Chapter 2
Questioning the Path

AN 1214 (AZ 1451) - Spring
Outside Girondin, Notos

Simona had always been an obedient servant. She had served many masters throughout her life, some better than others, but regardless of how good or bad her master was, her obedience never failed. No matter the pain or sorrow she suffered, she obeyed without question. However, she could no longer remain silent on the course Rowland was taking. It was too dangerous and she cared for him too much.
In his zeal to see the revolution succeed, Rowland would accept allies wherever he could find them. Few measured up to Rowland's lofty ideals, so she disagreed with many of his choices, but she never voiced her doubts. Only this time it was too much. The latest additions to the Alliance were Zephyrian defectors commanded by the traitorous Crown Prince. He was a fiend and she could not hold her tongue any longer.
Rowland was performing sword drills in a grassy field on the outskirts of the city. The two of them were alone, an ideal opportunity to bring up her grievances. Ironically, it was Rowland who started the conversation, glancing at her between sword strokes.
"You look troubled, Simona," he said. "What's on your mind?"
She was hesitant to reply. As his servant, she had no right to question his decisions. However, as a confidante, she could not be silent. Taking a deep breath, she gathered her courage to speak.
"I... I want to talk to you about some of the newer members in the Alliance..."
"What about them?"
"I don't like it..." she said bluntly, "...having them in the Alliance..."
Rowland stopped his drills and rested the heavy blade on his shoulder. He looked at her critically. She felt a shudder course through her body. Had she gone too far?
"Explain yourself," he said.
She could not sense any emotion from him, neither positive nor negative. It only made her more nervous.
"The Kobalos wench... I think allying with her was a mistake..."
Besides the Zephyrian Prince and his underlings, there were also Darklanders led by a Kobalos named Urgill under the mad notion that they could fight for Notos in exchange for Notos liberating the Darklands from the reign of the reborn Chaos Dominion. Whatever they could bring to the Alliance, the risk was too great. At least that was how Simona saw it.
"Are you questioning my judgment?"
The question was worded sharply, but Rowland's emotions remained in perfect check. He had never been so unreadable before. With no cue to retreat, she had little choice but to finish what she started.
"No... Of course not... but... you don't know what Darklanders are like... They can't be trusted..."
"Aren't you a Darklander?"
Technically, she was indeed a Darklander, but for some reason she felt hurt and offended by the question. Though she was too upset to reply, she sensed something from Rowland that caught her attention. It was the faintest hint of sympathy.
"You never told me much about your past," he said, "but I can tell there are plenty of bad memories and we'll leave it at that. Now go on. Finish what you wanted to say, all of it. I won't say another word until you're done."
This move heartened her, enough for her to tell him everything that was troubling her.
"I was a Darklander... That's why I know they can't be trusted. That little Kobalos wench has those monsters under her control for now, but her kind doesn't have the strength of will to maintain that control. They're a threat to the people of Notos and to the Alliance, every one of them. They should be destroyed before they can do any harm."
She paused for a moment, prompting Rowland to ask, "Is that all?"
"No," she replied. The Darklanders were the lesser threat and offered less advantage. They would be easy to cast aside. The treacherous Prince, on the other hand...
"Zephyr is your sworn enemy," she continued, "and yet you're willing to join forces with their Crown Prince... He may only be a halfbreed, but there's more than enough blood of the cursed Alari in his veins. His pride will never allow him to submit to you. He's just waiting for the chance to betray you."
"I already know that," Rowland said, "and I'm prepared for it when the time comes. Don't you see, Simona? All these people are nothing more than tools to me. I use them as I will and dispose of them once they're no longer useful."
"Is that to be my fate as well?" Simona asked.
She cursed herself for giving voice to the thought. Rowland was the sort of man who would stop at nothing for the sake of his ambition. He would scale a mountain of corpses if he had to. Simona was prepared to be one of those corpses if needs be, but part of her yearned to be more than that. The problem with being honest is that once you start, it is difficult to stop.
"You should know better, Simona," Rowland scolded her, a gentler reproach than she deserved, perhaps. "You were here before anyone else and you'll be here long after they're gone. You're more than any tool... You're a part of me, my own right hand."
He held up his hand to emphasize the point. Simona was overwhelmed. In her entire life, no one had ever said anything like that to her.
"Try to trust me a little more from now on," Rowland said. "If you don't want to deal with that little green wench or the halfbreed, I won't make you. There's always somewhere else I can make use of you. You don't have to like my decisions, but I do expect you to abide by them."
"Yes, of course, Rowland" she said softly. "As you say."
Rowland put his hand on her shoulder and said, "Why don't you go get some rest? I know you Xotika aren't like us humans, but it might do you some good."
She gave a faint nod and sat down by a nearby tree. She leaned back and closed her eyes. She would never accept the Kobalos or the halfbreed, nor would the scars in her heart heal while they remained in Notos, but she had gained something important that day. Her faith in Rowland had become stronger than ever and so had her resolve to protect him from the treacherous creatures he surrounded himself with for the sake of the revolution.