Chapter 212: Matters of Trust

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

In Which Acantha Comes Cleaner

“Does this Twyla have any credentials to speak of?” Acantha asked.

“I don’t know… I don’t think so, any more than any of us do,” I said. “She wouldn’t be someone you would go t if you were an established company looking for an established artist. But… I’ve seen her design avatars. She can freemind the kind of character designs that most people would need to use a dollmaker for.”

“I don’t think I’d like someone new coming into the group and taking over,” Sapphire said. “I mean, I could see splitting the money another way if we did need outside help, but… why do we need this, exactly?”

“She wouldn’t be taking over the group,” I said. “She’d be taking over duties that really need someone to be doing.”

“It still sounds like she’d be the boss,” Sapphire said. “Artistic director? I don’t like where this is going.”

“What if you think of her job as cleaning up after us?” Wisdom said.

“That’s… a little better,” Sapphire allowed.

“When I put this group together, I was looking for a diverse set of skills to cover many possibilities,” Acantha said. “I made sure to include a certain number of participants with an artistic flair, but I did not foresee a project that would involve quite so much detail work when it comes to artistic design. Whatever we end up calling it and however we end up approaching it, I think this is a problem and our end product will be improved by solving it. Does anyone disagree?”

Nobody did, but Sapphire wasn’t quite done.

“Okay, but that doesn’t mean that the solution is hiring Mackenzie’s friend,” she said.

“That’s… fair,” I said. “I just didn’t want to bring a problem to the group’s attention without offering a solution. As long as we can do something to firm up the standards of our designs, I think we’ll be a lot better off. Making it someone’s job seems like the best way to do that. I think Twyla would be a good fit, but that’s just one idea.”

“Do you think you could convince Twyla to submit a portfolio of relevant work to the group, so we can take it under consideration?” Acantha asked.

“It’s possible,” I said. “We’re on fairly decent terms, I think.”

Now that I was thinking about it, I wasn’t sure how easy it would be… Twyla had been a bit sensitive and private about her artistic abilities in the past. But then, the figure I’d seen her working on had been for her personal use. Maybe she would be more open to the idea of showing her stuff around if it wasn’t like that.

“Very well,” Acantha said. “Let’s proceed with that as soon as we can.If anyone else has a candidate they’d like to put forward, they can do the same.”

“What about the non-disclosure thing?” Micah asked.

“It’s still in effect,” Acantha said. “You should explain to your candidates that you’re looking for someone to create and edit images of multiple humanoid figures in a variety of situations and outfits, and sample images should reflect that. Let’s not go putting up flyers or anything… I wouldn’t care to bring anyone into the group at this late a date who isn’t already known to at least one of us, and it wouldn’t do for us to get sidetracked with a headhunt when our goal is not distract ourselves from our work. But if some ripples spread around campus, it might inspire some buzz all the same.”

“Buzz about what?” Micah asked. “Nobody knows what we’re doing. Most people don’t even know we’re doing anything.”

“Exactly,” Memphis said. “So the idea that we’re asking people to envision soldiers will set them wondering.”

“Let’s not mention soldiers in particular, though,” Acantha said. “That would unduly tip our hand. Even if no one guesses what we’re working on, it might give them a bright idea or two that ends up being remarkably similar. Hmm… perhaps rather than being off-the-cuff about our approach to this, we should take the time to draw up a document to be used to explain the necessary particulars to our chosen candidates.”

“That… would really be good,” I said, because I’d been picturing myself trying to have yet another conversation about how I couldn’t tell someone what I was doing, with someone who was more of an acquaintance with some awkward bits of shared history than a friend, while asking her if she wants to submit an application to get in on this thing that I can’t tell her about.

“May I make a suggestion?” Wisdom asked.

“The floor is open,” Acantha said. “We are all suggesting things.”

“Let’s put a firm limit on the number of candidates,” she said. “As you said, we don’t need the distraction of a lengthy application process or debate. Although this would mean giving up the chance to put a name forward myself, I would suggest that each team taps one candidate.”

There was general agreement to this, possibly because no one had known this would come up and so they didn’t have anyone in mind.

“What does everyone think about that?” Acantha asked.

“Fine by me… I wouldn’t be sure who to ask, if we were each doing one,” Micah said.

“It wouldn’t be compulsory that everyone brought an applicant,” she said.

“Yeah, but imagine me being the only who didn’t?” he said. “How would that look?”

“There is definitely no advantage to anyone bringing forth a candidate for form’s sake,” Acantha said. “Mackenzie put this idea in front of us because she was enthusiastic about the improvements her friend could bring to what we’ve been doing. So how about instead of a firm limit, we put a goal of each group finding one candidate, but we agree that we won’t spend our time on anyone that we don’t feel similarly excited about?”

Again, that was met as a reasonable suggestion. Our meeting broke up with Acantha promising to have a brief for us to give to the prospective artists. She gave me my copy of it the next day, after her class.

“Since you already have someone in mind, it didn’t make sense to make you wait,” she said.

“Thanks,” I said. “Won’t this give Twyla an unfair advantage?”

“It gives her a potential one,” Acantha said. “But… those things happen. It’s rare that no one has the inside track on a competitive job, although the race doesn’t always goto the racer with the shortest distance to cover, any more than it always goes to the swift. If it makes you feel awkward, you can always hold off unitl after the meeting.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s true,” I said. “That might make me feel more awkward, though, since you gave it to me so I could go ahead and do it now… actually, now that I’ve said that, I kind of suspect there’s a flaw in the premise that specific individual things make me feel awkward.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Acantha said. “Giving it to you now was really more of a pretext to convince you to stay after.”

“Oh?” I said. I suddenly felt a little uncomfortable. I realized that Acantha had shifted into her business demeanor… her fun business demeanor, I mean, which was far less business-like than her classroom façade. She usually didn’t do this so completely in the classroom, even when we spoke after class.

It could have simply been that she was that much more relaxed around me, but it was still enough of an incongruity to make me vaguely worried.

…or maybe I should say, enough of an incongruity to become the thing that my vague worry would settle around.

“Yes,” she said. “I would have spoken to you last night, but you always leave with Andreas. I was a bit surprised when you suggested bringing a friend into the project, Mackenzie. I wasn’t expecting that at all.”

“Should I not have?”

“It was a good idea and you articulated and defended it well,” she said. “The reason it surprised me is that I didn’t think you would have decided to trust me quite so soon.”

“Trust you?” I repeated.

“Well, I mean… to go from trying to unravel my secret methods and purposes and constantly vacillating on the edge of quitting to lobbying for the inclusion of your friend into our endeavor? That was unexpected.”

She knew.

Well… of course she knew. Andreas could be pretty stonyfaced, although possibly not so much as the average dwarf, but I was… well, me… and Acantha was an elf.

“I didn’t mean anything…”

“You were looking out for yourself,” she said. “You might not have picked the most efficient approach to the question, but then, if you’d opted for a straightforward approach, you probably would have just walked away to begin with.”

“Are you telling me you think that would have been the right move?” I asked.

“It might have been the right move for you,” she said. “Which is why I wouldn’t have taken it personally… why I don’t take it personally. You might also have simply asked me what I was ‘up to’, though. That’s the other straightforward solution.”

“Would you have told me?” I asked.

“Would you have believed me?” she replied. “Mackenzie, you have to realize, when I said that I don’t believe in taking gambles… one of the ways to maximize the possible returns from an uncertain situation is to encourage turns of events where multiple outcomes are favorable. Steering things as they arise towards any one of those of outcomes takes less energy than focusing on a single distant goal… and if failing to reach some of the potential outcomes positions you close to some of the others, then you’ve got a fallback.”

“So… you didn’t have a project in mind when you put the group together,” I said.

“I had ideas,” she said. “Though they were more about areas of development than specific projects. The problem of game piece scarcity in Stone Soldiers was something I was aware of, going in, but I didn’t have a specific solution in mind. How could I? I’d just learned about the problem. I was sincere in my desire to see what the group would come up with, and I haven’t been disappointed. The kind of organic developments that have come about as different people’s experiences and ideas play off each other isn’t something one person can predict or dictate.”

“What were your other ideas?” I asked.

“Things that might still profitably be explored at some point in the future,” she said.

“In other words, we’re not fully trusting each other?” I asked.

“Do you actually trust me?” she asked, and I had to think about that.

She was right that volunteering Twyla’s name kind of implied that I did, but it was more that I’d stopped thinking about things in those terms as we’d buried ourselves in the project. I could make the point that it really seemed like things were on the level as we moved towards something like completion, but again… I hadn’t been thinking about it.

“I guess it doesn’t really matter,” I said. “Not in the context of this, I mean. Like, I don’t understand what’s going on in your head, but I don’t understand what’s going on in Sapphire’s head, either. Or in Twyla’s. Or in anyone’s.”

“I told you the truth about what you already partly suspected,” she said. “Because I trust that you will see no harm in it, and no reason to try to find a way to use it against me. But if I told you more than I’ve already told you… I’d be giving away potentially valuable information, which would become less valuable. I don’t have to trust you to tell you that I was already thinking about the game when I started the project. I just have to understand enough about who you are to know it won’t hurt anything. For me to tell you what else I have in mind would require trust, thus entailing risk that can be more easily avoided.”

“So, situations where you have to trust someone are something you just avoid?”

“There’s trust and there’s trust,” she said. “Every time you stand next to someone carrying a sword, you are trusting that she will not pull it out and run you through. And we trust most people this far, even strangers, but that doesn’t mean we would trust a stranger in a battle to watch our back, or that we would trust a stranger with holding our swords while we glide to the restroom. When you work with people, you are trusting them to work together… and that’s the level at which you’ve decided to trust me, if only by default because you have been working with me. Does that help put your mind at ease?”

“I… think it helps me quantify how and why my mind has been at ease,” I said. “You really are interested in teaching us, aren’t you?”

“I’m not planning on making a full-time career as an instructor, if that’s what you mean,” she said.

“I don’t mean in the classroom, though you really do a great job there… I mean, us in the group. The thing is that more so than trying to figure out what was going on with the project… well, that was kind of a proxy for figuring out your motives,” I said. “Like, if you were lying about the details of the project and your level of planning, that might help me figure out what your reasons for bringing us together were, and if they were shady. But I guess I should have known that you sincerely wanted to show us some of the ropes, since you were giving me career advice like this before we even started.”

“Well… at the risk of damaging your ease of mind… I do have one more bit of advice to give you for the moment,” she said. “In your haste to find a reason to let your guard down, you may be overestimating and the warmth and/or fuzziness of my motivations, and forgetting the contents of previous lessons.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The other way to avoid making things a gamble is to have more than one reason for doing it,” she said. “I genuinely would like this project to make money, as money is something I am in favor of. That is a real reason. Another one is the chance to teach. Another one is… as I’ve said… the chance to make some possibly valuable future connections, who may feel they owe me for having taught them useful things when they were starting out.”

“Do you ever worry that by telling me that, you’ll lessen the sense of obligation you’re depending on?”

“I wouldn’t say that to just anyone,” she said. “But do you think you’d feel less obligated?”

“Good point,” I said.

“There is one other reason that I don’t mind mentioning,” she said. “It’s also part of why I chose to approach things the way I have, in terms of not taking direct control and letting things come together as they will.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s fun,” she said. “I could go out and hire people who would do what I told them, and if I picked college students I wouldn’t even have to pay much. That sort of thing gets fairly uninteresting after a certain number of years, and I’ve had a lot of time to grow disenchanted with it.”

“I guess that’s an occupational hazard,” I said.

“Oh?” she said, and then she got it, and laughed. “I suppose I should have said ‘no pun intended’.”

“Personally, I think people only say that when they know they’re making a pun and want to make sure you notice it,” I said.

“Such a suspicious turn of mind, Mackenzie.”

“Trust me… you have no idea.”

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44 Responses to “Chapter 212: Matters of Trust”

  1. zeel says:

    Haha, that last bi is so true. It’s like saying “If you know what I mean. . .” But disguised.

    Current score: 4
    • Yumi says:

      Hobbies: Saying “no pun intended” after every other sentence and then watching people perplexedly try to figure out what the pun could be.

      Current score: 9
      • Nigel says:

        Current score: 3
        • Trent Baker says:

          Ha! That last bit made me laugh out loud, its kinda true in a way. Except when you really didn’t mean to make a pun and then you and your friends get it at the same time and your desperately trying to defend yourself from pun related accusations.

          Current score: 0
    • Arancaytar says:

      “No pun intended” is for regular puns.

      “If you know what I mean…” is for dirty puns.

      Current score: 2
  2. Melki says:

    Yay! Great chapter. It always takes me a bit to parse through exchanges between Mackenzie and Acantha.

    Now for the spelling & grammar report:

    She wouldn’t be someone you would go t if you were an established company –> to

    “She’d be taking over duties that really need someone to be doing.” –> we really need? Or duties that really need to be done. Current phrasing is a little awkward but I guess it’s someone talking.

    ““Let’s proceed with that as soon as we can.If anyone else has a candidate” –> space between can and if

    “a headhunt when our goal is not distract ourselves from our work.” –> goal is to not

    ” although the race doesn’t always goto the racer with the shortest distance to cover” –> space between go and to

    “If it makes you feel awkward, you can always hold off unitl after the meeting.”” –> until

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      Typo Report

      “Yeah, but imagine me being the only * who didn’t?”

      Missing “one” after “only”.

      Steering things as they arise towards any one of those of outcomes takes less energy than focusing on a single distant goal…

      Extraneous “of” in front of “outcomes”.

      you may be overestimating and the warmth and/or fuzziness of my motivations,

      Extraneous “and” after “overestimating”.


      She’d be taking over duties that really need someone to be doing.

      When I was listing typos I didn’t include this one because, while it reads a little awkwardly, it still parses correctly. However, since Melki pointed it out, it made me reconsider. It would probably interrupt the narrative flow less if it had a “we” in front of “need” or a “them” after “doing”.

      Current score: 0
    • Brenda A. says:

      I’m 30 (just) and I’ve been reading for a while now. I started while I was at college, and I graduated in 2009, so… Whoa…

      I think I came in fairly early. I saw an ad at Something*Positive, and the *one* time I clicked on an ad turned out pretty well!

      It’s been educational, to say the least…

      Current score: 0
  3. Yumi says:

    Yay, new chapter! Two things:
    1. I didn’t get an email about the update, so it might not have gone out.
    2. I’ve been wondering recently what the general age of the readership is– I imagine that I’m on the younger end of the spectrum myself, but I don’t actually know, and I’m curious. So, ages?

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      20 here. But I’ve been around since early Vol.1

      Current score: 0
    • Nigel says:

      55 here; I was pointed to this site by another author’s blog about the middle of 2009, so around ch 400 of Vol 1.

      Current score: 0
    • Melki says:

      26, been around since *almost* the very beginning – I’ve just never really commented that much.

      Current score: 0
    • HiEv says:

      Currently 42 and I started reading this… wow, Sept. 2008. Hard to believe it’s been that long.

      Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      43 here. I have no idea really how long I’ve been following this story, but it has been a few years.

      Current score: 0
    • Order of Chaos says:

      29 interesting move by Acantha.

      Current score: 0
    • Yumi says:

      I’m 19 myself; I think I was 15 back when I started reading this, so since 2010. Also, with having recently finished my second year of college, I just realized that I’ve now passed Mackenzie.

      Current score: 0
    • Jane says:

      48 here.

      Current score: 0
    • Ariel says:

      in 26

      Current score: 1
    • Klaus says:

      23 Started at chapter 200 or so

      Current score: 0
    • K says:

      32. As a fan of queer kinky media, I was surprised nobody told me about this sooner, but maybe the readership comes more from the fantasy/D&D worlds? In any case I started reading early last year, coincidentally not long before I discovered the geeky kink events in the northeastern U.S. It has been a good year!

      Current score: 0
    • Tamina says:

      I’m 22 – I’ve been reading the story since, oh, midway volume 1? A long time – back when it was mostly smut 😉

      Current score: 1
    • arsenic says:

      26 here, and like many of the others, I’ve been reading for a long time now – at least 4 years.

      Current score: 0
    • e says:

      I’m 30, and I was reading it by January 2008.

      Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      65 to eternity and beyond…

      I think I’ve been reading AE’s works for about two years now.

      Current score: 0
  4. Sapphite says:

    Oddly thrilled by this chapter. It’s like the battle of wits between M & A has hit it’s denouement.

    @Yumi: 35

    Current score: 1
    • jagroq says:

      I read this as Master & Apprentice. I will now be thinking of Acantha as wearing a black hooded robe from now on.

      Current score: 1
    • erianaiel says:

      Soon now Acantha will tell Mackenzie about the third lesser known great tactical blunder (sorry, I do not see her winning a duel against a master swordsman (lefthanded!) anytime soon, though a brute she could totally defeat by clumsiness and general invulnerability ;))

      Current score: 0
  5. Zathras IX says:

    Hazards abound even when
    One is unemployed

    Current score: 4
  6. Dash says:

    I keep waiting for Callahan to show up for some reason.

    Current score: 0
  7. viruslife says:

    @Yumi: 34 you?

    Current score: 0
  8. Allan says:


    Current score: 0
  9. Malarky says:

    Age 28

    I started reading (looking back at old emails that pointed me here) in November 2007. o.O

    Wow, I forgot how long ago that was…

    Current score: 0
  10. Cadnawes says:

    37. I thought I was likely to be a comparative fossil. Shows what I know.

    Current score: 1
  11. Readaholic says:

    Ah, the joys of watching two socially awkward, intelligent people awkwardly clarify mutual social comfort levels

    Current score: 2
  12. Barnowl says:

    I am 43 and have been reading Tales of Mu on and off since October 2007. Nice to see there is a mix of ages among the readers. This was my first web serial, starter drug to many others, check out

    Current score: 0
  13. Readaholic says:

    I’m… 25 .(shifty eyes) No, really (more shifty eyes) Ok – between 40 and 50. (eyes no longer shifty)

    Current score: 2
  14. Riotllama says:

    35. I’ve apparently been reading since at least late October of 2007. Jeez.

    Current score: 0
  15. Arancaytar says:

    the race doesn’t always goto the racer

    GOTO Considered Harmful. 😉

    Current score: 2
  16. Arancaytar says:

    “Things that might still profitably be explored at some point in the future,” she said.

    Other ideas involving mockboxes and soldiers, maybe, only not the toy kind.

    I’d imagine defense contracts must be similarly lucrative in this universe…

    Current score: 0
  17. Rey d'Tutto says:

    Dammit. I caught up.

    Solid work, AE

    Current score: 0
  18. R says:

    I just had an amusing idea:

    What if The Man hired Acantha to teach Mackenzie some of the more devious thought patterns that he desires? The stick (dream invasions) hasn’t been working, but now he offers the carrot (geeky teacher).

    Current score: 1
  19. Cadnawes says:

    I’m wondering if Acantha needs Mackenzie to not trust her. I’ve supposed a time or two that this might not be MEANT to succeed, but to blow up spectacularly. This chapter makes me think about that again. I mean Acantha has given reason after reason after reason why trusting her too far is a bad idea. When Mackenzie stops actively thinking about those, Acantha reminds her.

    Reading this arc is a lot like watching a friend make horrible decisions when you know you can’t do anything about it.

    Current score: 0
  20. Footprint says:

    Is this arc over yet?

    Current score: 0
  21. Rey d'Tutto says:

    Here’s my take on it: Acantha has been an Elf working in the Human Dominated realm of enchantment. As a teacher /recruiter with a promising student or eight, teaching the difference between “business trust” and “teacher trust” & etc. could be very helpful

    Current score: 0