This is the penultimate stage, and while it’s possible to hit the level cap while going through the final stage because of how many enemies there are, that’d make it difficult to figure out who to use stat-boosting items on in the final base menu. Because of that, this is the last stop for combat experience before characters get a ton of bonus experience crammed into them, and that means getting Mia, Zihark, and Soren as much experience here as possible. The problem with that is that there are multiple dragon-type laguz who can do huge amounts of damage to defensively-lacking units (which is all three of them, obviously). That’s in addition to beast-type laguz and raven-type laguz who are naturally fast and more likely to hit them than most enemies, which means that this stage is one best gone through slowly.
Nasir tells us that Ena found Leanne in a tower to the south, and that leaves us with one final stop before we can start stabbing Ashnard in the face.
There’s not enough game left to continue being stingy with money, so Zihark gets his own 25,000 gold sword to match Mia’s. I also make sure to give both him and Mia Laguzslayer swords so that they can do bonus damage against most of the enemies during this stage (mostly so that they can have a chance against the aforementioned dragon-type laguz). The only problem there is that they don’t have many uses left.
Nephenee was close to hitting level 19, so I put a little bonus experience into her. The idea is to make it possible for her to hit the level cap early in the upcoming stage so that Mia, Zihark, and Soren can take the lead from then on out. That way we avoid a situation where she hits the level cap in the middle of the enemy phase and proceeds to take a ton of them out while earning no experience for the kills.
Ike’s sword is unbreakable (and he shouldn’t be fighting to begin with because he’s at the cap), which means he doesn’t need any extra swords lying around in his inventory. Why not use the extra space to store some backup staves for Mist, then? In fact, I probably should have been doing this with Reyson throughout the game.
The only base conversation here is between Tanith, Elincia, and Marcia. Basically, it’s now possible for them to activate a triangle attack (which is a reoccurring attack throughout the series, usually involving flying units, that automatically grants a critical when the other flying allies are positioned around an enemy in a certain way). I’m pretty sure Rolf, Boyd, and Oscar have a triangle attack of their own in this game, too. I never focus on triangle attacks in Path of Radiance or Radiant Dawn, though. They can be useful in other games, but single units are more than capable of getting critical hits here without the need to bring along a terrible unit like Oscar, and Marcia’s days of being useful are officially over. It’s more trouble than it’s worth.
This is our first glimpse at the mad scientist Izuka, who will become a significant character in Radiant Dawn. You know how there have been crazed laguz who don’t transform all throughout the game? They’re called “feral ones,” and Izuka here is the one who experimented on laguz in order to create them in the first place. Here he’s been put in charge of Leanne and tasked by Ashnard with keeping her alive. A guard then shows up and explains that guards are necessary because Leanne could wander off and be killed by all of the feral ones wandering around, and Izuka eventually leaves to do something else, with the guard being left to watch over her.
Ena reveals to everyone that Daein/Ashnard uses an elixir created by Izuka to warp these laguz and put them into a maddened state, and that we’ll face lots of them.
Meanwhile, Izuka returns to find that both the guard and Leanne are gone. At the same time, he’s informed that the tower is under attack, and he decides to use this as an opportunity to flee, recognizing that Ashnard isn’t going to be happy about him losing Leanne. Before he leaves, however, he tells another guard that the feral ones have been medicated and “trained” to not attack Daein troops, which helps explain why they’re fighting alongside Daein rather than killing indiscriminately.
I went through this stage very slowly; normally I focus on Ilyana and her thunder magic and can send her to run all over the dragon laguz in this stage, but things were quite a bit trickier with Mia and Zihark. At the beginning, the raven laguz were the main concern because they could easily fly past stronger units to kill Reyson or Mist. Then the dragon laguz became a bigger problem—they could bring Mia or Zihark from full health to the brink of death, so taking damage to beast laguz while being in the range of the dragon laguz wasn’t an option. Even for all of my caution, I barely squeaked through one or two bad situations thanks to lucky dodges.
Nephenee hit the level cap early as planned, though I had to have her kill a few enemies to keep my group from being swarmed (if Mia, for example, were to keep getting enemy-killing critical hits after being damaged during an enemy phase, her health would continue to go down until she was killed). Even then, I had no idea what to do for one or two turns. Like an idiot, I left Mist exposed at the end of one of these and she got attacked by a dragon laguz, only surviving because of a lucky activation of her Miracle skill. Later on, I needed to pull a different dragon laguz closer to the group, but the boss had long-range magic and I didn’t want to risk Zihark or Mia getting hit by both. There was also a beast laguz nearby who could potentially make things even worse. That’s when I decided to move Nephenee into range and use Reyson to take away all of her weapons. That meant no experience-stealing counterattacks, and both laguz were lured to the group for safer kills.
Oh yeah, and Tibarn is an ally unit for this stage, but he’d steal all of the experience if allowed to run wild. That’s why I ordered him to sit around and do nothing.
Midway through the stage, it’s revealed that the guard who was looking after Leanne for Izuka was actually Naesala in disguise. Remember when it was established that he used to look after Reyson and his sister? That was Leanne, and she recognized him. He claims to have done this because Tibarn demanded it as penance for selling Reyson earlier, but he clearly has a soft spot for the two herons. Especially Leanne. Everyone tries to convince Naesala to join the fight against Daein, and though he resists at first, he eventually relents. He’s not a selectable party member, though you can bring a backup unit into the final battle and he’s one of the three choices.
Everyone goes into the basement and it turns out to be filled with laguz corpses. Failed experiments, perhaps? Of course, you never actually see the corpses. This is Nintendo, after all, though including a story about bigotry where slaves are experimented on and tortured to death is intense and decidedly un-Nintendo.
Ena talks about how the elixir that Izuka made shortens laguz life spans, but makes them incredibly powerful, and that Ashnard would send his warriors against these laguz in order to test their worthiness. To him, they were just tools to be used.
The chapter ends with one of the soldiers mentioning some of them are worried that the war ending will mean losing the chance to move up the ladder and become more important. Ike is like, “wait, do you want to keep fighting forever?” and the soldier apologizes and runs off. I don’t remember how significant this is in the long run, but it’s worth keeping in mind that some see war as a way of getting ahead.