I am clean. Scoured pure by wind and sand. All that remains in the crucible is wind and fire.
I was born to the armaya, the curse. Born to the Rose & Swords and the desert of a woman who I am told was soft and weak and taken for her water shortly after I came squalling into this world. They say I am son to the betrayer himself, that I have his eyes and his countenance, though none can know for certain. I will not take his name as other sons of the curse do of their Company fathers and grandfathers. An oath is a sacred thing, even when given to an evil whore of a witch.
I was raised as all children of the curse, taught the ways of sand and water and the Annals and Code of the Company as we huddled in our tsera beneath the sands during the days, and taught the ways of wind and fire, of blade and arrow on our marches during the long chill nights. I knew of no other life, no other way. Peace I found only in my inner stillness, and comforts only in the camaraderie of my brothers and sisters. People would come to us, from time to time, having sought us for their own reasons. Most were taken for their water, but some were brought into the tribe. In our wanderings we would occasionally encounter a caravan or even a small settlement and we would take what we could before the winds and sands obscured such treasures from us once again.
I rose through the ranks as most do – through a fortuitous combination of skill, gall, and attrition – though I felt at times some of the officers and NCOs may have been keeping a careful eye on me. Whether that is due to some talent of my own they saw, or simply because I was rumored to be the betrayer’s blood I do not know. Ten years ago, when a particularly vicious storm buried many of our people, including the Captain and Lieutenant, beyond our ability to reach them, the survivors chose my water-brother and me to lead the Company. And as it happens, we survived the years to witness the end of the curse.
We knew something was different when we emerged from the dunes that night. There was a clarity to the sky and a scent on the wind that many hadn’t felt since before their time with us and those desert-born had never seen. Many of those kept by the Company against their will chased off into the night alone – assured they would be able to find some bearing or direction with the curse lifted. Even a few of the brotherhood chose to abandon their family that night. Ancient Ralben, a Company wizard from before the curse, advised to let them go. He called the revelation that the curse was lifted the “final test of the faithful”.
We marched hard that night, but for the first time we truly had the stars to guide our way, and by morning had come to the hovel by the first river I had ever seen in my two-score years of life. We all learned many things in those first, terrifying days.
For the first time in eighty years we know the direction of the wind, yet we are directionless. As one we marched out of the lands of sand and towards lands lush in a way many of us had never known. We walk through dens of sin and depravity, full of souls who have never been tested by the wind and the fire. We walk where water flows as freely as blood. But we walk together, and in that there is some comfort.
I wonder where we will walk tomorrow.