thankfully though, that was pretty much it. No blood, no gore, nothing else that would cause a sane person to go into a screaming fit of terror. She had never been so happy to see Danny’s socks in her life.

“Oh my god! Lisa, are you okay?!”

Lisa opened her mouth at that question, her instincts telling her to say something scathing before she thought about it. Closed it. Opened it again. “No,” Lisa said flatly. “I’m not.” Huh. Her voice rather gravely at the moment.

She was pretty sure that the blade had hit but, seeing how she wasn’t in the basket right then…

“Well…” Taylor drifted off, making a point not to look at Lisa. Or stand too close to her. Or breath...much of anything really. Comforting, Taylor was not. “That makes sense, considering…”

“What. Happened.”

Judging from how Taylor flinched, her voice was especially threatening. “The blade got stuck,” Taylor said weakly. There was a pause.

Yeah. That made sense. Totally. The blade got stuck. Hahaha. “Well, seeing as I’m not dead, I’m going to assume that the magic is still working.” All sorts of sense... a point. Magic. Enough said.

“Yeah,” Taylor said weakly. There was another silence.

“GET ME OUT OF THIS THING!” Lisa screamed at the other girl, feeling her voice vibrate the blade halfway through her neck as Taylor nearly jumped out of her skin and leaped into action.

First things first, Taylor grabbed the top of the stuck blade and started to pull up...not that it did much. She pulled until her arms started to shake, but the blade didn’t budge an inch. Taylor then switched to pushing on it as hard as she could. She leaned in to put as much of her body weight into it. Nothing.

Then, in frustration, Taylor brought her fist down onto the top of the blade...and her eyes teared up as she cradled that hand against her chest with a mewl of pain. Lisa said nothing but she savored the moment if only a little. She was pissed at Taylor, yeah, but she wasn’t a sadist.

“Wait right here. I have an idea!” Taylor said after some thought before running off in a random direction.

Lisa didn’t have to wait long. Not even long enough to get off a smart remark before Taylor was back… No fun.

“Back!” Taylor said as she skidded to a stop somewhere behind Lisa.

“Brace yourself.” Was all the warning Taylor gave, leaving Lisa thinking ‘for what’ before she heard a loud, dull thud that made her teeth and spine vibrate like a rock in a tin cup.

Pleasant, that was not...and, before Lisa could even say anything about it, something that someone was probably going to regret later, it happened again and she was forced to grit her teeth and bear it.

The blade shifting a little bit more made that easy. The third blow seemed even worse, leaving her bones ringing like a bell for lack of a better word. The fourth blow happened before the effects of the third blow had faded away, compounding the sensation as it bounced off of each other and her every bone.

Lisa was breathing heavily now. The sensations were getting to be just a little too much. They weren’t painful, thank the Lord, but they weren’t pleasurable either. Her body and mind didn’t seem to know how to interpret any of it, with how unnatural it was. Her reactions just seemed to rapidly cycle through before being quickly discarded. From horror, to fear, to anger. Then the shift to the positive emotions. Serenity, joy, and for one horrifying moment, excitement.

Lisa took in a deep breath. She couldn’t do this anymore. Even if it meant that she would be stuck in this damned thing for even a second longer, she needed it all to just stop!

Of course, the moment that she started to say something was the moment that she felt herself drop. One instance she was still attached, if barely, to her body. The next she had a mouthful of Danny’s gym socks.

‘Oh god. We need a better brand of soap. I can still taste the foot cream.’ Lisa thought to herself with revulsion. It got her mind off of what had come before though, so it was almost worth it.

That feeling of something getting stuck in her throat being gone was nice too. Couldn’t forget that.

“Lisa! Are you alright?!” Taylor said as she quickly picked her up, bringing her head to eye level...where the blonde greeted her with a flat look. The flattest look of her life as she spat a gym sock out of her mouth and onto Taylor’s chest and frowned.

“Right,” Taylor said sheepishly. Oh good. She was capable of learning. “You’re going to have to stand up for me to do this.”

Lisa stopped glaring at her and instead closed her eyes to make this much easier on her. It was playing havoc on her sense of balance to feel herself get up, even while her inner ear said she was stationary...But it had to be done, even if it made her want to throw up. Especially when Taylor moved and her inner ear told her she was moving when she wasn’t.

It was all only temporary though. Didn’t take much longer after that until that familiar yet alien sensation that was Taylor’s magic washed over her and she was good as new...maybe.

She still had to check to make sure and so she did.

Her hands were unable to find any obvious gaps. Any new grooves or crevices in her neck. Her hair wasn’t somehow stuck where it shouldn’t be and a couple of quick breaths and a swallow told her that her pipes were working just fine. Her thumb showed that her carotid artery was working too. Her pulse told her that she didn’t need to do any exercise today though.

She glanced over at Taylor. Who looked every bit like a puppy that realized that it had done something wrong and was going to get yelled at. Cute, and yet guilty as all hell.

Instead of saying what she wanted to say after an experience like that...Lisa didn’t. She just turned to leave.

“I’m going upstairs before I say anything I shouldn’t..” She finally said, walking by Taylor. That might have actually been worse than just laying into Taylor, once she thought about it. It denied the incident being over and dealt with, and the specter of the chewing out would hang over them.

Lisa didn’t really care though. She just wanted to go to her room, lie down, and process everything.


================

It was only a day later when Taylor meekly, after a period of long silence, poked her head into Lisa’s room.

“Um… Could you come downstairs?” Taylor asked, nervously fidgeting. Lisa raised an eyebrow at that. Put on her socks and some solid shoes to avoid the basement’s curse of broken toes...and found herself standing in front of the guillotine again.

She only had one response to that.

“No. Fuck no,” Lisa said simply, pointing at the guillotine for emphasis. Taylor scratched the back of her neck.

“No... I don’t blame you. I figured out what the issue was though.” Lisa’s eyebrow rose once more. Taylor continued on in that annoying and yet endearing way of hers.

“Pretty much I tested it out so much to make sure it was work that I broke it,” Taylor said nodding her head back and forth in slight anxiety.

“Ironic,” Lisa commented. That was all she could say without saying something acidic.

“I kinda wore a groove into it and them that grove splintered and then it got stuck between the wheels.” She said as she kicked her shoe against the ground, not meeting Lisa’s eyes. She then perked up. “I ripped apart the mechanics, cleaned out the jam, sanded the wood-” Taylor started to go into technical talk mode.

“Taylor.” Lisa tried to stop the lecture before it could get off the ground. There were three things that Taylor wasn’t a ball of self-conscious nerves about. Performing magic, talking magic, and making magic. And God help anyone who got caught up in one of her rants about magic.

Lisa couldn’t keep up and she cheated. It wasn’t fair.

“Waxed the wood, oiled the wheels, replaced the rope,” Taylor was still going on without a care.

“Taylor!” Lisa said a bit more forcibly. If she didn’t stop her soon, there might be a repeat of the wood explanation. It was interesting to know how the principles of Teak and Mahogany could enhance and interfere with various tricks... But Lisa probably could have gotten an Associates' degree in the time that Taylor’s rant had lasted. A legit one. Not the one she forged.

“Sharpened the blade-”

“TAYLOR!” Lisa yelled, her hand grasping her neck. Nope. She was stopping it right there. Taylor nearly jumped out of her skin.

“Right! Sorry!” Taylor said, coming back down to earth. A couple of breaths and she nodded to herself.

“Okay. Pretty much I made it so that what had happened before wouldn’t happen again. I even made a checklist and maintenance schedule!” Taylor happily said.

Lisa looked down. That would explain the clipboard attached to the side of it. “That’s nice. I’m still not getting in that thing though,” Lisa said. Taylor wilted. And there were back to where they first were when they came down here today.

“I am well aware of that,” Taylor said as she made her way over to the contraption and placed the same basket as earlier underneath it. “I just need you to attach me,” Taylor said as she opened the stock.

Lisa blinked. “... Uh. I’m not the magician here,” Lisa said hesitantly. She had this horrible bloody image in her head of Taylor. She did her best to block it out but it wouldn’t go away. “You know that, right?”

“Oh, I know. But that’s fine. As I’ve said earlier, I can work my tricks on myself. I just need help to get my head back on. Nothing major,” She calmly explained as she kneeled down on the pillow.

“Or we could just not use the prop that’s already broke once,” Lisa said, shuffling over to the basket. She really didn’t want to have to explain to Danny what had happened. If she would be able to. Screaming hysterically in horror tended to get in the way of that sort of thing.

“But where is the fun in that?” Taylor asked, sliding the stock down and moving her hair out of the way.

“I think our comedic roles got switched around on the stairs,” Lisa muttered to herself. That was something she would say, not Taylor. Taylor didn’t hear her, or just ignored her, seeing as was already grabbing at the rope.

“Ready?” Taylor asked. Not letting Lisa say anything before she continued. “3, 2, 1!” She pulled the rope.

Lisa cringed and squeezed her eyes tight. A swish, a thud, and a soft plop. She knew that Taylor wouldn’t have done it if there was even a remote chance of anything actually going wrong...but still. She still didn’t want to risk it.

“Oh god… Oh god... what does dad buy? It tastes like paint thinner!” Taylor complained, much to Lisa’s relief as she opened her eyes a crack, just to see a glossy mop of brown hair and an extremely welcomed lack of blood.

“A success!” Taylor’s booming smile greeted Lisa first thing when the blonde flipped the brunette’s head the right side up...and. Lisa couldn’t help but smile in return.

Taylor’s smile was contagious. It was one of those things that Lisa couldn’t get tired of seeing… Because friends were like that. Actual friends.

“Okay! Now if you could put me back on my body we can break this down for storage.” Lisa took a half step, and then stopped with a shake of her head to clear her thoughts...only to get a new one.

It was an awful one. A wonderful one. A wonderfully awful idea...and, possibly, just a little evil. Maybe.

“Uh...Lisa? I don’t like that look on your face...” Taylor said, paling at the smile that Lisa was giving her. “What are you thinking of?”

Lisa said nothing. She pivoted on her heels and headed up the stairs.

“Lisa? Lisa! Where are you going!? My body is back that way! Lisa!” Taylor badgered the blonde endlessly as they left the room and left her body behind.

“OW! MY SHIN!”

It might not have been what Taylor had wanted...but she was stuck with this. Lisa wished her luck getting out of the workshop, and up the stairs without sight. Really.


========================


Danny sighed as he turned off his truck. Another day, another dollar. That’s what he felt like these days as he took his keys out of the ignition and got out.

Why did he even bother getting out of bed? That was a serious question sometimes.

A few steps brought him into the house. He threw his keys onto the table, took off his shoes, and hung up his coat. He sighed as he started to make his way to the bedroom, feeling the need to lie down for a while.

“Did he really say “Because you’re a vampire!? Really?”

He paused as he heard his daughter's cheerful voice coming from the living room.

“Yep. Another interesting premise ruined by hack writing and forced harem comedy. Because why try to do anything new or even different?”

That was Lisa. What are they even talking about?

“American tv isn’t much better. There are more murders solved in NYC on tv than actually happen there. Or anywhere, actually.”

Danny peeked his head around the corner. Taylor and her live-in assistant were watching TV in the living room. That wasn’t odd. He was glad she was interacting with people her age again.

No, what was odd was the fact that his daughter’s bruised headless body was leaning against Lisa, while her head was in Lisa’s lap.

It said a lot about how things have changed in the house that he wasn’t screaming...and that she was smiling.

He carefully went back around the corner and crept up the stairs. He didn’t want to disturb them. The day, now that he looked back on it, was better than it was before...and he hoped that they realized the obvious soon.