Those expressions continue to impress. No matter what you think of Ardaic, it’s hard not to feel a little bad for him in panel 3.

There were two other drafts of this sequence I should mention. In one of them, it was Ardaic making Syr’Nj the offer to join the Altruists, on the others’ behalf. He comes to Peacemaker headquarters (his own property) and informs Syr’Nj of their actions and their invitation. When Syr’Nj refuses, a panicked Ardaic sends word to Iwatani of her acceptance, putting his own station and even his life at risk for hers, without making the play for her feelings seen here. This would’ve made him more of a wild card, but considering the turn that real-life politics was starting to take around this time, I’m glad we instead made him a man trapped by loyalty until the climax.

In the other, Syr’Nj was offered considerably more carrot and less stick than she is here. Bedard agrees to publish one of her essays unedited in defense of adventurers. Jarvis offers her the prospect of directing Gastonia’s scientific advancements, curing disease and developing technologies. And all of them agree to make it law that there shall never be fewer than six Heads of House in any hall. This sounds tempting to Kur’Ik, but Syr’Nj well knows that such promises mean little. Those who would betray their own will clearly say anything to get what they want. Still, she must play along for now, for both her peoples’ sake: wood elves and Peacemakers. Harky’s armies still want them all dead, after all. In this version, it is Miyamoto’s assassination attempts, aimed at her and the Peacemakers, that will push Syr’Nj to her final break with Gastonia.

I think we nixed that version because it just didn’t suit the arrogance of the Altruists. No one except maybe Iwatani is willing to do much bowing and scraping in their own Hall. But I do like how the carroty version relies more on expressive silence from Syr’Nj, as here:

3. Ardaic does his best to comfort Syr’Nj. He truly believes what he’s saying.

It was not so long ago that the Hall of Houses expanded to add you, Caneghem, and Reynolds.
I view such expansions and contractions as a sign of our flexibility, our health.
Like the inhalations and exhalations of a noble beast.

4. Syr’Nj looks back at him silently, sadly. To say she doesn’t share his optimism about the future of this body is a profound understatement. But at this point, if she doesn’t fall in line now, she’s putting her own kingdom and the Peacemakers at risk.

Oh, Ardaic.