The next weekend, Linza was on her way to pick up her schedule for the evening from the little bulletin board in the alley with all the staff entrances to the illusion rooms.
As she did, Nephis waved her over. Nephis was a tiefling sorcerer and a confirmation to Linza that there were indeed more forces of nature working at the estate than just the madame and her assistant. Nephis had violet skin, elegant horns, a muscular tail, and hair like red wine spilling down her shoulders. If the madame was the sun and the assistant was the moon, then Nephis was the dusk. Libation, intoxication, anticipation.
Tieflings were rare, even in Harburich. One of the good Queen Lilly’s reforms had been to abolish the draconian laws censuring and limiting tieflings’ movements and even marriages in the kingdom, but culture changed more slowly than law. Most tieflings had left the kingdom altogether. One reason that tieflings had been subjected to such controls was that their infernal bloodlines also disproportionately produced sorcerers. While wizards like Linza courted magic through careful study, sorcerers’ magic surged forth unpredictably from within them.
Though, once you understood that sorcerers were creatures of intuition where wizards were creatures of knowledge, it wasn’t so ‘unpredictable’ after all. Illusion wizards seemed to particularly empathize with sorcerers. Illusionists dealt with the subconscious and were apt to predict how an individual’s experiences and predilections might lead to their intuitions.
And, in fact, sorcerers had a level of intuitive control over their both their spells’ effects and the energies that supplied their spells that any wizard would envy. It was perhaps this envy that lead many wizards to dismiss sorcerers as ‘unpredictable, unreliable, and dangerous’.
Nephis was one such sorcerer and she and the madame were old friends. Nephis’s intuitions had ever tended towards the sensual and the sexual, and apparently she had been the first to suggest illusion magic as part of the estate’s offerings.
Linza felt awed and overwhelmed at the opportunity to work directly under her—not least because she found the tiefling woman to be incredibly attractive. Linza had a crush on Tanyth, but her feelings for Nephis were pure lust. Linza had never experienced anything like it before Nephis, but at least Linza was confident that Nephis deserved every iota of admiration and arousal directed towards her.
And when Nephis waved her over and said, “Ah, I’m glad you’re early! I wanted to talk with you about something,” Linza nearly fainted with fright. Fright of what she couldn’t quite say, except that her own intuition was sure she was about to be scolded.
But she kept her chin up as Nephis withdrew and Linza followed her around the corner to a different little black door, which opened into Nephis’s office.
A statue of a little dragon perched near the door chimed, “Hello! Good evening!” as she stepped inside. It was a persistent illusion, one that could be configured with a trigger, such as someone stepping into the office. And then it would execute its message, a time-appropriate greeting, accordingly. Unlike Linza’s home, which was full of books, Nephis’s office was full of crystals, animal bones, charcoal drawings, fur rugs and other odd trinkets.
There was no desk, just three comfy chairs and a little table in the middle of them.
Nephis reclined, her tail falling to the side, her hands draping over the side of the chair.
Linza sat awkwardly across from her, feeling very much like a stodgy pigeon next to a bird of paradise.
The office smelled like Nephis always did—or perhaps Nephis smelled like her office—of incense and lavender.
Nephis’s eyes were grey like the dark side of a dusk sky, her lips full and smiling pleasantly. She wore dark reds and purples—a tiered skirt and corset bodice that propped her cleavage up in full view.
“Relax!” Nephis said. “Make yourself at home.” The tiefling’s smile was warm, and everything about her demeanor was—as usual—effortlessly seductive.
The words warmed Linza as much as a cozy fire would have, and she settled into one of the chairs across from Nephis.
“What did you want to talk about?”
“I thought we might expand your slots on the schedule.”
Linza blinked. “Expand my slots? I… I’d truly love to, but I think I’m already at capacity.” She furrowed her brow. She knew that sorcerers had some ability to manipulate their spell casting energies. Did Nephis expect something like that from Linza?
Nephis looked amused. “Actually, I’ve heard from one of your patrons that they’d be happy to book an auditory illusion only session if it meant they could get on the schedule earlier.”
“Really?” She often augmented her sessions with the smaller illusions, but she’d never thought that might justify a session without the enhanced effects of Phantasmal Force.
“Why would I lie to you, Linza?” Nephis’s eyes twinkled, like the first stars breaking through dusk.
Because you can do whatever you want to me, Linza thought, but she shook herself back to her senses. Partially. She wasn’t quite sure what to say.
Nephis tilted her head, and those dusk grey eyes held Linza’s. “I asked you a question. Why don’t you answer?”
Linza gulped. “I-I suppose I had just been lying to myself.”
“Good girl,” Nephis crooned.
Linza wondered if she might get away with offering oral sex to Nephis as a ‘thank you’ later—without Nephis noticing that Linza would have paid for the pleasure.
“S-so,” Linza said, wary of letting silence expand again. “How would that work?”
“You can let me know how long and what kind of slots you want to make available, and I’ll offer those to guests as they book. We can adjust that at any time as-needed, though I prefer not to move any sessions that are already booked.”
It all sounded very reasonable to Linza. “M-may I… ask a question?”
Nephis chuckled. “Of course.”
“Why not offer this from the get-go? Or recruit other illusionists that don’t know the higher level spells.” That was the other reason Linza hadn’t thought of this before.
Nephis smiled knowingly, her tail flicking like an amused cat. “That is an excellent question. It’s a matter of market perception, actually. We did initially offer such a service. But I found that there was a worrying trend of overly entitled guests. For whatever reason, guests tend to implicitly understand the effort inherent in giving or receiving physical acts and in casting larger spells. But Minor Illusion is such a little spell, it doesn’t cost anything at all to cast, right? So why should it cost much at all to have it cast upon you? I got tired of dealing with such complaints and so we only offer such things where there’s already an established relationship between a guest and a host.
“And to be totally honest, it makes my job a bit easier with recruiting, too. Just because you learned a cute little cantrip doesn’t mean you’ve the mind for this kind of work. The understanding that we only deal with higher-level spells means that I don’t get nearly as many applications from illusionists that aren’t serious about their craft.”
Linza felt a twinge of uncertainty—illusion wasn’t her primary field of study. Was she serious about her craft? And yet, her patrons had requested her Minor Illusions. Nephis did not seem to be directing any criticism at her. Linza did do quite a bit of research and work outside of her shifts. All indications pointed towards her taking the craft fairly seriously after all.
Linza nodded to Nephis.
“So now that we’ve established your interest,” Nephis continued, “There’s just a couple of formalities.”
Linza grinned ruefully. “More paperwork?”
“Hm? Oh. Yeah. Well. The madame insists, so, yes. I was thinking something less… stuffy. Why don’t you show me what has your patrons begging for more?” Nephis grinned, a hungry look in her eyes.
Linza couldn’t be sure because she blinked, but it looked as if Nephis had licked her lips.
Heat flared through Linza’s body—the sudden and overwhelming desire to give Nephis anything and everything that she wanted. There was no magic, no coercion—just the wild, sensual charisma of this sorcerer.
And then Linza remembered that Nephis had asked her a question.
She cleared her throat, her mouth watering with anticipation. “O-of course.” Linza mustered her focus and began to cast the spell.