A bit more? Okay, I'll do my best.
Again, this is spoilers to the end of BoF III, written directly after playing a section. I was completely asleep while writing this, so apologies if there's strange bits.

They sure know how to make a chap feel protective, don't they? I'm sure cynics get sick of Nina, but somewhere along the way, my annoyance with the domineering little Princess seems to have evaporated. She's a strong-willed character even if (as usual) the girl gets cast in the role of damsel in distress.

++++++++++++++++++++++++


Dragnier.

I never imagined such a place could exist. They are a peaceful, quiet people, as far from dragons as one could imagine. And yet they are my kin, and I think all that has kept them alive in this desolate place is their desire for their Prince to come and avenge them. The journey has not been wasted, if only to see the relief in Princess Nina's face when the elders assured us that my heart is not evil. She still trusts the words of strangers, after all we've been through! But Garr believes them too, and builds a silent wall of regret around himself. Or does he have faith in anything now? Whom will he choose to betray, friends or his so-called God, when we find her?

I have been given answers, but no peace. They call me Prince of the Dragon clan -- fit companion at last for the heir of Wyndia, but I still can't convince myself of that, let alone her royal parents. They have left me the legacy of my ancestors, wiped out in holy war by Garr's people and a goddess who feared we had the power to wipe out life itself. Now that ancient power stirs in my spine like a coiled serpent, and fills my dreams with thunder. But what good is it?

_______

I dreamed we stood beneath a floating metal platform in the sky, suspended over the desert with stars like teeth all around it. The goddess Myria hovered beside us as she does in the tapestry, but her face was that of my old mentor Deis, mocking us. "Cross the Endless Ocean!" she commanded, laughing. "No! Cross the Desert of Death! Not far enough! Dig to the earth's heart! Find and repair a lost flying machine, and seek the sky! What, you don't know how? Scurry here, scurry there-- how far are you willing to go? You still won't find peace, Prince of a dead race!"

She pointed her fingers at my friends, who were gaunt and pale and a shadow of themselves, all but ghosts. "Whoops! Looks like you used them up. Just as well; I was running out of monsters to throw at you. But all good things come to an end--" she drifted over to Rei and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. He crumpled with a sigh as if welcoming oblivion, golden tail twitching once then going still. Momo blinked as if she'd finally found the solution to a problem, then stiffened, fell sideways, and lay with her cheek pillowed on a book. Peco withered to a husk. Garr hefted his spear, propped it on his shoulder, turned his back and began to trudge away.

That's when fury overcame the paralysis holding me helpless before Myria's gaze. I gave in to the voices hammering in my skull, set them free like a dam bursting, amd grew and blossomed into a massive serpent of fire and death, scales ringing with poisoned bronze. I twisted around Deis -- Myria -- Wyndia -- and crushed her like a seed. There was a rending sound, and the sky began to fall around me in great huge boulders. The land beneath me had become entangled in my coils and was disintegrating like the clay bank of a stream eroding under the assault of floodwaters. Dust from the destruction spread out and hung around me like a pall of ash. Finally I was floating in a starless emptiness of space, alone and cold.

There was a faint sound of weeping.
I loosened the great coils of my body and found Myria had been squeezed down to a tiny slip of a girl, broken and crushed, gossamer wings blackened.
It was Nina. She clung to my scales, although they cut her hands, and smiled weakly through her tears.
"I knew you weren't evil."
And then she died.

Does such power sleep within me now? The Eldest said as much. Do I dare finish this journey? But so many have given their lives in pursuit of this quest. Geist, Jono, Peco's progenitor -- I killed them myself, and if I turn back, their deaths were vain. We must go.

If there was any God left we could trust, I'd pray that she keep me from becoming the death of all my friends and my world.

__________

The Deserts of Death.

I thought before, when we crossed the blasted waste that stretches inland from Kombinat, that it was the legendary desert of the old stories. I was wrong.

We face a sea of sand that spreads out in all directions to the stars. It holds a deadly beauty like the wind. There is a wild, lonely smell like dawn that holds all night long. The air touches our faces in warm gusts that would feel like living breath if it weren't so dry. In so spare a place, every spindly dry plant we come across, every stump of an ancient tree jutting up through the waves like the spars of a shipwreck, every pebble or scurrying lizard holds special meaning.

Sometimes we hear far-off drumming, barking, deep thrumming moans that last for hours in a ragged chorus. I am sure it's an illusion like the others Horis warned us about, not living at all, but I wish it did not seem so often to be coming from behind us.

Forests, streams, farmlands, mountains, so simple a thing as grass -- I cannot remember what they look like anymore. We walk together in a comradeship of silence, all heads bent except for mine, and my eyes fixed upon a gleaming red star that shines like a torch on another shore.

Soon we will have to turn our backs on the glittering jewel of the evening star, the Hound of the Hunter whose belt of three gleams out brightly on the horizon. It's an ill omen: the Dog-star may have meant hot days and summer months, but it was also the herald of the new year in Wyndia, the promise of midsummer and the coming harvests. When we turn away from her, we will head towards a patch of sky where stars are sparse and dim, and there is nothing at all to steer by.

The days are a shimmering madness of heat. We huddle together in the tent which fails to keep out all of the sun's rage. We doze fitfully in a trance which is not true sleep, and speak to one another with mouths that taste of sand.

On and on, night after interminable night.

Garr asks if God is testing us -- I guess he has found religion again for the moment -- and even Rei's wry humor is evaporating like a mirage. Momo is so tired she doesn't read anymore, nor babble enthusiastically about machines and strange artifacts the rest of us can't comprehend. Peco himself is subdued. But Nina dredges up that winning smile of hers from somewhere, and asks too brightly, "We'll find the oasis soon, won't we?" My stubborn Princess, trying to reshape the world once more to her whim.

This evening was bad. Momo, flighty Momo who never worries about anything, was moaning that we couldn't go much further. Rei gently asked me if it wouldn't be better to turn back while there was still water left, saying there's no shame for a chap in admitting his limits, only in getting killed because of stupidity. "Garr and the fruit, maybe, they can follow you the whole way. But I'm worried about the girls. Heck, I'm worried about myself."

He knows the one place where my will falters. How can I ask more of them?

Nina did not wake up to watch the sunset, and did not wake up at all until I came and shook her several times. Her face was as white as the moon, with the same pinched gray shadows. She seemed dazed when I told her it was time to go.
"Where?" she asked innocently.
"To the Oasis."
"Oasis? Oh... that's right..." she yawned hugely. "I guess we'd better go." She stood up, staring muzzily at the back of the tent wall.
"Are you all right, Princess?"
She sighed and squeezed my hand. "It can't be much further," she whispered. "I'm sure we'll reach Wyndia soon."

I stick close to her for the night's march. But she's still Nina, and she won't be carried.

Stars swim before my eyes. There's lights on the horizon off to the northeast, but they've been there for several nights now, and vanish every dawn. Rei gazes towards them wistfully-- his eyes are the sharpest at night-- but isn't taken in either. Ghosts and visions: we've already had our fill of those.

The canteen's empty, for all my care. Nina's right -- we should have reached the Oasis by now. Have I miscounted nights? Or did our guide? So easy to lose track of time out here. Or lose direction... but I mustn't think of that. As we set up camp with the first rays of the sun striking us like a kiln, Nina points north and asks Rei if he sees the hummock of sand in the distance.

"Nothing's there, Princess," Rei says crossly. "Go curl up in the shade before you turn into a baked chicken."
"There is too." Obstinance is the last gift left to her. "A hill. That means we must be getting to the edge of the desert. Let's climb it and see what's ahead before the light gets too bright."
Momo thinks she can spot it too -- her eyes are shaded by her strange hat -- but she's too hot and cranky to be much good. Garr's pounding tent stakes. Peco makes a sad little noise, but hops up and bobs after us.
Nina's right again; the strangely-shaped hill is no mirage. Eager for any difference in the endless landscape, we hurry toward it. It's smaller than we realized, and not quite so far off. Lightfooted in spite of fatigue, Nina's first to set foot on the edge of the slope.
And the last!
I lunge to catch her as she stumbles, but she's not falling, she's being flung through the air! Something hits me from behind and I go facedown into the sand. Peco squeals with fear next to me, and I struggle to my feet, glancing wildly about until I spot the Princess crumpled a short distance away. Clenching my hands, I focus on the blood pumping wildly in my ears as I turn to face the shaggy behemoth that's boiled out of the ground. I catch a glimpse of tusks, huge red eyes, great matted masses of bone-bleached hair, a rounded hulk of a thing roughly the size and shape of our mistaken hill.
Bless the stupid vegetable; Peco pounds and batters away like a jumping bean, buying me time while I set my feet and let the change wash over me. As always, I black out for a split second as wings blossom from my shoulders, hands curl into claws, and then with a roar I hurl myself at the creature facing us. It's huge, even bigger than me, but I fall upon it with claws and teeth in a whirlwind of exhausted pent-up rage and thirst and frustration. I rip tufts of hair and flesh away, but it crushes bones, cracks my jaw. Falling back, I howl to the sky, summoning boulders, thorny plants--I don't even know where these things come from-- battering at it furiously from all sides with the stuff of the desert from which it sprang. My dragon's breath withers it, scorches it. But nothing seems to kill it. The sands and heat whirl around my head dizzily. It cannot have been more than a few seconds -- I hear Rei's distant shout -- but in the desert time can be long or slow.
I take a ringing blow to the head and suddenly I'm back in human shape, wrapped around one of my foe's huge paws. It's bellowing like a wounded bull, obviously weaker now, but I'm in no position to draw my sword. As the huge foot presses me into the sand, I struggle to stay conscious and try to summon the Brood's power anew.
Then there is sunlight beating down on me again. The behemoth shudders violently and rolls over with a groundshaking thud, collapsing with a puff of dust rising in all directions. Overhead, shining in the first rays of dawn, rises a huge translucent sword of light, sunk to the very hilts in the body of the beast. As the dust cloud rolls over me, the ghostly image of the sword melts away.
Rei's first to my side as usual, thrashing through the billowing cloud to find me. My breathing is painful, but I'm minus most of the damage from the battle done to my dragon's hide, and I stumble back towards the others after he helps me up with his usual, "Doesn't this just beat all."
Garr is stooped over the Princess, shielding her from the sun with his wings. Momo, expression grave indeed, is examining her. But our scholar is wise enough to know when to get out of the way.
Nina breaks into a wan smile as I drop to my knees next to Garr.
"You did it," she says, reaching for my hand to sit up.
Afte all this time I can still find new ways to blush. "Partly," I answer, too honest to claim the kill. "Did one of you ... do something? I saw this huge sword of light--"
Peco, bobbing nearby, underscores my dazed report with an emphatic string of nonsense syllables.
Rei makes a concerned snort behind me. "Hoo boy. Better get the both of you inside the tent fast before you start sounding like the onion. We need you sharp, Ryu, or we'll never find our way out of the desert."
"Emitai," Nina murmurs.
My hands ball into fists at the name. That was another of her stubbornnesses, taking that wretched swindler for a mentor, and paying a large chunk out of our purse for the dubious privilege. Speaking of too trusting --
She giggles softly at my dour expression. "Mind sword. Last thing he taught me. So it worked?"
I stare at her like she'd suddenly turned into a small pink egg with tiny wings. "Let's get you under cover," I say gruffly.
"Momo. Heal Ryu's wounds," Nina commands.
Then she suffers me to escort her to the tent.

______

One day more
That's all
I feel it in my bones
The waters of the oasis beckon
Like a mirage
My heart knows it's close at hand.

"Tonight," I promise them.
"Tonight."
Garr has no faith anymore, but grunts. If I'm right, I'm right, and if not, he won't blame me for getting us into this mess. That's between him and his god.
Rei looks at me skeptically, but finds a weary smile. "You always get us through somehow, kid," he concedes, then rolls over and draws his tail around himself, curling up in a ball.
Peco's already snoring, and Momo doesn't look up from the crude map Horis sketched for us. "There's got to be some clues here," she says doggedly.
Nina doesn't say a word. She's fallen asleep sitting up with her head propped against her knees. When Garr helps me lay her on a sleeping mat, she stirs and asks plaintively, "Why? Why do we keep going and going? Why did we come here?"
My heart blanches. Nina's always the one with hope.
"I'll keep watch," Garr rumbles, derailing my wretched train of thought. "Rest. We'll need you tonight."

Sunset.
"Wake up, Nina. Come on, wake up. We're going to reach the Oasis tonight." Am I really daring to make that promise?
It doesn't matter. She doesn't move; her breathing is shallow, and her skin clammy in spite of thirst. Momo comes in from outside and squints. "I was afraid of that," she says glumly. "She didn't look right yesterday." I wait anxiously while she tries one of the spells Hondura taught her, until at last translucent wings quiver, and Nina opens glassy eyes.
She raises her head, then sags against the mat, squeezing her eyes shut. "Moving," she whispers. "All the stars keep moving around."
"Princess Nina." I never call her that. It reminds her of shirked duties.
She peels open one eye, tries to sit up again, and drapes a limp hand over her forehead. "I'm sorry." Her voice is almost inaudible, but suddenly steady again, the voice of a Princess. "I... I don't want to slow you down. I don't think I can go any farther."
"Don't say that, Nina." I don't mean to sound that sharp. "We'll carry you."
She smiles at me affectionately and closes her eyes. "Slow you down too much."
A rebellious flash of anger rises in the back of my throat. Is she too proud, even now? "You're coming, or none of us are leaving!" I can be stubborn too.
Momo covers her mouth with her hand, trying to hide her dismay. Garr stares at me stonily.
Nina makes a soft sound in the back of her throat that must be a stern no, but I can't make out most of what she says. "Find God." That much I catch of her whisper. And, "Garr." Her last command she leaves unfinished.
Unfortunately he knows what she means, and I am abruptly scooped up by the collar, carried outside, and dropped unceremoniously before the embers of the fire. Rei, waiting for the word to pull out the tent stakes, looks up from the knives he's sharpening and raises an eyebrow as Garr disappears back inside. I guess he catches the gist of the situation from my miserable expression.
"How bad is she?" he asks matter-of-factly.
"She can make it," I insist. "We may have to help her tonight."
Rei shakes his head. "Guess we'd better." His eye stray to the rakda peaceably dozing on its legs, waiting for us to load it up with the tent poles and canvas and dwindling supplies. "Too bad we can't stick a pipe in that thing and shunt some of the water from its hump into the canteen. I don't think it would notice."
I lurch to my feet, heading for the stupid animal.
"Hey." He blinks. "Hey, Ryu! What are you doing?"
"Horis said," I stammer, thirst-numbed mind racing as much as it can, "Horis said it has water through its whole body, and special humors in its blood that keep the heat from sapping its strength. It can go for months without food--" I am drawing my sword.
"But all our stuff," he says, voice rising. "Food, supplies, everything -- we'll all bake to death along with the Princess, if we don't have the tent come morning--"
The rakda barely makes a sound as my blade bites into its throat. I curse myself as blood pours out uselessly on the sand, and quickly pull off my jacket to catch as much as possible. Wordlessly, Rei goes to fetch the canteen and a sleeping mat to catch the blood and have a place to put the meat.
"I didn't think you had it in you," he mutters finally, while helping me butcher the carcass. "There's no way back now, and no way forward if we don't reach the Oasis tonight. We can't take any gear with us; we'll be stripping down to our underwear at this rate just to keep our armor from slowing us down."
Nothing needs saying anymore, and I don't answer. A fixed goal makes everything remarkably simple.
"That's quite a gamble for someone who won't even play cards with faeries," he goes on. "But I guess... nothing's too good for her, eh?" Is that bitterness in his voice?
I turn to snap at him, but all I see is Rei's easygoing smile, now a little strained and sad. "We understand, Ryu. It's okay. Friends don't leave friends behind. Besides." He punches my shoulder. "We'll get there tonight, like you said. I know none of us can come to harm while you're here with us."
It's almost painful to hear someone else using her words. But there's no time to lose. I gather up the canteen and the soppy mess of meat and fat, folding the mat around it as a makeshift platter, and hurry back into the tent, praying that the raw meat won't simply turn her stomach. Please try. Please...

________

There's enough meat for everyone to have a few scraps, except of course for our walking vegetable, and in spite of the bitter taste and lumpy texture, everyone seems to have a little more energy once we get going. Nina walks like a sleepwalker most of the night, on the longest night of all. Sometimes she seems to glide ahead of me on the dunes, floating over the surface, until I realize she's still right beside me, gripping my arm. No one says a word. All eyes are fixed on the horizon now, searching under the star for the slightest hint of a safe haven beneath. It's a race conquered step by plodding step, and the track itself is our chief competitor.


_________


I can't believe we're beaten. The sun is rising on our right hand, and my promise is broken by the crack of dawn. Still they don't say a word of reproach. We keep moving as the sand begins to warm underfoot.

Nina stumbles against me, then points. The rest of us are too dazzled by the glare, but something in her ancestors' blood, from a time when they flew high in shining heaven, seems to help her see when we're at a loss. "There..."

A glint beyond a nearby ridge of dunes. Water? Or another mirage?

"Hurry." This time she points with her chin. Momo is lagging behind us, baking in her scholar's robes, but it's all that she's got to protect her from the sun. Nina disengages my hand and turns back.

"No!"

She looks over her shoulder and holds my gaze. "Go," she says evenly. "However fast you can. Get water for yourself. Then bring help."

Garr gives a nondescript rumble, moving to join her. He doesn't move fast at the best of times. Now he squats down on the hot sand, wings opened to offer meager shade, sprear gripped in both hands before him. Nina and Momo collapse on either side of him, heads propped against his massive knees. The image would almost be touching in other circumstances.

"Come on, kid," Rei calls, voice cracking. "Let's hustle."

Turning my back on friends goes against every fiber in my being not owned by the darker voices of the Brood. Those gloat mockingly inside, reminding me that I am different, better, stronger, and don't need any of these puny mortals.

They are wrong.

I take the time to ditch my helm, toss my heavy sword point-first into the sand -- hopefully the flash of the blade will help us find our way back -- and begin to tag after Rei, already jogging over the next dune. To my surprise, Peco bobs and rolls after us like a dog chasing its masters. He ignores my urging to stay behind, burbling breathlessly as we jog through the sand, churning it up like spray in the shallows along the beach.

It might have been an hour. It might have been five hundred years. Two stone pillars wobble past me, and a white stucco house climbs out from behind a low ridge I did not see before.

"Father! Father, come quickly! Desert people!"

People in pale clothes and robes surround us like ghosts, some helping me to my feet. "Nina," I insist, eyes closed. Rei is slurping loudly out of a bucket, and raises his head for air. "Man it's good to see you folks," he gasps. "We got three more behind us-- they're in bad shape. Got anyone you can send?" A couple of voices answer, but their manner of speech is strange, or my head is spinning, or more houses are walking up and sitting down next to a magical sheet of water off to my right, and my limbs don't work when I try to go back to show them the way. I think maybe some of the people are preventing me.

The water poured down my throat is rich and alive and chokingly beautiful. One could willingly drown in such a draught.

I let the world spin around me giddily. I don't mind the devils dancing now, and explain to some of those with me that I am waiting for someone.

She comes gliding across the dunes, floating on a pillow of cloud carried by four of the ghosts. They bring the others too, Garr stumping along, Momo staggering beside him. The ghosts assure me that my friends will recover, and I follow them into a dark room which has perfectly ordinary beds.

The desert has won. I'll rest here for a while.