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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

You know the drill. OOTS fawning ahead. Here there be spoilers.

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized planning ahead.)

I found a recent comment from Robert Howard that stated that Tangents would take a couple of months to come back in full. Which means I can put up all my other OOTS thoughts while I wait. I've added yet another one to the stack, and neither one of the two I was thinking of is the one I want to look at today.

This one concerns the very structure of OOTS that has sprung up recently. At the end of the last book, Rich Burlew split the Order in twain after killing off their fearless leader, and since about #500 the strip has largely consisted of shuttling between the two groups: Vaarsuvius, Elan, and Durkon on the one hand, and Haley, Belkar, and non-member Celia on the other. (Roy's ghost has popped in once or twice with the latter, though the Oracle of Sunken Valley has been the only living being to see or hear him so far, and we also shuttled over to Team Evil for a spell, and their captive paladin O-Chul.)

Nominally, both branches of the Order have been concerned with reuniting, resurrecting Roy, and continuing their quest to stop Xykon's evil plot. The former, and thus the latter two as well, has been restricted by a magical spell surrounding Haley and Belkar that only they and Celia know about, coupled with the fact that the only members of the group able to make magical contact with them, or resurrect Roy, are with the other group (while Roy remains with Haley and Belkar).

Haley, Celia, and Belkar have remained largely focused on their goal, although the group dynamics between them have been, in large part, the focus, and the last time we saw them Haley's past looked to be catching up to her. However, Elan and Durkon, powerless to do anything about the situation, have found themselves distracted by the travails of their hosts, Hinjo and the in-exile government of Azure City, especially the plot against Hinjo by the rogue noble (possibly with otherworldly backing) Kubota. (V has been just the opposite, so focused on trying to find Haley and Belkar it's caused him/her to do the elvish equivalent of "lose sleep" and grow distant from the rest of the group.)

As a result, the story of this half of the Order has little to do with the overall superplot of the strip at all, and has been, essentially, a self-contained story of its own. It is, essentially, Elan's story, which is why I was hoping to link the Tangents-derived post to this stage of the story, even though recent strips have cross-cut between the tribulation in the strip above and the battle with a massive demon. Kubota's top minion, Therkla, has been distracted from her "kill-Hinjo" mission by her growing "feelings" for Elan, which until recently Elan was mostly oblivious to, and Kubota was barely oblivious to. Now that plotline has been building to a climax worthy of a Bond movie, which makes it all the more appropriate that Elan would be at the center of it - and which, especially coupled with the renewed promise the last time we looked at Haley, Celia, and Belkar, pretty strongly suggests the group will reunite at or around #600.

Interestingly, it's not clear exactly what role Therkla plays in this story. At first glance, she'd appear to be a classic femme fatale, especially since Elan has been an item with Haley since just before the battle over Azure City. However, Elan has never been at risk of turning to the side of evil, or even really being distracted from whatever he needed to do. When Therkla suggested just being together until Haley returned, Elan rejected even that without a second thought (although it's unclear just how much he's willing to stick to that position). If anything, it's been Therkla who seems to have genuinely been drawn, if not exactly to the side of good, at least away from the side of evil, with Elan being the unwitting "femme fatale" in this case - a point driven home when Kubota initially put Therkla in the "him or me" position instead of Elan. In fact, it's been suggested that Therkla has never even really been evil, but has only been loyal to Kubota for giving her a place where she can fit in. (Therkla's a half-orc and there's a long tradition in science fiction and fantasy of half-breeds being rejected by both sides of their lineage.)

This is not the first time Burlew has brought us a story quite this divorced from the overall superplot, which hasn't really advanced that much since the battle of Azure City. The lengthy bandit episode had little to do with the superplot, as did the starmetal quest that it took up the bulk of. The only real time we had a story quite this divorced from the superplot, at least since the effective start of it, has probably been the last encounter with the Linear Guild, which by and large, Elan also stood at the center of. The foreshadowing of that story, incidentially, started at the very beginning of the starmetal quest and wasn't resolved until right before #400, a delay of over 250 strips - suggesting it may be a long wait indeed for anything quite so momentous to befall the one thing there's any real foreshadowing of at the moment, which ironically, would be the next advancement of the superplot. In a sense, it's stories like these that keep the strip from going "mad", as it were, with focusing on a single plot it advances above all else, and allows it to keep a little bit of the magic from the Original 42.

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