Whew, finally back with another chapter. It's been... just over a month since the last one. Dang, that's, uh... definitely outside the schedule I was trying to stick to. But the good news is that almost all of the stuff keeping me busy IRL has concluded now, so hopefully the chapters will come out quicker now.

One of the other things that delayed this chapter was me not being happy with it. I've revised it a number of times, and even edited out whole sections that I felt just didn't fit. Here's hoping the chapter still turned out alright.

As always, huge thanks to everyone whose taken the time to read, follow, favorite, and especially leave comments on the story!


The two women passed through the halls without interruption. Idunn silently observed as various servants greeted the former marchioness and her as they made their way to Eliwood and Ninian's private quarters.

While not nearly as large as Bern Keep had been, the castle still had quite a few floors. Surprisingly, the royal family's quarters were not located on the top floor, but rather about halfway up the castle.

"In here, Miss Idunn. The royal family of Pherae's quarters are beyond these doors." Eleanora indicated, one of her hands resting against a set of sturdy oaken double doors.

"You won't be following me inside?"

"You'll be speaking with my daughter-in-law in private, I hope that doesn't bother you. Oh, and as I said earlier, I'll speak to the servants about bringing food for you and Ninian. Or if you'd like, you can simply head down to the kitchen whenever you're done speaking with my daughter-in-law. I'm sure the castle cooks would be happy to provide you with something to eat. As for myself… well, after that I'd best be on with my day. Ninian doesn't need me fretting over her at every moment with the day, and with you around I'm certain she'll be in good hands!"

Idunn felt a flicker of warmth in her chest at the trust the other woman had in her.

"Very well. What about Lord Eliwood? And Roy?"

Oops, was she supposed to refer to Roy as her lord as well? It felt odd calling a child like him by such a lofty title.

Regardless, if Eleanora was offended at Idunn's lack of decorum she didn't show it. The aging noblewoman merely smiled politely and answered her question, just as she'd done so many times previously in their conversations.

"Oh, it will be just you and Ninian this morning. Eliwood spends most mornings with her, but I believe he took Roy down to the training grounds this morning. My grandson has been going on and on about learning to wield a sword, just like the other knights of Pherae. He's at that age, you know. Nothing but dreams of heroism and adventure at that age… but then, Eliwood was no different when he was little."

Despite the words sounding almost like a complaint to Idunn, she could clearly see a fond smile on the greying-haired woman's face. Roy might have been an untamed bundle of energy and excitement, but he was Eleanora's bundle of excitement, and Idunn got the impression that Eleanora wouldn't have changed that for the world.

"Now, off you go, dear. And please… I know I'm just repeating myself, but… don't be disheartened by whatever you find. I'm not one to speak for someone else, but… Ninian's had a good life here at Pherae."

Eleanora departed after those last somber words, leaving Idunn to push the heavy doors open and enter the royal family's private rooms.

Inside, she found the stone walls well-lit by many sconces lining the walls. At the far end of the hallway, next to what was likely the marquess and marchioness's bedroom, sunlight was pouring in through a large, thick glass window.

Passing by what must have been Roy's room, Idunn had a brief glimpse inside- a messy, unmade bed, a bookshelf full of books- no doubt the stories of heroism and adventure Roy would share with her each time they met.

And lastly, a small wooden sword; a toy- propped against the bookshelf.

Out of consideration for her young friend's privacy Idunn didn't linger. Idunn stopped momentarily to eye a row of paintings hung along the stone wall next to her. Previous marquesses and marchionesses of Pherae, most likely, judging by the stately clothes and fiery red hair many of the men and women in the portraits shared. Idunn only recognized two paintings; one with a much younger Eleanora standing next to a mustached, distinguished looking man who must have been Eliwood's late father, and the last painting which was of Eliwood and Ninian themselves.

This portrait must have been drawn several years earlier; Eliwood didn't look too different, but his wife didn't have the pallid hue to her skin that she did now. Her face in the painting also lacked the ever-present weary look that she was never seen without these days.

Reminding herself that she was here with a purpose, Idunn moved past the wall of portraits; it wouldn't do to keep the marchioness waiting. Eliwood and Ninian's private chambers awaited. Stopping at the door just in front of her, Idunn raised a hand and knocked.

"Lady Ninian? May I come in?"

"Idunn? Lady Eleanora told me you were coming. Please, come in."

Upon hearing the marchioness's voice, Idunn pushed door open. The bedroom Ninian and Eliwood shared was both well-kept and well-lit, and much like the rest of the castle Idunn found the term 'cozy' to be a better descriptor than something more grandiose.

There was a large four poster bed along one of the walls, covered by a thick blue quilt. Other than the bed, there were a couple of desks, likely one each for the marquess and marchioness, and several large, thickly padded armchairs. As far as royal bedrooms went, it was hardly luxurious, but still quite a long way from being considered spartan.

Ninian herself was seated in one of the armchairs, located next to a clear window looking out over the Lycian countryside beyond the castle. The sunlight illuminating the room cast rays of light on the furniture, the bed, and Ninian herself, who was using the sunlight to read a large, heavy book.

The frail woman smiled at Idunn as she entered. Her cyan hair framed a pretty face with delicate features, marred by the look of fatigue on her face. Her red eyes were dull, though no less intelligent and alert than they'd been any other day Idunn had seen her. The dress she wore today was a humble white gown, lacking the finery Idunn had come to associate with nobility.

"Marchioness Ninian…"

"Oh? What is it, Lady Idunn? Eleanora told me that you wished to speak with me. Please, sit down. If there's anything you want to speak about, I'll be happy to listen." Ninian smiled softly, one thin arm pointing towards the chair next to her, a clear indication that she wanted Pherae's healer to sit next to her.

Idunn wouldn't object. She needed to be very close to the marchioness for her sensory ability to work perfectly, and this served her purposes.

So close to the marchioness, she could 'view' Ninian through her sixth sense as clear as day!

Idunn took her seat, thinking over what her senses were detecting. It was just as she feared; Ninian was clearly dying… and dying swiftly at that. But… Idunn tried not to let her frustrations show on her face, not wanting to worry Ninian- the ailing marchioness was already looking at her in some confusion, wondering why the healer was remaining quiet for what was starting to become a rather uncomfortable length of time.

"Ah… forgive me, Lady Ninian. I was just… thinking about how grateful I was that I have the opportunity to speak with you." Those words seemed to lay Ninian's concerns to rest, and despite her obvious fatigue, the marchioness smiled brightly at the much taller woman.

"It warms my heart to hear that. After you saved my dear child, providing you with room and board seemed like a pittance…" Idunn's eyes widened as Ninian suddenly coughed violently, one hand bringing an embroidered handkerchief to her mouth while the other held her chest. At this close proximity, Idunn could even hear a faint wheezing rattle from the shorter woman's frail chest.

"L-Lady Ninian?!"

"I-It's fine, Miss Idunn. It… Urgh… It will pass…"

Ninian's words didn't help soothe Idunn's distress; the lavender-hairedwoman rushing out of her chair to steady the swaying marchioness.

This was worse than what Idunn had feared. At this distance, there was no way she could be blind to the truth in front of her face. Ninian's quintessence was like a dim candle flickering in the wind. All it would take was one faint breeze, and that dwindling light would be extinguished forever.

Idunn couldn't let that happen. But for all her vaunted power…

She wasn't detecting any signs of physical illness in Ninian's body. This was what she'd feared more than anything else in the last week; that her sensory capabilities wouldn't be able to tell her what was wrong with Ninian. But even if she knew what was wrong with Ninian… being able to treat it was an entirely different matter!

Had her plan been doomed to failure before it had even started?

No, she couldn't accept that. She wouldn't!

Ninian looked up into Idunn's eyes, confusion plainly written on her face, but Idunn didn't let go of the smaller woman's shoulders. Staring eye-to-eye with the pale, red-eyed woman, Idunn focused deeper still on Ninian's quintessence.

In the past week and a half, Idunn had in fact learned that sick people had a different quintessence signature than healthy people… sort of like a dark spot appearing somewhere on the ball of light that was their quintessence. Naturally, someone who was slightly sick had very few or very small dark splotches, while she assumed someone who was gravely ill's quintessence would like almost as if a dark tide was trying to swallow up the bundle of light that was their quintessence.

But with Ninian, there was no darkness at all. No tell that any sickness was affecting her.

It was simply as if… her life force had drained away.

"M-Miss Idunn? Um… pardon me, but… would you please let go of me?"

"Ah! My apologies, Lady Ninian. I was… lost in thought. I… I am unused to seeing people I care about in such a state." Idunn said, drawing back from Ninian and settling back down in her own chair.

"I apologize that you have to see me like this. My health… isn't what it once was. But I was always rather frail. This is… something I have been preparing for, for quite some time. Now please, was there anything you wished to talk to me about? I hope you did not come here only to inquire about my health, or I fear that you may… oof… leave my chambers very disheartened…" Ninian had do take several deep breaths to steady herself, as if even speaking that much was enough to leave her feeling winded.

Idunn found her voice after a moment of silence.

"I… merely wished to speak with you more closely; I have been blessed to have been able to get to know my new comrades at least somewhat well in these past couple of weeks, but you are the only person I have been unable to speak with at length."

Ninian smiled politely at the other woman, though there was a tinge of sorrow on her face.

"Oh, that's kind of you, Miss Idunn. I fear that the days when I was helping Eliwood welcome new guests to the castle are behind me, sadly. All the same, I hope your time here at Pherae is filled with Joy. Roy can hardly stop talking about you when he isn't dreaming of going off on some adventure or another! Eliwood and I… " And here the marchioness paused again to draw breath before continuing.

"Roy will be allowed to leave the castle once this week is over; and I'm certain that he'd love to guide you around the town. Moreover, my dear Eliwood informed me that you've been here for well over a week… but you haven't left the castle yet!"

"Oh, that's…" What was she supposed to say? Idunn wasn't sure if Ninian would accept the answer of 'I prefer being on my own.' Moreover, Idunn wasn't sure that she actually felt that way. She was more comfortable being on her own, holing up in the infirmary or her own room at the castle, but she very much wanted to grow more accustomed to being around people.

"I've been busy… settling in. But going into town with Roy sounds very pleasant." The lavender-haired woman remarked after a moment's pause. Fortunately, the marchioness seemed placated by those words.

"Well, I'm happy to hear it. There aren't too many children in the castle, and even if you aren't exactly close to Roy's age, no-offense, it does my heart good to see him making more friends."

Idunn wondered what Ninian would think if she truly knew how much older Idunn was. In fact, Idunn was likely even older than Ninian herself, even considering the pale woman's own draconic heritage.

"Yes… I too am very grateful to be friends with Roy." Roy was someone precious to her. As her first friend ever, Idunn wasn't sure who she felt more indebted to; Eliwood for giving her a home, or Roy for opening her eyes to the joys of a life worth living.

The draconic duo entered a lull in the conversation. It wasn't quite an awkward silence, but neither woman was sure of what to say next. In Ninian's case it was more that Idunn was still a stranger to her; she didn't know what Idunn's interests or hobbies were, where she'd come from, or what she'd been doing in the woods at the exact right time to find and rescue her son. Furthermore, she had no intentions of potentially offending Pherae's court healer by just brazenly asking her what she'd been doing in life up till now to flee to what was likely a new province with nothing but the clothes on her back.

If nothing else, Ninian could understand and sympathize with someone who had clearly been on the run from something… or someone.

The marchioness doubted Idunn's circumstances were anything like those that she and her dear brother had faced all those years ago, on the run from a madman's agents. Idunn had certainly come from some kind of circumstances that had warranted her fleeing in search of a better life; most healers in Pherae didn't also hold a mastery in elder magic, after all. But Ninian wasn't the kind of woman to pry; it had been Eliwood himself, along with Lady Lyn, Lord Hector, and so many others who had opened her heart and mind to the kindness of strangers.

Now it was her turn to extend that same kindness to someone in need. If she could continue reaching out, helping people like this, then she'd be happy. Even if the last embers of her life were to burn away for good in the next couple of months, Ninian would be happy. Even after considering all the twists and turns it had taken to get here… it had been a good life.

The growing silence was broken as Idunn found her voice, and more importantly, a new subject to ask about.

"Pardon me for saying so, Lady Ninian, but… what brought you to Pherae? You… you stand out from the other Lycians here."

Well, that was a fair question, and one that, even if it could've been phrased a bit better, Ninian didn't fault Idunn for asking. She did look quite a bit different from the natives of Pherae.

"Well, that's because I'm not a Lycian. I was born and raised in Ilia, far to the north. Have you ever been to Ilia, Miss Idunn?"

The lavender-haired woman paused, as if unsure how to answer. Ninian hoped her question hadn't brought up bad memories; she didn't know why such a simple question would distress her companion, but like everyone else at the castle she didn't know what Idunn's circumstances for coming to Pherae were. Oh, that's right- she had to remind herself that it had been goodwill and not prior design that had led to Idunn staying at the castle; she had apparently been wandering the countryside and had only taken up residence here after Roy had implored her and Eliwood to give his new friend a home.

"I… I have been to Ilia, once. I did not stay for long, though." And the tall woman did not speak further on the subject, so Ninian felt it best to let the matter lie.

"Er… If you were born in Ilia, how did you come to meet Lord Eliwood?"

Ninian's dull eyes brightened, a gleam of life returning to them.

"Oh, that's quite a tale. I don't want to keep you here all morning, so I'll try to be brief. Over a decade ago, my brother and I were running from some very bad people, and we encountered Lord Eliwood when he was helping Lady Lyndis settle her family's inheritance dispute."

Idunn didn't know who this 'Lady Lyndis' was, but this wasn't the time to ask.

A wistful look formed on Ninian's pale face, and she looked away from Idunn as if picturing some scene painted straight from her memories.

"Oh… my lord Eliwood… he was so gallant. Like a prince right out of a story book, saving me from those villains… Oh! Don't mind me, Miss Idunn. I was… remembering fond memories. Lord Eliwood and his friends saved my brother and I, and though Nils and I went our separate ways, I'm certain he's just as grateful to everyone as I am. It's thanks to all of them that I was able to live such a wonderful life…" Ninian sighed, sitting back in her chair, once more winded from sharing her story.

In truth, it didn't tell Idunn that much, but it did tell her enough.

A shame that it hadn't been someone like Eliwood who had broken the seal on her deep in the Dragon Temple. Swallowing nervously, Idunn pressed on, hoping to gain more information. Every little bit might help her.

"And after Eliwood vanquished those villains… you decided to stay with him? Out of gratitude?"

Ninian looked at Idunn with a strange, almost confused look on her face, and Idunn realized that she may have, to quote a phrase she'd learned the other day, 'put her foot in her mouth.'

"I-I apologize… that was blunter than I meant for it to be."

"No, not at all. I was merely caught off guard." The blue-haired woman laughed softly after a moment, smiling despite Idunn's overly forward question.

"In truth… you are not that far off from what ended up happening. My brother and I, we journeyed with Eliwood and his friends long enough that we truly grew to know them well. And… Eliwood and I… we grew close during that time. When the journey reached its end, my brother left to return home, while I accepted Eliwood's offer to return home with him to Pherae."

That sounded… almost like something out of a story, to Idunn. Like in the books she'd been reading, where the heroes triumphed over the villains no matter what hardships they'd faced.

Idunn may not have known the exact circumstances Ninian had come from, but the smaller woman had earned her happy ending, and the disguised Demon Dragon wasn't going to let her fellow dragon's life wither away like this!

But before continuing to poke and prod for information as to what her marchioness and friend was suffering from… there was another question on Idunn's mind.

"And… your brother? Has he come to visit you since the two of you parted ways?"

A new smile spread across Ninian's face, no longer wistful but sorrowful.

"Oh… it has been… a very long time since I last saw Nils. No, he hasn't come to visit. But please don't get angry on my behalf. His home- our old home… is very far away. He would have visited if he could. Our home… It is not a place that one can travel to and from very easily."

Idunn might still have been lacking in many conversational skills, but she knew enough to read between the lines here. Wherever Ninian's brother had returned home to… there were more dragons there. Where this place was exactly was a question for a different day; as fascinating as the information was, it wasn't important at the moment. Idunn's goal remained unchanged.

"Then… pardon me for asking, but… were you sick when you and your brother parted ways? Surely, he would've stayed with you…" Idunn trailed off as a gleam of something appeared in Ninian's tired eyes, and for a brief, worrisome moment she feared that she'd overstepped her bounds.

Then the questioning not-quite-suspicious look was gone.

"Oh no, nothing like that. Nils and I… we were always rather frail. He warned me that I would- er, that I might get sick staying behind, when he went to return home to heal. I wasn't sick then if that's what you were wondering."

Frail? A dragon, frail? The two words didn't belong in the same sentence. While it was true that dragons in their human forms weren't anything like the gigantic, powerful specimens they were in their true forms, even when untransformed they possessed vitality unmatched by any human. Outliving a human should've been a non-issue. If the dragonkin truly had been weaker in human form than regular humans, there lifespans would've been even shorter than the lifespans of humans, not dozens or even hundreds of times longer!

Hmm… Some of her questions had been answered… but to the incognito Demon Dragon's irritation, she was finding that entirely new questions were taking their place!

Whatever was wrong with Ninian was no common illness. Between her quintessence-sensory and her own knowledge of the inherent longevity of the dragonkin, Idunn was now more or less certain that whatever was causing the tragic decline of Ninian's health was something no human medicine could treat.

Frustration was an emotion that was still new to Idunn, and more and more she was finding it to be one that she did not like in the slightest. So what if she knew that Ninian wasn't sick with a human illness? Perhaps that had been the reason why no human had been able to treat Ninian up till now. Idunn wasn't familiar with illnesses common amongst the dragonkin, but… it sounded logical to her. Treat a human malady with human magic and medicine. Likewise, perhaps she should focus on trying to treat her fellow dragonkin's illness with draconic magic.

If Ninian was sick at all, that was.

With the evidence before her, Idunn was beginning to question whether Ninian had been ill in the first place, and not… something else. Outwardly, Ninian seemed to be suffering from some disease wasting away at her health, but the true evidence- her quintessence, laid bare for Idunn to see- showed no evidence of illness, human or draconic.

In her seat, Idunn frowned, drawing a concerned look from the marchioness. Idunn paid it no mind.

Deep inside of her, in the core of her vast powers, kindled by her own frustrations and feelings of inadequacy- despite wielding what some humans might have considered godlike powers- the embers of something new were kindled.

"Er… Miss Idunn, are you alright? You… you look as if something has angered you."

Idunn let out a gusty sigh, one of the greatest displays of emotion from the tall dragon since she'd appeared at Pherae.

"Pay it no mind, I was just… thinking of something else." She answered rather awkwardly. Now wasn't the time to display her doubts and fears. Not in front of Ninian.

She would have to think more on this later. But… Idunn felt like she was finally moving down the right path. Rather than treating what was wrong with Ninian as some human disease, she now felt certain that she needed to address the marchioness's status as if whatever she was suffering from wasn't a human ailment at all!

But… that cycled back to her previous line of thinking; Idunn knew little about treating human diseases and even less about treating draconic ones. If whatever was wrong with Ninian was a disease at all, that was.

What could be responsible for making a dragon suffer so greatly? Even her war dragons had possessed much stronger quintessence- stronger vitality than any human around them, and they were pale shadows of the true thing. For a dragon like Ninian, she should've been in perfect health! Jahn had explained to her some time ago, back before her heart had returned and she'd still been at Zephiel's side, that dragons were all but helpless in their human forms, but Idunn had long doubted whether he'd been telling the truth.

It was true that dragonstones were required to maintain their transformed state, as well as for storing their power, but were dragons truly helpless without constant access to their true forms? Dragons remained healthy so long as their dragonstones were intact, and it was incredibly difficult to actually damage one of those magical gems.

Moreover, on the subject of being helpless without her colossal true form… that was just plain inaccurate. Idunn had mastered the human dark arts in only a few short years; a tiny fraction of the time it would take a human to do the same. Pereth had been nothing short of astounded at the progress she made in just a few short years, commenting at one point late in Zephiel's bloody campaign that what she learned and mastered in under five years had taken him fifty years to reach the same level of mastery.

Hmph. In the end, Idunn concluded, Jahn's 'wisdom' had not exactly been unbiased. Perhaps in his mind, dragons had only been helpless before the humans of old because in their pride they had refused to adapt. Idunn was proof that there was no barrier preventing dragons from learning human magic. Likewise, what was stopping one of the dragonkin from learning to swing a sword or knock an arrow to a bow?

Somewhere in the back of Idunn's mind, far away from her thoughts of helping Ninian, she felt… vindicated that there was a real possibility that Jahn and his kin had lost to the humans in the Scouring not because the humans had been inherently stronger once the Ending Winter had occurred, but instead because the Fire Tribe had simply been too prideful to ever consider learning to fight with human weapons and magic once their dragon forms had been stripped away.

Being able to direct her mind down this tangent allowed her to calm down from the previous stress of trying to uncover the secret behind Ninian's poor health, but Idunn was still forced to remind herself that she had no time to dawdle in her efforts. Time was short, but she had a clearer course of action now. It had taken her only a week to discover an ability Jahn hadn't even hinted that she possessed. With determination and zeal, Idunn was confident that she could learn even more about how to wield her own powers for good.

Afterall, quintessence was life force, and Idunn already knew how to shape it. That alone proved that it was a magical force she could manipulate like any other…

"L-lady Idunn? Pardon me-"

"Oh!" Idunn jolted, realizing she'd been lost in thought for much longer than she'd realized, and Ninian's concern was clearly evident on her face.

"I-I'm sorry, Lady Ninian. I was… lost in my thoughts." Idunn floundered with her words, trying to think of something to say that would pull her out of the hole she'd dug herself into. Hopefully her repeated lapses of concentration on her conversation partner wouldn't earn Ninian's suspicion.

"It's just… distressing, that's all. I may be a new member of Pherae's court, but even I can see just how beloved you are by everyone. Newly-appointed or not, it pains me to see you like this. It should be my responsibility to heal you, but to be told time and time again that… that everyone has given up hope is something I can't stand hearing!"

The words came straight from Idunn's heart- not a single lie was spoken. Ninian smiled gently, almost reassuringly, and lightly patted one of Idunn's hands in a calming gesture.

"That's very kind of you, Miss Idunn. But… this is something that I have been preparing for… for a very long time. It isn't the same as trying to heal someone suffering from a terrible injury. My brother… As I said earlier, we both knew that staying with our friends meant living a short life. He returned to our home to tell of the journey we had been through, and to spread the word about all the friends we made along the way, while I… I decided that I was happy living a short life, so long as it was at Eliwood's side. And to be honest… while I miss my brother dearly, I haven't once regretted my decision. My time at Pherae has been a dream come true."

There was an unusually firm tone to Ninian's voice, and Idunn reminded herself that the marchioness may have been frail of body, but she was hardly frail of spirit. To Idunn, who had contemplated (and attempted to go through with) ending her own life not two weeks prior, she couldn't imagine facing her own death with as much dignity as the marchioness of Pherae was.

"Then… I take it that you… that you and Lord Eliwood have prepared for…"

Ninian's smile faded, and a solemn look took its place. Even as someone who hardly knew the other woman, Idunn felt that such a look was out of place on the cyan-haired woman's face.

"For my passing, yes. I…" Her breath hitched here, but the dying woman soldiered on.

"I am doing my best to face things with courage. It was a happy life, and the last dozen years I have spent surrounded with friends and family. I wanted for nothing. Eliwood, Eleanora, Marcus, and everyone else… I could not have had a better life. Even though it will come to an end soon… I'm glad to have been given the chance to live amongst them!"

Idunn gulped nervously, a sign of distress which Ninian missed. The marchioness spoke as if her fate was imminent, not something far off on the horizon, but a matter of months, possibly even weeks away. And while she'd made significant progress in learning more about her own powers… she'd made distressingly little progress regarding saving the marchioness.

Let it never be said that desperation wasn't a good catalyst for success. Desperation had already led to Idunn creating one miracle- dashing Zephiel's plans of subjugating the world under her eternal rule, and Idunn fully intended on creating another miracle here at Pherae!

As faint as it was, she could still feel the embers of Ninian's life force clear as day, even when her own mighty presence should've drowned out the puny slivers before it.

Almost… Almost! Idunn could feel her own quintessence pulsating and fluctuating, matched with her own internally stormy emotions… but externally she showed nothing beyond the placid expression she was so used to wearing.

She'd felt something this time. She was so close to making a breakthrough…

And then a new thought popped into her mind, one unrelated to what had almost just happened.

Roy's bright, cheerful smile popped into her mind, and Idunn felt a strange unease- almost a physically queasy feeling- bubbling up inside of her.

For all the talk Ninian had given her about preparing for the end…

"Lady Ninian? I… I hope this is not too forward of me to ask, but… what does Roy think of all this?"

For a moment, Ninian's face scrunched up into an expression Idunn had not yet seen- fear. Then the moment passed, and the look was gone, and while Ninian was no longer visibly frightened, there was a tense, worried look on her face.

"Roy has… that is to say… Eliwood and I have told him that I am sick, but…" That answer did not sit well with Idunn. There was much that Ninian was not saying. The red-eyed woman looked almost ill from the nerves running through her. Could it be?

"Roy… does… does he know how sick his mother is?" Never mind the fact that at this point Idunn was very much doubting that Ninian was sick at all. She'd pieced together enough during her conversation with the marchioness to be certain that whatever was wrong with Ninian, illness or not, was something relating directly to her status as a dragon. Reflecting briefly on what both her own powers and Ninian herself had told her, Idunn felt rather foolish for thinking that it was a regular disease, severe or not, that had been responsible for Ninian's poor health. She'd been going about the problem all wrong, though hopefully she'd made this discovery before it was too late to change course.

Ninian's red eyes grew misty, and the troubled look on her face turned to one of naked despair.

"I-I… my son… how do I tell him that his mother won't be getting better? That there will soon be a time when his mother w-won't be around to tuck him in at night o-or sing him lullabies?"

Ninian's voice shook, and Idunn realized that red-eyed woman was only barely holding back her tears in front of the healer.

"Roy is the light of my life! Eliwood is the man whom I love with all my heart, but Roy made us a true family! How do I look my son in the eye and tell him that his mother is going to die?! I-I can't… I don't know how… because I'm so afraid… My son's tears frighten me more than dying ever could!" Ninian finally broke down, putting her head in her hands. Idunn could only watch as the smaller woman's shoulders shook, and the muffled sound of sobs escaped from behind her hands.

Oh, what was she to do? The last thing she'd wanted was to upset Ninian! Idunn clenched her fists nervously, feeling the fabric of her ill-fitting dress bunching up in her hands. She had even less experience in comforting others than she did as a healer. But there had to be something she could do! Seeing someone as kind and gentle as Ninian in such distress…

For a single, terrible moment the sight of Ninian weeping before her evoked the memory of the worn, gaunt, red-haired child she'd slain in the stone halls of that ancient temple…

No.

Never again. Not one more soul around her would cry, would die helplessly while she was around!

As Idunn stretched out a hand, placing it gently, soothingly on Ninian's shoulder, her quintessence surged unbidden… flowing out of her and into the shaking woman next to her!

Her unwitting transference of quintessence worked quickly- Ninian's shoulders continued to shake for another minute or so before subsiding, at which point the bleary-eyed marchioness sniffled and looked up into the expression of concern on Idunn's face. Ninian wiped the last of her tears away with her handkerchief before sighing and looking away.

"I-I'm sorry you had to see me like this… I usually don't lose my composure… but thank you for listening all the same. I don't know why, but… I feel… a little better, having spoken to you about all this. But… I know this must be on your mind, but… please don't tell Roy about my condition. My husband and I… we'll find a way to prepare him for the truth…"

She wouldn't have to have that conversation. Not if Idunn had anything to say about it.

It also seemed like the marchioness had (fortunately) not noticed Idunn's lapse in control. All seemed well… in fact, Ninian actually seemed better than before. The signature of her quintessence still flickered like a candle in the wind, but now, strangely enough, Idunn could sense her own quintessence wrapped around Ninian's, as if someone had wrapped a warm blanket around someone caught in a snowstorm. Only the most meager sliver of her own life energy had been transferred to Ninian, and yet that tiny fragment of vitality was enough to have a visible effect on the smaller woman! Ninian still looked unhealthily pale and gaunt, but her eyes no longer seemed as dull as they had even a few minutes ago.

She wasn't quite sure what this meant, but… it was clear progress, right? Something tangible that she could actually use to bolster the frail woman's health! Idunn just had to figure out how to transfer her quintessence to others without needing to be in such a state of emotional distress first.

The only downside to this new course of action was that… well, Idunn wasn't sure how she would be able to go on hiding her true identity if firstly she figured out how to replicate the transference of her quintessence, and secondly if she continued to use it as a means to treat Ninian. In her state of distress (and potentially from how weak she'd grown) the cyan-haired woman hadn't noticed anything odd, but that wasn't likely to hold true for any future occurrences.

No matter. Idunn would cross that bridge when she came to it. She wanted to keep her status a secret for as long as possible, from as many people as possible… but if the price to keep her secrets was Ninian's life, then that was a price to steep for her to pay.

Idunn steeled herself for the possibility that the marchioness of Pherae may learn in the next couple of weeks that she wasn't the only dragon living at Pherae.

"Thank you for letting me speak with you, Marchioness Ninian. I…" And here Idunn paused, struggling for the right words. She couldn't just come out and say 'everything will be alright' nor could she say something like 'I understand what you're going through,' and in the end she settled with;

"I enjoyed speaking with you, and I hope this is not the last time we will be able to speak together."

Ninian smiled up at her, and to Idunn's surprise the shorter woman actually stood up from her well-cushioned armchair with surprising vigor. It wasn't much, but for a woman who had been short of breath after saying just a few words, it was a marked improvement.

Idunn hoped it would last but had no confidence that it would. If Ninian's health had deteriorated so far, something was causing its continued decline, and her little transference of quintessence was like trying to apply a bandage to a sword through the chest.

The tall woman's thoughts swirled as Ninian walked her back down the hallway leading away from the marquess and marchioness's personal quarters, while Idunn took note of the red-eyed woman out of the corner of her eye. The strange quintessence signature- Idunn's own life force overlapping with, insulating Ninian's- was still in place. Ninian still seemed weak, but at least now she didn't seem like she was a single stiff breeze away from keeling over.

The two women parted ways at the end of the hallway, with Ninian heading off in search of her husband while Idunn walked in the opposite direction in search of the kitchens, her grumbling stomach reminding her that she hadn't yet eaten today.

Turning back around, she could see Ninian greeting one of the castle's maids, who stopped in her tracks to goggle in shock at the up-and-about marchioness. Idunn then continued on; she'd been worried about letting Ninian go off on her own even if she was apparently feeling well enough to walk, and it was a burden off of her shoulders to see that the maid apparently felt the same. The last she saw of them was the duo vanishing down a stairwell, the maid carefully making sure that Ninian didn't lose her balance as they descended to the next floor of the castle.

Now free to continue on, Idunn thought over all that she'd learned from her morning conversation with Ninian… and she had certainly learned quite a bit.

Both she and the marchioness had been granted a reprieve, but time was still short, and she had much to think- and act on.


Author's notes:

I'm taking some liberties with the power/vitality of dragons, but I'm trying to keep it at least reasonable to canon. One thing to remember, this story is inspired by a rom hack as much (if not more than) regular FE6/7, so certain aspects might not 1:1 match canon information. Idunn, even in her human form ended up being the best user of dark magic in (Zephiel's) army, and was easily one of the most powerful units in the game when I played it.

I don't know if it's different from canon, but at least in THIS universe dragons are fully capable of learning human magic.

Now that I think about, the whole deal with Nergal in FE7 was that he was a human who'd learned to wield draconic magic, so this seems more plausible to me.

Also, speaking of dragons being powerless in human form…

FE7 shows Ninian one-shotting two fire dragons while in her human form, so… yeah. Ninian might be the exception to the rule, but... eh. In the end all we have to go off of is Jahn's information, and as for him...

Jahn's either a big fat liar, or, more likely- going off of heavily flawed information. That's my take on it, at least.

Oh, and before I forget, Idunn doesn't know that Ninian isn't a full-blooded dragon. So if any of you are wondering about the terminology where Idunn thinks of Ninian as a 'regular' dragon, I'm not changing Ninian's status as a half-dragon. As the story is told from Idunn's POV, she doesn't have all of the knowledge that we do.

Is it out of character that Ninian and Eliwood haven't told Roy the truth about his mother? I'm not sure. But this is a side of them (Ninian especially) that we rarely, if ever saw in canon. She's terrified of breaking Roy's heart, and that fear has led her and Eliwood to keep the full truth a secret from Roy. It's the old 'parents as people' trope.

Lastly… Idunn's coming to a big decision. Many of you probably suspected (or at least had an idea) that something like this would happen. Cure Ninian and divulge her secrets (or at least the first one,) or stay hidden and let Ninian die? One of those two options is wildly out of character for Idunn, especially considering how badly she wants to change and show the world that she's more than what she was created to be.