Huge thanks to the people who took the time to review, favorite, or follow this story! You're all the wind beneath my wings!


Today had started out so well! How had it all turned out so scary? Mama and Papa had never let him enter the great forest near the castle, and he'd wanted to explore it for years! After all, many of the stories mama had read to him told him that there were wonderful things within forests! Fairies, spirits, and all sorts of treasures hidden from prying eyes!

Sir Lowen had taken him and Wolt out to the edge of the forest this morning. Of course, papa (and mama especially) had told him very sternly not to leave Sir Lowen's sight… and he'd agreed. But telling a little fib like that wasn't a bad thing, was it? Mama had always told him that fibbers got no desserts and had to eat extra veggies, but if no one found out then what was the harm?

Which was why he snuck away from Sir Lowen and Wolt at the first chance he'd got. Wolt's mom (who was also Sir Lowen's wife) had been teaching Wolt to use a bow, and while Lowen had been explaining what animals made the tastiest stews to Wolt, Roy had crept off into the underbrush!

Only…

It was… it was a lot darker, and a lot bigger inside the forest than he'd thought it would be. And there were bad things here! He didn't even realize he'd gotten too close to the big, scary bear when it had woken up from its nap!

Now, Roy may have only been seven years old, but even he knew better than to get too close to large, angry animals.

Too bad the bear didn't seem intent on letting him be. It had taken every bit of strength in his little body to stay ahead of those gnashing teeth and huge, swiping paws!

Mama, papa, Sir Lowen! Wolt! Somebody! Please! He didn't want to get eaten! He didn't want to leave mama and papa, who he knew would've cried if he was gone! He'd eat all of his vegetables, and clean his room when asked, and stay out of the scary woods if someone just- please- save him!

And just when the bear had caught up to him, right when he'd thought that he was a goner for sure, and mama and papa would never see him again…

Some kind of swirling, dark energy had surrounded the angry bear! Roy had never seen anything like it, and before his eyes it had killed the angry bear quick as a flash!

Was… was he safe?

Hic…
"Waaah!"

Roy knew that little princes weren't supposed to cry so easily, but he'd been so, so scared! He couldn't help himself from seizing what fistfuls of cloth he could grab as he cried into the midriff of his savior.

And then… rather than scolding him or shoving him aside, as someone might've done considering he'd rudely grabbed ahold of their clothes…

He found himself picked up, going higher and higher up until he was well off the ground.

Roy's cheek came to a rest on the shoulder of his savior, and he felt a slender hand coming around the back of his head, cradling him in place while the person supported his weight with their other arm.

"Ah… It's alright… You're safe now…"

Oh… Thank St Elimine… Roy would have to say an extra special prayer to the saint tonight, she must've known he was in trouble, and had sent this person to rescue him! The nice lady's voice was soft and soothing to him.

Above Roy's head, the person holding him let out a soft gasp, and to Roy's confusion… he soon found small droplets of water dropping down onto his head.

Huh?

Looking up at his savior, Roy saw…

An angelic woman was staring down at him, her pretty eyes- each one a different color- crying softly.

Roy didn't know why the lady looked so sad; he'd never met her before in his life! But just because he didn't know her, that didn't mean he wanted the nice lady to cry either! If she'd saved him from that nasty bear, then she must've been a friend!

"M-Miss? Why are you crying, miss? Don't cry, everything's gonna be alright!" Roy put a big smile on his face and did his best to reach his arms around her shoulders. Sure, he was still feeling a bit shaky from how much of a fright that bear had given him, but the bear was dead now, and his new friend needed a hug!

His new friend let out a soft gasp as his arms wrapped around her.

()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()

Ah… was this… was this really happening?

It felt so strange… These tiny, little arms were full of such life, such vigor! The complete opposite of the dying boy she'd tried in vain to comfort in the timeline she'd freed herself from.

That thought only brought fresh tears to her eyes. How could she have been so monstrous to inflict such cruelties on such a kind person?

To Idunn's shock, two little hands came up to rub at her face. Roy's efforts to comfort her, though fumbling, were driven by good intentions. Idunn blinked her eyes, one red and one green, as those little hands brushed the tears away from her eyes.

"Wow! I've never seen eyes like yours! Are you a fairy, miss?"

"A… a fairy?" Idunn genuinely didn't know what to make of that question. She also wasn't quite sure of what a fairy was, but she was aware that there were a great many things her sheltered existence had left her ignorant of.

"Yeah! In the stories mama reads to me, fairies live in woods like this, and the nice fairies help boys and girls who have been good. The bad ones… well, I don't know that much about them. Mama won't let me read any of the stories with bad fairies. But you saved me! That must mean you're a nice fairy!"

Whatever a fairy was, Idunn knew she wasn't one of them. At the very least she could correct Roy on that. Still supporting him with one arm, Idunn moved her free hand up and brushed away the remaining tears from her face. Now was not the time to wallow in the sorrow brought on by her past sins.

"I… I hope you are not disappointed, R-… Little one. I am not a fairy."

Roy's face fell at that, but only for a moment. His blue eyes brightened up once again, and his arms tightened around Idunn, who returned the hug before she even realized what was happening.

"Well, fairy or not, thank you so much! I-I thought that bear was going to eat me for sure!" Roy murmured, leaning back from where he was snuggled into the crook of Idunn's neck.

Idunn's mouth crinkled and for the first time in a very long time, an honest, genuine smile spread across Idunn's face.

"You're welcome… You have nothing to fear while I am here. No bears or any other beast will hurt you while I am by your side."

Feeling the small boy squirming slightly in her arms, Idunn gently lowered him down to the ground. Her heart sank, though she didn't voice her distress. She'd… enjoyed holding that warm, gentle soul so close! Holding him was like… like a cozy campfire burning in her chest, warming her spirit.

But the cause of Roy's discomfort was clear to Idunn's eyes. She hadn't noticed it at first, being too caught up in her own emotional turbulence.

Roy's little legs may have carried him to safety in his flight from the angry bear, but his clothes were ripped in places where they'd caught on branches and brambles, and thin scratches dotted his arms. There was even a small, bloody line on his face where a sharp branch must've scratched him.

The young boy was doing his best to put on a brave face, trying not to sniffle or pick at the 'wounds,' but despite Idunn's general ignorance of most aspects of life, she was very attentive to when people needed medical attention.

Elder magic wasn't the only human magic Idunn was capable of. Though elder magic was her greatest skill, she did have enough training and skill with the healing arts to mend moderate wounds, and healing the scratches on the boy in front of her was, well, child's play.

Idunn stooped down in front of Roy, her palms glowing with white light. Roy's eyes widened as the pain left him, the scratches on his body receding until only unblemished flesh remained.

"W-whoa! Thanks, Miss Fairy! I didn't know you knew healing magic too!"

The tall woman smiled even as she refuted him once more.
"I told you… I am not a fairy. But you are welcome. I did not wish to see you in pain."

After a moment of looking over her… ward? companion? Idunn wasn't quite sure how to refer to how she thought of Roy. She settled for 'companion.' After a moment of checking over him, Idunn felt her mouth twisting once more. How… how strange. Was this how it felt to smile? Only one morning in this bright, new timeline and she'd already smiled more than she ever had in that awful nightmare of a world.

"There. Your injuries are gone. Did… did you come out here with your family?" Idunn couldn't claim to know Roy personally, but she did know that he had been, or rather still was from a noble house. Judging by how young Roy looked, his father (of whom she'd seen briefly at the start of Zephiel's bloody campaign) should still be around at this time. If he didn't know that his boy was lost deep in the forest near his castle, Idunn firmly believed that he would be eager to have his son returned safely to him.

"Uh… About that… Papa and Mama let Sir Lowen take Wolt and me out to the forest… but they told him that we weren't allowed to go into the deep woods. Do you… do you think they'll be mad at me?" Roy asked in a sort of voice that implied he knew he was in trouble but was desperately hoping to avoid some kind of punishment.

"I… I do not know. But they will be happy enough that you returned at all." Idunn hoped that had been the right thing to say, but Roy still looked worried.

"Then… will you at least come with me? I don't want to leave you here…" Roy muttered, looking sadly at the ground.

Come… with Roy?

Idunn wasn't quite sure what to think of that. It was a big enough miracle at all that her fumbling attempt to rid Zephiel of her power had somehow landed her in a world where he was not yet in power. It was an entirely separate matter to consider that she was far enough back in time that Roy, who she'd last seen as worn, pale, and gaunt, was so young, bright, and innocent. Upon first realizing who the boy in front of her had been, she'd sworn a vow to protect him, though she hadn't known exactly how she would go about doing that. But… going back to Pherae with Roy solved that conundrum!

She'd be lying to herself if she said that she'd known him in his past life. She knew of him, but personally they had been strangers. Sure, she'd viewed him as a paragon of nobility and kindness, but the only time she'd even seen him in person was when…

Was when…

Was when she'd killed him.

"Miss? What's wrong? Y-you look scared! There isn't another bear around, is there?" Idunn twitched, startled at the unexpected words, and looked down to realize that Roy was tugging on her robe, a look of worry on his face.

"Ah… my apologies. I was lost in… bad memories. But… do you truly want me to come with you?" Something warm had once again ignited in Idunn's chest. A faint spark, barely more than an ember…

"Of course! You saved my life AND healed me! And… you looked so lonely… I'd feel really bad if I knew you were out here all on your own!"

The small embers, nurtured by a warm breeze, ignited into a small flame.

"T-truly? I can… come with you?" Oh dear, were her eyes watering again?

Roy's arms, small and thin but full of warmth, circled around her once more.

Despite trying to fight back her tears, Idunn found fresh tears falling from her eyes yet again. This time, great, heaving sobs racked her body. Her own arms came up to circle around Roy, clutching him so tightly that he was practically squashed against her much larger frame.

Despite feeling uncomfortably squeezed by the dragonkin, Roy didn't struggle. He simply patted Idunn's back, not letting up his end of the embrace.

"You… you really were lonely, weren't you?"

"Yes… I was… so alone! Alone in a dark nightmare, but now… that nightmare has ended!" Idunn breathed, letting go of Roy as she rubbed her eyes dry. It was finally dawning on her. She wasn't alone anymore. Someone had offered her a place at their side. And Roy, unlike Zephiel, had no desire to use her power to harm others. He offered her a place at his home for no reason other than to be kind to her.

That alone was more kindness than Idunn had ever received in her waking life. The thought was almost overwhelming. That she might have a home where she could live peacefully, without having to use her powers to slay and dominate in another's name…

But it didn't make up for all of the horrible things she'd done, all the suffering and sorrow she'd caused.

To someone who had never known freedom, only killing and destroying in another's name, being given complete freedom like Idunn had was overwhelming. But… Roy's offer gave her the chance to make good on her original vow to herself, when she'd first realized earlier that it was him who she was holding in her arms.

If Idunn was to truly free herself from the nightmares tormenting her, and to begin to make things right… Pherae was the place to do it. She knew that she was not trading one master for another. Zephiel's will had been unshakeable, his orders absolute… and the difference between him and Roy could not have been greater.

Roy wanted a friend, not a servant or sycophant. A comrade rather than a tool to be wielded like a weapon.

He was her friend. Her first friend.

Though her eyes were still watery, the smile on Idunn's face could've illuminated the darkest of nights.

"Then… if that is what you want, I will come with you."
"Great! Mama and papa will love you, I'm sure of it!" Idunn hoped they would. Though she couldn't imagine Roy's parents being anything other than the nicest people in the world. Who else could have possibly made this little bundle of joy?

Roy took several steps away from Idunn, looking around… before turning back to her, a nervous look on his face.

"O-oh… I think… I think we're deeper in the forest than I thought. I-I don't recognize where we are…" It wasn't his fault! He'd never been in the forest before, and it hadn't looked nearly this big from the walls of the castle!

His new friend picked him up once again, and Roy found himself once more hoisted up into the nice woman's arms. Wow, he he'd been too scared to notice it earlier, but his new friend was probably even taller than Papa or Sir Lowen!

Twisting in his position balanced against the woman's shoulder, Roy looked around.

"Whoa! I can see so much more of the forest now… I guess it'll be easier to get out of the woods now…"

"I hope so…" Idunn's stomach chose that moment to rumble noisily, reminding her that she hadn't yet eaten today.

"Oh! Was… was that your tummy, miss? You sound hungry…"
Idunn rubbed her companion's back gently in reassurance.

"I… I have not yet eaten today. But your safety comes first. I wish to bring you out of these woods before tending to my own needs."

"That's really nice of you, miss! But don't worry, there's always lots of food back at the castle! You can eat as much as you want there! Oh! I just realized something… I never asked you for your name! I'm Roy! What's your name, forest lady?"

Ah. That was true. Idunn hadn't asked Roy for his name yet, because… well, she knew who he was. But he didn't have the benefit of having crossed time and space like she had, and to him, Idunn was a stranger. Well, maybe not a stranger, seeing as he'd extended his offer of friendship to her, but at the very least, Idunn felt a little foolish at the realization that she'd forgotten to give Roy her name.

"I am… Idunn, Roy." Idunn paused, as if waiting for some kind of reaction. And yet, no reaction came other than Roy's smile growing even wider.

For all that Idunn had come to hate Jahn- and she could truly say that he was the one being in existence whom she truly loathed, Idunn supposed that it was a good thing the Fire Dragon Tribe had kept no records, or at least, none that survived the Scouring, on the true identity of the Demon Dragon.

She couldn't go around calling herself 'the Demon Dragon' to the good people of Pherae, but there was no harm in introducing herself as Idunn. To them, she wasn't the feared weapon of the dragonkin, just a wandering woman who had stumbled upon the prince of Pherae.

There was another matter that was bothering Idunn. The light filtering through the trees around her and Roy was starting to grow brighter, a sure sign that they were drawing closer to the edge of the forest. Roy said nothing, content to let his new friend's much longer legs carry both of them out of the woods. Idunn, on the other hand, found herself growing slightly wary as she drew closer to the edge of the woods, the lordling of Pherae clutched in her arms.

There were voices, loud, heated, and numerous within earshot.

Surely, these were the men and women of Pherae come looking for their prince? Idunn hoped so. Who else would it be? It was logical, even to Idunn's sheltered mind, that someone like Roy going missing would've been cause for alarm with his friends and family.

As the voices grew louder, and she walked close enough that the group of men and women was now in eyesight, Idunn hoped that her presence would be well received.

A shout ahead of her caught her attention. Idunn looked ahead, realizing that the squad of soldiers was approaching her. Fortunately… no one had drawn their weapons, and though the soldiers of Pherae seemed wary of her, none of them approached with naked hostility.

"Hold there! I… I see that you have found our wayward lord! But… who are you? You do not look like a hunter, nor a resident of Pherae." One man remarked. The knight was a man clad in purple armor, but despite his relatively advanced age (for a human), he carried himself with the air of authority Idunn had seen in veteran soldiers.

"I… I am Idunn. I was… lost, in the woods, and I happened upon this little one before a bear could make a meal out of him."

The old knight's eyes widened, and someone behind him uttered a curse that was utterly unfit for a child's ears to hear. The veteran's eyes narrowed as he examined his lord, picking out each individual rip and tear in his tunic…

"Then… if what you say is true, my lady, all of us here owe you a great debt of gratitude. I… I will take your words at face value. Roy seems to have been through quite the ordeal this morning, and what's more… he seems to be very fond of you." The knight spoke, clearly paying attention to the way Roy was clinging to his apparent savior.

"Marcus! It's true! T-the bear was about to get me, but then Idunn showed up, and *vwoosh* There was this… black energy that seemed to come out of the ground and grab the bear, and before I knew it, it was dead! I've never seen anything like it!"

The now-named Marcus looked like there were several things he wanted to say, both to Roy and to Idunn, but after a moment he schooled his features into a stern frown before speaking to the duo.

"From what Roy says, it sounds like you're a dark magic practitioner of some skill… but that's neither here nor there. What matters is that you saved our lord's life, and for that we are grateful. If the young lord perished on my watch… I wouldn't be able to face the marquess or his wife." Marcus stated, drawing a round of nods and muttered thanks from the other armored men and women.

"Now, I do not know where you came from, but if you return with us to the castle, I'm certain Lord Eliwood and his wife will be much relieved to have their son returned to them safely. This has been a… frightening morning for them."

Idunn's stomach chose that moment to remind her that she had yet to eat breakfast today, and the tall woman's pale cheeks pinkened slightly. Roy, still held aloft in her arms, giggled softly. The old knight even looked faintly amused.

"Well… I'm sure we can find something for you to eat, as well. At the very least, you will find better food in Castle Pherae than you will in these woods."
Idunn dutifully followed along behind the old knight, one of the other soldiers lending his horse to Idunn. Roy sat in her lap as her horse followed along behind the commander.

Well… this was it, wasn't it? The start of her new life? The castle of Pherae was much smaller than the royal castle of Bern had been, but… even though it was much less grand in scale, it felt so much more inviting to Idunn!

The horseback ride lasted less than a quarter of an hour, during which the small group passed through the castle town of Pherae. It was a lively place, full of cheery people going about their business. Idunn didn't know what time of day it was exactly, but it seemed to be several hours till noon. And yet already life in the town was in full motion. It was… such a happy place! Idunn couldn't take her eyes off of the sights around her. What was mundane life to most people was a novelty to her!

"Hmm. You seem to enjoy the sights of the town. Though renowned across Lycia, Pherae is not the most populous province. Yet our people are all happy to live the lives they've been given." Marcus remarked as the squad neared the gates to the castle.

The group dismounted their horses, Idunn dismounting hers before Roy so that she could help him down off of it.

The castle residents had clearly been awaiting the group's return, as the gates opened up for them without Marcus needing to announce the groups presence.

The aged veteran turned back to look at Idunn and Roy.

"Follow me, miss. The Marquess and his wife will be happy to meet the savior of their son."

Idunn took a deep breath, doing her best to mentally prepare herself. Time to meet the father and mother of the boy she'd sworn to protect.