Part 4: The Interloper, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 27: Butterflies

Linza needed to debrief about Grun. Wyn would immediately jump on the ‘Grun is an asshole’ train and in this case, Linza wanted a true second opinion.

She was sure Tanyth would have noticed the newcomer. They might even be training him.

It was the following weekend and Linza was on a break, though she knew Tanyth was still working. They’d be at the teahouse. Some tea sounded nice and it’d be a good way for Linza to casually gauge whether talking to Tanyth would be a good idea or not.

It had actually been some weeks since she’d talked to them at all. The butterflies had probably faded.

The teahouse’s main serving area was on the second floor of an ornate building on the main street. Tiny round tables in a tidy grid filled the interior and spilled out onto the balcony that overlooked the street. Each table had a frilly table cloth in ruby, emerald, and sapphire and was ringed by matching velvet chairs. 

The staff were similarly decorated. None were taller than Linza, and they each wore the fanciest dresses Linza had ever seen—snug corsets, billowing bustles, many-layered petticoats, layer upon layer of bows and ribbons and frills. Some dresses were solid, while others were printed with panels of art—scenes of the ocean, unicorns and woodland creatures, pictures of tea settings. The staff wore elaborate hats, bonnets, or pigtails and bows.

Tanyth’s hair was tied up in two pigtails of sky blue ringlets with lilac bows that matched more bows on the ruffled skirt of their dress. The bustier was padded to suggest cleavage, and the corset nipped in at the waist. With the volume of the bustle, Tanyth radiated youthful femininity. Their pointed ears and elfish charm were the cherry on top.

They stepped around the corner as Linza appeared, and they noticed her right away. “Linza! Take a seat by the balcony and you’ll be in my area.” Their voice was especially girly. 

Linza’s stomach flipped. Okay, so the butterflies weren’t totally gone. Linza could manage, of course. She was an adult. This nervous spark with Tanyth was so different from the unbidden heat that Grun evoked.

She went to her seat and waited. The street below was a stream of people, babbling and jostling. A few minutes later, Tanyth fluttered to a stop at the table, ribbons tailing behind them. If Linza hadn’t known better, she would have assumed that Tanyth was a girl. But she was understanding rule number two, nothing taken. Taking someone’s gender for granted, even if it seemed obvious, could be unintentionally hurtful. Tanyth was neither a boy nor a girl, and yet both. Tanyth was themselves.

Linza admired the confidence of their expression. It made her realize how timid she herself could be. She’d avoided frilly dresses at university for fear that her classmates might not take her seriously. And her fear was probably justified. Tanyth themselves probably had to be more careful out in the kingdom. But here at the estate, it was safe to be oneself, both for the patrons and the staff.

Tanyth curtseyed to Linza and then clasped their elegant little hands under their breast. “What can I get you this fine afternoon?”

“A honey milk tea and an estimated time of when you’ll be off shift,” she said.

“Ooh! You caught me at a good time. I’m just about done with my floor shift, and then I’ve just got one experience booked before I’m off for the evening,” Tanyth said.

“Ooh, what kind of experience?” Linza asked.

Tanyth leaned in close and cupped their hand around Linza’s ears and whispered the details. Their voice sent shivers down her spine, but it was their words that sent pulses of heat through her core and legs.

“Oh my,” Linza said. “That does sound lovely.”

Tanyth nodded excitedly, and all their curls and ribbons bounced. “And actually, since you’re already here…” They chewed on their lip for a moment in the cutest way. Linza could see why they were popular here. “We’re short a few voyeurs, tonight. You’d be paid, of course.”

Was it just Linza, or was Tanyth blushing? Surely they were just excited about the experience, and not whether Linza would be there or not. 

Linza herself had been getting the swing of things at the house and was curious to branch out into other roles. This seemed like a great start. She nodded firmly. “I’d love to. It’d be great for my… research, too.” Tanyth would know that said ‘research’ was for her illusions and her writing. 

“Oh! No pressure, but if you also write some smut of it for me, you’ll be my hero!” They said it with all the gleeful sincerity of a princess to a knight.

Linza’s heart turned over in her chest. Tanyth really meant it.

And then Linza realized something. Tanyth did love her. They knew her well and cared for her deeply. That was all Linza had ever wanted, really. The butterflies might want something else, but they were just butterflies. Fun, sure, but nothing to take too seriously.

Linza did not have to fake her smile as she said, “You bet your little ass I will.”

Tanyth put their fingers to their lips and giggled. “Alright. I’ll actually serve you your tea in the room. It’s set just off the cafe with one-way mirrors,” they gestured to a mirrored wall on the far side of the room, “so that they can get the feeling of being in the middle of the cafe without disrupting anyone else. You’ll be the only staff today, other than me. The rest will be esteemed guests, and our honored patron of course.”

Linza nodded, the house’s lingo now second-nature. “Excellent.”

Tanyth turned to leave, then popped back in a springing of curls. “Oh! And he’ll call me a girl and that’s alright. He asked me first and everything, it was all very proper.” Tanyth fanned themselves with a menu. “He’s one of my favorites.”

“How long has he been coming?” Linza asked.

“Years now, about once a month,” they said.

Years! It was difficult to imagine working anywhere for so long, but she’d thought the same thing about university as a freshman. Time would march on. 

Linza grinned. “You’ve been looking forward to this, haven’t you?”

“Of course!” Tanyth nearly whined. “We’ve been flirting all afternoon.”

Linza grinned a bit wickedly. “Must make it hard… to stay focused on your shift.”

Tanyth blushed brightly. “Not you teasing me too! Tsk!” They hid their face behind the bottom of the menu.

Linza giggled. “Alright, alright. I’ll head over to the room. See you soon.”

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