Christmas Dinner (Part II)

Continued from Part I

Elden returned to the dining guests to find that none had noticed his or Rosie’s absence, except that the wine in their glasses had fallen a bit low without her attentions.

With the slightest inclination of his will, the wine that Rosie had prepared and abandoned now distributed amongst the twelve glasses as if rising from below. Were any of the guests paying attention, they would have found their minds wandering in that crucial moment, and their senses then certain that nothing had changed.

But none of them were paying much attention at all. They were all finding that the warmth of the wine was settling into a few particular places more strongly than it usually did, but to their credit, the prim and proper group had remained professional so far. Elden licked the backs of his canines. It would be all the more delicious to break their decorum later.

It had been ages since he’d had an excuse for good, old-fashioned mischief. Now that Rosie was prepared for her next role, there was nobody to wheel out the fifth course—brie and toscano with steaming fresh bread—so it simply appeared amongst the existing dishes on the table.

The guests crooned with delight and helped themselves. The private thoughts of a few guests murmured that they ought perhaps to slow down on the wine if they were starting to think that food was magically appearing, but they dared not share notes with their friends lest they be mocked for getting too drunk.

Elden could help them forget that care. They’d soon have little need for it, or any others. He stepped to the head of the table and raised his hand, a matching glass now there.

“Honored guests!” he said, and every pair of dilated eyes turned towards him. These last few centuries, subtlety had served him better, but the moment reminded him of what it had been like to a be a king. He smiled warmly at his subjects, whose pliant wills were now all too ready to turn towards Elden’s regality. 

“I propose a toast,” he continued. “To charity, good food, and great friends.”

Twelve glasses and twelve smiles rose to meet the toast, along with a cheer of “here, here!”

Elden inclined his glass towards them. “Rejoice and drink deep the blessings of life.” A little golden thread of magic curled through his words, and the merry revelers did as they were told. Every glass was empty before it touched the table again.

Elden returned to his spot by the door to enjoy the progression of the fifth course.

In truth, he’d suspected Rosie’s mistake before she’d confessed. By the end of the third course, there hadn’t been a soft cock or a dry cunt at the whole table. The guests had done an admiral job of distracting themselves with conversation and commentary. The two men at one end of the table had gotten into a spirited debate about the best cigar cutting method, while the woman closest to the fire was speculating alongside the man with the tree-shaped pocket square about what cooking method might have produced such exquisitely juicy meat.

These efforts were quickly unraveling. The throbbing of cocks against the insides of neatly ironed trousers became to pressing to ignore, and the best one could do with the moan inspired by an accidental brush against a nipple was try to play it off as a reaction to the cheese.

And so the praise of the food took on a distinctly erotic tone. Moans and curled toes rippled down the table as the diners found they could string together no more cohesive a sentence than how good the food was, how incredibly good, oh and by the way, is it just me or is it very warm in here? 

The eyes of the man with the blue pocket square fluttered as his fingertips found the tip of his throbbing cock through the fabric of his trousers, muddled mind insisting that somehow this would solve his problem. “So, so good,” he muttered, at his turn to praise the food.

The one man who had not even dared to so much as subtly reposition his shaft, and who was now feeling the pinch of too-tight trousers especially strongly, finally determined that he could not help but retire to the restroom and do something about this. But as he reached for his napkin to disguise his condition from the rest of the guests, he found that it was no longer there. And before he could think much on the fact that he would have sworn it was just there, another wave of arousal overtook him. He flatted his palms against the top of the table, lest he do what he was so sorely tempted to do, and he muttered something about feeling very, very full.

Elden stepped up beside him then, gleam in his eye. “I hope you’re not too full for dessert.”

The man shivered despite himself, mouth parting as a gasp escaped him. “C-clearly couldn’t be more excited,” he said, forcing a polite smile.

“Excellent,” Elden said. “I think you’ll find it’ll hit the spot just so.”

Twelve glassy eyes fixed on Elden as he stepped out of the room.

Continued in Part III

Part 4: The Interloper, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 35: Dinner

Linza stood in front of the mirror in her little apartment, fussing over her reflection. The dress from Wyn was emerald satin, off-the-shoulder and tight through the hip.

Linza had been shocked to learn that Wyn owned anything that was a solid color.

She wondered if Wyn had bought it for her, just in case, because it fit Linza like a glove. It was just the sort of thing Wyn would do—especially because Linza would never knowingly allow Wyn to buy clothes for her. Linza would have to thank her properly later.

The dress alone probably cost as much as one of Linza’s loan payments, not to mention the diamond necklace and makeup that she’d also borrowed. 

She hardly recognized herself in the mirror. It had been years since she’d dressed this fancy. JSMI had an annual gala, but she’d skipped it her last two years at university because it was the week before finals. She didn’t realize how much she’d missed dressing up. Practicality had dominated her wardrobe since she’d graduated. She’d been so focused on dressing to be taken seriously, she’d almost forgotten what she liked.

She liked to feel… pretty.

Would Grun think she was pretty?

Why did she care what he thought?

The door bell chimed. Linza nearly jumped out of her skin, then snatched her clutch from the table, locked up, and hurried down the stairs to meet him.

She swung open the front door, and their expressions became mirrors of each other—surprised, blushing appreciation.

Linza could not remember ever seeing a suit fit someone so perfectly. He wore a shirt this time, white and neatly tucked into well-tailored trousers. The black coat traced his shoulders and then his waist, sweeping down to coattails. His hair was slicked back to a bronze clasp at the nape of his neck, but he’d left a few curling strands to frame his face. He smelled of vanilla and sandalwood.

They each came to their senses at about the same time.

He bowed to her. “You look lovely this evening.”

“I look lovely always, thank you very much.” The mock arrogance was only a half step over from self-deprecation. The prospect of actually accepting the compliment was much too terrifying.

“It’s true,” he said.

It sounded like he meant it. Linza’s cheeks blazed hotter and she hoped he thought she’d overdone her makeup. “Your… outfit is quite nice, also.”

“Thank you.”

Linza was relieved to find that he hadn’t commissioned a carriage or anything so ostentatious. In fact, he’d planned for them to ride the trolley, where they were far overdressed compared to the after-work crowd. Linza had to admit it was a bit fun, being so done-up in such a mundane place. She half expected that they’d similarly end up at a normal dining establishment. That would be a clever spin on the fancy date.

She was wrong.

They got off the trolley in a fancy part of town close to where Wyn lived, and he led Linza to a restaurant that she had heard about from Molly but never been to.

Even at the door, the smell of spices and herbs and roasting meat washed over her.

Inside, she recognized elements that were like those at the estate. The lighting was dim, close. The seating was arranged in booths with high backs, private. The upholstery, curtains, and carpet were all velvet.

A woman in a slim black dress guided them to a booth that had already been set for two.

Linza looked around, wide-eyed. “I’ve never been any place like this before,” she whispered.

“Really?” he chuckled. “I assumed that this would be the standard of living to which you were accustomed.”

Linza snorted a laugh, which was as much proof as anything else that she was no socialite.

“You did?” she said.

“I did! I’ve never been any place like this before, either!”

They leaned closer, now co-conspirators in their imitation of the well-to-do.

“Will either of us know the etiquette?” Linza said.

Grun smirked. “I’m sure that on your worst day, you’d be more polite than nine out of ten people that actually come here. Rich people are assholes.”

Linza snickered, a spark of thrill from the bold statement. “I can be an asshole too, you know.”

“No, you can’t,” he said.

She folded her arms. “How do you know?”

“How do you not know?” he said.

Linza tried to glare at him. She wasn’t sure if someone who riled up her competitive streak so easily was good for her. But Wyn and told her to enjoy herself… and she was, so far. 

A slender man in a black silk robe, similar to the first woman’s dress, appeared next to them and asked what they’d like to drink.

“What do you have?” Grun asked.

What ensued was a verbal essay describing each of the wines available and the details of their vintage, the conditions of their soil, the weather of the years of their harvest, the reviews of the local wine experts.

Linza did her best to follow along, but she was soon totally lost.

The man finished his speech, then waited.

“That last one sounded absolutely perfect,” Grun said.

The man bowed and left.

“What was the last one?” Linza said, grateful that Grun seemed to have been able to keep up.

“I have no idea,” Grun said.

She scoffed at him, but laughed despite her best efforts to look indignant. “We’re bad at this!” Linza said.

“Are we? I’m pretty sure that’s how rich people pick, too. Or they’re like, ‘oh, a horse pissed within three miles of those grapes on the third moon of their ripening? I love horses! I’ll take that one!’”

Linza snorted and covered her mouth with a hand. She felt out-of-place in such a fancy venue, but sitting across from Grun… that felt right. Easy. Conversation flowed between them, especially once the wine arrived.

When it was time to order food, the list of specials was also overwhelming. Linza struggled to understand even the first item. She could do whole alchemical proofs in her head, and yet for whatever reason, remembering a verbal list of food options was totally beyond her capacity.

After the server finished, Grun asked her, “Are there any foods you don’t like or can’t eat?”

“Not really, I like most things.”

“Great.” He then ordered two different things based on their primary meats, and assured Linza that they could swap if she didn’t like hers.

She marveled at how he took the lead, but he was still very attentive. It was like how he’d marched right up to the madame, stated his case, and then listened to her. Listened so very closely…

Needing to chase away that particular memory lest she behave even more inappropriately, Linza asked Grun how he’d heard of this place if he was new to town. He shared about friends he’d made at the estate, and then they talked shop. It was perhaps not the most appropriate topic for the fancy restaurant, but Linza was two glasses of wine in and she didn’t care.

After forty minutes that passed as quickly as five, their meal arrived—a hock of lamb nestled in potatoes cut like flowers, and a swordfish steak ringed with clams and purple rice. It was almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

Whether it was the wine or the company or truly the food, Linza could not remember ever tasting anything so delicious—the lamb melted on her tongue, the potatoes were soft as silk, the rice was a backdrop for herbs she’d never had before and probably couldn’t pronounce.

But the sweetest taste of all was her laugh. Grun was equal parts clever and naïve, earnest and snarky, and he found every chink her in her armor and every gap in her guard.

It felt like dinner had hardly been served—despite their empty plates, empty bottle of wine, and the conspicuous progress of the clock—when their dessert arrived, chocolate mouse with fresh raspberries.

They both tucked in and groaned with happiness.

His groan set her heart racing. It was inappropriate. She needed to get a hold of herself. But… she didn’t want to.

If she’d wanted to keep a hold of herself, she wouldn’t have drank half a bottle of wine.

“I’m very glad I made this bet,” he said.

“How’d you know I couldn’t half-ass anything?” she said. This was the real question, these were the real stakes, not her silly little inhibitions. If he had a suitable answer, she’d have no reason to not throw herself at him. If he didn’t, then she might be able to finally walk away.

“Educated guess,” he said.

“Educated by what? By whom?” If the madame or Nephis had told him, then she would not be so impressed.

“Some hints from Tanyth. They’re quite fond of you, you know.”

Her stomach twisted. Maybe she’d had too much wine. What had they told Grun? Did she want to know? “They’re fond of you, too.”

She took a breath to do the right thing, to tell Grun exactly how Tanyth liked him, when he said, “Why do you always defer compliments like that?”

Linza hesitated. “It feels… immodest to accept them.”

“Why do you want to be modest when you’re talented?” He was insistent, borderline concerned, his own inhibitions softened by the wine.

“I’d be too ashamed to brag.” She avoided his gaze. It was too steady, too knowing, like he might really see her whole heart laid out if his eyes met hers.

Grun gripped his fork tighter and frowned at her. “Who taught you that?”

She blinked. “You’re angry?”

“Well… yes! Of course!”

Linza felt the spark of new understanding, like finally learning a new spell. So Linza repeated to Grun the explanation from the madame’s assistant about the centers of knowing, about how hers was shame—and his might be anger.

He ran his fingers through his beard. “You’re going to have to tell me about that again when we’re sober and I’ll remember better. That’s… that’s something important.” He reached across the table and touched her hand. “But I’ll tell you right now, I don’t think you should be ashamed. Not of being talented, or smart, or pretty. Or knowing that you are.”

Linza’s heart struggled to flutter out of her chest, her throat tightening to hold it in place as her eyes misted. C’mon, hold it together. Not here. You’re on a date. He doesn’t want to see this.

“Oh!” His voice softened. “Are you alright? Did I— I didn’t mean to say anything hurtful, I’m sorry if— I just meant—”

She shook her head. She couldn’t speak yet, lest she actually start crying. She felt so ashamed—she was making him regret being so kind to her.

He straightened in his seat. “Do you want… do you want a hug?”

She nodded.

He stepped around to her side of the table and put his arm around her.

And then she was surrounded by his warmth and the smell of vanilla and sandalwood. She took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. She focused on the sound of his heartbeat, the rise and fall of his chest against her cheek, the soft wool of his suit coat and the smooth cotton of his shirt, the firmness of his thigh pressed against hers, the pressure of his hand against her hair.

And as she leaned in close and breathed deeply, smelling his musk mingled with the vanilla, a heat that was not entirely from the wine flooded her cheeks and curled between her legs. It was utterly inappropriate, a violation of trust, a poor response to such a kind gesture, and yet… was it just her, or did his breath hitch? Was that a stray shadow or the throb of his cock against his tightly tailored pants?

She had not been about to cry because she was sad, but because she was overwhelmed. And the closeness of him was like a catalyst, alchemizing that overwhelm into desire.

Her breathing quickened, her fingers curled possessively around the lapels of his coat.

He tensed with the strain of an impulse tugging at its leash.

She owed him an answer for his kind words and concerns. That wicked, slithering thing looped over her shoulders, trailed down between her breasts and coiled around her thigh, brushing its scales between her legs as it went.

The only answer that seemed right was her mouth around his cock and her fingernails scraping his skin.

A black-clad server walked by, paying them no mind, but reminding Linza that she did need to keep some modicum of control over herself here in the restaurant, lest they never be invited back.

With great conscious effort, she forced her hands to release his lapels and smooth the wool. Stroking his chest proved no less tempting, however, especially as she saw his imploring eyes.

She dropped a hand to his upper thigh.

He froze, except for the throb of his cock against his trousers.

Linza’s fingers brushed higher.

Grun jolted. “R-ready to head out?” He stood and stepped back around to his side of the table.

Linza cursed herself. Was he aroused, or truly uncomfortable? That had been a stupid, stupid thing to do. What would she have done if Grun had attempted the same?

That slithering thing looped happily between her legs, filling her mind with the image of her melting back into the booth, mouth gaping in shadow as Grun subtly slid his fingers up her skirt, finding the wetness there and then plunging easily inside—

“We’ll take the check, please,” Grun said to the passing server, who nodded politely.

Linza needed to get a handle on herself. She was dizzy and overwarm and making bad choices and it was definitely not just the wine. 

She should have asked Grun, right then, whether she had made him uncomfortable. Whether his hurry to leave the restaurant was to flee her or attend to his arousal or both. She should have said that if he was game, she was game.

But she didn’t. The words died in her throat, unable to surmount the fear of how she might feel if he really did want to leave. That thought was enough to sober her.

For the first time that night, they didn’t chat as they waited for the check.

As it arrived, Linza reached for her clutch, but Grun waved her off. “Hey, now. I won our bet fair and square.”

“But I don’t mind—”

Grun smiled, his blue eyes twinkling like circles of sea glass. “You can get the next one.”

The next one. Hope welled in Linza’s chest, igniting and flaring into arousal. Her breathing quickened. There would be a next time. She hadn’t ruined everything.

A second date!

Tanyth was going to be devastated.

Guilt curled icy claws around her chest, thickening the air.

It was just like the calligraphy. She was supposed to half-ass it—lose the contest, ruin the date, keep the peace.

But she’d forgotten. 

She was physically incapable of half-assing anything.

And… Grun understood that about her in a way that Tanyth didn’t. Tanyth was kind to her, yes… but in the way that they were kind to everyone. And if Linza could get over her crush on Tanyth, then… Tanyth could get over Grun too. Like Wyn said, they were an adult.

And so was Linza. And she did indeed want to do very adult things with Grun.

As they stepped out of the restaurant, she found a reason to restart the conversation, and the conversation flowed easily again as they took the trolley back to her place.

As they reached her front door, she was in the middle of a story about her freshman year at JSMI, so she leaned back against the railing of the stairs up to her door and finished the story. That reminded Grun of something, which reminded her of a different thing, and so they just kept talking for another half hour. Linza would have stayed for hours more if the chill of the night hadn’t cut right to her bones, even through the suit coat which he’d draped over her shoulders while they were still on the trolley.

She had resolved to invite him upstairs before they’d even left the restaurant, but now, in the moment, it was so much more intimidating. What if he said ‘no’?! She’d wither away and die, if she didn’t just start sobbing immediately. And she certainly did not want him to agree out of pity or guilt.

But the idea of giving him his coat back, watching him walk back towards the trolley, knowing that he’d been waiting for her to ask… no, that was much worse.

At the next break in the conversation, she said, “Looks like you’re getting a bit chilly too. I can think of some ways to warm up… want to come inside?” Alright, that was actually pretty smooth.

“That’s my favorite place to come.” Grun smirked.

Linza snorted, smoothness gone. She smacked his shoulder. “Oh my gods, shut up and get in here already.” 

He quirked an eyebrow at her.

“You know I just meant my apartment, don’t be an asshole.”

His smirk didn’t fade. “So does that mean you don’t want…”

Her cheeks flushed with heat. She did her best to still sound suave. “I didn’t say that.”

He leaned towards her, his vanilla and musk and sandalwood scent curling around her. That slithering thing vibrated with glee.

But he stopped, just a hand’s breadth from her lips. Deferring to her. She pushed up onto her toes, bracing a hand against his shoulder. But just before her lips brushed his, she paused. Not out of fear—but because that wicked thing inside of her whispered a better idea in her ear.

His breath shuddered, his expectations subverted. But he didn’t move to close the gap.

“How long would you wait for me like this?” she whispered, her lips brushing his as she spoke.

“Forever,” he breathed.

She hooked her hands around the back of his neck and pulled his lips hungrily against hers. There was only the softness of his lips, only the heat of his neck on her palms, the steel of his chest against hers, until her tongue snaked out to part his lips and taste him.

His arms wrapped around her, fingertips digging into her ass as he lifted her into him. She moaned at the closeness of him, then purred at the throbbing of his cock against the front of her hips.

He groaned and broke the kiss, scooping her up into his arms.

She yelped and giggled.

“What floor?” he said.


Part 3: On the Job, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 24: The Invitation

In the coming months, Linza settled into her routine. Just as with the break room, the routine did not diminish her pleasure—rather, the reliable expectation spurred her on.

She spent nearly every weekday evening and weekend afternoon at the estate. Linza usually had at least one session a day that was just Minor Illusions, but there was one weekend day where she had fully ten. Whenever her work permitted, she scrawled stories in her notebook in the dim light, inspired by the guest’s noises of pleasure in the other room.

Before and after her shifts or even between sessions that were further apart on the schedule, she wandered the estate. She bought pastries, perched on balconies and watched the people below, sat next to fountains and enjoyed the rushing water. She attended more lectures, each with their own explicit demonstrations.

Molly had been eager to read Linza’s smut, and Linza had been eager for a receptive audience. Spurred on by Molly’s encouragement, Linza wrote more than she ever had before.

Linza saw less of Tanyth. She still loved them, she knew. She missed them. But she could not complain and there was plenty to distract her.

She put nearly every copper of what she made towards her loans. At this rate, she might even pay them off within two or three years!

As her three month anniversary of being officially on the schedule approached, she’d received a letter in white ink on black paper. It was from the assistant, on behalf of the madame.

It was an invitation to lunch.

Part 3: On the Job, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 22: Sorcery (Part I)

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. 

Part 3: On the Job, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 20: Possibilities

Over the next few weeks, Linza distracted herself from pining after Tanyth the only way she knew how—by throwing herself into her work.

She attended more lectures, talked shop with other illusionists, and went out for tea with any of the other staff who would give her the time of day. Each one had their own advice and inspired their own new scenarios. Every time Linza thought she’d gotten her mind around what was possible, some nascent understanding sparked new possibilities. She explored each of these with her clients.

Most importantly, she learned that the illusions were made especially powerful by the addition of props, actors, and partners. Strategically placed dildos or masturbation sleeves, which could be strapped to or embedded into appropriately shaped cushions, added a whole new dimension to the experience.

Succubus themes were common. One woman sprouted wings, her breasts swelled, and she descended upon a strategically placed dildo which was to her perception a young man who she sucked to orgasm immediately and ceaselessly throughout the duration of her illusion. She actually didn’t start masturbating until after the illusion was over, and Linza had left her to finish on her own time.

One man liked to lie on his back and masturbate while a succubus woman ground on his face, another liked to be smothered by breasts.

There was a couple who liked to be twin anthropomorphic foxes and they fucked each other in a tangle of expressive ears, flailing tails, and clever golden eyes. It required two illusionists, but they were more than willing to pay accordingly.

An actor, usually from the vanilla sex department, could join the guest and then be transformed in the guest’s eyes at an appropriate time. So, these actors frequently became succubi, incubi, anthropomorphic animals, slimes and more. 

Linza loved the slimes because whenever someone ejaculated into one, she let the cum unfurl and swirl in slow motion. The guests particularly appreciated that detail.

Another woman had a favorite staff member from the vanilla sex department and she liked him to fuck her vigorously and then transform into a werewolf—knotted cock and all—in time with his own climax. To calibrate this, the staff member had come to masturbate in front of Linza often, and she could see why he was this guest’s favorite. Even while solo he got himself worked into a growling frenzy and he nearly howled when he came. 

Some sessions seemed largely therapeutic. Trans men and women described their spirits to her. She modeled them in minor illusions first, showing them to the guests and then incorporating corrections or elaborations, and then spun the illusion so that they would perceive themselves in their preferred form. Some just sat and looked in a mirror and seemed at peace, not even masturbating at all.

Linza was particularly fond of a couple, a woman and a trans man. He wore a dildo in a harness and simply fucked his lover. The illusion—though ‘illusion’, while technically accurate, did not quite correctly describe the realness of the effect—merged the dildo to his body so that it felt perfectly a part of him. 

There were some limits, of course. Linza would not summon illusions of specific people that they knew, though that would have been difficult anyway, given that she’d never met them. Nor were any scenarios involving children or characters that were too childlike allowed. Linza had also been able to provide a list of fetishes that she would not personally service and these were available to guests beforehand.

A few of the requests did surprise her, but she never let that surprise show. One of the other illusionists had said, ‘whenever anything surprises you, it just means you have an opportunity to expand your imagination’. Linza had taken that to heart. So, when one guest requested a pair of giant feet next to them that they might feel as small as a mouse, and then when they later set to fucking the gap between two of the toes of the foot, she set the toes curling and a distant voice moaning. The guest had given her a particularly large tip after that one.

What surprised Linza most shouldn’t have surprised her at all—a lot of her guests were exploring very common fetishes but were shy to do so with a partner. Some liked the opportunity to branch out into something new, like piss play, without the mess or potential hurt feelings of finding a willing partner but then finding that they didn’t like the kink. 

In general, one of the most appreciated aspects of illusions was the ability to throw all kinds of fluids every which way, without any cleanup required.

Other common themes were: large dicks, large balls, large breasts, the sensation of dripping, exaggerated semen volume, cum inflation, lactation, and group sex.

On that last one, Linza wasn’t quite satisfied with her performance. The guests seemed happy enough, but as Tanyth had teased her, Linza was ever an over-achiever. The groups moved a bit too much in unison, were a bit vague. 

The remedy was obvious. She needed to do some research.

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?”


“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.”

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’?”


“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.


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.”

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!”

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. 


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.

Part 1: The Premise, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 6: Damp

Linza had awoken to realize that the terms of her employment were in total disarray. More than a few pages had become wrinkled and smudged by sweat and other secretions. One was torn where it had been caught under an elbow and most were at least slightly crumpled.

Linza had carefully reassembled the sheaf. The most crucial piece, the piece that she was to sign, was nowhere to be found.

After much frantic searching, they had realized that it was plastered to Wyn’s ass and more than a little bit smudged.

Finally, the sheaf was whole again, but looked as blissily bedraggled as Linza and Wyn themselves felt. As Linza washed, Wyn offered that she borrow one of Wyn’s dresses so that she didn’t have to wear the same outfit twice.

Linza weighed the relative embarrassment of showing up in the same clothes as yesterday versus Wyn’s flamboyant fashion sense. The woman did not own a single article of clothing with anything less than four colors. Linza’s coworkers barely noticed her and she liked it that way, so she opted to re-dress in her clothes from the previous day and then she hurried to catch the trolley to work.

She was grateful, for the first time, that her day job was so monotonous.

As she weighed, she pondered. As she scrubbed, she fantasized.

She was glad that nobody came to ask her to proof an equation, because she would have struggled with even the most simple algebra. Her mind was as hazy as if she’d spent the whole day smoking herb.

By lunch, her sex was throbbing insistently.

By the time her work day ended, her panties were soaked through.

She hoped to finally sign her terms of employment and drop them off at the pleasure house on her way home. However, she found that the sheaf had not fared well in her bag all day. Several of the pages were stuck together with dampness and the crucial signature page was still too wet to take fresh ink.

Linza sighed, packing her bag back up. She’d have to head home after all, and drop them off the following night.

As she stepped aboard the trolley, she wondered if any of the other passengers caught the conspicuous scent of sweat from her bag.

The main way around the city was by trolley, and the cobblestone streets were criss-crossed with tracks. A decade prior there had been a massive project — largely sponsored by JSMI — to convert the trolleys from horse-drawn to electric. There was now a network of cables running over the trolley lines, the electricity supplied by massive steam engines and generators in the warehouse district.

In the richer parts of town there were still plenty of carriages. Here there were only a couple. Most of the horses out and about were community watch. One of Linza’s favorite games as she rode the trolley home was to try and spot all of them. They were old and steady folks who rode old and steady horses, gently touring the neighborhood streets from their vantage points. They were always happy to offer directions or advice to residents and visitors alike, and they helped keep mischief at a minimum by dutifully reporting back to children’s parents if they’d been misbehaving.

As the trolley rattled on, there were fewer and fewer carriages and the buildings cramped in tighter, pressing themselves into smaller and smaller spaces. Finally, the trolley trundled up to her stop.

Linza waved at a little grey woman on her little grey horse, Ezra and Carrots respectively, but she ducked inside before Ezra could come over to chat. Linza was fond of her, especially since Linza had no other family nearby, but she wasn’t quite in the mood for a chat.

Her apartment was small but cozy, up on the sixth floor of a building with no mechanical lift. As convenient as a lift would have been, it would have meant that she’d pay ten percent more in rent. So, as it were, she tried to appreciate the exercise.

There were really only two rooms in the apartment. There was her bedroom and then the everything else room. The washroom was as small as it could possibly be, but at least she had her own. She’d had to share a communal washroom with other students all four years as JSMI. Being able to go barefoot in the shower and not having to carry her soap back and forth every day were small luxuries that she did not take for granted.

In the main room, there was a tiny stove, sink, and counter in one corner. Next to that was her desk which doubled as her dining table, and in the opposite corner was a hand-me-down wing back chair from Wyn and a large bookcase that was full and overflowing. On the wall next to it was a row of tiny shelves which hosted a menagerie of little stone figurines. There were snakes and horses and dragons and boats and landscapes and more, in veined marble and mottled granite, all polished to a shine. 

Some of the little stone figures looked as if they’d been whittled from wood — because they had been. Alchemy was the domain of transmutations of all kinds. With just time and focus, Linza could transmute wood, stone, iron, copper, or silver temporarily to another of those materials. One of her favorite hobbies was to get chunks of scrap marble and granite from the stone cutters that prepared it for use in establishments like JSMI, turn them into wood, and then make little figurines.

The level of quality of the figurines on the shelf was quite broad. She’d kept some of her earlier ones which were quite sloppy, partly because they would make poor gifts and partly to remind her how far she’d come.

If she spent an evening at home, usually she’d curl up in the wingback chair and read a book or work on a figurine. 

This night, she started by drawing her laundry line across from its reel by the stove over to the wall with the window. She carefully peeled apart the pages and clipped them up to dry.

Then, she sat at her desk.

Linza dug a fresh notebook out of the bottom of her desk drawer, pressed it open in front of her, and touched her quill to the blank page.

She wrote and wrote and wrote of everything she had imagined that day. When she finally put the quill down, caving to the cramp in her hand and not any end to her flow of ideas, the chair underneath her was notably damp.

Linza checked the clock. It was several hours past midnight! She should have already been long asleep. She hadn’t eaten dinner!

But, there was only one desire in her mind.

She pulled her skirt up and pressed her hand up under the damp cloth of her panties and into the heat of her folds.

It felt so good. Her inner labia were so soft, so swollen. She had really outdone herself this time.

A full day’s worth of arousal quivered underneath her fingers.

She worked herself in circles, collapsing against the desk with a gasp and propping her head with her hand.

Even her mouth watered, though at nothing in particular.

She was tempted to summon a phantasm for herself, but she was unsure of how long it would last. She hadn’t quite gotten a full night’s sleep the day prior, so her capacity for the larger magics may have been exhausted anyway.

Had Linza been anything less than a panting, lust-drunk puddle, she could have easily determined her remaining magical capacity.

As it was, she figured it was best to stick with a cantrip. They were small magic, manipulations of latent energy. They required much more practice to learn than other incantations, but they did not require any of the caster’s own energies as catalyst.

Linza knew exactly what she wanted. Her trembling hand worked through the signs that were as second-nature as writing and the crystal at her throat vibrated again.

The sound of Wyn’s orgasmic scream, shaped from Linza’s memory, filled the little room. It repeated, over and over and over again, interspersed with panting moans. As long as Linza could raise a hand every minute or so to trace the gestures again, the sound would never end.

This was one of the reasons that Linza had paid such fierce attention to their climax together. This memory was fresh and sharp and real.

Linza’s body trembled like a string on a lute between her elbow pressed against the table and the seat in the chair.

And then, in ecstatic crescendo, she sang.

This climax was, somehow, even more incredible than her one the previous night. Slow. Languid. Lingering. Her muscles squeezed, like gentle hands rhythmically wringing out every last drop of pleasure. She had soaked herself in arousal the whole day and there was very, very much to release.

Finally, Linza’s head sank flat on the desk, the wood warm against her cheek.

Her hand had stilled, but was pressed against her mound to capture those last lingering whispers of pleasure. She loved the way her skin felt against her skin in the afterglow.

She fell asleep there, against the desk, for a few minutes. Then she stirred and heaved herself with a sigh into her bed, not even bothering to undress.

Gods, that was the best fuck she’d had in ages.

Nobody knew Linza quite like she knew herself. It was one of the reasons that she and Wyn were friends and not lovers. In one of Wyn’s most profound generosities, it was her cajoling that had finally prompted Linza to learn how to treat herself. And it was Linza learning how to treat herself, and finding that she generally preferred to be alone in her pleasure, that had ended the ‘relationship’ part of their relationship.

That she and Wyn could ‘see’ each other, as the madame had described, was why they were still dear friends.

And Linza was quite content with that.

That wasn’t to say that she wasn’t a romantic. Sure, she fantasized about rose petals and passionate sex, whispered conversations and sweet nothings.

But the great part about fantasizing was that it didn’t come with any of the messiness of real-life romance.

To Linza, it just didn’t seem worth all the fuss.