Part 1: The Premise, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 3: The Inquiry

Linza had first learned about the estate from her best friend, Wyn. 

When Wyn was flirting with a boy, as she often did, she liked to introduce herself as ‘Wyn, short for Olewynn, sounds like all-the-way-in, please’. She liked to make them blush.

Wyn was brazen in every sense. Bold, loud, shameless. Skin golden brown like brass. Jubilant laugh like a herald’s trumpet.

They had graduated together. Wyn’s father was a professor of invocation and so she had received a scholarship and did not share Linza’s financial woes. In fact, quite the opposite. She lived in a fashionable part of town in her own sizeable apartment, which she had inherited from her great aunt. Wyn had done little to refurnish the place and had just added her own colorful accents, so the home was a charming mix of traditional and avant garde — a fair representation of Wyn herself.

Though Wyn was well off, that was not to say she wasn’t generous. When Linza’s purse was getting light, she could always count on Wyn for a hearty meal. 

She shared the discoveries of her elbow-rubbing with Wyn over afternoon tea. The tea was an exotic spiced variety that Linza hadn’t heard of before, and it went particularly well with Wyn’s latest batch of shortbread. Wyn was an average cook but a brilliant baker, and Linza would have had plenty of reason to drop by for tea even if she hadn’t had an update for Wyn.

“I think you need a night job,” Wyn said around a mouthful of shortbread.

“A what?”

“A night job. You have a day job, so you need a night job, too.”

Linza quirked an eyebrow. Wyn had been guaranteed a job at her cousin’s foundry basically since the moment she enrolled in the School of Evocation. She wasn’t sure Wyn was in the best position to casually advise that Linza get a second job. “Like what?”

“Like tending bar or minding children.”

“Oh!” Linza chuckled. “For some reason, I thought you were going to say I should be a sex worker or something.”

Wyn’s hands slammed down on the table and spit crumbs of shortbread. “Wait, yes! That is a great idea!”

“It is? No it isn’t. What?” Linza had been audience and accomplice to some of Wyn’s bolder ideas over the years, but this definitely was towards the top. Sex work was legal and quite respectable in the kingdom. That was largely thanks to Queen Lillia the First, who had actually been a sex worker before she’d married King Albert the Third. Albert was a bit bumbling and the greatest gift he’d ever given to the people was generally putting Queen Lillia in charge of things. She had been enterprising and professional and had brought a variety of positive reforms to the kingdom.

Even so, Linza’s mother had trained into her the idea that she had to maintain modesty if she was going to be taken seriously in a traditional field like alchemy. The Navy was still especially stodgy, but so far her mother’s advice had seemed valid.

Furthermore, Linza just didn’t feel like she had the charisma for it. ‘Provocative’ and ‘sexy’ were not on the list of adjectives she’d use to describe herself.

Wyn shook her head and put up a hand for Linza to wait, then finished swallowing her shortbread and washed it down with tea. “Hm. Don’t take this the wrong way—”

That always preceded Wyn saying something inappropriate.

“—but I think you’d really be great at that estate down by the beach.”

“The big one?”

“Yeah!”

Wyn looked gleefully enthused.

Linza felt deeply suspicious. She narrowed her eyes a bit. “Why?”

“Well, remember that smut you sent me?”

Linza blushed. “I didn’t send it to you, you stole it from my binder after I told you not to read it!”

“Yeah yeah, whatever. Well, it was great.”

Linza crossed her arms. “Yeah, but they wouldn’t want me to write smut, they’d want me to… y’know.” She felt so childish, trailing off like that. Not being able to say ‘the word’. But this was exactly her point! She wasn’t cut out for that kind of work.

Wyn shook her head again. “No, there’s all sorts of… what did they call them, ‘experiences’? There was one that they said used phangasmal… phangasm… um…”

“‘Phantasmal force’?” It was the name of an illusion spell that had particularly strong effects on the subject. Traditionally, it was a combat spell. The modus operandi was that you summoned an illusion of great danger, like flames or a dangerous beast, and the target was so convinced of the reality that they could truly be hurt.

“Yes, exactly!” Wyn said.

“That’s not usually a nice spell…”

“Well, this one was very nice…” Wyn’s eyes unfocused.

“Wait, you went?!” Linza was not scandalized so much as surprised that Wyn hadn’t told her. Well, okay, she was a little bit scandalized.

“Of course I did!” Wyn grinned widely. “It was amazing.”

Linza had been to the estate a couple of times to buy pastries or listen to the music and watch the sun set over the ocean. Harburich was a harbor city, and the estate was built along a particularly beautiful stretch of beach.

One of the outings that she’d thought was just lunch with a friend had awkwardly turned out to be a date, and she’d had to let him down as easily as she could right then and there. She was pretty sure he’d immediately gone in for one of the ‘experiences’. She hadn’t been back after that.

Linza’s academic curiosity overrode her trained modesty. “Okay, so, how exactly did it work?”

Wyn giggled, obviously pleased that she’d managed to get Linza to bite her hook. “Okay so, you go into this room, and there’s a mat and all these candles and it just… Mm! Smells amazing. And then there’s a little screen in one of the walls, and the caster is on the other side.”

Linza tilted her head. “Like a confessional?”

“Exactly like a confessional! Except the room isn’t that small. So then, you tell them what you like and what you’re looking for. They ask some questions back. And then they start!”

“Start what?”

“Start the spell!”

“I’m still not following.”

Wyn giggled again. “Linza, you are being distinctly unimaginative right now.”

“Take pity on me, please. Can you just spell it out?”

Spell it out?” Wyn’s eyes glittered.

Linza groaned and put her face in her hands.

Wyn laughed. “Alright, alright. So, they make an illusion. And that illusion can do things. Like be a friendly octopus mermaid. And just…” She sighed happily. “…fuck you in every hole.”

Linza’s first reaction was academic. This did indeed seem to be within the capabilities of the spell, especially if the target were willing. And, in fact, if the target knew that the spell was happening, they could end its effects at any time, simply by rejecting the illusion. By that same token, it seemed plausible for the target to choose to accept the effects and guarantee that the spell was successful.

Linza’s second reaction was visceral. Her heart fluttered. She felt even warmer. Arousal bloomed at just the idea of what Wyn had described.

“You know that spell, don’t you?” Wyn’s eager question pulled Linza out of her introspection.

Linza unfolded her arms and leaned back in to the table, fidgeting with the handle of her teacup. “I, uh, yeah.” One of the primary benefits of going to a formal school like JSMI is that it afforded students the opportunity to learn a great many spells. The natural limits on a student’s diversity of spells came down to the time required for practice and the expense of scratch paper, special ink, and replacement spellcasting focuses. Linza had learned nearly the whole library of both transmutation and illusion spells, and she need only spend some time refreshing her memory and the spell would be top-of-mind again.

Wyn looked at her expectantly.

Linza cleared her throat. “I’ll, uh, think about it.”

Wyn winked. “I can tell you’re thinking about it right now.”

“Wyn…”

“Maybe thinking about tentacles…” Wyn poked her fingers out at Linza as if to tickle her, “In all… sorts… of places…”

Linza ducked a poke to her head and jerked herself back from the table to dodge a poke at her hips. “Wyn!” She tried to sound cross but she just giggled like a school girl.

Wyn’s laughed her trumpet-like laugh and relented, slapping her knee. “Alright, alright,” she finally gasped, wiping tears from the corners of her eyes. “I’ll stop tormenting you.”

Linza took a sip of her tea and a moment to recollect her dignity. “So… how much do you think something like that pays?”

Wyn’s eyes brightened. “So you will do it!”

“I will inquire! I’m not doing anything yet!”

Wyn waggled her eyebrows, but did manage to report to Linza what she had spent for her quarter of an hour in the little confessional-like room.

Really?” Linza asked. It was about as much as somebody would pay for a fancy dinner. How many of those in a night could one person turn? Well, actually, there was quite a firm limit on how many spells one could cast in a day. Linza figured she could manage three or four.

Her analytical brain ran the numbers, amassing piles of coins.

Her body ran with arousal, her blood growing hotter.

Her heart raced in circles, unsure of quite how she felt.

But, what she’d told Wyn was true.

She would inquire.

Standard

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