Part 2: Training, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 15: Practice Makes Pleasure

Tanyth had enlisted a few other coworkers for the last phase of Linza’s training, which was simply practical application.

She wasn’t sure if this was how they normally did things, or if Tanyth was trying to account for Linza’s faux pas by bringing more staff into the equation. Regardless, she was grateful. If Tanyth had tried to soldier ahead and offer to be the subject for her first practice, it would have forced her to find the words to decline.

As it were, her first subject would be the same plump woman who had tried and failed to introduce herself that first day in the break room—Molly.

Linza’s training would start with the screen pulled aside. Linza sat on her stool, Molly on the bamboo mat. It was just the two of them and they were both naked.

Linza took a deep breath to steady herself. Molly was easy to be around, but a few pangs of anxiety still swirled in Linza’s stomach. “What do you like?”

“Well, let’s start simple. And have a bit of fun! Tanyth told me about your octopus mermaid!” Molly wiggled her fingers at Linza. “That sounds like loads of fun.”

Linza traced the gestures for a minor illusion, and an unmoving but lifesized image of the mermaid appeared next to them.

“Delightful!” Molly said.

Linza was surprised to find that while she had little experience with this sort of thing in actuality, her writing and fantasies had given her ample opportunity to think through the logistics, so she knew what questions to ask next.

“Which orifices may she grace?”

Molly giggled. “Mouth and pussy, please! No ass.”

“No ass, got it. What about tentacle bondage?”

Molly considered this. “Not on the first go. I just want a nice squooshy tentacle to fuck me, and to have something nice to suck on, y’know?”

“I do know,” Linza said. “And, I can imagine. Okay, so, last question. Do you want it to start gradually, or right away?”

“I want that fucking tentacle inside of me right now.” Molly’s eyes widened with eagerness.

The abrupt enthusiasm was enough to bring Linza back from her academic tone to a flush of arousal.

“Alright, here we go.”

“Oooh!” Molly said. “This is my favorite part.”

Linza started chanting and traced her fingers through the air. The crystal focus that she wore on a necklace vibrated against her chest.

The mermaid climbed up from the floor as if there were a portal to the sea there. Her hair floated around her like she was still underwater. She looked down upon Molly with a hungry look, licked her lips, and then descended on the plump woman.

As the illusory tentacle entered Molly’s sex, Molly moaned with delight. The moan was then muffled by the other tentacle that pushed its way into her mouth. There was not actually anything physical interrupting Molly’s speech, but her mind would be very convinced that she couldn’t speak and that the tentacle was why.

Then the mermaid started up a rhythm and gleefully fucked Molly.

Linza was able to watch better this time, now that she was not already in the midst of her own arousal, like she had been with Wyn.

Linza was aware simultaneously of what was actually happening and what Molly felt like was happening. The oddest thing about Phantasmal Force is that it exerted no ‘force’ at all.

When this spell was used in combat, it wasn’t the body but rather the psyche that it could damage. It sapped the will and energy of the person.

And so now Linza realized—and wondered why she hadn’t thought of it before—that the very same magic could also bolster the subject’s will and energy.

The mind was the true seat of pleasure. And so it made sense that a mutual illusion, applied thoughtfully, could be incredibly effective.

Linza noticed that it took far less effort to hold the illusion this way than in a combat scenario. She expected this to be because of several factors: her energies did not have to overcome the subject’s, and the subject likely lent some of their own energy to the spell with their enthusiastic participation—even a subject like Molly, who had no magical training at all.

Linza focused on Molly’s pleasure and attentively tuned the illusion. Faster or slower. Giving Molly a break from the tentacle in her mouth, but only for a moment. The mermaid caressed Molly from behind, running fingertips over her nipples.

Molly’s moaning reached the pre-orgasmic pitch with which Linza was now well attuned. And Linza had learned from her observations that when Molly was on the edge, she wanted more.

The mermaid grasped at Molly’s breasts, fucking her harder and adding her own moans to the experience.

Molly quivered into release, her plump curves turning to mesmerizing ripples, her groans of orgasmic pleasure muffled by the tentacle in her mouth. 

Just as Molly finally relaxed, the magic quivered within Linza like a slippery fish. Then, it was out of her hands and the illusion was gone.

Molly licked her lips and swallowed, sighing. “Yeah… nicely done!”

As the magic fully receded from Linza, she felt suddenly exhausted. She wobbled on the stool and would have fallen had Molly not lunged towards her and caught her by the elbow. Molly helped her gently down, then knocked on the door to the hallway and called for water and snacks.

Those arrived a moment later, Tanyth carrying a tray and a look of concern in their eye.

Linza waved them off, hoping it looked like she was being polite. The true reason was that nausea curled in her stomach.

“C’mon,” Tanyth said gently, “You know your blood sugar is crashing. Just eat a little something.”

Linza acquiesced and was immediately grateful. Her stomach settled and her shaking evened out. The sensation was unmistakable, though one she hadn’t experienced in a while. She had pushed right up to the edge of her spell casting capacity. Eating something simple was helpful, but a good night’s rest was the only cure. 

“How long was that?” Molly asked Tanyth.

“Almost twenty five minutes,” they said.

“Really?” Linza said. “No wonder I feel like I just pulled three all-nighters!” She had been right that she could hold the illusion much longer with a willing subject, but ten minutes was already over double what she should have been able to do in a day. Twenty five! Had it really been that long? She’d been so focused on Molly, she supposed that it could have been. Time flew when she focused like that.

“Molly was supposed to stop you after twenty…” Tanyth said, just a hint of scolding in their voice.

Molly squeaked and put her face in her hands. “Sorry! I lost track of time! It felt so good…”

Linza reached over to pat Molly’s shoulder. “There was no way in hell I was leaving you hanging there. So, don’t blame yourself.”

“Bless you, Linza. As long as you’re alright.”

“Yeah, I used to have to do this all the time, for class. It’s just been a while. Plus, I can sleep in tomorrow.” There was still one more day in the weekend.

Tanyth nodded. “You should sleep here at the estate. I’ll have the madame set aside a room for you.”

Linza folded her arms and smirked. “Are you worried about me?”

Tanyth rolled their eyes. “Not anymore, if you’re talking like that. But still. You’ll just fall asleep on the trolley and miss your stop if you go back now.”

“Hm. True.” She did feel like she was already about to nod off.

“And you may as well take tomorrow off, too. Usually, we’re trying to work somebody up to fifteen minutes, and then to seventeen or eighteen as a little bit of buffer. You have, as per usual, over-achieved.”

Emotions tumbled within Linza. Excitement at the complement. Renewed anxiety about her ignored confession. Anticipation at what Tanyth’s pronouncement meant. “Wait, so does that mean I’m ready to go on the schedule?”

“If you feel like you’re ready, then you’re ready. We have some patrons that are happy to book with newer staff, to help you ease in.”

“I am so ready!” Linza said.

“But tomorrow, you rest,” Tanyth said.

Their tone of gentle command, the cleric in them coming out, sent Linza’s emotions swirling again.

“Mhm,” Molly patted her hand. “I’m taking you out to lunch.”

In Linza’s excitement, she forgot that she was exhausted. As she pushed up to her feet again, her blood did not follow her head, and her vision blacked out.

Molly caught her again and lay her gently down to the mat. “Shhhh.”

Linza was sleepy enough to stay there. Molly slipped her robe back on and then scooped Linza up into her arms. Linza’s cheek rested against Molly’s breast as Molly carried Linza up to an empty room in the neighboring inn.

Even before Molly had finished tucking her in, Linza was asleep. 


Linza awoke with the sort of dry mouth and headache that both alcohol-induced and magic-induced hangovers shared.

Gauging by the sun overhead, it was almost midday. It was not just the previous day’s exhaustion that she was recovering from, but all the nights of restless sleep as well.

She might actually sleep easy now, though. She’d done it! She was on the schedule!

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Part 2: Training, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 14: True Illusions

Linza arrived at the sprawling seaside estate that night, feeling more clear-headed than usual. It was good timing, too—it was time to practice her magic. She’d been eager to do so since her experiment with Wyn, but she respected how the estate did things, and she hadn’t tried again since then.

Her night with Tanyth began with a series of exercises that were exactly like some of her homework assignments at university.

Tanyth rattled off a series of items and topics, and Linza conjured a corresponding illusion as quickly as she could. With forethought, an illusion could be consciously shaped—but going this quickly, it was going to bubble up straight from her subconscious.

These illusions hovered in the air between them, usually a static miniature of whatever they represented.

The exercise started regularly enough.

“Dog.”

A dalmatian.

“Building.”

A little house.

“Castle.”

The JSMI campus.

“Queen.”

Their very monarch, wearing the outfit from her latest public appearance.

And so on. But then, it got more interesting.

“Touch.”

A finger gliding over the back of another’s hand.

“Breath.”

A figure of a woman heaving in a breath, her head tilted back, her ribcage swelling.

“Release.”

A man’s hand falling away from his shaft, covered in cum.

Now that Linza’s erotic mind had been triggered, she was sure that they could have said ‘dog’ again and she’d have conjured ‘doggy style’, and so on.

“Sex.”

This illusion was not an image, but a sound. A luxurious moan of pleasure, followed by a shuddering gasp.

Tanyth grinned. “Interesting.”

A little professor appeared between them, with their hands tented.

Tanyth chuckled. “That wasn’t a prompt, sorry. You’re doing great. We’re almost done. The next one is arousal.”

Another sound, this one of a pounding heartbeat.

“Love.”

An image of Tanyth curled against Linza’s chest, one of Linza’s hands cradling their head, the other gently stroking their shaft.

Linza’s hands snapped to her mouth.

Tanyth’s eyes went wide.

Linza released the image and it disappeared, but it was too late.

This was not at all how Linza had wanted to confess! She’d wanted to confess—never, actually. Would they scold her? Would they leave?

Words fought on Linza’s tongue. She could ignore the image, try to down-play it. But, she didn’t want to! She couldn’t… maybe if they loved… 

But neither could she double down on her confession. She would happily sweep it under the rug if it meant that things could stay the same as they were between her and Tanyth.

Before Linza could find any words, Tanyth smiled reassuringly and awkwardly patted her knee. “That kind of thing is normal. Don’t worry about it.”

They continued on with the rest of the lesson and pretended that it hadn’t happened.

But Linza learned something else very important that day.

Tanyth was a terrible liar.

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Part 2: Training, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 13: Have Fun

It was the last day before the weekend, when Linza could have two uninterrupted days of training with her illusion magic. 

Her slow job was even slower on the last day of the week. A lot of the senior alchemists liked to take long lunches. They didn’t start experiments on the last day of the week, so there were no reagents to weigh. Usually, Linza just stayed available to clean whatever they used that day and then she was free to go.

So, she had given herself over completely to her fantasies.

She sat at a small desk in the basement of the laboratory, where the washing basins were, day dreaming so fervently that her heart was pounding.

Wait, was it her heart or was it footsteps on the stairs?

She bolted upright just as one of the senior alchemists, Nanar, came down the last of the stairs. He looked a bit startled that she was already making eye contact with him. But, fortunately for her, alchemists did not tend to be the most socially apt bunch and she was sure he wouldn’t say anything.

She swallowed the saliva that had accumulated in her mouth. “What’s up?”

“I hate to ask you this on the last day of the week, but Borin’s already gone for the day and I just need someone to double-check my math.”

“Oh! Of course! Happy to.”

Nanar stood awkwardly at the bottom of the stairs.

“If it’s alright, I’ll follow you up in a moment, I just need to finish this inventory real quick before I lose count.”

“Of course! Yeah, no hurry. Any time in the next hour is great.”

“Great! See you soon.”

Nanar clomped up the stairs.

Linza groaned and bumped her fist against her forehead. Stupid, stupid! There was no way she could do math like this. And there’s no way that she could cum at work, either! She was between a rock and a hard place. Well, a wet place.

Though, the staff washroom on this floor was relatively quiet… she was the only junior in the office and Nanar was unlikely to come back down…

Linza scurried through the shelves of cleaned cauldrons and sorted reagents, around the corner, and to the washroom. 

There was just the one toilet room, which she’d cursed on previous days when more juniors had been in and she’d been forced to wait. It worked to her advantage, now. As she slipped inside and slid the lock shut, she was quite sure she would be alone.

Linza leaned back against the wall and pulled up her skirt. Then, she hesitated. Was she really about to do this?

Her sex throbbed, demanding.

Yes, she was definitely doing this.

She slipped down her panties and left them on just one ankle as she turned her other leg aside and sunk her fingers into her vulva.

Linza nearly fell over, the pleasure was so intense.

She bit her lip to stifle a moan. Half of her was sure nobody would hear her anyway. The rest of her was sure that if she started moaning, she wouldn’t stop, and she didn’t want to risk it.

So she gasped and quivered.

Tempted as she was to sink back into her fantasies and enjoy herself, she did not have quite enough time for that. This needed to be like the break room at her night job. Quick and to-the-point.

Fortunately, Linza had been fantasizing with abandon all morning, and she had more than enough arousal built up. Already, her fingers were sparking pre-orgasmic waves of heat.

It seemed a bit of a shame to burn it all so quickly like this. But also hot

She just couldn’t help it. 

Here she was, masturbating feverishly in the basement of an alchemy lab.

Because she was such a thirsty slut.

That thought tipped Linza hurtling over the edge and she twisted, leaning heavily into the wall with her shoulder, not daring to breathe lest she scream. It felt so good.

Wave after wave of ecstasy trembled through her, all the anticipation of her fantasies pouring out. This was a kind of alchemy, a transformation of the pleasure of anticipation to the pleasure of release. From the crown of her head to the tips of her toes, her entire body tingled with electric pleasure. 

Finally, she was done.

As she washed her hands in the basin, she could think again. She splashed water over her face and neck, dabbing herself off with a towel, feeling refreshed. She also wiped up the dampness from between her legs and from her vulva. Washing the towels was also part of her job description, so no one would be any the wiser.

The only thing she wasn’t quite sure of was what to do with her panties, which she’d left on her ankle. They were now cold and wet and smelled of her arousal.

She’d opted for a wool skirt that day, which was nearly floor length. And hadn’t she read that women didn’t used to wear any underwear at all?

So, she wrapped the panties in the towel and tucked them underneath her desk. She then bounded up the stairs taking them two at a time, quite looking forward to the task that awaited her.

And the way that her skirt moved over her bare hips and ass excited her. It was an exhilerating secreet, along with what she’d just done. Well, they’d be secrets until she told Wyn, anyway.

She was starting to understand rule number three.

Have fun.

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Part 2: Training, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 12: Growth Mindset

Linza did not again attempt to make it through an entire shift in the break room without cumming. Tanyth had said that it might get easier with time, but for Linza, it actually got more difficult.

As she became more familiar with the room and the other staff, just entering the room made her quite aroused. Just the sound of the door opening stirred her further. And then as she recognized a coworker, the memory of them riled her. And then the present sight and experience of them left her dizzy and throbbing.

After a full week of shifts in the break room, Linza’s arousal had not at all diminished.

She confessed this to Tanyth one night as they walked together to the trolley.

“Oh!” they laughed. “Oh, I’m sorry if I made you feel like it should lessen! It’s normal for it to grow, too.”

Linza fidgeted. “Which is… preferred?”

“Neither.”

“Oh.” Was there some third option that eluded her?

“Both,” Tanyth quickly corrected. “Variety is good. If you’re matter-of-fact about it, that’s better for guests who are themselves matter-of-fact. But, the best illusionists tend to be highly empathetic, like you.”

The way they said it, ‘highly empathetic’, made it sound like they meant it beyond just Linza’s arousal. It seemed like they meant it about her in general.

She blushed. “Speaking of which, I haven’t actually started practicing with magic, yet.”

“Speaking of empathy, you read my mind,” they tapped their temple. “I was just thinking we could start that tomorrow.”

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Part 2: Training, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 11: The Break Room

After a week, Linza felt like she and Tanyth were already old friends.

It was time to start the next part of her job training.

The sex part.

Linza had expected her shyness to come screaming back, but all it managed was a meek ‘peep’. She felt totally comfortable with Tanyth and totally comfortable in the little room.

They walked her through setting up the room in the default configuration. Then, they kneeled across from each other on the bamboo mat.

“Alright, so,” Tanyth started. “Part of this job is that a lot of people are going to masturbate in front of you. Like you said, variety is the spice of life. Some moments can feel strange, or unfamiliar, or even just silly. We want all of our guests to feel welcomed, and unjudged.”

Linza nodded. “Of course!”

“So, the next step is exposure training. Part of it is about desensitization to any of the things that might make you want to snort or giggle or hide. Part of it is also about learning different kinds of rhythms, observing different kinds of masturbation. There’s as many different kinds as there are people.”

“Makes sense.”

“The way this works is that we’ve marked this room as one of the break rooms for staff. They’ll know you’re in here. Some might introduce themselves, others might not. They all know the drill, so you’re welcome to giggle or gasp or laugh and not worry about your own noises.”

“My own noises?”

“When you masturbate.”

“Oh!” Of course. But also, oh my.

Tanyth quirked a grin. “I’d buy you a bottle of really nice wine if you managed to make it through a shift in the break room without touching yourself.”

A wave of heat rolled down Linza’s spine. She narrowed her eyes playfully. “You’re saying that because I told you I liked denial, aren’t you!”

They shrugged. “Do you want the wager or not?”

“I’ll take it,” she said firmly. She’d spent whole days at work fantasizing without cracking. She was pretty sure she could handle it. And if there was any day she could, it would be this first day, where so much was unfamiliar.

“All right! We’re almost ready, then. Let’s see… oh, feel free to step out back if you ever need to. Sometimes the experience can be surprisingly emotional. That’s normal too. My shift tonight is tending bar, so you’re free to come by later if you want to talk.”

Linza nodded. She was quite sure she’d be fine, but she truly did appreciate all of the considerations. This is what she’d signed up for, after all. People masturbating in front of her. Eventually, masturbating to her. She was excited!

“Alright, let’s get you situated then.” Tanyth got up and Linza followed, stepping around the half-folded room divider and into her half of the room.

Tanyth stayed on the other side. “You’ve got a little handle, just there… yup. Just pull that over and it’ll latch into place.”

“You’re leaving that way?”

“Well, I’m not leaving quite yet.”

Linza had never heard Tanyth sound directly flirtatious before. Her heart wobbled up into her throat. She fumbled with the latch, but did eventually get it clasped.

With the screen drawn tight, it looked like a solid part of the wall, except for the little grate in the middle that let her look into the larger side of the room.

Her side was dark, so that she was hidden.

Sound would pass easily between them.

She held her breath.

They turned back to the little grate, eyes in her direction, though she knew they could not see her. “Oh, I did mean to double check with you. Is this alright? I can always go—”

“Totally alright. Great. Good. I’ll be most comfortable if it’s you, first.” Linza had not once considered, through Tanyth’s entire explanation, that they might be one of the ones to masturbate in front of her. ‘Comfortable’ was perhaps a lie, but ‘eager’ would be accurate.

They grinned brightly at her. “Great! I’m glad to hear it. I’m feeling pent up something fierce, though I can’t quite place why…” Tanyth casually unbuttoned their shirt, revealing their flat chest.

They started to unbutton their wide-legged trousers.

Linza’s heart raced. She didn’t care at all what anatomy they had, except that whatever it was, she wanted her mouth on it or in it. 

She had thought she’d gotten a handle on her affections for Tanyth.

She had been very wrong.

Their pants slid down over their slender hips and pooled in the center of the floor.

They stood before her, totally naked.

Their skin was smooth and hairless, their waist nipped in with a feminine hint, and their erection pulsed and begged for touch.

Discussions of word choice returned to Linza’s mind. She could hardly call what Tanyth had a ‘cock’ or a ‘dick’. Those words were too rough for them. ‘Shaft’, perhaps. Or simply ‘penis’, as necessary.

Linza’s mind wandered over the meandering flow of Tanyth’s gender expression. As with any part of Tanyth’s body and manners, Linza knew that their shaft would be as masculine or as feminine as they wanted it to be.

Not even bothering to sit down, Tanyth started to stroke themselves.

Linza edged closer to the grate, still barely breathing.

Tanyth’s first happy moan was like a spark on dry kindling.

Linza’s whole body flared with desire and she became very uncertain whether she would earn her bottle of wine. 

There was a shallow shelf on the wall by the door, and Tanyth had left a jar open there. All the jars were lubricant, and there were a variety of flavors and scents. That one was jasmine. Linza had thought Tanyth had left it open for its fragrance, but the reason was now clear.

They paused their stroking and dipped their fingers into the clear liquid. It dripped in long strings as Tanyth returned their hand to themselves.

Then they moaned in earnest and Linza nearly fainted.

The one mercy of the whole thing was that it seemed like Tanyth wasn’t trying to take too long. They had their shift to get too, after all.

Linza pressed her fingertips against the screen and the tip of her nose against the grate, captivated. Capturing every detail. Remembering.

The way their face fluttered with pleasure. Their tongue between their lips. The swanlike curve of their back as they braced one hand against the wall and leaned heavily into it. Their rising urgency.

Every gasp. Every moan. Every stutter.

She wanted to pull every one of those noises from them, and then more.

The sound of their blooming climax was the high-pitched sigh of a luxuriant stretch.

Their cum spurted out onto the wall and then dribbled down over their hand. And then more. And then more.

It was more cum than Linza had ever seen at once. But it did not seem to be a supernatural amount. She just became even less impressed with her previous lovers who’d had similar hardware.

And all the more enamored with Tanyth.

They heaved a happy sigh and picked up a clean wash cloth from the stack. They wiped themselves down, then the wall, then dropped the cloth in a bin by the door.

Tanyth put their hand to the door, then turned back and waved. “Remember, come down any time!” They gave her a sunny smile as if they had not just worked themselves to powerful orgasm in front of her, and then left.

Linza sunk down to her knees. Her whole body was trembling.

Good gods she was so turned on.

She was hardly afforded any time to think, however, as the door swung open again.

She scrambled back up to peer through the grate. There was a stool behind her for such a purpose, and she pulled it up so that she could sit and still see who had arrived.

This was a woman, plump and curvaceous, with her hand already down the front of her trousers.

“H-hi! I’m s-sorry I usually properly introduce myself first, but… nnnnngh… fuck.”

The woman leaned back into the wall of the room and slid down to the floor with a plop. Her hand stayed buried in her trousers all the while. She was panting heavily, her breasts bouncing on her chest.

“It’s just my favorite patron visited today and he always gets me so… so… Ah, Aaaaah!” Barely thirty seconds after entering the room, the woman heaved her head back against the wall and climaxed.

Linza expected her to leave then, but it seemed that she was only getting started.

The woman bit her lip and squirmed and panted. She massaged her breasts and pinched her own nipples from the outside of her shirt.

Linza tried to take mental notes. But she was too aroused to think clearly and too curious to sink fully into her own arousal, so she just rocked her vulva against the stool and gasped quietly. The woman worked herself to a second, then a third orgasm. She sighed, stretched, toweled herself off, and left.

She’d never said her name.

Not that Linza would be remembering any names like this.

There was a man with tattoos, then a woman with white hair. Then a man and a woman together, and he fucked her into the ground as she sang with ecstasy.

She did see a few things that had surprised her.

There was a man who seemed to have orgasmed multiple times, if his face and voice were to be trusted, but he hadn’t ejaculated at all.

And then there was a woman who had ejaculated quite forcefully, sending a spray and then subsequent drip of clear fluid onto the floor below her.

Some masturbated slowly, some quickly. Some orgasmed powerfully, some hardly seemed to at all.

She had not realized just how right she had been. Variety truly was the spice of life.

And Tanyth had been right to call her ‘pansexual’. There was not one single body, one single face of pleasure, one gasp or moan of delight, that did not wrack her whole body with arousal.

Linza could hardly even remember anymore why she wasn’t touching herself, why she wasn’t cumming with them, except that Tanyth didn’t want her to.

For Tanyth, she waited.

For Tanyth, she trembled against the screen, sweating and gasping, rocking herself against the stool until she edged and edged and edged but never climaxed.

She hardly noticed that it had been an especially long time since the last person had come in, except that the door startled her when it swung open.

It was Tanyth!

“Just finished my shift,” they said. “You still in here?”

“Yes,” Linza gasped.

“Nicely done! If you want to pull open the screen, I’ll help clean up.”

All Linza could think was that she wanted them to clean her up. Trembling, she stood and unlatched the screen.

Tanyth swept it easily aside, revealing her quivering there.

Their face was suddenly uncertain. “Are you alright?”

“I, um… I didn’t…” Linza had never felt this dizzyingly aroused in her life.

Tanyth caught her by the elbow and found her eyes. “You didn’t cum, this whole time?”

Linza nodded, eagerly.

“Holy shit Linza, just for our bet?”

No, for Tanyth… oh, the bet! The wine! Right. It had just been a bet. “Y-yeah.”

“Well fuck me, I’d have just bought it for you if you wanted it so badly.”

She would have happily fucked them. “I’m… competitive.”

“Well, I can’t let you out of here like this. Do you want me to step outside, watch your, or touch you?”

While Linza’s conscious mind was still trying to make sense of Tanyth’s words, Linza’s unconscious responded confidently. “Touch me!”

Tanyth took Linza’s hands and pulled her gently onto the bamboo mat, then hovered over her with a soft smile.

First, they pressed their hand over her panties and her mound. “Fuck, you’re soaked!”

All Linza could do was nod.

Their hands were cool and soothing where they brushed over Linza’s skin and helped her wriggle out of the panties and kick them to her ankles.

Then, their fingers returned to her.

All the anticipation and wanting turned into pleasure in Tanyth’s hands. They were an alchemist of the highest degree.

“How’s that?” Their fingers ran circles over her vulva.

“Yes!”

“Do you want…” the fingers of their other hand brushed deeper between Linza’s labia, at the entrance to her vagina.

“Yes, please, please inside!”

Two of Tanyth’s fingers pressed in and Linza screamed with ecstasy. They easily found her spot of especial pleasure and pressed in a regular rhythm.

“Fuck!” Linza gasped. “Yes. Don’t stop. Don’t stop. Just stay… exactly like that…”

Tanyth obliged.

Linza’s heat built. She clenched her sex around Tanyth’s fingers and as she did, Tanyth pressed back against her. Linza moaned.

She let her mind sink back into fantasy. The memory of Tanyth’s cum, on the wall and dripping over their fingers, played slowly in Linza’s mind.

Her breath heaved in ragged gasps. “T-Tanyth, you’re gonna make me, you’re gonna make me— Aaaah!”

The climax overtook her in slow, heavy pulses. Tanyth continued their exact movements even as she writhed and shook and clenched. They did not slow or stop until Linza started to quiver with sensitivity and placed her hand over theirs.

They grinned down at her and withdrew their hands, then licked her wetness off of them.

Linza nearly came again just at the sight of it, but she was happy to be done shaking.

“I apologize that I let us make a bet with too low a wager,” Tanyth said. “Does that plus the wine seem adequate?”

Linza nodded dreamily. “Yes, very… adequate…”

Tanyth placed a calming hand on Linza’s chest. “You just stay there and recover. I’ll clean up, then I’ll walk you to the trolley. How’s that sound?”

Linza had meant to say ‘that’s perfect’ but instead she said, “You’re perfect…”

Tanyth giggled and winked. “You flatter me. You’re a quick learner, though. I’m sure you’ll surpass me in no time.”

Linza was a quick learner, but it took her three more nights to confirm the lesson that had glowed within her that night. As with her employment, she slept on it. Then she slept on it again. And one more time.

And then she was certain.

She was in love with Tanyth.

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Part 2: Training, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 10: Introductions

They sat on a small table out on a deck that overhung the sea. The breeze ruffled Tanyth’s hair so that they were haloed in strands of ocean blue. The sun had just disappeared below the horizon and the sky was not yet dark.

They ordered petite glasses of wine, commiserating that they were both lightweights, and talked easily.

It felt like a date.

The best date that Linza had ever been on.

Tanyth hung on her every word, but it didn’t seem fake or contrived. 

Linza did her best to convince herself that it was just part of Tanyth’s job. They were showing her the ropes, after all. She expected a breakdown later of conversation tactics.

Maintain eye contact, smile early and often. They twirled their hair. They touched their fingertips to Linza’s wrist as she relayed one of the worse memories of her time at university.

At their touch, the memory had fallen away, her mind had gone so blank, that Tanyth had needed to remind her what she had been talking about.

They shared a chocolate cake, and then all too soon, the night was over.

Linza was relieved to find that she didn’t need to pay for the meal — and Tanyth didn’t either. Staff had an allowance of free meals and Linza would get her own once she was on the schedule. That was an extra element of compensation that she hadn’t considered — and she supposed it behooved the estate to have staff who knew the other offerings well. Did the same logic apply to ‘experiences’? She hoped so, but she was too shy to ask yet.

Linza floated through her next day at work and could not wait to return to the estate.

Even though Tanyth had been waiting for her by the central fountain, exactly where they had said, Linza almost didn’t recognize them except for their light blue hair.

They were dressed in a trim suit this time, not unlike the madame’s assistant. 

Linza realized that while the lilac robes had emphasized everything that was soft and round about Tanyth’s face, this emerald suit did the opposite and emphasized everything angular and sharp.

“Linza!” they said as she arrived. “How was your day?”

Their voice was distinctly masculine, this time. Still the same underneath, still them. Linza realized then that they had remarkable control over their intonation. She heard learned some of the basics, since the arcane language of spellcasting was tonal and required precise pronunciation. She knew just enough to appreciate how much practice they must have put into it.

When they took her hand and kissed it, their grip was stronger. Tanyth showed her a different eating area, a balcony that overlooked the central street of the estate where bards played jovial tunes.

Linza had realized that Tanyth had gotten her talking all about herself the previous day, and she was determined to return all their questions today.

Whether it was their more masculine mood or that turnabout was fair play, Tanyth was happy to answer all of Linza’s questions. They regaled her with the details of their job, some gossip of the house, a complete explanation of the wines they sipped, and so much more.

They themselves were a cleric, faithful student of the healing arts. They didn’t know any illusion magic directly, but had successfully coached other illusionists before. They had held nearly every other role at the house in their time there, but they’d cut back to just their two favorites — serving tea and classic sex — to afford them more time to train newcomers like Linza.

Linza worried for a moment that they might be decades older than her, but managed to infer that they were only about five years her senior. They’d started at the house at the same age that Linza had shipped off to university. Tanyth didn’t brag about it, but Linza picked up on the fact that they knew the madame well and lived at the estate. 

As closely as she listened to their answers, she also watched their mannerisms, which were now subtly different. Their laugh was more like the wind that moved the chimes than the tingling of them. 

When Linza accidentally said unironically that she loved sausages, they didn’t press their fingers to their lips. Instead, they smirked with knowing eyes.

Despite the day over day contrast in their appearance and mannerisms, nothing about them seem forced or fake. There was still, very distinctly, Tanyth within it all. Linza sympathized. The degree to which she related to her own gender varied day by day. Tanyth just swept a larger range.

For the next week, they simply kept meeting for dinner.

Tanyth shared about their first crush.

Linza blushingly reciprocated.

Tanyth confessed that they had been wildly nervous their first few months at the house.

Linza confided that she was grateful that Tanyth had given her such a comforting welcome.

And it was Linza who first broached the topic of what they liked when it came to sex. 

That day, Tanyth was dressed fashionably in wide-legged pants and a tight top, androgynous both in appearance and mannerisms.

“What else do you do when you’re not working or here?” they’d asked.

“I like to write.”

“What about?”

Linza didn’t even blush this time. “Well, mostly smut, nowadays.”

“Oooh, nice! Do you mind sharing what about?”

“Sure! Um… This idea originated with my friend, Wyn, but a recurring character lately has been an octopus mermaid…”

They had discussed word choice (cock or dick?) favorite themes (denial for Linza, forced orgasm for Tanyth) and preferred character types (roguish, blushing, etcetera) as easily as the weather.

“How would you describe your sexuality?” Tanyth asked.

“Well, I like both men and women,” Linza had replied.

“Just men and women?”

Linza was for a moment confused, and then understood. “Oh! No, not just men and women.” She put a finger to her lips as she thought. She hadn’t quite verbalized this before. With Wyn it had been, ‘do you like women?’ Any of her male suiters had just assumed she liked men. She was sure she could have concluded with ‘not just men and women’ and Tanyth would have understood, but she was starting to get the hang of ‘everything given’ and she took the opportunity to dig a big deeper. “And not just hominids either.”

The world did indeed include a few sapient species that were not hominids. Dragons were a common example, though they did not usually deign to even speak with humans. Merfolk were another example, though you had to travel quite far to meet any.

Linza appreciated that Tanyth permitted her this lengthy introspection. Finally, she said, “I suppose the best way to say it is that if the circumstances are right, variety is the spice of life.”

Tanyth had laughed, putting their fingertips to their mouth but with less of a blush than they sometimes did. “May I humbly offer, you might also say ‘pansexual’ and save yourself some time. But I really liked the way you explained it.”

“Oh! I think I’d heard that before. ‘Pan’ as in the root for ‘all’?”

“Precisely.”

“Well, thank you. This has been enlightening. What about you?”

“Well…” It was Tanyth’s turn to blush slightly. It was hard for them to hide, with how pale their skin was. “It’s a bit embarrassing… and ironic… but I’m mostly into guys. Masculine types, anyway.”

She had been sure that their question of whether she liked only men and women had been somewhat pointed at her. Fishing for whether she might consider someone like them. But the way that they so casually revealed that they were ‘mostly into guys’ made her second guess that.

And then, she felt a bit ashamed. How presumptuous she was being! Of course Tanyth’s charisma was a practiced part of their job, she’d been telling herself that the whole time.

There wasn’t anything special between them.

Obviously.

Then why… did she suddenly feel ill?

Linza took a deep breath and then did what she always did whenever she felt uncomfortable, uncertain, ill or in pain.

She forced a smile and pretended it hadn’t happened.

She leaned in closer towards Tanyth and propped her chin up on her hand. “Okay, so, you have to tell me who you think the cutest guys here are.”

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Part 2: Training, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 9: Tanyth

The next night, Linza opened door number thirteen with a flurry of nervous excitement.

Tanyth was waiting for her.

Linza was glad that she had done her best to avoid imagining what Tanyth would be like, because there was no way she would have done them justice.

They were pale and slender and a bit shorter than her, with light blue hair caught up in a messy ponytail.

They had pointed ears and angular features, pretty eyes and elegant hands. They wore a skirt that sat low on their hips and brushed the ground, and a criss-crossing bandeau over their flat chest, both in lilac cotton.

Their pointed ears distinguished them as half-elf, rarer than half-orcs but not unheard of in the kingdom. Though other hominids tended not to be compatible with each other, most other species seemed at least partially compatible with humans. Children of inter-species parents were not themselves fertile, despite some folks best efforts at claiming residual elf or orc or seraphim blood. Part of the reason that the ‘partial blood’ myths were hard to stamp out was because half-humans could look very different from one another and land anywhere on the spectrum from one parent to the other.

Each community was different and some were more welcoming than others, but generally half-human children had difficulty fitting in. Cultures that valued fertility tended to see the half-humans’ sterility as a sign that they were cursed or otherwise deficient.

Yet, the very same traits that lead to those difficulties — their relatively exotic features as compared to humans and their sterility — made them welcome members of brothels and pleasure houses the world over. So, half-humans tended to be over-represented in erotic contexts, and the pleasure house was no exception. 

Worries of exploitation were valid, but this particular establishment had more of a sense of ‘refuge’ than ‘circus’. It helped that the founder herself was half-orc.

The little half-elf jumped to their feet with a clap of excitement. “It’s so good to meet you!” They surged forward and wrapped Linza in a warm hug.

Her cheek tucked comfortably onto the top of their head, and they smelled like jasmine and sandalwood.

They withdrew and took Linza’s hands in their own, which were as soft as she’d imagined. “It is lovely to meet you!” Their voice was distinctly feminine.

“It’s nice to meet you too!”

Tanyth lead Linza by the hand down to the bamboo mat and patted it, and Linza sat across from them. She surveyed the room a bit sheepishly, noticing that it had been put back into its original state in her last absence. “Sorry to leave it a bit messy, I—”

“Not at all!” Tanyth said. “I told you to make yourself comfortable, and you did! Great work.”

Linza blushed. “Did you… see?”

“Oh, heavens!” Tanyth put their fingertips to their lips. “Not at all. Rule number two. Nothing taken. And in the interest of rule number one, everything given, I must say that I would happily oblige such a scenario should you desire it. But! Only if you desire it.”

Linza nodded. She was starting to understand more implicitly what the rules meant. The terms of her employment had given a crisp definition, but it was like the difference between a sketch and the model. In real life, there was more depth to it.

“I will definitely consider that,” Linza said, and she meant it.

Tanyth grinned. “Perfect!”

“What’s… next today?”

“We get to know each other,” Tanyth said.

“Like… sexually?” Linza felt like a dope as soon as the words were out of her mouth.

Tanyth laughed, the sound like wind chimes in a summer breeze. They pressed their fingertips to their mouth again, as if Linza had said something naughty and yet delightful.

She supposed that she had.

“Everything given, I wouldn’t refuse,” they said. “But I’d truly like to get to know the rest of you first! Why don’t we go get dinner?”

Linza hesitated. She was going to have to mooch off of Wyn a couple more times that week as it was, so it didn’t feel right to spend extra on dinner out. Though, Wyn would never forgive her if she passed on such an opportunity, so Linza swallowed her pride and nodded. “That would be lovely!”

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Part 2: Training, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 8: The Room

The room was just as Wyn had described. The screen that split the two parts was folded partially back.

There was another door on the parallel wall and opposite corner, which was much more ornate. That would be where the esteemed guest entered.

The guest’s side of the room was decorated with a little nondescript shrine. There were two cairns of stones and a magical trickle of water flowed down each one, filling the room with the soft sound.

The staff side of the room had a shelf of cubbies which were full of candles, incense, glass jars, and all manner of other accessories. There was a default setup, of course, but each esteemed guest could request customizations that were arranged for them before their arrival. There was no bed in this room, just a segmented bamboo mat rolled out across the floor.

The light was dim and orange. Cozy. A clearly labeled cluster of levers on the wall controlled the color and amount of light by sliding various filters over the source.

Linza took a moment to slide all of them back, curious about both the mechanisms and the source of light. The brightness of the light was nearly blinding. She confirmed that the source was a perfectly round gem, radiating a steady light from its core. The magic could only be wrought in a flawless gem, but once it was it would shine eternally.

Linza was so overwhelmed by taking in even the small room that it was a long few minutes before she noticed the piece of parchment in the middle of the bamboo mat on the floor. It was folded into a tent with her name in curling script on the front.

She picked it up and on the inside was a letter.

Hello!

My name is Tanyth (they/them pronouns, please) and I will be helping you get acquainted with the house. I know it’s a bit odd to leave you just a note, but if you’re anything like me, you’re feeling totally overwhelmed at the moment.

Your first goal is to simply keep coming to this room — and, if you’d like, IN this room 😉 — every night until you no longer feel nervous to be here. It may take a long time, or no time at all. When you’re ready, you may deliver a letter addressed to me to the madame’s assistant. I’ll then be waiting to meet you the following night.

Best wishes,

Tanyth

Linza’s heart was beating in her throat. She was already eager to meet Tanyth! Such beautiful writing could only come from beautiful hands, she was sure.

But, she was sure it was the same as when the madame had insisted that she spend a night considering her terms of employment.

As eager as she was, she appreciated Tanyth’s thoughtfulness.

Yet, how in the world was she supposed to not feel nervous? 

Her eyes darted back to the winking face in the letter.

She could do as they’d suggested… though, was she really so bold? But, why not? That was the whole point of the place, wasn’t it?

Yet, she’d never been here before. That could be worrying… or exciting.

Linza checked the doors. Both locked with a bolt. Some small magics could open simple locks like this, but she expected that was by design. The locks were meant to prevent accidental entry, not all entry. That would be necessary for the safety of the staff.

That thought sparked a little flicker of anxiety. Just how dangerous could this line of work be? The terms of employment had talked at great length about security and safety measures. Should she be worried?

Then again, the professors who gave the longest lectures on safety always had the fewest accidents in their laboratories. She expected that the same principal applied here.

And, she understood Tanyth’s advice. She was feeling overwhelmed. She agreed that she’d learn little until her nerves abated.

So, Linza settled in. She took six candles and arranged them in a ring, then lay a stick of incense on a tray between them. She lit each of them with a brief arcane chant and a snap of her fingers. She stretched out on the bamboo mat and let her whole body relax for a few minutes. Then, she sat up and pressed her feet together and practiced the gestures for her favorite spells, which was as meditation for her.

As her hands traced the shape of the spell for a minor illusion, her memory wandered back to her activities of the previous night.

Arousal rushed over her like heat billowing out of a cracked oven.

She could do that again. Or, she could do something different.

She traced the shape and the crystal at her throat hummed.

A visceral moan unfolded in the air around her. Then, another.

A shiver ran down her spine and pooled between her legs, a quivering tingle in her sex.

She thought of the way that the madame’s assistant had smelled. The way that she might fold into his field of stars. It felt a little bit naughty, to indulge in that. Like Wyn had said, a little bit like lusting after a professor. Might she, like Wyn had imagined, be able to learn from him? From the madame herself?

Linza was sure she could not imagine what they would teach her.

The luxuriant moaning that she had summoned brought her back to awareness of her body. She flicked her fingers to renew the spell, and it continued.

Her sex ached, but she did not yet touch herself.

Her breathing quickened, her blood ran hot.

And Tanyth, what were they like? What would they teach her? Were there any staff here that would not make her into a blushing, stuttering mess?

She undressed all the way. Her flicker of shyness died in the wake of the next illusory moan.

If she could be naked here, masturbate here, that would go a long way towards making her feel more comfortable.

She lay back on the bamboo mat, the panels smooth against her skin. She stretched and felt the ridges all along her spine, her arms, her ass, her calves. The room was the perfect temperature to lay like this.

Soaking in the needy, visceral moans of her illusion.

She plunged her fingers into the depths of her arousal and nearly screamed with delight. She had stopped herself, because she thought she might be heard.

But, wasn’t the point to be heard? To make herself as comfortable as possible? To be as shamelessly vocal as the sounds of pleasure she so often summoned for herself?

Linza withdrew her fingers, letting the anticipation build. She waited until her legs were trembling and her sex was clenching and her breath was shaking.

As she touched herself again, she moaned. The sound started at the very depth of her arousal and vibrated inside of her before escaping from her throat. It was as if she were a lute and her fingers plucked the strings of her pleasure.

She played her favorite song all the way up to the crescendo.

Just before the crest, she stopped.

Linza gasped and growled. Why was she torturing herself like this?

It was because the next time her fingers touched her folds, they felt so good. Every time she edged herself, her pleasure redoubled.

After the fourth time, she couldn’t take it anymore. She wanted, needed, craved the climax. She was quivering and begging for relief.

This time her fingers did not stop and this time the song swelled to its final crescendo, a scream of abject pleasure.

Linza moaned as the aftershocks coursed through her. The illusory moaning quieted. Her breathing slowed. The candles burned softly next to her.

Linza had not meant to fall asleep there in the little room. But, she had been so thoroughly relaxed, so totally comfortable, that she drifted right off into dreams of suns enveloping moons.


Linza awoke in the dim light of the little room, sure that it was a bit late in the night to be walking home by herself, but also optimistic that she might be able to find some other employee recently off shift that might walk with her.

She wiped herself with a towel from a cubby and cleaned the room as best she could. If she’d interpreted Tanyth’s letter correctly, this room was set aside for her training and so she didn’t need to worry too much about protocol just yet.

She dressed without hurry and opened the door.

The bright sun of late morning crackled in her eyes.

She was going to be so late for work!

She collected herself as best she could and listened for music. True to the assistant’s word, this brought her back to the main street and she hurried towards the exit of the estate and the trolley stop out front.

Linza swore as she waited for the trolley to arrive, then cursed at its slow progress, then muttered hexes towards herself as she jogged the last few blocks to the laboratory.

She took a deep breath and stepped inside, trying to look nonchalant. She’d prepared a fib about getting on the trolley going the wrong way that she hoped would be convincing.

Linza was soothed and yet perturbed to find that nobody had noticed. She spent the rest of the day kicking herself for kicking herself and also debating whether she was ready to meet Tanyth.

She finally decided that the curiosity was going to make her nervous in its own way. She’d write her letter that night, deliver it on her way to the room, spend just the evening there this time, and then meet them the following night.


Linza did as she had planned. That night, she bought dinner at the estate, tiny pastries of roasted vegetables and meats. The smell of it filled the little room and intensified the flavor.

Given her day’s rough start and her wariness to lose track of time again, she simply ate, burned a single stick of incense, and then left.

She hadn’t spotted the madame’s assistant on the way in, and so she wandered the estate for a bit with her letter addressed to Tanyth.

However, she became distracted and stopped to listen to a bard play a sonata on a massive harp.

“How are you finding everything?” The assistant was suddenly standing directly next to her.

Linza nearly jumped out of her skin. “Oh, I was looking for you!”

He looked down at her with his knowing, noticing eyes, as if to say I know

She gulped and handed him the letter. “I-It’s for Tanyth.”

He nodded. “They will receive it tonight.”

Unsure of what to do with the intensity of his gaze, her eyes flitted back to the bard. She searched for something to say. “Do you think they—”

But as she turned, she found that the assistant was already gone.

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Part 2: Training, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 7: The Assistant

Linza blushed as she handed over the rumpled sheaf of papers that was her terms of employment to the madame’s assistant.

He was a slender and feminine man and she would have thought him half-elf, but his ears weren’t pointed. His skin was dark as ink, his hair braided back from his face in intricate swirling designs. The braids, each almost as slender as a strand of hair, where gathered into a neat silver clasp at the base of his neck.

His navy coat was angular and his face was soft, with a wide button nose and full lips. The whites of his eyes were like crescent moons. 

As he extended his hand to accept the sheaf, she noticed that his skin was lighter there, like the Milky Way. 

He was the moon to the madame’s sun. 

Reflecting. 

Nothing seemed to escape his gaze or the careful thought behind them. Yet, he said little. 

Someone who could not ‘see’ would perhaps have looked right over him, but Linza was as captivated by him as by the madame. 

He had already noticed the wrinkling of the papers, the smudging of the ink. 

Linza blushed. 

He must have noticed her noticing him, because he finally spoke. “I see that you signed with more than ink.” His voice was like the night wind rustling through leaves. He had a lilting accent, as if his native tongue were song.

She had prepared a fib, but she saw that it would be as transparent as damp silk to him. Better, then, the truth. “I am… very excited to join.” 

“Your pleasure pleases.”

Linza had been blushing. Now, she flushed with arousal. She hasn’t considered they might actually like what had become of her papers!

Would all the staff here be such forbidden fruits? Such avatars of fundamental nature? 

Linza both wished that they would be and yet knew her mind would break if it were so.

She could not break eye contact with him and his face seemed to fill her whole awareness until she saw a reflection of herself in his midnight eyes, her uncertain expression like the face of the moon. 

And then it was over, and she was back in her feet, though a little dizzy. He was too much taller than her and they were at too conversational a distance for what she had felt to have really happened. 

It must have been her imagination. 

Illusionists could do that to themselves, sometimes. 

And yet, did not his full lips wane into the slightest crescent smile?

“Your application is accepted,” he said, breaking the spell. Or, completing it?

“Your training will begin this evening, if it pleases.”

“It pleases,” she squeaked. 

She expected him to notice and laugh. 

He only noticed. 

“You may follow me there, if it pleases.”

Linza just nodded, afraid of embarrassing herself further. 

He turned and she followed him. 

His navy coattails were embroidered in silver with a motif of veil-tailed fish, which she recognized. Her history lessons returned to her as they walked. To the north was a great democratic federation. The island nation controlled much of the sea and touched all the rest of it. 

In the kingdom, the merchants had only recently risen to influence. 

In the federation, the merchants had held the power all along. It had its pros and cons, of course, as did every type of rule. Apparently, the nations were flourishing and there was little room left on the islands, so many of them emigrated. 

The kingdom was a particularly favored spot because it was still relatively close to the federation and it was, as Linza’s classmate had explained, ‘so charmingly quaint’.

Now nearly every one in five folks in the city were either immigrants or their children, distinguished by their dark skin, rounded features, and lyrical accents.

The veil-tailed fish was one the motif of one of the smaller but more prosperous merchant states, though Linza had forgotten the name. She was always bad with names.

She walked right into the assistant, her face suddenly between the lapels of his coat. He smelled like oak and myrrh and the ocean in the middle of the night. 

She gasped and stumbled back.

“We have arrived,” he said.

They were standing next to a simple black door. They were in an alleyway of sorts, but on the second story, on a walkway that ran between two close buildings. There were simple black doors like this one all along the side, painted with large, white numbers. They stood next to door thirteen.

Linza had totally lost track of which way they’d come.

“Is there anything else I can assist you with?”

Yes, Linza thought.

“No,” Linza said.

He noticed. “Rule number one. Everything given.”

Linza nearly panicked. What did that mean? Was she already breaking the rules?

“Peace,” he said, smiling fully. “I only mean, tell the truth.”

Linza gulped. “I-I’ve just caught myself not remembering which way we came.”

“Wherever you are on the estate, listen for the source of music. You’ll always find the main street.”

Did he always give directions like this? Linza was grateful. She’d have totally forgotten anything more specific. This, she would remember. Did he know? Had he noticed?

“Thank you! I’ve also… totally forgotten what’s first.” Her terms of employment had been very clear about what all of the stages of her training were to be. But those were now tucked in the assistant’s coat, and no longer in her hands.

“That’s natural. Tonight, you simply meet the room.”

Right. Okay. That sounded manageable. 

He stood quietly there for a long moment.

Linza realized he was waiting for her further questions. “T-that’s everything! Thank you. I appreciate it.”

He bowed, and then he left.

Linza stood next to door thirteen and gulped. 

It felt like her first day of university all over again.

She took a deep breath, mustered her courage, and opened the door.

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