Chapter 210: A Childish Perspective

on April 18, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 6: Career Counseling, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Acantha Goes For The Balls

“I hope everyone is seeing what I’m seeing,” Acantha said. She reached into the inner pocket of her suit jacket and pulled out a pair of slimline spectacles, which she slipped on to inspect Wisdom’s enchantment handiwork. “Because what I’m seeing is potential. I think our little project just took a planar leap forward.”

“What’s the big deal?” Sapphire said, though I was pretty sure she’d been as engrossed in what we were doing as everyone else had been. “That’s no different than those dollmakers you can find on the ethernet.”

“An old idea in a new context can be better than a new idea,” Acantha said. “Among other things, it means we don’t have to start from scratch. Imagine if the first person to make an animated carriage had to come up with the basic design of the thing from the ground up.”

“Okay, but the ring contest is still to make the best figure,” Sapphire said. “Right?”

“Yes and no,” Acantha said. “I feel like it would make a mistake to not explore this new avenue while the iron is hot… if the basic idea is as common as you say, then we can count on it being a matter of time before someone who is interested in both the dollmakers and the game has the bright idea to combine them.”

“If that happens in the next hour or so, I think we can consider ourselves beaten to the punch,” Memphis said.

“You’re right… and I think if it was going to emerge from the current game-playing crowd, it would have,” Acantha said. “But the game’s already leaping to other nearby schools. It’s hard to guess how it will blow up next, or when, or where. So we could have the field to ourselves for a matter of months… or weeks. That’s why I’m suspending our friendly competition… though I will present each of our illusion artists with identical rings by the end of the week.”

“If you have to get another ring anyway, could I have mine in sapphire?” Sapphire asked. “They’re my signature. Literally, I mean.”

“Well, I can’t imagine it affecting the cost that much, so… why not?” Acantha said, which surprised me. I’d expected her to turn the request down out of hand precisely because it would obviously cost more… it would have to.

Never mind the relative cost of sapphires… the gem in an enchanted ring wasn’t just a minor accent that could be swapped out as easily as the illusion of a bird helmet, it was an intrinsic part of the item. While you could be pretty flexible about what gems worked with which enchantments… particularly with illusion magic… Sternbauer’s wouldn’t have a bunch of fully functional rings waiting for a gem to be plunked into the setting.

In short, what Sapphire was asking for was a custom order, which would have to cost more than the off-the-shelf model she’d picked up to begin with.

…unless it had also been a custom order. But why would she have bothered?

“I suppose in the interest of continued fairness, I should extend the same offer to you,” Acantha said to Wisdom. “What sort of setting would suit you best?”

“That’s very gracious, but I don’t believe I could possibly accept, ” Wisdom said. “Offering a valuable prize was generous enough. Paying for a second one is generosity on top of generosity. I couldn’t let you buy a third, leaving the original ring completely superfluous.”

“I insist,” Acantha said. “I’m sure I can find something to do with the original.”

Ah… so, it was a custom order because she’d meant to use it herself. Offering it up had been a spur-of-the-moment idea, a reaction to Micah’s chauvinistic dismissal of illusion. whole point had been to teach him a lesson, or at least make him feel bad about what he’d said.

She hadn’t told us that she was offering up her own ring because if it seemed like she made up the contest on the spot in resposne to Micah, the only lesson he’d take away from it is that she was doing it to spite him, obviously.

“That being the case, I’ve recently acquired a fondness for fire opals,” Wisdom said.

“I will see to it,” Acantha said.

This made me feel a little silly about my earlier… and always at least slightly ongoing… suspicion regarding Acantha’s motives. Just because someone had an agenda didn’t mean it was a sinister one. Not every secret was dire. Deception wasn’t always the same thing as subterfuge.

And the fact that she had done it to spite him… sort of… didn’t mean that he couldn’t learn anything from it. I’d certainly learned something: keep my mouth shut about illusions and other “soft” arts. If there had been a few fewer people in the room, I might have been the one to say something derogatory… I wouldn’t have phrased it in terms of illusion being a feminine subject, but I’m sure I could have managed to say something almost equally as ignorant.

Though in fairness to myself, I had been less overtly dismissive of them since making friends with Nicki. Any critique of illusion as being real magic applied double to glamour, and glamour was her thing. It wasn’t like I’d actually re-ordered my thoughts on the subject, but feeling superior to a particular crowd of people loses some of its luster when you spot someone you care about in that crowd.

There was probably something really hypocritical about the fact that it took becoming friends with someone new to make me re-evaluate my stance on something, but there it was. That was life.

“With that settled, here’s our new plan,” Acantha said. “Wisdom, I’ve worked out the basic bindings you’re using, but I think it would be best if you walked us through what you’ve done. Then we’ll break back down into our groups . Each group will establish their own tabletop interface, and we’ll resume work. The basic goals are still the same, with regards to establishing the optimal parameters for a working illusion, but we have a side goal of establishing useful features for the interface. Sapphire, please keep your knowledge of similar enchantments in mind. I’m sure it will prove useful.”

It turned out that no one in the group had anywhere Wisdom’s facility for skillfully weaving illusion and enchantment together, though Acantha was a quick… and eager… study. With people working together, though, and numerous corrections from Wisdom, we had three identical set-ups… set up… in fairly short order. In fact, in the process of walking the group through what she had done and then overseeing the duplication of it, Wisdom ended up streamlining the interface and adding more features. Anyone who could manipulate the illusions directly could rotate them or zoom the apparent viewpoint in or out, but she figured out how to weave functions in that would allow a lay user to do it.

Once everyone else was up and running, we returned to our table, where Wisdom carefully interwove the upgrades to the spells she’d laid out before, and then we got back to the serious work of playing dress-up with a toy soldier.

“One question that occurs to me,” Wisdom said, loudly enough that it was apparent that she was speaking to the group as a whole. “How much should the product allow users to do what we’re doing? I mean, are we going to be selling them our uniform sets, or are we selling them on the ability to create their own?”

“Excellent questions,” Acantha said. “I don’t have authoritative answers, because that’s for the group to decide. But here are the relevant facts as I see them: one, none of us are full-fledged artists or designers by training, trade, or inclination. Two, the amount of work a fully-functional design interface will take is easily bounded, while a set of uniform and unit appearances that could be called ‘complete’ is large and amorphous. Three, it would be preferable given the temporary nature of our venture to create a complete, self-contained product as compared to an ongoing service with periodic updates.”

“If we’re going to be selling the interface so people can make their own outfits, why design any in the first place?” Micah asked.

“Two reasons,” Acantha said. “The first is proof of concept. If we can’t demonstrate our product without having someone step up and design a fully outfitted figure with it, it’s not going to catch as many eyes… or wallets. It’s better to have an extensive… if limited… starter catalogue, and then be able to tell people that it’s just the beginning, that they can make their own.

“The other reason is related: not everyone has an artist inside them, and to someone who lacks experience, there are few things as daunting as a blank canvas. We can make the tools available, but even an interface that works on the simple principle of visualization can’t make up for the fact that not everyone can clearly visualize an original piece out of thin air… in fact, most people need at least a little something to start with. If we include enough tools for anyone to get started, we can sell to anyone. It makes more sense to me.”

“Well, that being the case,” Wisdom said, “it might be useful if we had a way to preserve the work we’re doing tonight, seeing as we can hardly leave the tables enchanted when we go. I don’t propose that all the random sketches we’ve thrown together would make their way into the final catalogue, but it would be discouraging to start from scratch every time.”

“Excellent points,” Acantha said. She paused to gather herself. “I have some medium-grade crystal balls in my office. If you will excuse me, I will go get them, and we should be able to shift the enchantment to them wholesale, since they’re only loosely bound to begin with.”

“Are you going to hold onto them, or do we keep them?” Memphis asked.

“Well, that is a question,” Acantha said. “I think in the long run, it would be useful for each member of the group to have their own copy to work with, and then when we meet up we could compare potential improvements to the interface, or image samples we’ve devised. Anything that meets with general approval could then be propagated across all the copies… but… setting them up to be synchronized like that is going to take a bit of work, and I don’t have nine balls crystal balls lying around. I do have three, though, which is enough to save our work. I think in the interest of ducking the question of who would be in charge of them and applying an optimal approach for linking them, maybe I should keep custody fo them for now.”

“Fair enough,” Memphis said.

“I will be back soon,” she said, and then she was gone.

“You caught that bit with the ring, didn’t you?” Wisdom asked me.

I nodded.

“I got that something was happening,” Andreas. “Though I couldn’t say what.”

“It’s probably not important,” Wisdom said. “Not every game is… some games we play just to pass the time, just because we can.”

“I thought elves grew out out of that when they graduated from middling… ness… hood,” I said.

“I’ve heard that, but I’ve seen enough of my middle-sisters at age 99 to doubt they’ll be that different at 100,” Wisdom said. “And if the change does not happen then, when? Acantha cannot be so very old… I don’t think she has completely outgrown the mindset.”

“That’s an interesting perspective,” I said… and possibly, it was a useful one.

Acantha had once told me that she had actually skipped the middling phase entirely, opting to “graduate” into adulthood in the human world instead via an apprenticeship before she was even a teenager. But she was still fairly young, given that elven adulthood was theoretically infinite, and as she had put it: being a middling was a rite of passage, and elves who didn’t go through it could find themselves treated as children.

She didn’t seem to spend much time worrying about how other elves saw her, but couldn’t that have been a hint as to how she saw herself?

If I stopped thinking of Acantha as a scheming plotter and started thinking of her in terms of a somewhat childish elf, someone who was still stuck a bit in the attitudes of adolescence… well, not only did the nagging inconsistencies start to make sense, but everything seemed a lot less dire.

I mean, it would be different if she was a total case of arrested development, but clearly she had more maturity than most middlings. She’d been out in the real world… the human world, the business world… since her late childhood, and she couldn’t pretend to be queen of her own little fiefdom and treat everyone around her as enemies or servants. She couldn’t routinely engage in the sort of twisted power plays and intrigues that a century of social adolescence lent one to.

But might she not still be a little… impish, underneath her all-business demeanor? Couldn’t she still get a little bored with centuries of doing the same thing, despite… or even because of… her relentlessly by-the-book approach to things like proper powerstone procedures? Wouldn’t her idea of having a little fun or letting off a little tension take some of its cues from how the young elven set does it?

“Yeah,” I added, nodding. “That actually makes a lot of sense to me, the more I think about it.”

“Are you still talking about that?” Wisdom asked.

“Our Mackenzie’s a deep one,” Andreas said. “It takes her a while to gather her thoughts.”

“Well, there are worse faults to have than that.”

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29 Responses to “Chapter 210: A Childish Perspective”

  1. Melki says:


    Typo report:

    “Yes and no,” Acantha said. “I feel like it would make a mistake to not explore this new avenue while the iron is hot…” –> be a mistake? This could be a way of speaking and it still makes sense, but I think “be a mistake” makes more sense.

    “I think in the interest of ducking the question of who would be in charge of them and applying an optimal approach for linking them, maybe I should keep custody fo them for now.” –> of

    Current score: 1
    • x says:

      more typos:

      illusion. whole point


      into our groups .

      Current score: 1
  2. pedestrian says:

    Congrats AE, I think this chapter is pulling together several plot threads and deepening our understanding of the characters involved. That Mackenzie’s ongoing reevaluation of Acantha is clarifying the motivations behind the Elf Instructor’s actions.

    Current score: 5
    • Lunaroki says:

      I have to agree. I absolutely love how we, the readers, and Mack are getting a deeper understanding of how Acantha thinks, while still perhaps not giving away everything about her.

      Current score: 1
    • narel says:

      I agree… these interactions are very revealing! I am quite enjoying these and seeing how Acantha, the group, and Mack’s understanding develop and play out.

      Current score: 0
    • Order of Chaos says:

      Can I just agree? I have nothing worth saying but I agree.

      Current score: 0
    • JS says:

      We have Mackenzie speculating on Acantha with a bit more information from Wisdom thrown in. It could still be completely off the mark, as we all know what happens when we assume.

      Current score: 0
      • Order of Chaos says:

        That’s one of the best things about MU.

        Current score: 0
  3. Anthony says:

    It turned out that no one in the group had anywhere Wisdom’s facility for skillfully weaving illusion and enchantment together,

    Missing the word “near”.

    setting them up to be synchronized like that is going to take a bit of work, and I don’t have nine balls crystal balls lying around.

    Too many balls in this sentence. (Wow, that sounds weird, out of context…)

    Current score: 0
  4. zeel says:

    Very interesting indeed. I have always loved the chapters about magic the most, I hope the following several will follow this trend.

    Current score: 2
  5. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    a reaction to Micah’s chauvinistic dismissal of illusion. whole point had been to teach him a lesson,

    Seems to be missing a “The” before “whole point”.

    in resposne to Micah,


    “I thought elves grew out out of that

    Double “out”.

    Current score: 0
  6. Zathras IX says:

    Old ideas in
    New contexts can be better
    Than new ideas

    Current score: 11
  7. Dashel says:

    Old ideas in
    New contests
    are new ideas.

    –>sorry, saw yours Zathras and felt it needed a little bit of tweaking.

    Current score: 2
    • Klaus says:

      Dashel, Haikus are poems by shape. 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second and then 5 in the last. Thus your poem, although more streamlined, is not a haiku.

      Current score: 1
      • adsipowe says:

        better though

        Current score: 0
      • Dashel says:

        Agreed on the length of the haiku, but I never said I was writing one.

        Current score: 0
  8. Cadnawes says:

    I am sure Mack has no idea how much fire she is potentially playing with here… er, ice maybe? Now she’s got me wondering if Acantha doesn’t know, either, or doesn’t consider, how badly things COULD GO if her assorted plans are less well thought out than she seems to think. Adolescents think they are immortal, and we all know what happens to immortals that cross Callahan.

    Although this is looking less like a mockbox. Hmmm.

    Current score: 1
  9. Ilya says:

    “it would be useful for each member of the group to have their own copy to work with”… “Anything that meets with general approval could then be propagated across all the copies”

    Sounds exactly like distributed software version control system.
    With whole enchanting looking to me like programming, I always thought that AE has some software development experience, that she injects into a story in a very cool way 🙂

    Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      I had a similar thought. Though it sound like it’s less automatic.

      Current score: 0
      • Ilya says:

        setting them up to be synchronized like that is going to take a bit of work

        They’re on their way there 🙂

        Current score: 0
    • Calia says:

      If I remember correctly, when AE was first starting MU, she was doing some sort of programming or other computer-science-type work as her full time job.

      Current score: 1
  10. Mian says:

    Can’t shake the idea that sapphires and fire opals mean more than one spell in those rings. Maybe one to let Acantha get a copy of what the girls are working on.

    Current score: 0
  11. Order of Chaos says:

    Should “micah” have a capital in the list of Characters? Also Memphis has a speaking part gets no credit for it.

    Current score: 1
  12. Mist says:

    “Nine balls crystal balls”. Is that an edit mistake?

    They missed the most important point. Point three of presets. A large number of people who have the big money to throw at projects often don’t have time or interest fiddling around with tiny details for large armies. A few favorites yes, with deeper reserves, finer brighter resolution, more power. After 30 years I still haven’t bothered paint many of my miniatures, or even any of 1:300 ww2 tanks. I have friends that do whole armies, medieval, fantasy, American civil, Napoleonic and sell the finished range for a fortune. Another runs a business doing trains in 1:42 (I think). What people will pay for a set of matched carriages true to original color is disturbing! But for someone who loves the look but is short of time…..

    For every half decent cos player out there…how many just love to read or watch…

    Current score: 1
  13. William Carr says:

    So now we have the “Desktop” as a literal environment, moving into the Mu version of “Floppy Disks”.

    Any “Desktop” you plop that crystal ball down on becomes an image of the original “Desktop”, right?

    If it branches out with an abacus, and a trashcan, with Aethernet communication between “Desktops”…

    Current score: 1
    • Oniwasabi says:

      Nah. Crystal Balls are DEFINITELY an optical storage medium. We’ve skipped floppies and gone straight to CD-RW!

      Current score: 1
      • zeel says:

        “The cloud” in MU might actually be a literal cloud. . .

        Current score: 1