Chapter 214: Deniable Plausibility

on May 21, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 6: Career Counseling, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Twyla Sees Things Through

As good as I felt about winning Twyla over and earning her trust, I started to feel a whole lot less sanguine about the whole situation as soon as I walked away from that conversation. It was very easy for me to tell someone I would have her back, but it would be another thing to actually be her advocate in front of the group when push came to shove.

I lucked out, though, in that push didn’t bother to get out of bed that day, much less show up, much less do so for the purpose of shoving… or whatever that saying is supposed to mean.

I’m not saying that the other two applicants who were brought before the group had mailed it in, but maybe compared to me, the people who’d recruited them had. I’d had a specific person in mind from the beginning, and the whole idea had revolved around the knowledge that this project would play to her strengths.

After we’d all presented our candidates’ work, Acantha did a little I don’t want to be the one who says the obvious thing because I’m not supposed to be in charge dance before she said the obvious thing, and Twyla had the job.

The quality of the designs that she supplied helped to smooth any feathers that might have been ruffled by her joining the group. I think the fact that they were first evaluated without her in the room really helped the more artistically-inclined members of the group see them in a more neutral light.

I was given the responsibility of bringing Twyla into the fold. Acantha gave me the forms for her to sign, so I could just show her the project so far rather than trying to explain it to her. That could have waited until Twyla’s first meeting, of course, but given how far into the development process we were, there was definitely something to be said for hitting the ground running.

“Here it is,” I said, putting the globe down on the desk in between us and then opening the interface. We were in one of the smaller conference rooms in the student life center… asking Twyla to my room seemed weird, and she had a roommate in hers.

Plus, reserving the conference room had made me feel all grown-up and official.

Very business-like.

I was still getting used to wearing a slightly classier… and more recently laundered… cut of t-shirt, but I was starting to wonder what I would look like in a suit.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“Honestly, it’s pretty close to what I expected you were doing,” she said.

“That probably helped you nail your submissions,” I said.

“I did tailor them a bit, yeah,” she said. “I hope that was okay.”

“Well, that’s not the only reason you’re here, but I think it helped.”

“I figured it would help, that’s why I did it,” she said. “But… that’s not the same as being okay.”

“Oh, right,” I said. “Yeah, I mean, it’s not like you cheated. I wasn’t feeding you inside information. You made an educated guess and happened to get it right.”

“Yeah, just… that’s not the basis of the competition,” she said.

“Okay, but if you think about it, isn’t figuring out what other people want and giving it to them part of what a commercial artist does?” I asked. “You’ve got to figure it’s just another part of the skills package.”

“…honestly, Mackenzie, I was less worried about it before you started trying to justify it,” she said. “I’m already on board. You don’t have to sell me on it.”

“Oh, sorry,” I said. “I just didn’t want you feeling guilty, that’s all. Anyway, this is the thing… this is your copy, now that you’ve signed for it, so you can keep it. Page through what we’ve done, start messing around, whatever… I don’t know if you like to do a lot of prep work or just jump right in, but whatever works for you.”

She had already started flipping through the image sets by this point, so I was mostly just rambling because I wasn’t entirely sure we were done. That, and standing and walking out of the room would be rude, either way.

Maybe I wasn’t ready for a fitted suit just yet.

“I do see what you meant about needing a lead artist,” she said.

“Yeah… let’s not use that term around the others, though,” I said.

“I mean more in terms of consistency than quality, though I don’t think it will hurt anything to have someone go through and kind of cull… well, I say ‘someone’, but that’s going to be me, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid so,” I said. “But the thing is that without you, we’d probably have to throw all the junkier ones out completely. You have the chance to salvage more of them, which will probably make their creators feel better.”

“That’s true… some of these were made by illusionists,” she said, wrinkling her nose. It was a very Amaranth-ish gesture, and noticing it made me want to put my hands in my pockets and blush. I don’t think she noticed, with her attention focused on the image between us.

“A lot of them were,” I said. “Is that really a problem? I mean, they’re all illusions.”

“Yes, but only illusionists craft their images to be believable,” she said.

“What’s… oh, you mean in the sense of having the property of believability,” I said.

“Yes, I guess that’s what I mean,” she said. “Some of these, the geometry is all wrong… it would never actually work out as a three-dimensional physical object, but you look at them and the part of your brain that tells you that shuts down.”

“Mind,” I said.


“They affect the mind, not the br… it doesn’t matter,” I said. I’d had the distinction drilled into my mind, but the reason I’d had them mixed up was because it didn’t really matter, in everyday conversation. “How big of a problem is this?”

“Well, it’s going to bug me forever,” she said. “I can’t not see them… it’s a pretty common flaw, though, which is part of why I started making my own images from scratch instead of using other people’s templates. I’ll fix what I can as part of standardizing things, but fixing problems that people will notice is going to be the priority… it’s not like people won’t be introducing their own errors once this is out there in the world.”

“That’s probably a healthy way to approach it,” I said.

“I mean, the interface problems might be more of a priority, but I’m not sure that changing that actually falls under my area of responsibility?” she said. “Something will definitely have to be done about the logo.”

“That’s something to bring up at the meeting,” I said. I thought about writing it down on the pad of paper that I’d brought with me, but realized I’d feel like an unfathomable phony doing that. Yeah, I was definitely not suit-ready. Also… I didn’t have a pen. “Though, maybe don’t specifically mention the thing about illusionists. People could get touchy about that. I mean, everyone knows there are things that need improving, but we don’t need to sit there and list them off.”

“You haven’t dragged me into a giant egofest, have you?”

“No!” I said. “Maybe… I mean, more fest of giant egos than giant fest of egos, if you know what I mean.”

“I have no idea what you mean.”

“I mean, everybody is pretty well-behaved and we’ve all been getting along,” I said. “The fact that no one’s blown up and nothing’s gone wrong is maybe making me a little… anxious? I don’t know. I’m probably verging on creating the problem that I’m afraid of… I mean, you’re way more tactful a person than I am, so if I can realize that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to say something, I’m sure it would occur to you.”

“I don’t actually spend a lot of time thinking about what not to say to people,” she said. “I spend more time psyching myself up to speak in the first place.”

“Oh… well, that’s good to know.”

“I guess I’ll just take this with me, then,” she said, canceling the display.

“Remember… not for general consumption,” I said.

“I know,” she said, as she put the orb in her bag. “I don’t like working in front of people anyway. I won’t mind showing what I’ve done in the meetings, or doing little tweaks, but I hope nobody expects me to perform. Would you do me a favor?”

“What?” I asked.

“Could you talk to the person in charge… I mean, you know what I mean… and ask her what she wants me to do with the logo?”

“She’ll probably tell you that it’s not up to her, but the group as a whole,” I said.

“Just if you can get some kind of sense out of her… I don’t want to come off as pushy, my first time in front of the group.”

“Okay,” I said.

I was glad that Twyla had decided that the meeting was over, because if it had been up to me we probably would have sat there until the assigned time was over, if not until the next time someone needed the room.

I found Andreas hanging out in the Arch’s common area, outside the seating area for the cafeteria. He’d walked over with me, as moral support. Though we were no longer co-conspirators, we were still teammates, and so we’d kept up the habit of hanging out with each other to talk about the project and related matters.

“How’d it go?” he asked.

“Really pretty well,” I said, which was objectively true. My brief delusions of suaveness and inability to conduct a meeting with two whole people in it hadn’t actually been more than brief, almost unnoticeable bumps along the road. “She seems pretty interested… she’s already figuring out how to improve things.”

“Like what?”

“Well, she noticed that some of the outfits are relying on magical believability over realism,” I said.

“I was hoping someone would catch that,” Andreas said. “I didn’t want to be the one who said… I’ve already been beating enough drums.”

“She also thinks something will need to be done about the logo,” I said.

“Really?” he asked. “Did she happen to say what?”

“No, though… she did kind of sound like it was something obvious,” I said. “Now that you’ve got me thinking about it, I think it was probably more of the same. I mean, she was still talking about the illusionist thing.”

That’s what it was,” Andreas said, sounding pleased but looking perturbed. Well, he did have kind of a dour face.

“What?” I said.

“Something’s been bothering me ever since we settled the name dispute with that spinny glyph,” he said. “I didn’t say anything at the time, because I thought it was just the same deep rumblings that we shouldn’t be messing about with the name in the first place… so I pushed them down deeper.”

“But now you think it’s something else?”

“I know it is, Mackenzie,” he said. “What’s the version of the name we settled on, again?”

“It doesn’t really matter,” I said.


“Because it’s written in a circle, with no ending or beginning,” I said. “You could read it as ‘soldier stones’ or as ‘stone soldiers’, whichever you want to see. I mean, admittedly, the name will have to be thrashed out somewhere down the line, but we don’t have to do it, and our stuff will work either way.”

“Could you write that out?”

“The whole rambling thing I just said, or the logo?”

“The logo,” he said.

“Okay, I’m not an artist, though, and I’m not sure I can write in a circle… and also, I don’t have a pen.”

He pulled one from inside his vest.

“Just write the words out, then,” he said. “Linear-like.”

“Seriously?” I said.

“Please. Humor me.”


It was always awkward, trying to write standing up. The pad helped a little. The fact that I didn’t have anything behind the paper but more paper and a thin cardboard backing didn’t. But, it wasn’t like he’d asked me to write an essay. Deferring to his politically-minded preference, I put the word “soldier” first… and then had a moment’s hesitation when I got to the end of “stone”. The formulation was actually plural, but of course, it looped.

“And then it loops around to the beginning,” I said, showing him what I’d scratched into the pad. “The S on the front of ‘soldier’ becomes the end of ‘stones’.”

“But then it would be ‘oldier stones’,” he said. “Carved from ancienty rocks, no doubt, but not what our game’s about.”

“No, but it works because it flows together,” I said. “One S doing double duty.”

“Mackenzie,” he said.

“Okay, it’s a cop-out and I think we all know it’s a cop-out,” I said. “But really, Andreas, would Shiel really appreciate us taking it upon ourselves to solve the naming debate on her behalf, even if we sided with her? Like you’ve said, it shouldn’t even be a debate.”

“Mackenzie… the words in the logo are spaced,” he said.

“What, like awkward kerning?” I asked, pleased that I’d remembered that word.

“No, she put two little dingbats in the gaps to break up the words,” he said. “Stylistically, or for to make them easier to read.”

I tried to picture it in my head.

“…that doesn’t work, though,” I said. “Are you sure you’re not remembering it wrong? I mean, like you said, you had reason to feel iffy about it…”

“Get out your orb and pull it up,” he said. “We’ll settle this now.”

“We can’t do it here,” I said.

“Is the room still reserved?”

“For another ten minutes or so, yeah,” I said.

“Let’s go, then.”


As soon as we had the conference room’s door closed, we both pulled out our orbs.

“I don’t see the problem,” I said, and I didn’t.

“But it’s there,” he said. “Mackenzie, have you ever tried to resist an illusion before?”

“No,” I said. That was the kind of skill they taught to would-be adventurers, but illusions were mostly for entertainment purposes these days.

“Well, try now,” he said.

“If you’re telling me that you’re looking at it and seeing something impossible, that’s good enough for me,” I said, canceling the display. “I could believe you were remembering it wrong, but not looking right at it and seeing something that’s not there… I mean, apart from the whole thing. Why did no one else see it, though?”

“Because the illusion’s believable. I started to see through it… a thick skull doesn’t just keep falling rocks out of your brains… but I pushed that aside.”

“Yeah, but we’ve got a good leavening of elves in our group, and they’ve got eyes like ridiculously perfect hawks,” I said.

“Perception isn’t proof against illusion,” he said. “Believing is seeing. Besides, elves embrace illusion. Reality gets dull.”

“Okay, so… the problem isn’t quite as solved as we thought it was,” I said. “But still, we can make it work, right? I mean we just take out the spaces and let them share an S. It’ll be a little awkward, and it’ll probably need to be redesigned a bit…”

“I know we can fix it,” he said.

“Then why are you so worried about it?” I asked. “If you don’t want to be the one who points it out, I’ve pretty much already volunteered to do that.”

“I don’t know, exactly,” he said. “It’s a mistake, though, and that bothers me. Mistakes are a big deal, Mackenzie.”

“It’s not like someone did it on purpose,” I said. “It’s basically just an accident.”

“Yeah, well, you grow up in a mine and then say the phrase ‘just an accident’ with a straight face,” he said. “The normal apprentice track for dwarves involves mining, no matter what the clan’s business or our profession is, just so we can learn early the importance of safety.”

“Well, as we’ve established, you’re the only dwarf,” I said. “And we caught this thing that was done accidentally before it could cause an accident, so to speak.”

“I know,” he said. “I’m not going to walk away over this, or blow a pocket over it… I just. I wanted you to know why I was so intense about it.” He blushed, behind his beard. “I know that’s not the face I usually show.”

“No, I get it,” I said. “I know you probably don’t want to show that side of you during the meeting, but honestly, I think Acantha would appreciate the dwarven perspective on things.”

“That would be something to see.”

“No, seriously,” I said. “She might not have grown up in a mine, but you know the kinds of high magical forces that enchanters have to balance. The same kind of care and attention to detail that you got driven into you when you were learning minecraft is what she teaches in her classroom.”

“Is it?” he asked, though somehow he sounded far from reassured.

“It is,” I said.

“Huh,” he said.


“I don’t know,” he said. “Do we really want to go down that tunnel again?”

“What tunnel?” I asked.

“I mean, it’s like I said: elves embrace illusion,” he said. “So maybe it’s nothing. But when you talk about how careful she is, I have to wonder… why did something like this slip by her?”

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31 Responses to “Chapter 214: Deniable Plausibility”

  1. tomclark says:

    “But it’s there,” he said. “Mackenzie, have you ever tried to resist an illusion before?”

    “No,” I said. That was the kind of skill they taught to would-be adventurers, but illusions were mostly for entertainment purposes these days.

    Given the potential for abuse, (imagine an open pit with an illusory “covering”, just for starters,) I’d imagine it would be something taught to all children as a basic safety skill, the way we teach kids to be careful crossing roads.

    Current score: 1
  2. Alex says:

    Continue to enjoy both the storytelling and the insights into magic that come with the story. Thank you.

    Current score: 0
  3. zeel says:

    Haha, the believability effect is hilarious.

    I actually figured it might be something like that. I had trouble visualizing the logo from the description. At first I thought maybe the wording was just funny, but I realized that since it was an illusion it might just violate logic altogether.

    Then I wondered what they would do if they needed to print it out on paper.

    Current score: 3
  4. Chinthor says:

    Did she seriously just say that he learned MineCraft?

    Current score: 5
  5. N. says:

    Worth the wait, and in just the right amount.

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


    Current score: 0
  7. Dzen says:

    Mack’s really turning into a leader on this project, I’m impressed.

    Current score: 1
  8. Trent Baker says:

    The conversation,
    like the logo they designed
    revolves once again.

    Sorry couldn’t resist :p

    Current score: 2
  9. That one guy says:

    Wait, so what was the problem with the logo? Anyone have an image of what the logo looks like (or was supposed to look like)?

    Current score: 0
    • Schulze says:

      Imagine the words
      Soldier Stones in a circle. It doesn’t really matter that it is in a circle, you don’t read it as both “Soldier Stones” and “Stone Soldiers”, because there is this little pesky plural-s.
      The illusion makes this s flow into the starting s of “Stone” and “Soldiers”.
      So anyone watching the logo reads “Soldier(s) Stone(s) Soldier(s) Stone(s)”, which wouldn’t be possible in boring, non-illusional logos. The closest we can get would be “StoneSoldierStoneSoldier”, which… doesn’t really work.

      Current score: 1
    • Melki says:

      Here’s my crappy paint interpretation. The problem is that I don’t know where to put the double S, so right now it’s Stone Soldier (or Soldier Stone). The double S could go either place, but then it definitely makes it so it can only be read one way.

      I also didn’t really know what do to with those “stone knot” things in the spacing so I just put dots, and then two abstract shapey-things in the middle for the Kobol letters.

      Current score: 1
      • rylen says:

        My vision was similar, but with the ‘S’s at the top and bottom.

        Current score: 1
        • HiEv says:

          My problem is that no matter where you start it, it lends itself to one particular reading. Since we normally read left-to-right and top-to-bottom, whichever word is leftmost or topmost will be the one that will tend to get read first. I don’t see how _any_ arrangement can avoid that problem, which was the point of this particular design.

          That said, I really do like the “illusory believability” explanation for how that otherwise impossible design slipped through. 🙂

          Current score: 2
          • TheTurnipKing says:

            Of course, you’re making the assumption that every other race in the MU-niverse reads the same way as we do in English.

            Pax is generally assumed to be similar, but when it comes to Kobol or dwarvish, who knows?

            Current score: 0
        • Melki says:

          @rylen – Yeah, that’s how I would probably write it out if I was doing pen & paper, but my Paint skills already leave much to be desired :'( I knew I couldn’t get the spacing right if I tried to do it that way. But you are correct, that is probably better!

          @HIEv – I think that is part of the problem 🙁 I’ve never been a huge fan of circle logos either.

          Current score: 0
      • TheTurnipKing says:

        How about a split stone disk, with the split resembling an S. Then run Stone Soldiers down one side, and Soldier Stones up the other?

        Current score: 0
        • William Carr says:

          I’d think you’d be stepping on Robert Jordan’s toes, if the Tao symbol wasn’t thousands of years old.

          I kind of thought that was what they were talking about in the first place.

          Current score: 0
  10. scifi_chic says:

    “Okay, but if you think about it, isn’t figuring out what other people want and giving it to them part of what a commercial artist does?” – them is part?

    Current score: 0
    • Schulze says:

      Imagine the words
      Soldier Stones in a circle. It doesn’t really matter that it is in a circle, you don’t read it as both “Soldier Stones” and “Stone Soldiers”, because there is this little pesky plural-s.
      The illusion makes this s flow into the starting s of “Stone” and “Soldiers”.
      So anyone watching the logo reads “Soldier(s) Stone(s) Soldier(s) Stone(s)”, which wouldn’t be possible in boring, non-illusional logos. The closest we can get would be “StoneSoldierStoneSoldier”, which… doesn’t really work.

      Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      Read it this way:

      “isn’t X part of what a commercial artist does?”

      where X = “figuring out what other people want and giving it to them”

      Current score: 0
      • Order of Chaos says:

        If this is the only typo we find then I’ll call this chapter flawless. Glad to see we hadn’t driven AE away.

        Current score: 0
  11. Dirndl says:

    “…[W]hy did something like this slip by her?”

    Maybe because she’s “not in charge” and is waiting for someone else (Andreas perhaps) to bring it up?

    Current score: 1
    • Lunaroki says:

      Good point. While I’m not quite 100% sure she’s being completely honest with them, neither am I at all convinced her deceptions and manipulations are malicious. She may simply be using this project as a means of teaching these promising youngsters how to handle running a business. After all, learning to spot problems with your business model yourself is a much stronger lesson than having someone else point it out for you.

      Current score: 1
      • Zukira Phaera says:


        It may well be that as part of this her ulterior motives may be along the lines of scoping out potential employees or business partners for in future.

        If they have the proper initiative and sight to pick up on and speak up about a problem now, it bodes well for future, for both them and her if she can convince them to work with her again.

        Current score: 0
  12. Author Unknown says:

    After the previous complains with the pace of the story, I must admit I’ve found the last few chapters quite enjoyable. Keep up the good work AE.

    Current score: 0
  13. HiEv says:

    Typo: “…honestly, Mackenzie” – “Honestly” should be capitalized.

    That aside, the brain/mind distinction is kind of interesting. In *our* world, there is no real distinction. The mind is what the brain does. If you change your mind then you change your brain. Mental states correspond to physical changes in the brain. Damage to the brain means damage to the mind. The two are inseparable.

    However, in *their* world that might not be the case. If you have astral projection, ghosts, afterlives, etc., then it’s possible that the mind is a separate thing from the brain. Of course this creates various other complications, but that’s what I find interesting about imagining what a modern society that has actual magic and monsters would look like.

    Current score: 3
    • Silverai says:

      I think the H is not capitalised because the “…” is the beginning of the sentence, and therefore “honestly” is not at the very beginning of the sentence.

      Current score: 0
      • HiEv says:

        Ellipses don’t count as the first word in a sentence. Unless the text is part of a quote that starts mid-sentence, the first word after the ellipsis should be capitalized.

        Current score: 1
  14. Zathras IX says:

    Mackenzie doesn’t
    Want to be the one who says
    The obvious thing

    Current score: 1
  15. Seth says:

    I wonder what other things this property of magical believably applies to? For instance can/does MackDaddy magically enhance a lie to be more convincing?

    Current score: 4
  16. Arancaytar says:

    “…that doesn’t work, though,” I said. “Are you sure you’re not remembering it wrong? I mean, like you said, you had reason to feel iffy about it…”

    Yep, those esses have been bugging me since I first read about the logo.

    > minecraft


    Current score: 0