Catch up on previous episodes here)
One tool that a storyteller has is the ability to make sure plans don't go according to plan. The storyteller has the benefit of knowing what will happen and therefore can manipulate the expectations of the audience. Unexpected wrenches in the characters' plans, both positive and negative to their objective, keeps the tension going and keeps the audience interested. In this last stretch of episodes before the final two, Last Exile seems to be doing just that.
Having stolen Exile, the Guild ships return to the palace for the Covenant Ceremony where capable youths battle to the death to see who will succeed Maestro Delphine and eventually run the Guild. The 'changed' Dio is forced to take part in the brutal, wonderfully animated scene, while Claus and Alvis are brought to an observation deck where Delphine finally explains what Exile is, but not what it does. This has been one of the fundamental mysteries of the show and its revelation follows the style of previous ones on the show, revealing information only to create more mystery. Alex Row is brought on deck too, wrapped in thorns that are releasing truth serum into his body. Delphine forces him to recite the Mysteria (the four poems that will open Exile). Exile scans Alvis as Alex recites the first verse and then the second. Alvis falls into the trance like state shown in a previous episode and Exile responds. In a great sequence of animation, Exile appears ready to do something big, but it turns out Alex does not know one of the verses, delaying the outcome and causing Delphine to revise her plans. She must first capture Sophia, the keeper of the last verse.
In these episodes, the viewer also gains insight into Dio and his childhood. We see his compassion for his companion and the harshness that his sister Delphine inflicts on him, which equals the harshness she inflicts on the entire world. Seeing the caring person Dio was makes his recent change even more heartbreaking. But his former compassion is rewarded when his friend helps Claus and Alvis escape, provided they take Dio with them. The three are taken to a hidden vanship within in the palace. In order for their escape to happen, a massive piece of the palace is blown off. It falls to the world below, sending tidal waves through Claus and Lavie's hometown. The three escapees manage to crash land and are taken to a hospital (based in the house where we saw Claus and Lavie on their first messenger mission way back in the beginning of the series). Claus and Alvis are released and go back home to find their house in ruins. All of this reaffirms the beliefs instilled at the beginning of the show. We've seen Claus grow and change, but in the end, his values have never faltered.
Meanwhile in the skies, the alliance begins its assault. The Silvana and Urbanus continue to trail Exile as it is pulled along by the Guild fleet, through the Grand Stream. The rest of the alliance's warships encounter a massive Guild fleet and commence with the vanship attack they've been working on. It's an overwhelming success, destroying most of the Guild ships. These air battles are one of the many highlights of the show and are simply stunning to look at. The alliance pushes on, ready to enter the Grand Stream and join what promises to be an epic final showdown. Claus must also somehow get back to the Silvana and bring Alvis with him...she's the only one who can stop what has already been set into motion. With two episodes left, I love how there is still a sense that anything can happen.