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The Storm at the Center of the World

The Upper Airs.

It was bitterly cold, and yet perversely the sunlight was bright enough to hurt the eyes. Pale blue skies went in all directions as far as the eye could see, broken only by the faintest wisps of clouds, darkening slightly as the gaze turned downwards. The wind was never-ending here, cutting through leather and cloth like a knife, leaching the warmth from flesh and blood.

This was the highest a man could go and still be able to live; further on the air thinned, the cold turned lethal and life disappeared. There was no land here, no solid place for a weary traveler to plant his feet. Life in the empty blue waste was driven by scarcity, by hardship, by the endless bitter cold. The Upper Airs, where survival was a prize for the strongest.

Goren stood on the deck of his spirit ship, bundled to the chin in a thick cloak of bear fur, his breath coming out in clouds. Battle raged about him, the hum of the wind broken by the clash of arms. Two opposing forces mounted on geppeks dove and banked around the ship, loosing arrows and javelins, stabbing at each other with lances. Drops of blood streamed into the sky as the dead and dying fell to their fates, geppeks flying away in panic with fresh corpses still bound in the saddles. The living gave none a second glance, for this was the way of war in the Upper Airs. No mercy, honor only for the living. In victory there was survival. It was little wonder these hordes were so feared.

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