Apparently, blood isn’t always thicker than water.

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized casual filicidal vengeance.)

I think we can pretty much declare the Linear Guild’s relevance in this comic to be at an end.

I had thought Malack was too noble to continue following the orders of Tarquin and Nale for very long, although his long-term planning probably put the lie to that. But then, out of nowhere, Nale turned on Malack, throwing his staff into the distance and having Zz’dtri dispel his protection spell, allowing him to kill Malack by simply waiting out the time it took for him to burn to ash. This might be considered rather short-sighted, as it allowed Durkon to get his free will back, which he promptly used to kill Zz’dtri and rejoin the OOTS, but Nale letting slip that he had been planning Malack’s demise since he was nine years old hints at a far bigger picture that allowed him to consider the possibility of Durkon rejoining the OOTS an acceptable sacrifice for an opportunity that might never present itself again, especially given his worrying about Tarquin and Malack turning on him first. Many forumites are rather curious as to what it was happened when Nale was nine that led him to vow vengeance on Malack, and that was part of the reason I didn’t post on it at the time.

So after Durkon helps the OOTS take care of the sand monster, Tarquin shows up, having picked up Nale along the way, and takes the destruction of the gate surprisingly well, admitting that “I was probably going to destroy it myself anyway”. I’m a bit surprised Elan informs Tarquin of the existence of one more gate and appeals to his desire to preserve his empire, especially since he and Haley then do an about-face in this comic and resist Tarquin’s offer to teleport them to Kraagor’s Gate. (As an aside, given that Team Evil teleported to what’s probably the exact location of Kraagor’s Gate and that the OOTS don’t have much in the way of other options but to accept Tarquin’s offer, I’m starting to wonder if we’re set for just one more book, with the last two books having enough material for three.)

Incensed at Tarquin’s lassiez-faire attitude at the destruction of the Gate, Nale calls out his father for falling into a rut, and then starts gloating over killing Malack. At that point, Tarquin reveals how he was actually using Malack, that Tarquin had no intention of letting him kill Nale but instead hoped to convince their friends Nale was too valuable an asset (after Nale succeeded in capturing the Gate) and so put pressure on Malack to let him live. Rather than kill him when he had the chance, Tarquin was still loyal to his son and hoped to welcome him back into the family.

Nale, however, has none of it. Tarquin had hoped Nale had come crawling back and willing to accept his place at Tarquin’s side, but Nale is still the same man who clashed with Tarquin lo those many years ago. He had no intention of joining with Tarquin for good, only sticking with him in hopes of capturing the Gate and for long enough to not get killed. He still saw himself as his own man, wanting to build his own place in the world, one far bigger than what Tarquin had settled for, and this, coupled with his continued shortsightedness, proves his undoing, as Tarquin’s hopes that Nale would get his rebellion out of his system were the only reason he had let Nale survive to this point, and once those hopes are dashed, he has no reason to allow Nale to live any longer.

It’s a bit of a shame Tarquin was kept unrevealed for so long and the backstory of the Linear Guild so far out of focus, because it’s apparent that that backstory may be another of Rich’s great literary achievements, an almost Shakespearean tale of the often-tenuous ties of family and the hubris of youth, a story we just saw the climax of while only getting secondhand bits and pieces of the play leading up to it. I almost wanted to delay this post for another strip in hopes of getting more of that backstory, with the underlying motivation of Nale’s killing of Malack still out there. I can’t help but imagine Rich intended for a third prequel book centering on the Linear Guild and Nale’s original split with Tarquin, which may have been intended to be released in the middle of this book but which may yet see the light of day.

On the flip side, in less than ten strips we’ve seen the death of three members of this version of the Linear Guild; Sabine remains banished and Tarquin and Kilkil were only members as part of the ongoing marriage of convenience, not to mention how Thog remains MIA. Another reason I considered delaying this post by a strip was to gauge Nale’s chances of being raised, by Durkon (in either fashion) or someone else, and if he doesn’t it’d be interesting to see what might happen if he joins Sabine in the infernal realms. Tarquin actually seems to have outmaneuvered the IFCC here; it’s unclear whether they knew Nale’s plans for Malack (Qarr’s reaction to Malack’s death may or may not say anything about what the IFCC knows, especially given Sabine’s admission that even she doesn’t quite know what they have cooked up sometimes) or about Tarquin’s attitude towards his son, but if they knew about both you have to imagine they figure the Linear Guild has outlived its usefulness; a third reason I considered delaying this post was in hopes of seeing their reaction. Do they intend to bring the Guild back somehow, or is Sabine now going to be working on a different plan of theirs, existing primarily as part of their side and not the Guild?

I haven’t said anything about Elan and his place in this drama, although there’s not much to say about his pained reaction to Nale’s death, since we know he’s wanted to have a real family for a long time, was so excited about meeting his twin he ignored all evidence of his evilness until it couldn’t be ignored any longer, and had his suspension of disbelief in the world created by Girard’s illusion broken by Nale being perfectly fine with the re-marriage of Tarquin and Elan’s mother. We’d already known that despite everything, he was still conflicted about his family… and had some sort of plan involving Durkon, his father, and “finding a sense of good inside [his] family”. Was Nale also important to that plan? Did seeing Tarquin kill Nale change the way he viewed his father in some way, to say nothing of his experiences inside the illusion? I’m very interested in seeing how he reacts to his father after seeing this much conflict inside the family he sought so much. Family – both Elan’s and Haley’s (I have a post sitting mostly-written about Haley’s father and his paranoia) – has been a key theme of this book, and it’s perhaps fitting that this peak of drama would occur right as the book appears to be winding down.

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