Turns out that while she was just plucked up by a dragon at last episode’s end, Chise is actually not in danger. She’s simply being brought to a dragon’s nest by its caretaker, Lindel. There, she learns more about dragons, meets both an ancient Uin and three playful hatchlings, and ultimately experiences something few mages ever do: a dragon’s end-of-life return to the earth and transformation into a tree.
Lindel’s dragon unceremoniously spits Chise into a very cold deep lake, but she manages to get out on her own, and once Elias catches up with her (appearing out of her shadow, as badass mages do), he has a very nifty insta-dry spell that prevents hypothermia.
When she’s tasked with babysitting the lil’ dragons (who are extremely cute and childlike) curiosity draws her nearer to Nevin, the oldest extant dragon, who is old even for a dragon, and is very near death. While in contact with his brittle, flaking hide, he reads her memories; specifically her emotional downfall following the suicide of her parent.
Nevin uses this as an opportunity to enlighten Chise with dragons’ sense of death: they do not fear it, but live their lives to the fullest and pass on with gratitude and contentment, with no regrets. “It’s just nature”, Nevin says to Chise, who lost someone to unnatural means, long before their time. Chise is far from done processing that grief.
Instead, Nevin allows Chise to share in his “last dream”, a vision of freedom, flight in a gorgeous vista that stretches on forever. When the vision ends, Chise returns to the normal world, and a tree quickly sprouts from the now passed-on Nevin. It’s a gorgeous, moving sequence, epic in scope, in which Chise takes a big step towards understanding her role in the world (and that she has a role).
I imagine Lindel (and probably Elias as well) are glad Chise was able to experience this, as she may well be of the final generation of mages, just as the little hatchlings may be the last generation of dragons. They tell Chise not to grieve Nevin’s loss, at it’s all part of the circle of life and all, but still, a kind, wise stranger was there a minute ago is now gone forever.
Her solace is that, as Nevin recommended, when she has need of a wand, she take the wood from the branches of the tree he became. That way, in a way, he’ll always be with her. But it will never be the same as when he was alive.