My bags are packed and my borrowed room has been stripped of all my equipment. The flickering light the fire casts is coy over these details, and so the faint sense that this isn't happening, can't be happening, is perhaps understandable. I am folded as comfortably as I'm able into a wooden basin, enjoying a hot bath in front of a fireplace in a real room, and this--comfort, quiet, privacy--is going to be my future for the foreseeable future.
I'm retiring. Blood and gods, it hardly seems possible.
I have served the Closest Kin in the army for 34 years, since I took up a spear to drive away the raiders on the slopes of the Firerake Mountains under Captain Trerian. That fourteen-year-old girl seems very distant indeed from who I've become. Beneath the water I trace countless scars with the tips of my fingers. I am one of the few Godkin with wings and I am grateful that I can fly with them . . . but my bones break easily, and my hide tells too many grim war stories.
It's a good time to retire. My body no longer mends quite as quickly as it did in my twenties. The last injury I took taming Glendallia Province has barely finished knitting.
Fans of water fall from my arms as I slide out of the basin. I am done with the army. As I've grown older, more and more my mind has turned to this matter of the gods and our neverending quest to become more like them. Who were our makers? Why did they make us? There are rumors about how we came about, enticing enough to draw a woman tired of war onto the road in search of truth.
I'm still dripping, which is a surprise. I have never been this absent-minded; I've never had the time. I grab a towel and dry off before sitting on the bunk next to my bags. The only thing I haven't packed is my kit. My leather armor, ivory for camoflauge against the clouds, has been mended more times than I can remember. It had designs on it originally, but they're gone now. That hole there--that's the one that broke my ribs this last time, in Glendallia's final battle at the Klen Valley.
Where I'm going now, I won't be needing armor anymore. Yet I remember vividly where to look to find the faint tint of blood stains buffed clean by irritated leather-workers. It is a symbol of what I have been and what I have done with my life until now. Should I put it behind me? Or cherish it?
I don't know the answer. Maybe it'll come to me while I dress for bed. Tomorrow I can leave Fort Endgame and go home. And then . . . a new path. I suddenly remember what it's like to feel pleasant anticipation.
Should I throw my armor out?
Yes; it's time to move on. You're free!
No; it's expensive. You never know when it might come in handy.