Chapter 8 of Act 1 is one of the more memorably difficult chapters, if for no other reason than it being another one of those “enemies going after innocent NPCs and making it absurdly difficult to save everyone” ones. The swamp that it takes place in is also incredibly unique-looking (though a bit annoying because it limits the movement of most characters), and both Nailah and Rafiel become playable characters on the very first turn. For some reason I remembered this being a stage where keeping Tormod alive was a challenge, and yet he’s more then capable of taking care of himself here. I suppose it won’t be until much later—midway through Act 4, as memory serves—that he and his allies become a real burden, then.
The short version of this narration is that we have more soldiers now that we’ve broken a bunch of them out of labor camps, and that means the Daein Liberation Army has a chance against Begnion, though they’re unlikely to go down easily.
The apostle isn’t going to sit around and wait for proof of the senators’ misdeeds to be handed to her, so she forms an inspection team to look into what’s happening in Daein. Duke Numida tells Jarod that he’s arranged a meeting with the senate’s vice-minister, Duke Gaddos (also known as Lekain), and expects him to be able to make the investigation team’s findings disappear, but that this requires the Daein Liberation Army being defeated. After all, if Micaiah’s forces cross paths with the investigation team, their chances of keeping the truth from Sanaki aren’t great.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Jarod tells his second-in-command, Alder, that the plan is to spread rumors of a mass prisoner execution in a swamp, then ambush Micaiah’s forces when they show up to intervene.
Izuka immediately deduces that it’s a trap, but Micaiah is insistent that they can’t risk not going. She tells him that she won’t take the main army (so we can’t use Tauroneo, Fiona, or Jill, though Zihark can come for some reason), instead only taking her Dawn Brigade friends with her. There’s some arguing, but the prince decides to let her go since she hasn’t disappointed them yet.
Base conversation time! Something is bothering Micaiah, and Sothe tells her that they promised three years ago that there’d be no secrets between them. That’s notable enough on its own, but it’s also interesting that the war ended three years ago, meaning Sothe found her immediately after returning to Daein.
She tells him that Maurim knows that she’s older than she looks, and while Sothe reassures her that Maurim is trustworthy, she worries that everyone who looks at her with “love and affection in their eyes” would turn on her if they knew the truth given how much prejudice there is (from both beorc and laguz) toward those who are Branded. She goes on to talk about how she was in Daein during the war, and everything was reduced to ruins, but the people banded together and helped her and each other to cope despite that. Their kindness spoke to her (where before she had lived a largely secluded life), and now she’s afraid to lose that.
Tauroneo may not be joining us for the upcoming stage, but he hands Micaiah a Restore staff in a base conversation as a kind of apology for that. There are enemies with poisoned weapons coming up who can be annoying, so giving Laura a staff that lets her remove negative statuses like that could potentially come in handy.
Tormod’s ally Vika is the last base conversation, and in it, she gets really anxious around Micaiah for some inexplicable reason. She’s apologetic and explains that she knows what it’s like to be feared by people, though, so she decides to try to overcome it. She eventually gives Micaiah an Ashera Icon as a sign of friendship, which is a stat-boosting item that permanently boosts a character’s luck. The base conversations lately have been pretty great as far as items are concerned.
Micaiah is already at level 20 and therefore doesn’t need the Paragon skill anymore, and since Sothe is going to see some pretty heavy use in the swamp (and he’ll also need to be able to tank some hard hits during Act 3), it gets slapped onto him as a way to slightly counteract how little experience he gains right now.
Aimee has a few different weapons that could be useful, but the Wyrmslayer is too expensive (and probably unnecessary), so I buy a Wind Edge for Zihark to allow him to attack and counterattack indirectly. It’s not the kind of thing that’ll be hugely useful in the upcoming stage, but it could definitely come in handy later on.
The Dawn Brigade shows up and it turns out to be a trap (obviously), but they’ve prepared for this so as to not get caught off-guard.
Tormod’s small group shows up to attack from the bottom, and Nailah’s small group attacks from the top-left. With Micaiah’s group in the center of the stage, that gives us three groups of split up characters, and for once this will be a good thing.
I’ve sworn at this stage so many times because of how difficult it is to save all of the green allied units. The first thing you have to do is send Vika into range of a flying enemy unit to distract it, which is necessary because she’s not able to rescue the NPCs it’ll be targeting if allowed a turn to get into position. Nailah, meanwhile, goes straight down. She’ll lock down the entire left side and kill everything that’s a threat. Volug goes right while Zihark goes up, and they eventually move down together to take care of reinforcements that come from the bottom. Meanwhile, Sothe works his way clockwise to distract and kill a large group of enemies including the boss.
When Micaiah’s group returns to the camp, everyone is cheering for her and calling her the “Priestess of Dawn,” and she waves to them at Nailah’s urging.
That night, Tormod rushes to Sothe and Micaiah and tells them that something’s wrong with Maurim. It quickly becomes obvious that he’s turning into a feral one.
Rafiel enters the tent and sings the galdr of rebirth, restoring Maurim to his original form and undoing whatever was done to him. Interestingly, the song affects Micaiah in a strange way, causing her to shake. This isn’t a side effect of her being Branded, either, as Soren (also Branded) didn’t suffer any such effects when he was near the herons singing the song in Path of Radiance. This will eventually be explained, but not until much later, so be sure to keep it in the back of your mind.
Later, Sothe is explaining feral ones to Pelleas and calls the experiments leading to them “terrible,” which causes Izuka to angrily declare that he was the one who came up with the process for creating them in the first place. Micaiah realizes that he secretly gave Maurim the drug that turns laguz into feral ones, and he doesn’t deny it, but Pelleas attempts to calm down the situation by insisting that Izuka won’t try to create any more feral ones. He tries to convince Tormod to forgive Izuka, however, and when Izuka starts rambling about how royalty shouldn’t be “bowing and scraping before swine,” Tormod storms out. That’s definitely a burned bridge.
Duke Gaddos (again, also known as Lekain) and Duke Numida come to the apostle claiming ignorance about the “appalling and inhumane excesses in Daein.” Lekain insists that he be allowed to head the inspection team so that he can kill the soldiers who have “stained the empire’s name,” which is obviously an excuse to get rid of the evidence of their involvement, but Sanaki instead decides to put Sephiran in charge of the investigation and throw a wrench in Lekain’s plans. Once she leaves, Numida swears that she’ll regret it, and Lekain tells him that their only recourse is to sacrifice everyone involved to Micaiah’s army. That means that Jarod and all of his men are getting thrown to the wolves. Literally in Nailah and Volug’s case.