This stage is awful. I adore the game as a whole, but this stage really is bad. It’s slow because movement is limited, an enemy has an annoying sleep staff, there are a ton of indirect attackers who insist on targeting Volug over and over again, and the Black Knight shows up to steal lots of kills when you try to take it slow. But hey, we get Stefan and his Vague Katti sword, so it’s not all bad. It just took over an hour to get through the stage, and all I found in the sands was a single coin. I know there’s more out there (including an item that does bonus damage against dragon laguz that would become incredibly useful later), but I’ve never found any of that stuff.
There’s nothing particularly interesting about this bit of narration except for the fact that they’re going through the Grann Desert. Obligatory desert stage!
Lekain is frustrated that the Disciples of Order have lost over and over again, so he decides that it’s time for them to take the reins and start personally running the show. We can’t kill Lekain during this stage (he shows up, but will eventually retreat no matter what), but we’ll have our chance to cave his skull in before too long.
This senator named Hetzel isn’t such a bad guy, though it might be more accurate to say that he is a bad guy, but that he recognizes and feels remorse about it. That makes him a saint compared to the other senators, but he’s too cowardly to stand up to them and that makes him complicit. He also appeared in Path of Radiance, but his role was merely reacting to Sanaki messing with Elincia in chapter 14.
Meanwhile, Micaiah talks to Sanaki in the Grann Desert and Sanaki finally admits that she feels “inadequate” because of her. Micaiah can tell that it’s because she can sing the song of release while Sanaki can’t, but their conversation is cut short when Yune takes control again. It’s hinted that Micaiah was born with the power to read minds to a certain extent much like herons can (which helped her to keep the Dawn Brigade safe all those years), and Sanaki asks her why she was able to sing the song of release. Yune doesn’t know the answer, and Sanaki asks how she could be a god and possibly not know since gods are supposed to know everything.
Yune counters by explaining that gods aren’t perfect despite their greater abilities (including creating life and turning it all to stone, obviously), and that they more closely resemble regular people who make mistakes than most would expect. She then indirectly admits that the great flood we learned about in chapter 18 of Path of Radiance (and that later chapters revealed was the work of the supposed dark god in Lehran’s Medallion) was indeed caused by Yune, but that it was an accident caused by an emotional outburst rather than a malicious act.
She starts getting worked up, ranting about how she wishes that gods were perfect so that their mistakes didn’t cause people to die, and a sandstorm kicks up because she’s getting so emotional. Sanaki tries to talk her down, and she eventually gives control back to Micaiah. Sanaki tells Micaiah that she’s supposed to be the voice of Ashera, but that she’s never once heard her speak and that she wonders what she’s like, to which Micaiah responds that they’re likely to find out soon.
There are two base conversations during this chapter. In the first, Sigrun finds Sanaki a Bolganone tome in the sands, then mopes about the apostle fighting like a common soldier. The topic eventually switches to Sephiran, and Sigrun says that both him and Zelgius aren’t likely to have been petrified thanks to their talents (Sephiran supposedly comes from a family of powerful mages, whereas Zelgius is the “finest general in all of Begnion”). She’s convinced that they’ll be waiting for the apostle in Sienne, and that they should hurry there to meet back up with them.
The second base conversation is between Micaiah and Naesala. When Naesala vaguely insults Sothe, she tells him not to insult her family. When he points out that there’s no resemblance, she elaborates that they’re not actually related, but that their relationship is more like the one between Naesala and Leanne. Naesala freaks out, realizing that she’s a mind-reader (looking back, both that and the farsight must have helped when she was just a fortune teller), but she insists that she didn’t bother looking deeper than that. He’s relieved to hear this and tells her that both of them are similar, and while he doesn’t elaborate on how, he tells her that she’ll “see when the time comes.” He then gives her a Nosferatu light magic tome.
Nosferatu simultaneously damages enemies while healing the user, but Micaiah’s skill with light magic somehow hasn’t reached the point where she can use this thing yet. There’s a spare Arms Scroll in the convoy, though, and since all of my other usable characters have already maxed out their relevant weapon skills, there’s really no reason not to use it. Now she can use Nosferatu, though she’s weak enough that even this won’t enable her to be safely thrown into groups of enemies.
Since Lekain is personally leading the Disciples of Order for this stage, he warps to Sanaki and begins taunting her. He tells her that the apostle is the “firstborn daughter of each generation in the line of Altina, first empress” and that she had an older sister who was assassinated along with her grandmother (Apostle Misaha), which would mean that Sanaki isn’t actually an apostle. She defends herself by claiming that she’s just too young to hear the goddess, and this amuses Lekain because that’s the same lie that the senate fed to the people.
It doesn’t matter how good your characters are if they’re put to sleep. Enemies will take free shots at them until they die, and that means that this Restore staff (which can wake a character up, and automatically wakes up the caster if they’re targeted while it’s equipped) is incredibly important. I think the shop actually sells these now, but this particular staff is the one Tauroneo gave Micaiah back in Act 1.
I forgot to mention it before this point, but I removed Volug’s Renewal skill (so no HP regeneration for this one) and replaced it with the Paragon skill that used to be on Micaiah. She won’t see a lot of combat in this one, sadly, so she’s going to need bonus experience to hit level 20 later on. Volug and Zihark are going to be moving down to deal with the bulk of this stage’s enemies while everyone else moves right, but first Micaiah has to stay near Volug to make sure he isn’t hit with the sleep staff. There’s also a long-range light magic guy on the bottom-left who will start attacking, but he’s much less of a problem. Naesala is a big factor for the characters who move right since he’s capable of finishing most units off in a single round, and the same goes for Skrimir. Naesala is a royal who can stay shifted 100% of the time, though, while Skrimir requires items to do so. Their goal is to take out any enemies who pose a threat to weaker units, and since Micaiah needs to make it to the middle-right of the screen to land on the square that recruits Stefan (this is one of the few things I looked up online), the flying units—the biggest danger here—and enemies with long-range magic all need to be taken care of before she can move over there.
The Black Knight will show up before long and start taking out enemies. It’s kind of frustrating, but at least NPC kills give us bonus experience. I tried to keep Volug and Zihark ahead of him regardless, though. Since Lekain warps away shortly after the Black Knight shows up, the real boss of this stage is Duke Numida, who was running Begnion’s brutal occupation of Daein in Act 1. He’s got long-range light magic, so I had Naesala stand around and dodge it so that he wasted it all. Naesala couldn’t actually attack him, though, because he was surrounded by bow-users. Around that point, most units began moving around looking for buried treasure. They found nothing of note and it ended up being a huge waste of time. Meanwhile, Volug and Zihark slowly ran down every last enemy. It was slow and awkward and meh.
After the stage ends, the Black Knight tells Micaiah that he wants her to go with him to meet his master at the Tower of Guidance. He refuses to elaborate further, however. She tells him that she can’t leave everyone behind and that they have to arrive together, to which he claims that they’ll all be turned to stone when Ashera uses her petrifying light again. He then tells her that he’ll come for her again and that she needs to make up her mind by then, warping away immediately afterward, but we’ll make good time and find our way to the tower before that actually happens.
Sanaki recognizes that she’s probably not an actual apostle now, recalling how her ascension to the position was a relief to the country and probably used to sooth everyone’s unease after her grandmother’s assassination. Apparently every previous apostle had heard the goddess’ voice by the time they were Sanaki’s age. She asks Sigrun and Tanith how they would feel about her if she wasn’t the apostle, and they respond by telling her that they don’t care. Apostle or not, she’s still the ruler of Begnion and someone who fights for the people, and that’s why they’re loyal.