Chapter 1: The Boardwalk
"Shit! Shit shit shit shit" Sarah yelled to herself, somehow having the breath to do so despite spending the last twenty minutes at a run. "Fuck!" She yelled as she collided with a brick wall. She quickly picked herself up from the wall. "Left or right? Left or right!?" She all but cried to herself whipping her head from the two ways out of the alleyway, hoping to God that her powers would give her something.
Sounds of a large group of people from the left. Was all her power told her. "Left it is!" She shouted hysterically as she bolted for it. Sprinting down the alley the sounds of a small crowd grew louder and louder. Sarah quickly barged into it, gaining a few rude looks that she ignored. After a few seconds of shoving people, she managed to reach the front of the crowd. Sarah blinked when she saw why the crowd existed in the first place.
The first thing she noticed was the sign. "The Magical Rose! Mistress of Magic!" was written in an old fashioned font and style. Sarah glanced at the right of the sign. ' That would be the Magical Rose then. ' She idly thought to herself. Next to the sign, nervously tucking her dark, wavy hair back into a top hat, was a girl wearing something way too skimpy for this weather. Fishnet stockings and black, three-inch heels were not exactly ideal fall weather clothing. The sleeveless black and white corset/one-piece ensemble she had on as well didn't help either. The Formal Tuxedo jacket she was wearing looked a little warm but Sarah could imagine how cold she was while trying to look the part of a professional.
Not cold. Somehow perfectly warm despite the outfit and weather. "Wait, what?" Was all she said to herself. Which was the wrong thing to say as one of the Boardwalk Enforcers looked at her and started to make his way towards her.
Not an Enforcer. Working for the man who wants to kidnap you. Will just say you're a shoplifter. Sarah was so preoccupied with her rising panic that she nearly missed what ‘The Magical Rose’ said next.
"For my next trick, I need a volunteer from the audience! Anyone! Of any age! Or gender! Don’t be shy..... Please?" She said rather weakly. Sarah quickly stepped up.
"I volunteer!" Sarah said, maybe a little too quickly. She quickly walked over to The Magical Rose, making sure to keep at least a few people between her and the fake enforcer. In a matter of seconds that felt like minutes, she was in front of the female magician. Sarah hadn’t realized just how much taller the girl was compared to her before now, something the heels certainly weren't helping with. Rose blinked a bit in surprise.
Didn't expect anyone to actually volunteer. ' Thanks power. I never would have figured that out. ' Sarah thought to herself. Rose, while not exactly recovering quickly, managed to get into the swing of things just quick enough to keep people from losing interest.
"Okay!" Rose said, trying to get her momentum back, smiling a wide smile. She pulled a folded handkerchief out of the pocket of her tuxedo jacket and unfolded it... And unfolded it... And unfolded it. After 20 seconds of stunned silence from the crowd and Sarah, Rose now had a piece of red silk cloth the size of a rather large tarp. Rose smiled at the reactions of the crowd and spread the cloth out. She let it linger in the air for a few seconds before whipping it quickly and dramatically to the side. In its place were now two boxes on two wheeled tables. Next to the box were two long, thin blades with wooden handles and a large carpenter saw on top. As everything clicked together Sarah took an uncontrolled step back from Rose and the table. However, as she did so she caught sight of the Enforcer still waiting in the crowd, staring very intently at her. She swallowed the lump in her throat and stepped back forward. If Rose noticed Sarah’s hesitation she didn't say anything. Or show any sign that she had noticed.
"Now, miss. What's your name?" Rose said while holding her hand out to Sarah.
"Lisa!" She squeaked out. When later asked Sarah would say she did it to at least not give the people chasing her something to make their job easier. However, in reality, she just panicked and thought of the first name that came to mind.
"Let's give a round of applause for Lisa!" Rose shouted out to the crowd. The crowd, despite the frosty attitude they’d possessed at the start, did give a round of, somewhat underwhelming, applause. While they were applauding Rose leaned in and softly spoke to Sarah.
“Thanks a lot for this. It means a lot to me.”
Is being honest. The first thing someone has helped her with in a long time. Sarah’s powers told her. Sarah snorted to herself. ‘ That makes two of us then .’ Right after thinking that the applause died down. Not quite on cue Rose clapped her hand together.
“Right! Now if you could…..” Rose drifted off as she realized she forgot something. “Right! One second!” Rose strutted over to the table.
‘ She moves faster than anyone has a right to in those heels. And I would kill for those legs .’ Sarah idly thought to herself as Rose quickly set up the illusion, opening the doors; setting the saw and blades to the side and unlatching the stocks.
“Alright! Now if you could please step up to the table!” Rose said, a bit out of breath. Sarah made her way to the table slightly slower than she should of. The handful of steps seemed a lot longer than they actually were to her. As she made her way over, her eyes moved rapidly all over the table and the objects on it, trying to see the trick involved. However, after a few seconds, she had nothing. Not even her powers had anything to say.
‘ What’s the trick? There has to be a trick .’
Not a trick. There is no trick. She is going to saw you in half.
‘ What ’ Was all Sarah thought to herself. ‘ What. ’ Was what she thought again. ‘ WHAT !’ Sarah started to hyperventilate. ‘ Nope. Nope nope nope. Nopenopenopenopenopenope! I’ll take my chances with- ’
It will not harm you. ‘ What .’ Sarah’s brain slipped out of gear yet again at what her power was telling her.
Will not harm you. First real positive social interaction in a long time. Rose will not harm you. Rose is going to saw you in half. She will not harm you. Her powers were telling her contradictory things. This threw her off so much that when Rose tapped her on the shoulder Sarah nearly punched her in surprise.
“Look if you’re getting cold feet you can go back into the audience.” Rose quietly said to her with a look of concern on her face. Genuine concern. Will not force you. Was all Sarah’s power said to her. She glanced at the Enforcer in the audience. Genuine anger. Will force you. Was all she got back. Sarah swallowed the lump in her throat and let out the breath she didn’t realize that she was holding. And took a leap of faith.
“No, I’m okay. Just rather nervous.” Sarah said. ‘ Understatement of the year ’ She snarked to herself. Rose yells over her own shoulder “Sorry folks. Just a bit of nerves. She’s better now!’ Rose explained to the now a bit antsy crowd. Rose took a step back and raised her voice.
“Now Lisa. If I could have your coat! I’m afraid you won’t quite fit in there with it on.” Sarah glanced at the open box. Even with her build, she could barely fit in there with her shirt. Let alone a fall coat. Sarah sighed and took off her coat, bracing herself for the chilly weather of a North Eastern Fall. It was to her surprise that she felt exactly the same as she handed it to Rose. Rose just smiled mischievously at the look of surprise on her face; folding the jacket carefully with a whisper of “Trade secret.”
Rose then carefully set it on the sign advertising her show, then raised her hand. Sarah took that as he cue and carefully stepped onto the table, using the surprisingly strong arm of the Magician to steady herself and, almost as if she had done this a million times before, easily slipped into position, putting her feet into the bottom stocks and resting her head in the grove in the front. She had to cross her arms across her chest as, even without the coat, there wasn't quite enough room for her arms at the sides. Rose quickly nudged and moved Sarah into position, ending with pulling her hair out from behind her head and letting it hang down over the edge of the table. A cushion was quickly added when it became obvious that Sarah’s head wasn’t going to quite touch the table. Rose then turned towards the audience.
“Normally the assistant would take off or would not be wearing shoes. This is for a variety of reasons. It's a lot harder to fake a pair of feet than shoes, shoes don't fit into the stocks nearly as well, some audience members like the sight of bare feet, the deviants,” That got a chuckle from some of the crowd, “ And most importantly it keeps the scuff marks off of the props.” At that, the rest of the crowd laughed.
“However with Lisa here I won't, due to the weather and the fact that her shoes will fit into the stocks.” Sarah glanced at her feet. ‘Made the right call with the thin leather boots than the Uggs today then.’ Rose keeping the momentum of the crowd going quickly slid on the top of the stocks for Sarah's feet.
“Normally I would also lock the stocks with padlocks but Lisa is nervous enough as it is.” The crowd laughed again and Sarah nervously laughed as well. Rose then slowly slid down the stock on Sarah's head neck.
“You still okay?” Rose said quietly. Sarah didn't trust her voice so she only weakly nodded, trying not to hit her chin on the wooden stock. Rose gave her shoulder a comforting squeeze before finally closing the doors on the box. She then went around to where the groove was in between the two halves of the box… and then picked up the saw. Rose made a big show of showing it off to the crowd, showing them that it wasn't fake
Not fake. ‘ Thanks Power. ’ Sarah sighed. ‘ I thought she was going to saw me in half with a fake saw ’ After a few more seconds of showboating Rose finally stopped.
“And now Ladies and Gentlemen. I will now saw the lovely Sarah in half!” Rose exclaimed.
‘ Really hope that isn’t the last compliment I ever get. ’ Sarah thought darkly to herself. And at that Rose started to saw her way through the box. The sounds of sawing wood and the smell of sawdust filled the air.
Added in woodblocks to heighten the dramat- ‘ THANKS I GET THAT! ’ Sarah yelled at her power. After an eternity of a few seconds the sawing of wood stop. Another eternity of half a second and the saw had reached Sarah.
“ GASP! ” Sarah’s head suddenly jerked back as she let out a huge gasp. The crowd started to murmur in concern, worried about the poor girl inside. Their worries were (mostly) unfounded.
“ COLD! ’ Was all Sarah thought to herself. As it was, a carpenter's saw being outside in the fall would be rather cold. And when said saw is currently touching parts of you that generally should never be touched? Well, that certainly amplifies the effects. As the saw quickly warmed up Sarah came to a conclusion.
‘ It’s not exactly unpleasant ’ was she thought as she felt the saw work it’s way through her. She felt the saw, well, saw her in half but without the pain that should be accompanying such a thing. This just left a somewhat soothing rhythm going through her body. ‘ And it’s knocking loose the crap in my lungs. ’ Sarah thought to herself as the last few months of living on the streets hadn’t been the healthiest for her. At that she coughed a bit harshly, causing more murmurs of concern from the audience. After a while, the sawing stopped and Sarah felt a cool winter’s breeze on bare skin…… On two different patches of bare skin.
She sawed you in half. ‘ Holy shit she sawed me in half! ’ This obvious and startling conclusion made Sarah miss the fact Rose had picked up the two blades. And the grand show that Rose made of showing that they were solid. She did notice when she slotted them into place. ‘ REALLY FUCKING COLD! ’ She gritted her teeth, mentally screaming in an attempt not to make a spectacle of herself.
“And now to prove that there are no fake limbs or anything of the sort!” Rose declared suddenly. She then leaned over from where she was standing, over the boxes containing Sarah, and unlatched the front covers. From where the Audience was they could clearly see that there was, in fact, something in the box wearing exactly what Sarah was wearing. Most of the more jaded members thought that Rose had used some clever sleight of hand to swap the pieces and that Sarah was just crammed into the front box. Though the exact details, they were still working out.
The more naive, as rare as they were in such a place as Brockton Bay, honestly thought Sarah had been cut in half. And unlike most cases the naive audience members were right. To further show off Rose then grasped the two boxes by the blades and pulled them apart. Sarah felt the very confusing sensation of having one half of her body move one way, and the other move in the opposite direction.
‘ I think I’m going to be ill ’ Sarah thought to herself as it played hell with her inner ear….. The timed out burger from Fugly Bob’s she managed to sweet-talk the cashier into giving her probably didn’t help either. Also not helping matters was Rose then spinning the two boxes ninety degrees so that Sarah’s feet and head were parallel to each other. Sarah then looked over to her feet. She did a few experimental wiggles, and her feet responded in kind. She clenched and unclenched her toes, and while she didn’t see them, she felt them respond.
‘ Huh. ’ Was all Sarah thought to herself. Even with her powers that was all she could say. Her powers were uncharacteristically silent. The audience was not and started to applaud rather enthusiastically. Rose was startled by such enthusiastic applause. After getting over her shock she started to soak it in and bowed, taking off her top hat to do so.
“You’re going to put me back together right?” Sarah quietly said to Rose as the applause slowly died down.
“Of course,” Rose said as if offended. Somewhat offended that you’d think she would do such a thing as leave you like this . ’ Sarah sighed. As the applause died down Rose quickly rotated the tables back, not helping Sarah’s nausea, and moved them back together. She then removed the blades separating the two halves of Sarah. Sarah let out a smaller gasp as she felt her two halves shift incrementally towards each other and connect. Rose then quickly undid all the latches and then moved to the front of the box and opened the top door; removing the stocks holding Sarah in the box. However before Sarah could begin to extract herself, Rose had already scooped her up in her arms.
“What are you doing!?” Sarah squeaked out, her face glowing bright red now. Rose blinked and then her face flushed as well.
“Sorry!” Rose squeaked out as well. “When I did this on myself I had some trouble standing afterward…. Mainly because I got stuck in it for a couple of hours.” Rose muttered to herself.
“Can you just put me down?” Sarah's face was not getting any less red.
“Yeah. Sorry!” Rose quickly muttered out as she put Sarah down a little too fast. Sarah nearly stumbled when set on the ground. Other than some minor cursing, her main focus was checking her waist to see if anything was, well different. Her probing hands and eyes found nothing out of place. No seam or cut. Not a thread out of place. In fact, Sarah was pretty sure that her clothes were in slightly better condition than before she got in the box.
While this was going on Rose took off her hat and did a collection round. This time she was much more successful. She then made a point to step around the Enforcer. So did the rest of the crowd, seeing as everyone was at least a step or two away from him. Taylor did a small bow and then placed the top hat back on her head. Most of the crowd assumed that she had a well-designed pocket as she had done that three times already with no sign of the money. Only Rose and Sarah knew the truth.
Sarah was brought out of her thoughts when Rose clapped her right hand on her shoulder.
“Let’s have a round of applause for Lisa!” Rose shouted and dramatically threw her left hand out. The crowd was more than willing to comply, bursting into applause once more. While this was going on Sarah took the opportunity to lean into Rose’s ear.
“I need your help.” Sarah quickly whispered. Rose looked a bit startled. Before she could say anything Sarah continued.
“You see that Enforcer? He’s not an Enforcer. He’s been stalking me for the last few hours. He nearly caught me already.” She desperately whimpered. Rose glanced at the Enforcer. She would admit, even if only to herself, that he seemed to set off all sorts of warning bells. Then she took a look at his eyes. And sucked in a breath.
His eyes were full of nothing but hate. Just from looking into them for a moment, she knew this man could kill her. Would kill her without the slightest bit of hesitation. She managed to suppress the shudder from the crawling sensation going down her spine.
“Please.” Sarah quietly begged as the applause died down. Rose nodded. She couldn’t let her assistant face whatever the man had in mind for her.
“ I do have something.” Rose continued, trying to act casual about the conversation. “I haven’t had a chance to practice it, and I’m not sure how to restore you. So if you’re willing-” She was cut off by Sarah.
“I already took a chance with you literally sawing me in half. I think I’ll take a chance with you again over him.” Sarah said with finality. Rose nodded again and turned back to the crowd.
“Ladies and Gentlemen!” Rose boomed to the audience. “Lisa here has volunteered for another illusion!” She said in her best showman's voice. Sarah noted that the Enforcer’s eyes hardened at that but he did nothing as the audience applauded again.
This line of thought was stopped by Rose gracefully picking up the red silk cloth from where she dropped it. A flourish for dramatic effect, a few seconds of the cloth floating, and a rapid pull to the side. In the place of the two boxes was instead what looked like an industrial hopper with a crank on the side and two giant rollers on the front. All of which was on a solid industrial steel table with wheels. Sarah gulped.
‘ In for a penny. In for a pound. ’ Sarah thought to herself as she steeled her resolve.
“Here’s hoping,” Rose said as she led Sarah. Sarah could only nod, hoping that this wouldn’t end how she feared. With a little boost from Rose, Sarah found herself sitting on the edge of the Hopper, her feet touching the two rollers.
“Now!” Rose went from concerned back to the tone of a practiced showman. “Some of you may be wondering what this is! Well, don’t feel ashamed or anything of the sort! This little number is a more obscure magic trick! It’s called ‘The Wringer’!” Lisa gulped again at the name
“With this, the lovely assistant is placed into the illusion like so. Every Magician has their own style of the Wringer, as well as the method in which the assistant is placed into position but they all follow the same general rule. The Magician must make a big show of showing the audience that there was no room for the assistant to hide. Some lesser magicians don’t, as their prop is far too large or fragile to move around too much or they just aren’t all that good. But I like to think of myself as a high-quality magician, with high-quality props, so I have no such issue!” Rose exclaimed with a wink, briskly walking to the table to the laughter of the crowd. She made a big show of rotating the table to show that there were, in fact, no secret compartments. Sarah attempted to wave to the audience, playing up her role as the assistant. She felt that she at least added something to the presentation… it felt nice.
“Now!” Rose continued again, “that the Magician has proven that there is no place for the lovely assistant to hide!” Sarah actually felt herself blushing a little. Rose then went over to the crank on the side. And continued
“The Magician would then start to turn the crank, or wheel depending on the prop. This would cause the rollers to turn, which would cause the assistant to be forced through and flattened!” Rose exclaimed, emphasizing the crank with her hand. She then looked up at Sarah.
“Any pain whatsoever you scream okay?” Rose whispered. Sarah nodded and bit her lip. Rose then, with some hesitation, turned the crank.
“Whoof.” Sarah rapidly let out a breath at the sensation. She glanced down and saw that her feet had now slipped between the rollers. She couldn’t move her feet and seemed to have muted sensation in them. But she still felt them.
Sarah looked at Rose, gave a subtle nod, and mouthed ‘ Keep going. ’. Rose nodded back and turned the crank again, dragging Sarah down into the rollers.
‘ This is perhaps the oddest experience of my life .’ Sarah thought to herself as she watched herself slowly, and quite literally, be put through the wringer. Once it had gone up to her knees she experienced the very unique sensation of feeling herself waving in the sea breeze. Next, she felt the air get forced out of her lungs as her Solar Plexus had been fed through the rollers. Not that it mattered much as her chest, and therefore lungs, entered into the rollers next. With a few more cranks Lisa felt the rollers touch her chin.
‘ This is it .’ Was her final thought before two more cranks pushed her entirely through.
‘ Huh .’ Was all Sarah could think. The state she found herself in was a unique one. She was both aware and yet not. To say that she was in a dream-like haze would be inaccurate but close enough. She stared unblinkingly into the Afternoon sky. Then she felt an upwards sensation and found herself staring unblinkingly at a somewhat stunned mass of people.
“ The Audience ’ Sarah corrected herself mentally. Her tenuous grasp on that thought was interrupted by a loud sound.
“Another round of Applause for Lisa!” Rose shouted as she held up the now flattened form of Sarah, facing the crowd. The crowd snapped out of their stunned silence and started to applaud harder than they had before. Whistles and shouts came from the audience.
‘ I feel that I should take a bow .’ Sarah thought to herself. And then mentally kicked herself for that. Not that she could do so physically. Any other admonishments of herself, by herself, were interrupted by the also unique sensation of being folded.
“Don’t worry folks!” Rose cried out over the crowd. “Lisa is in good hands!” She said as she continued to fold Sarah like she was a piece of paper. Which she effectively was at this point.
“I just forgot my bicycle pump at home!” She claimed, much to the enjoyment and laughter of the crowd.
“I’ll restore her to normal later! So don’t think that she’ll be like this forever!” She said, invoking even more laughter from the crowd.
‘I hope.’ Both Sarah and Rose thought to themselves.
Rose removed her top hat once more and held Sarah in front of it.
“I’m not sure how it will affect you but I’ve put a rabbit in there for a while and it was fine. Confused but fine.” Rose quietly said. Sarah wasn’t in any condition to object and was quickly placed into the hat. Rose then flashed a hopefully convincing smile to the crowd and held out her hat for collections. This time the donations were much larger. Eventually, the donations grew smaller and so too did the crowd. Rose quickly made her way back to the table and the Wringer. She grabbed the sign and Lisa’s coat and placed them on the table. Before she could get any further in packing up a hand roughly landed on her shoulder.
“Miss. I’m going to have to ask you to tell me where your volunteer is.” A voice filled with barely contained anger and violence said behind her. Rose tried not to shudder at the sound. She broke contact and sat down on her table. Rather bit too quickly, but she really really wanted to put some distance between herself and him.
“I’m sorry but a Magician never reveals her secrets.” She said confidently. Or at least tried to. The slight quiver in her voice gave her away. She cringed when she saw the man smirk.
“Too bad.” The man said. Rose glanced around for something, anything that she could use to get away, or stop him, or something! Thankfully she did see something. She subtly shifted her hand to grab it. Just in time too as the man stepped closer.
“So are we going to do this the easy way or the hard-” Anymore cliche threats were interrupted by a flutter of red cloth filling his vision. Once it subsided the man rolled his eyes.
“You think that playing pillow fort is going to stop me?” He snarled at the sheet now covering Rose and the table. He angrily grabbed the cloth and ripped it aside.
“What. The. Fuck.” Was all he could say. The girl was gone. The table was gone. Everything was fucking gone! He wiped his head to the left and right. No sign whatsoever. He was the only person in that area of the Boardwalk. He made sure before he went up to the bitch!
“What the fuck!” He yelled stomping on the cloth in anger. The fucking boss was never going to believe this!
“WHAT THE FUCK!” He screamed into the sky
*CRASH* *BANG* *THUD* “Ow.” The clatter and noise of various props and one very lucky Magician crashing to the floor filled the room. Rose slowly picked herself off the floor, cringing when a few parts of her moved the wrong way. She sucked in a breath when she put too much weight on her ankle but that quickly went away.
“Okay. For my first attempt at teleporting someone, that went rather well. And rushed even.” Rose laughed, glad that she was alive, in one piece, and not at the tender mercies of some thug. She was so relieved that she got away that she nearly forgot something very important. Or someone.
“LISA!” Rose yelled out. She looked around desperately for the top hat that held her. And her money but that was a very distant secondary concern. Her eyes lit up as she saw it next to a toppled over sawing in half prop. She quickly lunged at the hat and then winced as her foot collided with the Wringer prop.
“Shouldn’t have made it out of solid steel.” She hissed as she then hobbled over to the hat. And nearly tripped as the heel to her left shoe broke off.
“Stupid shoe!” She yelled as she kicked off the now broken shoe. She then hopped in place as she tried to remove the other one. She succeed in both removing it and not smashing into any of the other items strewn about the room in the process. After a brief moment to celebrate her small victory, Rose then lunged once more for the hat. Snatching it from the ground, she headed to the bed in the room and, after a few more dangerous steps, managed to reach it. With the arm not holding the top hat, she threw off the crumpled blanket and sheets. She then held the hat upside down and shake it vigorously. Various coins and dollar bills spilled out and went everywhere. A handful or two of rose petals spilled out and spread out across the room. A hairbrush fell on top of the pile of money.
“I wondered where that went,” Rose muttered as she set it aside. More shaking resulted in nothing. Right as Rose was about to scream in terror and frustration, ‘Lisa’ unceremoniously fell out of the hat and laid crumbled up on the bed.
“Lisa!” Rose yelled, flinging the money off the bed, coins, and bills scattering across the room. With a quick few hand motions, ‘Lisa’ was more or less straightened out on the bed. Her head was on the pillows and her feet were more or less pointed towards the end of the bed.
“Okay, Lisa,” Rose said, trying to get the girl’s attention. While there was no change on her face, Rose felt that she had “Lisa’s’ attention.
“Okay.” She said, mostly to herself, as she grabbed the bedsheet off the floor.
“I don’t actually need to get a bicycle pump. At least I hope not.” She muttered. She then snapped back to attention.
“As I said I’ve never actually done this before and I’m not confident that I can restore you properly. But it’s never let me down before. On the count of three, I’m going to cover you, and hopefully, everything will work out fine.” She explained rapidly, almost forgetting to breathe.
“One.” She said as she took the bed sheet in both hands.
“Two.” She raised the bedsheet, sweat dripping down her back.
“Three!” She flung the sheet over ‘Lisa’. She closed her eyes tight and ripped the sheet away from ‘Lisa’. A loud, horrid, tearing sound filled the air.
“Oh no.” Rose whimpered out. She kept her eyes screwed tight, not brave enough to see what nightmare had happened. So it was to her great surprise that she felt the sheet be tugged out of her hand and a familiar voice filled the room.
“B, B Plus I would say, Rose.” ‘Lisa’ said. “Presentation was good. You restored me perfectly. But my clothes….. Not so much.” At that Rose peeked one eye open. Lisa was sitting on the edge of the bed, with a relieved smile on her face, and with the sheet wrapped around her. Lying around her in a rough circle were various scraps of fabric that Rose recognized as her clothes. “You should pay more attention in class.”
“You’re alive!” Rose exclaimed, finally opening her eyes fully. ‘Lisa’ smiled even wider.
“Yes. Thanks to you. I had no idea what exactly that fake Enforcer was going to do to me when he caught up... but it would not have been pretty.” ‘Lisa’ said with a large amount of gratitude. Rose said nothing but collapse onto the bed next to ‘Lisa’. They sat in silence like that for a few minutes.
“Holy Shit.” Rose eventually said. “That happened.” She continued, flopping backwards onto the bed. ‘Lisa’ joined her.
“Yeah. That happened.” She added in herself, still trying to comprehend everything. Not helping the matter was that her power had been uncharacteristically silent the entire time.
“Soooo…..” Rose awkwardly said. “What was it like?” She asked.
“Being flattened or being in the hat?” ‘Lisa’ asked back.
“Both?” Rose awkwardly said.
“I don’t remember being in the hat. At all. I was about to be put into the hat and then I was in a heap on your bed. As for being flattened…. The best I could describe is that I felt two dimensional. That’s the best I can say.” ‘Lisa’ explained.
“Huh,” Rose said. They stared at the ceiling for a little while longer.
“Taylor” Rose eventually said.
“What?” ‘Lisa’ asked.
“My name. I’m not Rose. I’m just Taylor.” Taylor explained.
“Well, I’m not Lisa. I’m Sarah. I just gave you the first name that popped into my head. Being chased and all that.” Sarah explained. Taylor just made a noncommittal sound of acknowledgment. They once more laid there in silence. Their minds trying to process the last few minutes.
“Where are we anyway?” Sarah eventually asked, looking around.
“My bedroom. It’s uh… It’s normally not nearly this messy but with everything that happened and all that.” Taylor awkwardly trailed off. Sarah shrugged.
“You saved my life. I’m not going to judge you for that.” She said simply. And then sat up, making sure to keep one hand on the bedsheet to protect her modesty.
“So where do we go from here?” Sarah asked simply. “I have no idea who that guy was and why he wanted me.” She explained. She had a very likely idea why... but one thing at a time.
“Well, you could stay here for a while. I’ll ask my dad. I mean with your help I made a lot more than I usually do. Not that I’ve done all that many shows... So money’s not an issue ” Taylor said, sitting up on the bed as well.
“Maybe you can buy me some clothes with that,” Sarah said, playfully poking Taylor in the shoulder. Taylor laughed.
“Sure. I can buy some clothes. I did wreck yours.” She said with a giggle.
“Maybe we could make this a thing. Rose and Lisa! Boardwalk Magicians! I would have to wear a mask to hide my identity.” Taylor poked Sarah back.
“It’s usually the Magician that wears the mask. Not the Assistant.” She said with a giggle. The two of them started to giggle together. And the giggles then turned into full-blown laughter as the stress of everything caught up with them. The laughter continued for a minute or two. However, once the two of them had finished laughing they found themselves in a slightly compromising position.
Sarah’s face was only inches away from Taylor’s. The two of them felt each other’s breath on their face. Almost simultaneously their faces started to turn red. They looked at each other in the eyes. Neither one of them sure what the other wanted. Or even what they wanted.
Before the situation could go any further a knock at the door interrupted them.
“Hey, Taylor. I didn’t hear you come in. I thought you were still at the Boooooooooooooooooooooooooo...” Danny trailed off as he walked in. He quickly glanced from what his daughter was wearing, to the naked except for a bedsheet girl next to his daughter on the bed, to the rose petals scattered everywhere, to the various props scattered around the room, to how close their faces were.
“OKAY SORRY TO BOTHER YOU!” Danny quickly said and left, slamming the door behind him.
“DAD, NO! COME BACK! IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK! SARAH! STOP LAUGHING!” Taylor continued to scream for a while after that, all to the backdrop of Sarah’s mad cackling.
Chapter 2: Why rehearsal is key.
“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.”
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…”
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.