I think what’s most important here is what we didn’t do on this page. Both Phil and I enjoyed the concept of E-Merl as the screwup of the bunch, and it would’ve made sense, maybe, for this team of relative newcomers to make an obvious mistake or two right out of the gate. I was certainly trying to have fun with this scene, and mistakes in battle can be lots of fun when they don’t get anybody seriously hurt or killed. Maybe E-Merl would’ve reacted to Rachel’s abduction with a “Yeep!” and revealed to Stokla where he was.

But there’s nothing like that here. In fact, E-Merl is here shown to be even more competent than he first seemed, using magician’s misdirection as a combat tactic. This is because this sequence wasn’t just about Bandit’s team proving themselves to their seniors; it was about Bandit’s team proving themselves to the readers. Much like our push to establish Arkerra as a real world of its own and not just a VR experiment, I knew there’d be a natural impulse to dismiss the new guys as the “unimportant/less important” part of the story. And I had something to prove to Phil, too: he’d criticized some of my recent writing as having “not enough KA-POW, brother.”

Of course, the yen to prove yourself can have its downside, and Stokla’s fate will warn of its dangers.