A number of readers have taken issue with my criticism of the tale's drift from the main plot, operating under the assumption that this grievance meant I wanted the story to be shorter. It's a flawed assumption; the story could have kept the Order from reaching their goal for the same amount of storytelling without having to take them off course for so long.
With strip #599, there is again the suggestion of moving toward the goal and toward foreshadowed character-defining events, and it's being handled in a fashion that creates obstacles for the party (the further sundering of the group) while still moving at least one of them in the direction of their goal. This was well done, and I wish we'd seen more of (what will be) the fourth book's events to date handled in similar fashion. Not all of them, please understand -- not everything can or should be tied to the gate quest -- but more of them.
(For example, it wouldn't have been hard to link Kubota to the gates: portrayed as he was, it's somewhat hard to believe that he wouldn't have sent ninja to learn what Hinjo had been trying to keep out of Xykon's hands, then done his best to learn more of the other two gates, seeking a bargaining chip that might both get his city back and discredit Hinjo. Knowing Xykon, Kubota might have plenty of cause to regret such a deal. Doesn't mean he wouldn't have risked it, considering the prize at stake.)
There are a few more things I like about this strip. First, V's physical condition clearly refutes the claim for not needing rest. I'm puzzled on one point, however: how is the elf recovering spells without resting? The possible rendezvous with Quarr also has potential -- even if it does delay a reunion between V and Haley, the imp would be very interested in opportunities offered by the gates.
Finally, I loved everything about Elan's handling of the situation. The quick, neutral farewell, followed by a very to-the-point remark displayed maturity and possibly the closest thing to leadership this trio has right now. It was then followed by an expression of doubt that echoes remarks we saw in strip #596 ("I guess--I guess it's for the best."), though with a bit more certainty ("I think -- I think it's for the best," and then, "It's probably for the best.") His opinion may be horribly wrong, if Quarr has anything to say about it, but there's plenty to indicate that talking V into staying might be the wrong thing to do as far as everyone is concerned (or at least for Hinjo, Elan, and V).
I also like how Elan suggested to V that he'd tell Hinjo the truth, then appeared to change his mind at the last moment. It was worth seeing how easily the lie unravelled as well (even if Hinjo isn't going to press the issue further), since lying was V's suggestion. I don't know if I've ever seen Elan lose his temper quite like this before either. (Anger at his brother came out a bit different, and anger at V over the multi-class-to-wizard fiasco seem to have come out in very different style.)
Back to V, though -- or rather, to Quarr:
Imps can assume two animal forms, with raven being one of the more popular choices (according to the MM listing -- gamers may have another opinion on the subject). Anyone else wondering if he might try to pass himself off as Blackwing or another familiar? It should be easy enough to uncover the ruse -- the lack of an empathic link alone ought to be a dead giveaway -- but I'm not sure V's faculties are reliable enough to work through whatever pretext the Giant might offer Quarr.
Please note that I find this highly unlikely. I only mention it because the raven link has entertaining possibilities, whether or not V could see through the facade.
As for whether or not Blackwing is still around, their final appearance does have a sort of "last straw" feeling for both of them.
My only complaint about the strip is with its title, but that's only because I've got a Journey song stuck in my head now.