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.

“Sixth!”

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Part 4: The Interloper, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 34: Sleepover Talk

“You’re going on a date with him?!” Wyn said.

Linza buried herself under one of Wyn’s pillows.

They were meeting for lunch the next day, but Wyn had quickly moved them from the kitchen to the bedroom since this was, as she had put it, ‘sleepover talk’.

Linza was grateful to be able to curl up in a ball and hide as she told Wyn all about what had happened.

“Well, do you like him?” Wyn asked.

“I… I don’t mind talking to him! He seems not nearly as bullish as when I first met him.”

“And that thing… with the illusion… that was so sweet!”

“I know!”

“And he didn’t try to machismo, like, ‘oh I just did that on a dare’ or whatever, he just wanted you to know!”

“I know!”

“He wanted to know if you liked him or not and you said ‘all in a night’s work’!”

“I know!” Linza huffed and pulled the pillow over her face.

Wyn pulled it back. “So what’s the problem? You weren’t nearly this shy about telling me about Tanyth.”

Linza bit her lip. “Tanyth…”

“OH. Tanyth likes Grun, don’t they?”

Linza nodded.

“Well. Did they actually tell you that, or did you assume?” Wyn asked.

“They explicitly said they had a crush on him, remember?”

“Hm. Right. But don’t they like, have a crush on everyone?”

“Not me!” Linza had meant for it to come off as self-deprecating humor, but her voice had wavered and she just sounded pathetic.

Wyn sighed. “Well. It’s not like they own him. They know you’re going on a date with him, right? So it’s on them. They can be like ‘hey, sis’. Otherwise, if they’re not making a move, that’s not your problem.”

“But… It is my problem!”

“Why?”

“Because Tanyth is my friend!” And because she loved Tanyth, even if they didn’t love her back. 

“They’re also an adult.”

“Uuuugh.” Linza buried her face in the pillow again. “I don’t want to be an adult.”

“What?” Wyn leveled an incredulous look.

Linza sighed and lifted her head back up. “I don’t want to be an adult.” She pouted.

“Yes you do,” Wyn said. “I think you want to be very adult with Grun.”

Linza blushed. “Maybe, I…”

“Why do you feel like you owe Tanyth all this? Or better yet, just ask them if it bothers them.”

Linza had always admired Wyn’s assertiveness. “What if they say ‘yes’?!” Because as anxious as she was… she really did want to go to dinner with Grun.

“Then say, ‘Thank you for telling me. This is still happening. I hope we can still be friends’.”

Linza shook her head. “I could never.” She wished she could. Wyn was right. 

Wyn heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Alright. The kingdom wasn’t built in a day. Baby steps for you. Just go on this date with Grun and enjoy yourself okay?”

Linza muttered into the pillow again.

“What’s that?”

“I don’t have anything to wear.” She pouted. “He said I have to be fancy. So I don’t know if I can go.” Grun had flagged her down on the way back to the trolly to ask for her address and tell her when he’d pick her up and that she had best wear formal attire. He’d told her nothing else, though. He was clearly enjoying being mysterious.

Wyn gave her a flat look. “Dearest Linza. Have you forgotten who you’re talking to?”

Wyn’s closest was nearly as big as Linza’s bedroom.

And while Linza wasn’t as buxom as Wyn, they were about the same size and Wyn was an expert at knowing what things of hers would look good on Linza.

“Alright, alright!” Linza said. She should have known that Wyn wouldn’t let her off that easily.

“Yes!” Wyn grabbed her by the hand and dragged her to the closet.

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Part 4: The Interloper, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 33: Three for Three

Two days later, Linza had hardly entered the estate before Tanyth appeared beside her, this time in their lilac robes.

“Linza, Linza, Linza! Grun said you wanted to learn calligraphy too?”

“I do— I only told him that yesterday, though. There’s no hurry.”

Tanyth smirked. “Grun said you might say something like that. You don’t have to be bashful if you’re excited! I’m happy to teach you!”

Linza was annoyed both that Grun had fibbed and that Grun had guessed correctly that there was no way that she would burst Tanyth’s bubble.

It should have been easy to stoke her dislike for the half-orc, to cultivate a polite disdain that would make it easy to brush off his flirtations or any requests for another illusion session. But instead, she was intrigued. The way that she related to Grun was so opposite to Tanyth—lust versus love, these irritatingly accurate assumptions versus Tanyth’s endearing obliviousness.

Tanyth didn’t even wait for Linza’s answer before they grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the same administrative building as housed the lecture hall.

The room that they lead her to was something in between a classroom and an office. There were a few large tables set around the room and cubbies in the walls with sheafs of parchment, pots of ink and stacks of quills.

Tanyth had already set up three stations at a table. Each had a tilted easel, a pot of ink, and a wooden pen with a metal nib.

Grun looked as smug as a chess master about to say ‘check, mate’. 

Linza glared at him.

He smiled sunnily.

“Alright!” Tanyth sang. “Class is in session!”

For the next hour, Tanyth walked them through exercises for each letter of the alphabet. The movements different from normal writing. This metal nib could flex to spread the ink more widely on the paper and produce a line of varying thickness, even when held at the same angle. Exact pressure and smooth movements were essential to the letterforms.

Linza sunk into the practice like ink into paper. It was soothing, rhythmic, the kind of sensual, creative experience that had drawn her towards the School of Illusion. She used to think that if she’d only learned the art and none of the magic, she’d have been content.

After they had made it through the whole alphabet, Tanyth finished the lesson by having them each write a sentence that incorporated each letter, ‘The quick brown dog jumped over the lazy fox.’

Linza completed the last flourish on the ‘x’ and then leaned back to evaluate her handiwork and stretch out her wrist.

Grun stepped around behind her and Tanyth, winked at Linza, and then snatched the two pieces of parchment from their easels.

Linza grasped after them, but she was too slow. The parchment fluttered out of reach as Grun stepped back.

Linza put her hand to her forehead and groaned. “Here we go.”

Tanyth looked excited. “What’s he doing?”

Linza sighed. “This stupid bet.”

Grun stepped out into the hallway, a parchment in each hand. 

Linza didn’t move to follow.

He turned back over his shoulder. “You have to pick the passers-by, remember?”

Linza sighed. “Fine, fine.”

Those walking through the hall were mostly staff, since they were in an administrative building. At least she wouldn’t be publically embarrassed.

Eager to get it over with, she pointed at the first person.

“Excuse me,” Grun said. As he stepped towards them, the parchment fluttered. “I’m trying to prove a point. Could you please describe any notable differences in the penmanship between these two samples?”

The middle-aged woman in a prim pantsuit stopped to look. She shook her head. “No, they both look quite lovely to me.” And she continued on.

Grun smirked. 

Linza clicked her tongue. “She was obviously just in a hurry.”

Linza ignored the next two passers-by, who looked similarly hurried, then pointed at a man dressed in an avant garde robe, which bloused around his torso and nipped in at the waist. He seemed like he’d have a discerning eye.

Grun repeated the prompt, and Linza was sure she’d be right.

The man frowned at the parchment. “Well, calligraphy is so last year, anyway. It all looks the same to me.” He shrugged and continued on.

Linza scoffed. “Well, that doesn’t count!”

“Of course it does,” Grun said.

“Ugh, fine. At least we’re done, then,” Linza said.

“Nuh uh. I said three.”

“Well, it’s already two out of three!” Linza said.

“You are clever with numbers, but I’m not done proving my point, you see.”

Linza rolled her eyes, but blushed as he flagged down the next passer-by, a young woman from the bakery who still wore her apron. She, too, took a quick glance and reported that they both looked lovely. 

“Well, they barely looked at them! Of course they wouldn’t see a difference.” More than a cursory glance and they’d surely see her shaky lines, her inconsistent angle.

“The wager was not based on the exacting eye of an art critic, but on the casual assessment of a layperson. Therefore, I win.” Grun beamed.

Tanyth had watched the whole thing with excitement and confusion. “What do you win? What’s the bet?”

Linza’s heart sank and curdled in her stomach as she realized what Tanyth was about to hear. And it was all her fault. She truly had forgotten to half-ass the calligraphy, to throw in a clear rookie mistake or two, so engrossed she’d been in the rhythm of it.

Grun flourished his wrist, the parchment still in his hand, and bowed with mock gravitas. “A dinner with m’lady.”

Linza rolled her eyes and crossed her arms more firmly. “Fine. Whatever.”

Tanyth leaned closer. “Dinner like a date?”

“No,” Linza said.

“Yes,” Grun said at the same time, winking because he’d expected Linza’s answer.

All Linza could think about was easing Tanyth’s apparent distress. Would it be best for her to play up her annoyance? Would that make Tanyth feel comforted that she wasn’t a legitimate ‘threat’? Or would it only make them resentful that Grun was interested in someone who wasn’t enthusiastic for his company? 

Except… maybe she was eager for his company. Her heart fluttered and her fingers tingled at the thought of sitting across from the half-orc. Could she make him stammer again, leave him desperate for her touch?

Her mind tumbled over what to say to Tanyth, who looked at her expectantly. “He’s just teasing me,” she said. “He was giving me a hard time about wanting to learn calligraphy, and bet that after one lesson with you, mine would look halfway decent. I thought there was no way. What I didn’t count on is that you’d be such a great teacher.”

Tanyth beamed and giggled. “Well, you were both good students. But you did learn really quickly, Linza!”

“Lots of related practice, with all the other art stuff,” she said.

Tanyth couldn’t see, because Grun was behind them, but Grun rolled his eyes dramatically.

“So,” Grun said. “When’s your next free evening?”

Linza had to find a way to deflect this, lest she succumb to the panic that was fizzing in her stomach. “Free evening? I was thinking an hour, tops.”

“Nope, whole evening. I’ve got something special planned.”

Planned? You were mighty confident, weren’t you?”

He shrugged. “I had a feeling.” He smiled warmly, eyes twinkling.

Linza’s breath turned to ice in her lungs. She couldn’t breathe. So she just gave her best imitation of a wry smile and started to clean up the ink and pens.

She wished he’d asked her out plainly so that she could have said ‘no’ and been done with it, but he’d probably known that. Now, she couldn’t say ‘no’ without going back on her word. And the bet itself… it was now much harder for her to write him off as just an arrogant, horny half-orc. Especially when he smiled at her like that.

Grun placed the pieces of parchment back on their easels and lingered in front of them as Linza wiped down the table. Tanyth was across the room, rinsing out the nibs.

Grun said, his voice soft, “The bet’s already over so you might actually believe me—I honestly can’t tell the difference.”

Linza looked over the two pages and easily recognized hers. The uneven downstroke, the wobble on the thin lines, the hesitation in the flourish. 

She took hers from Grun and rolled it up.

His was still on the easel. His letters were very shaky, though he’d obviously tried. His pen had run dry mid-stroke a few times, leaving gaps. The paper was smudged with ink, and his hands were still dirty with it.

“See,” he said, with a wry grin. “This is horrible.”

“No, it’s not!” she said. “I can read it, for one. You got both widths of lines. You were getting the hang of the letter forms, too. It takes lots of practice.”

“Not for you,” he chided.

Her cheeks heated. “I have lots of other related practice.”

“How can you be so kind to others and yet so cruel to yourself?” He tilted his head.

Linza blinked at stared at him, thoughts and words scattered like spilled ink. He was right. She’d never thought of it that way, but… he was completely right.

His voice was low and soft, a precious thing just for her. “So, when are you free?”

He’d won and he knew it. And if he’d gloated or jeered, she would have easily dismissed him—maybe even cancelled the bet. But instead, he took the opportunity to show her this tenderness.

As tender as she’d been when she stroked his hair.

“The end of this week works for me,” she breathed.

“Sounds good.”

If Grun hadn’t turned away then to finish cleaning, Linza might have actually collapsed. 

He stepped towards Tanyth and clapped the little half-elf across the shoulder, nearly knocking them off their feet. “Excellent work, teach!”

Tanyth looked towards Linza and forced a smile. “I sure helped you win that dinner, huh?” They tried to look cheery, but they were a terrible liar.

Linza could do nothing but stare at them like a panicked deer.

“Yep!” Grun beamed.

Tanyth gave the most awkard thumbs-up that Linza had ever seen, and then ducked out from under Grun’s hand and scurried towards the door. “You kids have fun, then!”

Linza stepped after them. “Tanyth, wait—” But Tanyth was already gone.

And Linza was alone with Grun.

He stepped up behind her. “Hey, Linza, if you don’t actually want to go to dinner with me, that’s fine. I wouldn’t want to… I mean if you…”

Linza’s emotions writhed and battled in her chest, held captive only by the hard knot in her throat. This was her opportunity. She could set it right, fix things with Tanyth, pretend like Grun had never asked her out.

She should have said, Thank you, you’re right that I’d rather not, or even, you ought to ask Tanyth instead, they’re very enamored with you.

But her mouth did not listen to her mind, and instead she said, “I’d like to dinner. With yes. With you.”

And the way that Grun’s face warmed with relief was an arrow through her chest.

“Okay. Good. I’ll uh… I’ll see you then,” Grun said. Then he nodded, half-bowed, winced, and then strode out of the room after Tanyth.

Finally alone, Linza collapsed into the chair closest to her.

This was going to be a disaster.

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Part 4: The Interloper, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 32: The Bet

Linza had finished her shift and was heading up the main street of the estate when heavy footsteps tromped up behind her.

Grun waved as she turned. “Hey, do you uh, have a second?”

If she had first met Grun like this, with his hair up in a messy bun and his tailored trousers and blazer with no shirt underneath, his face flushed and his sea-blue eyes looking hopeful, she might have formed a very different impression of him. Her heart fluttered up towards her throat like a caged bird looking for a way out.

She was a mess. Everything was a mess. The memory of Grun’s recent climax still tingled between her legs, even as her stomach churned with the nausea of exhaustion and uncertainty. She still wasn’t sure if he’d figured out it was her in the break room, and she also wasn’t sure what she was hoping for.

Giving in to whatever chemistry there was between her and Grun was irresponsible in every way—general professionalism, her ethical obligation to the craft, her sense of herself as a relatively sane person, and, most importantly, Tanyth. The memory of their hopeful fretting over Grun sat heavy on her chest.

Still, she couldn’t bring herself to be cold. She checked her watch. “I should make sure I’m at the trolly stop, but it’s not due for another quarter hour or so.” She kept walking, and he followed. “What’s up?”

“I, um, I learned that— I saw that, well— I mean, I asked about the schedule, I— I know it was…” There was a long pause. “…you.”

What was it about the towering man’s stammering awkwardness that undid her? Too many emotions to name crashed through her. Linza’s organs seemed to liquify and boil inside of her, and she had no idea how she managed to not vomit at his feet, except that perhaps her stomach itself had turned to mush.

But Linza would have to be literally dead to not just soldier through. She did her best to shove the feeling aside, to remove herself from her own body. “Hm? Oh! Yeah. I’d have mentioned, it’s just part of the experience that I don’t say unless you ask. I hope that didn’t bother you!”

“No! Not at all, all— all good.” He tucked a strand of hair behind a pointed ear.

Linza smiled politely and nodded. “Good.”

“You’re… really good at that, y’know.” His cheeks tinged pink under the green of his skin.

“I know.” Linza shrugged with mock arrogance. “All in a night’s work.” Despite her attempt to shrug off his words, they sunk in and sent a shiver down her spine to stir the tingle between her legs. He had liked it, and next time, she’d— but, no. There couldn’t be a next time. She couldn’t be that cruel to Tanyth.

“Yeah, you… I’m sure you make everyone feel that special, yeah? That’s impressive.” He rubbed the back of his neck, like he had down by the docks.

Linza nodded. “That’s the idea.” Was that a tinge of regret in his voice? Did he sound like she had sounded, reasoning that Tanyth’s apparent affection was just part of their professional demeanor, and nothing personal?

No, she was surely just imagining things.

“How did you learn to do that?” he asked.

“At university, actually. I went to JSMI.”

He tilted his head at her. “There’s a sex magic university here?!”

Linza snorted a laugh. “No, that would be too good to be true. It’s taught as a combat illusion, but it has many more uses than that.”

“So you spent four years learning how to fuck with peoples’ minds?”

“Actually, I majored in alchemy. So I only spent about a semester’s worth of classes learning how to fuck with peoples’ minds. The rest I spent learning how to fuck with physics.”

“Oh! Numbers. Right. You’re good at a lot of things, aren’t you?” His half-grin made his eyes twinkle like sunlight on the waves.

Linza’s cheeks heated, her stomach doing a different kind of somersault. She should have been more suspicious of the compliment, shouldn’t have let it sway her, but… he seemed sincere.

She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. “No more than other folks here. Tanyth has much broader talents than I do, they’ve worked nearly every role here.” There, she could leverage his attention to put in a good word for Tanyth. 

“They’re certainly not lacking in enthusiasm.”

Linza laughed, easily imagining what kind of quick-talking ball of nerves Tanyth became in Grun’s presence, if Tanyth’s later debriefs were anything to go by. “They said they’re really glad you decided to join.”

“Oh! Thanks. You know them well?”

Too well, she thought. “Yeah, they trained me, too.”

“Oh, great! Did they…” He hesitated. Looked for words, tried to downplay the pause. “Did they write you a fancy letter to start?” It seemed like too quick and too small a question to be what he had really meant to ask.

“They did. That’s a good reminder, I need to ask them to give me calligraphy lessons.” Could he have been about to ask whether Tanyth had flirted with her, like they were most certainly flirting with him?

“Adding yet another talent to the roster?” he said, eyebrows raising.

Her cheeks heated even more, but to her great surprise, that wicked and slithering creature inside of her stirred and smirked. “Not necessarily. I might totally fail.”

“I’m sure you’d be excellent at it.”

“For all you know, I could have wretched penmanship.”

“Then bet on it.” They’d reached the trolley stop. He crossed his arms, grinning. “Take one lesson with Tanyth. If I can tell the difference between yours and theirs, then you win. If I can’t, then I win.”

Linza crossed her arms back. “Alright then, what’s the wager?”

“If I win, then you have to go out to dinner with me. If you win, I’ll still buy you dinner but you don’t have to eat with me.”

She tilted her head. “Well, then won’t I just have bad penmanship on purpose?”

His grin deepened. “I don’t think you can. I don’t think you could half-ass something if you wanted to.”

That slithering thing hissed. Linza’s mouth twitched towards a frown as she felt suddenly naked. How in the world had he pegged her so quickly? Had Tanyth been talking about her? Had the madame? Was she more transparent than she thought? Or was he more perceptive than she’d given him credit for?

She grasped for a way out that wouldn’t totally incriminate her. “Well. Can’t you just pretend you can’t tell the difference and ‘win’?”

He ran his fingers through his beard. “That’s a fair point. I’ll poll three passers-by. You can pick them, so that you don’t have to worry I’ve planted someone.”

It was a logical, thorough suggestion and not at all what she’d expected. “Fine. Tanyth has been studying for years, I’m sure. Matching their penmanship after one lesson is a stretch, even for me. So, I’ll take your wager.” Linza even managed a haughty tip of her chin.

The trolley rattled around the corner, bell dinging as it approached.

Grun nodded. “Deal. See you tomorrow.”

The trolley pulled up, and she stepped inside, grateful that he didn’t come up with some excuse to follow her. She was going to need some quality alone time to sort through the tangle of her thoughts.

Questions ran circles over each other. What made him so confident that he’d see her the next day? What exactly had she gotten herself into?

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Part 4: The Interloper, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 30: Love Sick Day

The cooler air of nightfall swept over Linza and out towards the ocean as she walked up the main street and towards her place of work.

There was a string quartet playing in the central square, and the soothing music lulled the crowd into a sensual hush.

Then a voice like a singing bird cut over it and came directly towards her. “Linza, Linza, Linza!”

Tanyth wore a sharp suit again, looking distinctly masculine, but their voice was all girlish glee.

Linza herself was feeling more pensive than anything, but still she grinned empathetically and mirrored Tanyth’s energy as they reached her and took her shoulders in their hands.

“Linza you will not believe this but—” they paused a moment to catch their breath, “I’m training Grun!”

“My goodness, yes!” Linza said as she thought, Oh what a fucking mess. “Starting when, what for?”

“Well, tonight!” Tanyth breathed. “And, vanilla stuff. Which will be nice to get back to—I haven’t worked those roles in a while.”

Vanilla stuff comprised what most people thought of when they thought of a brothel—penetrative sex, blow jobs, hand jobs, et cetera. And as with the teahouse’s famous ice cream, it was the best damn vanilla you’d ever had.

Linza pulled open the costume trunk in her mind and rifled through a few options for a mask that she felt would be appropriate. She settled on a facade of encouraging and conspiratorial. So, she grinned a bit coyly and said just quietly enough to inspire interest. “So are you gonna… y’know. Do hands-on training?”

Tanyth turned nearly bright red. “Oh I hope so! But I hope not! Oh I don’t know if I could stand it.” They fanned themselves with their hands.

Linza wondered how she’d ever convinced herself that they were attracted to her. It would have been obvious. As she’d learned, Tanyth was a terrible liar.

Did people assume that she was bad at lying because she was so earnest? Perhaps that’s why they didn’t look too closely at the subtle discrepancies between what she said and how she felt.

“You’d better tell me all about it, whatever happens,” Linza said.

“I will, I will! Oh, I hope he doesn’t dislike me.” They seemed startled into fear by the sudden realization that such a thing was possible and covered their hand with their mouth.

Linza put her hand on Tanyth’s shoulder. “Tanyth, you’re lovely. If he doesn’t like you, he’s an asshole.”

The tension dropped out of Tanyth’s little body. “You’re the best, Linza. I needed to hear that. And I need to run, or else I’ll be late!” They tipped up onto their toes and pecked Linza on the cheek. “Thank you!” And then Tanyth dashed off through the main street and was gone.

Linza felt like a fish in a bowl in the hands of too young a child, shaken around in their gleeful exuberance and now spinning dizzily in the water, disoriented and queasy.

She soldiered on towards her shift, though the feeling of the bowl around her did not subside. The sounds were muffled, her awareness not reaching much further than an immediate circle around her.

She nearly walked into the madame’s assistant where he stood at the bottom of the stairs up to the rooms where she worked.

“Oh! Hello!” she mustered.

“Something’s troubling you,” he said. It was a statement, not a question.

Linza looked up at him, realizing that it was now she that looked like the startled cat, wide-eyed and frozen. “I… I won’t let it interfere with my work.”

“Might you conjure a little illusion for me?” the assistant said.

“Of course,” Linza said. It would be like the exercise she’d done with Tanyth—the very same one that had revealed her feelings for them. She was nervous, but she couldn’t deny the madame’s assistant.

“Dog,” he said.

The dog was snarling.

“Cat,” he said.

The cat was frozen in fear.

“Touch,” he said.

A hand shoving away another’s chest.

“Emotion,” he said.

A face contorted in silent, anguished scream.

“Love,” he said.

Linza curled up in a ball in her apartment, all alone.

Tears welled in her eyes as a hard knot twisted in her throat. She looked up at the assistant, horrified.

His face was soft and comforting. “Are you angry, afraid, or ashamed?”

“Ashamed, of course!” Linza wrapped one of her hands around the opposite elbow. “I shouldn’t be letting it get to me this way.”

“Do you expect that anyone in your position would feel ashamed?” He tilted his head, an amusement twinkling in his night-sky eyes.

Linza doubted herself, but in the spirit of the question, she answered as truthfully as she could. “Well, yes, I think. Is that… wrong?”

“Where I come from, we say that there are three ways of knowing. The gut, instinct. The heart, feeling. The head, thinking. We all use all three. We each lead with one. Each has an underlying issue. For the gut, anger. For the heart, shame. For the head, fear.”

Linza forced a wry smile. “I think I’m that shame one.”

The assistant nodded deferentially. “In that case, then let me say, there is no shame taking a night off when your heart is troubled.”

“But, the schedule! I can’t possibly ask anyone to cover for me last-minute,” she said. Her clients would be so disappointed! She couldn’t bear it.

“What would you tell Tanyth, if they felt how you felt now?” he asked.

“I…” she knew the answer instantly, and she felt ashamed to say it aloud. But that was the point, wasn’t it? That was the challenge? She could rise to meet a challenge. “I’d absolutely insistent that they take the night off. I’d help find someone to cover for them. I’d… remind them that they must consider the guest’s quality of experience, as well. A raincheck is better than…” She couldn’t bring herself to say ‘bad service’ aloud.

The assistant put his hand on her shoulder. “Take the night off. I’ll take care of the schedule.”

Linza held her breath, lest tears escape. She paused a moment, inhaled, exhaled. “Thank you.” She turned to leave, not wanting to waste any more of his time. Then, she turned back, expecting him to already be gone, but he waited there. As if he’d known what she was about to ask. “Could I… ask you again, sometime, about the ways of knowing? It sounded like there’s a whole framework there.”

He nodded. “There is. I’d be happy to elaborate. Inquire any time.”

She bowed, then left. And she knew exactly where she was going. She bought a box of a dozen chocolate tarts at the estate’s bakery and then boarded the trolly to Wyn’s.

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Part 4: The Interloper, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 29: Crushed

The gentleman left, and then Tanyth and Linza returned to a table on the balcony. It was quieter now that it was in between teatime and dinner time. 

Tanyth sighed and rested their chin on their hands, their elbows on the table. “What did you think?”

“It was fun! Did he masturbate?” Linza asked.

“Not today, though sometimes, yeah. I’m sure he will tonight, though.” Tanyth sighed dreamily. “Glad you enjoyed it. Though you’ve already been very patient! What did you want to talk about?”

Linza took a deep breath, steeling herself. “You know that new guy, Grun?”

Tanyth’s eyes lit up. “Oh. My. Gods. What a hunk!” They giggled and hid their face in their hands. “Ugh, I already have such a crush.”

Linza had made peace with the butterflies, but she had not yet negotiated with the nausea. The reaction was so quick, so visceral. It was like all the tea had turned to spoiled milk in her stomach.

She was jealous, of course. Not just of the gentleman, but now of Grun. He was so rude and pushy and odd, and Tanyth liked him? She knew them and cared for them and she was just a student to them?

She had convinced herself that perhaps Tanyth just had a rule against anything with newer staff, and that’s why they had rejected her. 

But, no.

They had a crush on Grun.

Linza dug deep and mustered as sincere a smile as she could. “Aha! I thought you might like him! Is he totally your type?”

“He’s totally my type,” Tanyth moaned. 

If Tanyth noticed her blushing, they probably attributed it to arousal.

Linza let Tanyth drive the conversation after that. She’d already gotten the answer to her question, and then some. 

She couldn’t possibly tell Tanyth that Grun had been flirting with her. It would crush them. 

Like they’d just crushed her. 

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Part 4: The Interloper, The Alchemist's Illusions

Chapter 26: Solicitations

Linza was eating dinner at a bench by the docks when a greenish shadow loomed over her.

It was the half-orc man from lunch. He still wore just the tight leather shorts, still moved with self-assured swagger.

Her heart surged to a thunder in her chest, her cheeks heating with the memory of not only lunch, but also her subsequent long session in the break room. She hated how hard—and how many times—she’d cum, thinking of the sweat on his chest and his look of enraptured relief. He had no right to affect her this much, and certainly no business just waltzing up to her like he had to the madame.

“Hey,” he said.

She wanted to snap ‘what do you want?’ but she was always so much sassier in her head than real life. “Hello,” she said. Apparently he decided that she existed after all. If he even remembered her from earlier.

“Do you mind if I join you?” he asked. 

She did mind. But she said, “No, it’s fine.”

“Great!” He sat down next to her, and the bench creaked.

He was so broad that his arm nearly touched hers. He smelled like musk, leather, and vanilla. Half of her wanted to lean closer into that smell. Half of her wanted to press as far to the other side of the bench as possible—or just leave. She sat stiffly in the tension between those warring desires.

He looked out over the docks and then the main street. “This place is amazing, huh?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty special,” she said, and she knew he had no idea just how special it was.

“You seem pretty special,” he said. 

She gave him her most skeptical look.

“I just mean, you know the madame?” he said.

So, he did remember her. “Sort of. I’ll be under her tutelage shortly,” she said.

“I’d love to be under her titty-lage…” he said with a smirk.

Linza was too polite to roll her eyes, and she certainly did not find it funny enough to laugh. 

His eyes scanned her face, and he seemed to notice and recalculate. He cleared his throat, smirk fading. “It’s just… It means a lot to see a half-orc be successful here, y’know? And not despite our nature, because of it.”

“Your nature?” Linza tilted her head. She was sure she knew what he meant, but she wanted to see what he’d say if she played dumb.

And he surprised her by going a bit shy and putting a hand to the back of his neck. “We tend to be… really horny.”

Linza scoffed a laugh. “I hadn’t noticed.”

He smiled. “They must keep them really well sated here, then!”

Linza wasn’t sure whether to clarify that she’d been sarcastic.

An awkward moment passed. 

“I’m Grun, by the way,” he said.

“Linza.”

“You worked here long?” Grun asked.

“Three months or so,” Linza said. She still wasn’t sure that she wanted to be in this conversation, but she wasn’t creative enough to lie either.

“Only that long and you’re having lunch with the madame?” He looked genuinely impressed.

“Well…” Linza faltered. His current behavior was making his earlier imposition seem more like ignorance than arrogance. Was he just trying to flatter Linza? Or get through her to the madame? Wyn would have already handed him his ass, but Linza couldn’t bring herself to be quite so brazen.

And Grun looked at her patiently, despite her long pause. She half expected him to continue on with whatever other questions he had in mind, but he didn’t.

“… I guess I’m a bit of an oddball around here, myself. I’m an alchemist by day, actually. I’m a numbers person. So that’s mostly why. More of a tutoring in… economics than erotics, you could say.”

Grun chuckled. “You’re clever.”

Linza blushed. “Well, math is like anything, it’s just all practice.” She didn’t know why she was deflecting the compliment, other than reflex. He was right! She was clever! Wyn was always telling her that she should stop selling herself short, but whenever the occasion arose, the rules of polite conversation held her captive.

He said, “I know you haven’t been here long yourself, but…”

Here it comes, Linza thought. He’d be asking about the madame, for sure.

“…I looked over this terms thing, and… well, it all seems very thorough, but I’m not much one for paperwork. I was hoping for an inside opinion. Do you think I should work here?”

Linza blinked. It took her mind a moment to wind back from the answer that she’d already been preparing to comprehend his actual question. Then she said, “Are you willing to learn?”

“Of course,” he said.

“To do things differently than you have before?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” he said.

“To consider every aspect of your work with the utmost care?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said, with that same attentive expression that he had given the madame.

“Then… yes. I do think you should work here. It is a special place. If you come at it selfishly, it’s not a good fit. I could see that you…” Linza looked for the right words. The memory of his quivering obedience surged to the front of her mind. Her arousal flared. “That you, well, you listen. That matters here.”

He didn’t seem to notive her flustering. He just nodded thoughtfully. His eyes were blue—she hadn’t noticed that before. She didn’t know if that was rare or usual for half-orcs. 

He turned those eyes to her, smiling. “Well. I’m going to join, if only to have you as a coworker. I think we’ll be a good fit.”

All she could imagine was the immense fullness of him inside of her, and her arousal flared again. Words failed her.

“I’ve already bothered you enough today,” he said, pushing to his feet. “Thanks for the advice. See you around, coworker!”

And then he strode away, back into the estate.

And her eyes followed the muscles of his ass under those tight leather shorts.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Standard