(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized perfect crime.)
As with Homestuck, it takes a lot of doing for me to post on the same comic twice, and the previous strip certainly ranks high on the list of OOTS strips that would qualify if any did. In this case, after giving myself a day to think about it, I decided that after how SoD-heavy my last post was, I should write a post oriented more towards readers of the online comic. I also think I may have been too gobsmacked by the comic itself to think clearly about it.
For readers of the online comic, the main development from the previous strip, aside from the end of Tsukiko and the revelation of what the ritual actually does, is the more general revelation of Redcloak as the man behind the man. Honestly, though, even before SoD was published there’s been hints of this in the online comic, from Redcloak convincing Xykon to attack Azure City to his level of involvement in the battle planning there to convincing Xykon to stay in Azure City. In the previous book Redcloak even made clear that he and Xykon were not on the same side and that Xykon was little more than a “valuable ally”, which also backs up my contention in the previous post that Redcloak is more committed to the Plan than to Xykon himself. The previous post also explains why this isn’t quite the revelation it looks like it is (and I’ve had people try to tell me it’s even less of one than that).
Probably more stunning, and coming across as a revelation on the order of the “planet-within-the-planet“, is the revelation that the ritual doesn’t do anything near what Xykon thinks it does, that Redcloak has manipulated things down to the level of Xykon’s motivations and goals. By itself this revelation changes little, since Xykon doesn’t know about it, until the final battle (although one may be excused for wondering if it’s related to the “planet-within-the-planet”), but it does say a lot about Xykon, Redcloak, and the relationship between them, much of which is made apparent either in the strip or my previous post. It recontextualizes every strip with Xykon and Redcloak to know that even success for Xykon would accomplish what Redcloak wants, but not what Xykon wants.
Considering that the ritual in actuality neither destroys the world nor conquers it, it also defangs Team Evil a little as villains, even if their success would still cause some nasty consequences. In fact, this is a theory I’ve had in my head since having SoD spoilered for me, but knowing what the ritual actually does could actually open the door for Xykon and Redcloak to succeed at the final battle. Although Redcloak may not be mired in complete subservience to Xykon, he’s still tightly connected to him, and much of the comic and SoD has raised the possibility of a full split between the two being a fairly major event. Xykon discovering the ritual doesn’t do what he thinks it does, as has already been made clear, would certainly fit the bill, and he inevitably would find out if he were to be “successful”. One wonders if it constantly nags at the back of Redcloak’s mind what reaction Xykon would have to “success” at this point. (One problem with this theory: it turns the main villain from Xykon to the Dark One, however briefly, who I don’t think was even mentioned in the online comic until the third book… but what he doesn’t know about the “Snarl” could hurt him.)
It’s also worth noting the number of characters whose information about the Gates, past and future, comes primarily from Xykon and Redcloak. Nale picked up a lot of information about the Gates from Shojo, but makes clear that he intends to get the ritual out of Xykon or Redcloak somehow. They aren’t going to be any more successful, at least at this gate, but it’ll be interesting to see what the reaction will be out of either one of them if they even get close. Would Redcloak, for example, be more willing to divulge the arcane half of the ritual than we may once have thought he would, in hopes of grooming Nale to potentially replace Xykon?
Meanwhile, we now have some sense of what Redcloak’s plan for the phylactery is: to replace it with a fake. In some sense this actually helps Xykon, and certainly doesn’t help the OOTS, who could conceivably destroy the “phylactery” without actually destroying it. But the fact that Redcloak evidently wants to hide this plan from Xykon suggests he still has some ulterior motives…