They had made camp near the lake, in a clearing that was just out of sight of the water's shores. A dense thicket spread out in direction of the lake, the trees growing tight together amidst the bushes. It was almost too difficult for a person to pass through them, but Lezard made the effort. The brambles of the bushes stabbed unpleasantly at his sides, and Lezard had to duck constantly to avoid low hanging tree branches. Just as he sometimes had to suck in his breath in an attempt to squeeze through the narrow opening between trees.

It took a whole lot of work and effort to maneuver oneself in sight of the lake, but to Lezard the prize waiting for him there was more than worth it. His smile was one of anticipation, his breath coming just a little sharper as he stalked through the thicket. He would end up on his knees, not quite crawling as he positioned himself behind a thick cluster of bushes. It was there with trembling hands, that he made an opening for his eyes to peer through. And what a sight that awaited him!

The forest tried to shut out all overhead light, but the trees could do nothing to bar it from being cast down over the waters of the lake. The full moon seemed to glow, it's pale light casting an ethereal sheen over the rippling water. It was more than enough light to illuminate the woman who stood knee deep in the water. Her back was to him, her waist length blonde hair wet and clinging to her skin. She had stripped down from almost all her clothing, leaving herself clad only in plain white panties.

She had cleaned herself of all the blood and slime from the battles they had fought earlier. Just as she was currently working to clean the fabric of her skirt, her hands busy scrubbing at a dark spot of some dried substance. She talked as she did this, but the words were too low for Lezard to fully make out. He didn't care, recognizing with some disappointment, that the voice was not that of the Goddess. It was Alicia who was in current control of the body, and that made some of his interest in watching her fade.

But he didn't turn to leave, keeping his eyes staring at the princess. Watching with the hopes that Lenneth might take control, and reward him with the illicit thrill of seeing her bathe. It didn't matter to Lezard, that Alicia's body looked nothing like Lenneth's true form. When the Goddess was animating it, the host body seemed to take on her characteristics, standing taller with the natural born confidence of a God. It was then that the body moved with Lenneth's grace, the face holding the Goddess' quirks of personality. And the eyes! They truly were the window to one's soul, betraying Lenneth's presence with the looks she gave him. Lenneth was neither timid nor shy, and was far quicker to meet and hold Lezard's gaze than Alicia did.

He delighted every time Lenneth looked at him. That haughty, cold stare, those looks of suspicion. Lenneth's eyes held none of the warmth of Alicia's gaze, the Goddess unable to trust Lezard. Or the situation that had led to their meeting. Lezard knew how it had to bother Lenneth, to have to rely on him. To have to be so dependent on him for the journey they were undertaking. But she was dedicated to the body she shared, to protecting it and Alicia's life. It meant she would do just about anything to see the princess returned to her home safely. Even if that something meant continuing their association with Lezard for however long the journey took.

He couldn't help but smirk then. And all because he knew Lenneth had no idea, no way of realizing that the adventure would not start in earnest until after they reached Alicia's home. They would not be ending their association any time soon. And if Lezard had his way, it would NEVER end.

Patience was the key. His. But it was a struggle to maintain it, especially when he was this close to his greatest desire. It would be all too easy to ruin all his plans by acting on the urgings of his body. One moment of pleasure, great though it would be, couldn't amount to an eternity of satisfactions as all his goals and ambitions came to fruition. Though his every longing demanded he step forward and take the Goddess in his arms, Lezard would not. Not even for one sweet kiss of those lips would he ruin those carefully conceived plans of his. Not after he had come so far, traveling such a great distance for it.

Still he felt the regret, his desires unhappy at being ignored. At being teased so cruelly with the sight of the Goddess' current host stripped down so completely. He should really turn away, but Lezard kept hoping for one more chance to see Lenneth take control. But Lenneth seemed content to remain as just a voice in Alicia's mind, letting the princess deal with the task of getting their clothing clean.

Lezard let out the softest sigh of disappointment. The Goddess probably needed her rest, especially after maintaining control of the body for the last levels of the tower. The fighting had been fierce, monster after monster appearing, ready and all too quick to make a meal of them. It had taken them time to fight their way to the exit, a time Lezard had relished. He had enjoyed fighting besides Lenneth, watching that body move with the divine grace of a Goddess. Even blood soaked, and slime covered, she had been a sight to see, a breath taking beauty whose eyes had flared with Lenneth's proud determination.

It was all too difficult to keep from betraying his interest. As much as Lezard wanted to spend every minute dealing with the Goddess, he thought it better that Alicia spent the majority of the time in active control of the body. With Alicia he wasn't quite so tempted to act the lovelorn fool, Lezard able to look at her with cool indifference. Though beautiful in her own way, the princess held no appeal for Lezard save for the fact she hosted Lenneth's soul within her small frame. She was special to Lezard only because of the Goddess who resided within her. A pity for Alicia, because that specialness? It placed her in dangers that neither she or Lenneth could even imagine.

Lezard felt no attachment to Alicia. He certainly didn't feel enough for the girl to feel any regret at the thought of using her, even hurting her. Anything that would happen to Alicia was simply a necessary evil, the girl a sacrifice to love. She wouldn't be the first one to suffer for Lezard's love of the Goddess. She might not even be the last. Lezard would do anything to win the Goddess for himself, not caring who got hurt in the process.

To that end, he turned away from the sight in the lake. The Goddess was not going to appear, and the risk at being caught increased the longer he dallied here. He'd make his careful way back to the camp, brushing the brambles and thorns from his clothing. By the time Alicia and Lenneth returned, there would be no evidence to prove he had ever left the camp, for not even his hair would be mussed.

He looked up with a warm smile of greeting, watching as Alicia stepped free of the thicket. His cloak was wrapped around her, the dark midnight fabric warm and heavy. It was almost too long for her, the ends trailing on the forest's floor. Somewhere inside the thick folds, the princess' body was hidden. She wasn't as stripped down as before, judging by the fact her shirt wasn't part of the pile of wet clothing she carried.

Thorns and bits of bramble clung to his borrowed cloak, Alicia making no move to brush them off. Instead she walked towards the bonfire, veering off to the side of it, to lay out her wet clothes on top of the gathered rocks. It would take time for them to dry, but by morning she would be able to wear them. Until then she had his cloak, and Alicia was taking the utmost care to keep from flashing him with any distracting glimpses of her flesh.

No doubt that was a precaution on Lenneth's part. Lezard had not failed to notice how the Goddess did not want him touching them. It was amusing how she went out of her way to avoid his hands, Lenneth often wresting control from Alicia. It was a pity, but Lezard had yet to even one time lay hands on the body when Lenneth was in control. He supposed it was for the best. His control was shaky at best, he didn't need Lenneth snapping him free of the last of his restraints.

It was difficult enough to be around them, to be so close to Lenneth even with the filter of Alicia between them. The girl looked nothing like the Goddess, and yet when Lenneth was in control, he wanted to do nothing more than to kiss her and pin her down. To do more than just hold her, to eat up her protests and shatter the fragile trust that barely existed between them.

It was dark impulses he had, ones that would destroy EVERYTHING if he gave into them. Lenneth stirred his arousal like no other. Never had Lezard felt like this for any other woman. But then Lenneth wasn't just any woman, she was a Goddess. HIS Goddess, beloved and cherished, and almost within reach. Almost but not quite, a fact he had to remind himself of again and again. And all because he wanted more than just one moment of bliss with her. He wanted an eternity of them.

He kept his eyes on the fire, letting the crackling flames be the focus of the intensity of his gaze. Any look he could have shown Alicia would have surely disturbed both her and the Goddess, Lezard's thoughts and desires too close to the surface of his eyes. He'd have to get his thoughts under control, and until he did, Lezard would pretend the cooking of their meal occupied him.

It wasn't a grand feast. They had little to accompany the meat they were about to eat, and certainly no seasonings to spice the rabbit's flesh. But it was adequate for filling one's belly, the wild rabbit's meat a far better choice then that of going hungry. They would need the energy from this and other meals like it, for it would take several days of walking to reach Artolia. The time might be cut in half, if and only if they could catch a ride on a wagon that might travel along the roads between Artolia and Flenceburg.

There was no true rush to hurry. Lezard had made sure to manipulate things so that time was on his side. This would be a peaceful jaunt, a quiet moment just before all erupted into chaos. A chaos that was by Lezard's careful design, the man manipulating time and events to line up according to his whims. More than a few people would be dead before this was all over with, some who deserved that fate, some who did not. But such was the price one paid, for being a puppet of destiny.

Out the corner of his awareness, Alicia lowered herself down on a flat patch of dirt. She then held her hands out towards the bonfire, palms up as she tried to steal some warmth for herself. Her hair was still wet, though nowhere near as soaked as her clothes. Her hair was looking a little wild, not quite tangled from all the times she had run her fingers through the strands. He had a comb inside one of the pouches on his belt, Lezard retrieving it, and offering it to Alicia. She took it gratefully from him, giving voice to her thanks.

He kept his eyes on the fire, rather than watch Alicia comb out her wet hair. The flames were licking the undersides of the roasting rabbits, their skin starting to darken. It wouldn't be much longer before they would be ready, thoroughly cooked if not tasteful.

"You fought well through the tower." Lezard said, his voice praising. "One would think you a seasoned warrior, given how you handled yourself against the monsters."

"Really?" Alicia sounded pleased. "I wasn't sure I could do it. That I could actually fight anything. It's a lot different from the wooden dummies I practiced against."

"Indeed it is different. And a lot more difficult no doubt." He smiled, eyes still on the fire. "Little can prepare one for the reality of fighting against monsters. They are ruthless creatures, who fight dirty and are without mercy. More than a few people have died on their first encounters with such beasts. You should be proud of yourself Alicia. You not only survived, you excelled at it."

"I...I wouldn't say I excelled." She stammered as though embarrassed. "And it wasn't just I who fought. I had help." Lezard didn't for one-second believe she was about to admit to the Goddess that resided inside her, and he was right. "I wouldn't have been able to do it without you. Your magic is what made the difference. It helped keep me alive..."

"We helped each other." Lezard told her, risking a look her way. Alicia looked ready to protest, even as Lezard smiled in an attempt to reassure her. "It was your sword that bought me the time needed to cast the more powerful spells."

"I suppose..." Alicia sounded uncertain, her eyes taking on the distant look that implied she was listening to something Lenneth had to say. He hated not hearing Lenneth's voice, but he stifled that and his curiosity. Waiting patiently for Alicia to continue the conversation. "I...I've been meaning to ask..."

"Yes?"

"About that sword of yours." That sword was resting within reach of Alicia, ever ready to be used. The fire would keep most creatures away from the camp, but there were some beasts that either did not fear the flames, or was simply that desperate that they would venture near. "I can tell it's a very fine blade. No doubt crafted by a master to the sword."

"By one of Midgard's best." Lezard confirmed.

"You're not a swordsman though, are you? You don't have the right build for one..." She seemed to realize what she had said, Alicia turning flustered in the moment. "Of course, there is nothing wrong with the build you do have! It just..."

"No." Lezard interrupted her, amused. "I have very little use for a sword, it's true. When it comes to fights, I rely on my magic to keep me alive."

"Then...why? Why do you even carry a sword?" It was surely Lenneth's question Alicia was asking. "And one as fine and as well maintained as this one?"

"It wasn't originally mine." Lezard pretended to be affected by what he was saying, turning his gaze back to the fire. Inwardly he was laughing, amused at how easy it was to lie and pretend to be upset. "It belong to a close friend..."

"A friend?" echoed Alicia, curiously.

Lezard picked up a branch, using it's end to poke at the fire. "One of the women who had been kidnapped and killed by that fiend in the tower."

"I...I'm sorry..." Alicia almost whispered then, and a glance her way showed how upset she looked.

"I didn't know if she would still be alive." Lezard continued, watching as the flames began racing up the branch's length. Before his fingers could be burnt, he threw the stick into the bonfire. "I wanted to believe though...and thus I carried her sword with me. Hoping for the chance to not only return it to her, but to see her wield it once more."

"I'm sorry for your loss..." Alicia was sad now, sounding earnest.

"I am too." Lezard let out a weary sounding sigh. "I am filled with many what ifs, wondering if I had only been a little faster, a little stronger, if Amaryllis would still be alive..."

"Amaryllis? That was her name?" Alicia asked, and received a nod in response. "What kind of person was she?"

"A good one..." Lezard let his tone be curt, as though the pain of remembering was too much for him. "She didn't deserve that kind of death. None of them did..."

A pause from Alicia, the girl no doubt listening to Lenneth. "Is that why you were so quick to kill that man? Because you sought to avenge Amaryllis and your other friends?"

"Partly yes...He was a dangerous man, my lady. He would have kept on kidnapping and killing, motivated by something neither you nor I could understand."

"I still would have liked to know his reasons for doing it. For doing it all!" That was Lenneth who suddenly spoke, Lezard feeling the hostility of her gaze upon him.

"We cannot always hope to understand the reasons of a mad man." Lezard told her, holding back on the urge to smile. "And someone of that man's power, had to die for there would have been no cell strong enough to hold him for long...He would have kept on killing...until he himself was dead."

Lenneth made a frustrated sound, surely realizing the truth of what Lezard was saying. But she didn't like it. Didn't like that the mage had died before she could question him thoroughly.

"Food's ready." Lezard said, abruptly rising to his feet. He'd feel the shift of power, Lenneth giving up control to Alicia once more. "I'm sorry I can't offer you a grander feast..."

"No, this is fine!" Alicia quickly assured him. He could feel her eyes on him, the girl watching as Lezard approached the stick that had the rabbits dangling over the bonfire. He would lift them up, stick and all, and lay them down on top of a flat rock. The dagger at his side would be drawn, Lezard using it to cut out pieces of the cooked flesh, slicing them into manageable bite size morsels.

Alicia would approach, eager to try the rabbit. Some of her eagerness would fade, Lezard giving an earnest laugh in response to the sour face she made in response to her first taste of the rabbit.

""Ah, forgive me." Lezard was still chuckling. "I had nothing to improve the taste of the meat."

"It's fine..." Alicia seemed to be struggling with the task of making herself eat. "It's just different from anything I've ever tasted back home."

"I can assure you that not all our meals will be this bad." Lezard began to eat his portion of the meat. "Once we reach Artolia, I'll be able to buy us proper supplies, along with the seasonings and herbs needed to improve the taste of that which we'll hunt."

"Do herbs and seasonings really make all the difference?" Alicia wondered.

"You are not one for cooking, are you?" She looked startled by the question, Lezard hiding a sly smile. "Forgive me...but I can't help but observe some things about you. Your clothing is very fine, looking to be made by an expert and expensive hand. You have a regal manner about you, which strongly suggests a noble upbringing..." Alicia glanced down at her hands, shifting uncomfortable in place. "I do not mean to pry, or make you uncomfortable..." Lezard continued, trying to reassure her.

"You're not..." protested Alicia. "Not really...It's just..." She shrugged. "It's complicated." She said at last, stuffing another piece of meat into her mouth.

"Complicated...in other words, you do not want to talk about it."

Alicia took the time to chew and swallow her food, before answering. "Yes. Not now at least. Maybe not ever..." She still wouldn't look at him, concentrating on her meal.

"It's fine. Everyone has things they do not want to discuss."

"Even you?" It was Alicia who spoke, but Lezard felt he could actually feel Lenneth's questioning gaze upon him.

"Even me." He agreed at last. The truth of the matter was the things he would not openly discuss? They were far removed from anything Lenneth could hope to guess at. And all because not even the Goddess could truly imagine the things he was capable of, the things he was planning. The fate he had in store for them all. The truth was such, that Lenneth wouldn't have tolerated Lezard to live. Not if the risk otherwise meant his ambitions could all be fulfilled. He was safe only because the Goddess didn't know what his true intentions were. And by the time she did know, there would be nothing she could do. Not even to save herself.

He almost smiled then. "I'll take the first watch." He was brushing off his hands, then rising to stand.

"Are you sure?" Alicia asked, though she looked so tired, Lezard knew she wouldn't protest too much.

"Yes. Sleep for now, my lady. I'll wake you when it's your turn."

"All right." Still wrapped up in his cloak, Alicia laid down near the fire. Close enough for it's warmth, but not near enough to be burned by it.

Lezard pretended not to watch her, though he was all too aware of her movements. Of how she snuggled into the cloak, wiggling about in an attempt to make herself more comfortable on the hard ground. Alicia was trusting, to the point it was foolish. She had no problem going to sleep around him, taking Lezard at his word that he would protect her. But Lenneth was not so easily to convince, the Goddess staying awake, ever watchful should Lezard make a move towards her charge. Lezard knew she stood not a chance of protecting Alicia when the time came to enact his plans, but for now he allowed Lenneth the illusion of just that.

Hmmm...it sorta felt like I should have ended it at the not even to save herself moment. But ever since I started on this chapter, it was very clear in my mind to show that little bit about the sleeping...oh well...maybe I'll edit later...we shall see!

To Be Continued...

Michelle