Chapter 1

Ryraso was human, not k'nairi. It was an obvious statement but an important one. The fact he had no wings or talons sort of made that more apparent to most but the k'nairi seemed to have different ideas about what made a person a k'nairi or not.

A powerful and typically beautiful race, the k'nairi saw themselves above the humans, and certainly above the two other races which existed on their continent. Humanoid in figure, what made them different from the other races was the fact they processed giving them the gift of flight. They moved with unparalleled grace, wielding magic stronger than most human mages. Even so, it seemed to Ryraso that what the k'nairi thought made a being k'nairi was not having wings necessarily but being connected to them through a magic older than human existence.

Every k'nairi had magic from the day they were born but most were unable to wield it anyway apart from one. An almost hive-like mind link, it was part of them from the day they were born and what they saw as made them k'nairi. It was a powerful magic and so much a part of them that when people of the other races lived among them, they sometimes joined with the magic that bound the k'nairi together, themselves.

Ryraso may have developed the link but that did not stop him being human. No matter how the k'nairi felt about people like him, he was not one of them. He refused to be considered one of them. He may have acted k'nairi. He may have gained a few of their tendencies, but so would anyone else who lived around the winged people for most of their adult life. You had to in order to survive in their world.

Signing, Ryraso's hands paused over his things as he packed his bag. He could almost feel part of himself scolding that he was making excuses now. He leant backwards and rested against the tree wall behind him. What he was going to have to do that night was going to be hard but needed to be done. Justifications had no place for things that simply had to happen.

Justifications didn't exactly make the situation stop the stabbing pain in his chest. Pain at the thought of leaving the place he had grown to love, to leave people he had spent the better part of the last decade healing, to leave the Winglord and the royal triad. Still, he mused as he wiped stray tears from his eyes, the Winglord had made his decision and that decision was going to affect more than just Ryraso and his relationship. It was likely going to sway the direction of the war too and not in a way which Ryraso could stand behind. He had lost too much of his human life already without standing by idly as the people he thought he could trust choice the other side.

Awacia was in pieces because of the damn war. Already so many lives had been lost. Innocent lives who had no power over the situation which had been forced upon them. A different pain sparked in Ryraso's heart that thought and something which made him grimly steel up. This pain was the loss of this family. Ryraso was safe in the mountain bound city of Navat but his family had not been. His entire village had been killed by the D'mar.

There were two main factions in this war, the D'mar and the Namya. The war had started as purely a human thing but soon the human's conflict had engulfed the nonhuman parts of the lands as well. Ignoring the k'nairi lands, but they were well protected from outside threats. The k'nairi were dangerous predators for a reason, the lands in which they lived were harsh, second only to the deserts where only nomads and exiles lived. The desert people were in a world of their own, and not one Ryraso had ever had the pleasure of knowing.

The humans mostly lived in the lush plains and meadows of the south. An easy and mostly rich livelihood in many ways compared with the other areas of the land but there had always been pockets of discontent along the borderlands with the desert. Not so much along the border with the k'nairi mountains, though.

The k'nairi lived in the mountains of the north. A thick, dense forest covered the rocky mountains which made them extremely difficult for humans to transverse past the borderland villages without help from the k'nairi themselves. Difficult but not impossible as it was proved mere days ago when a man had walked into the Navat unexpectedly.

Ryraso had never had a desire to kill someone before but he had felt it towards the man who had grinned boldly at the Winglord as Tai'ray had commented he was impressive. Strong enough that Nel'os, one of Tai'ray's mates and also tightly connected to the link, had looked at him in surprise.

Loror, the leader of the D'mar and an extremely dangerous person. A man gifted with magic and strength beyond that of an ordinary human, a man who had suffered the trails of the deserts and returned to fix the wrongs which had placed him there. Even the thought of Loror's sun bleached silver eyes made Ryraso shiver. Behind those eyes was a darkness born out of suffering and a seeming determination to make others suffer the same. A devil from the desert. Every inch of the man's body was marked from the land. His skin was tanned from the harsh sun, his hair a bleached blonde and his skin was covered in scars from being a slave to the desert people.

He was a stark contrast from the mostly flawless k'nairi. While some were tanned from the sun, or even just had darker skin tones, most did not carry scars. It took a lot to scar a k'nairi. Compared to Tai'ray, the winglord and leader of the k'nairi, the different was clearer than day and night. Ryraso was not too proud to say he was not scared of the man. Loror set his stomach on edge.

To make matters more unstable Loror also processed a silver tongue and seemed to know exactly what to say. Ryraso ran through the scene in his mind again, having done so several times since it happened. Loror had stated his desires clearer before challenging Tai'ray to a duel in order to prove his worth. Ryraso had tried to intervene and stop what had started to unfold in front of his eyes but Nel'os had stopped him.

"You don't have the right to stop this Ry," Nel'os had whispered into his ear as he had held Ryraso back. Tai'ray seemingly paying no attention to his mate and friend as he had agreed.

Nel'os hadn't been cruel about the statement, almost gentle even, but Ryraso had felt stung. This relationship with the royals had always been a strange one but this was the first time that he had been reminded exactly what his place was. Ryraso would be lying if he said that wasn't part of what was spurring him in his next actions.

Loror had started a rebellion for one simple reason, to force change. He refused to accept the old laws to follow the High Priest of Awacia. A man Loror saw as the man who embodied everything which had ever allowed him to suffer. Laws which had been followed for longer than human history could remember.

In Loror's eyes, it was time for the lower races to bow to the ones with power. It was time for people with magic, with strength, with the knowledge to be given the respect they deserved, instead of being forced to serve the weak as they were currently. The old laws stated that a person had the right to power if they were born to a powerful clan and if a person had no power if their father or mother had been a ruler, the child still would have to rule right too. At the same time, those who were born without power had no right to seek it. They lived in a caste system, one which was badly flawed and led to Loror, the rebellion leader, gaining many followers.

As someone who had beat the caste system, Ryraso understood much of where Loror's words came from. It was his methods which he had the issue with. Loror's idea was simply the concept that people were either a part of a higher order or lower order based on their abilities.

Ryraso had felt the room shift as Loror spoke, explaining his ideas. The k'nairi were impressed, the link had sung in approve of the man which had only made Ryraso feel sicker. He understood, in k'nairi culture, something like this was already ingrained into them. The stronger, more dominant were the ones who led while the submissives followed their Alpha. Not to say k'nairi submissives were passive or meek, anything but. They were just as dangerous and as lethal as the dominants. The dominants had to prove themselves to their submissives.

The k'nairi were a complicated society of people. Loyal yet at the same time cut-throat when needed. Tai'ray as their winglord not only led them but stood in the heart of the link and read the currents of emotions and changes which rippled through the people. He was one of the few people able to stand in the centre of a million voices and still be able to protect his people.

He made the laws and cast judgements according to the currents which flowed between the k'nairi people. Which made the fact the link was singing in Loror's approval very telling and a dark warning to Ryraso about what could happen in the future.

The winglord was the embodiment of the perfect k'nairi. Tai-ray was intelligent, strong and fast, three attributes which were highly desired by the k'nairi. Tai-ray was proven as the best fighter and the fastest flyer in the k'nairi nation. He was also known as a heart breaker with long flowing blonde hair which was normally plaited into braids with strangely blue eyes. K'nairi people, in general, had yellow or orange eyes, but the magic from the link had turned Tai'ray's eyes a deep blue. Tai'ray's only flaw was his voice, it was scratchy and coarse, damaged from when he was young, but no leader could be without a flaw.

He had help, in the form of two loyal and well-loved mates, Dyn'ad and Nel'os, who were just as talented as Tai'ray himself. They formed the royal triad and were considered the essence of k'nairi people. One who was dominant, one who was submissive, and one who was dominant enough to protect the submissive in bad times but who submitted to the most dominant in the relationship. Dyn'ad was strong, strong enough to be an Alpha, to be head of his own household, but he chose to be Tai'ray's mate. He accepted the courting of a more dominant man. In the minds and hearts of this complicated race, Dyn'ad was respected for his choice. Not mocked as he would in a society based purposely on power and bloodshed.

At the same time, power was considered important. Important enough that when Loror defeated Tai'ray in the duel, he had sent ripples through everyone. Ryraso could feel the flock starting to press down on anyone who still did not like the human. Loror would be given the respect the link now thought he deserved, and the k'nairi would follow now him into battle. The deal was set, and the D'mar had the k'nairi on their side. But not necessarily the humans who lived with the D'mar. Ryraso knew he wasn't the only one.

Loror classed the k'nairi dominants and even a fair few of their submissives as 'higher'. Only submissives who were truly meek were considered lesser, but they protected fiercely by their Alphas. Something that Loror claimed to respect greatly. Despite his apparent love for bloodshed, he promised he had no wish to harm the weak. His ideas were that lessers obeyed their masters, but he did not believe either that the weak had to be enslaved by the strong. Loror had been from the slave caste. He knew what it was like to be beaten for no reason; he did not wish that fate on anyone. Loror wanted to free all who had been chained by the old laws.

Even his new rival who led the opposing Namya. Loror had killed the former high priest early on in the conflict but a newcomer who had been thrown into the position as best as Ryraso could tell. A young man called Inai, who Loror seemed to actually have some respect for even if Ryraso knew very little himself about the young high priest.

Still the fact was most of Loror's methods included killing a lot of innocent people. Something most of the humans who lived with the k'nairi disagreed with. The k'nairi didn't understand to make matters worse. The small bit of respect Loror had shown had only made the k'nairi like him more.

The fact that other races could become part of their magic had made the k'nairi very possessive over the few humans who were part of their world, those in the link doubly so. The k'nairi understood how you could dislike someone but respect them. This race was old and strict on values and actions, but one which Ryraso had grown fond of, if not used to, during his stay with them.

As a healer, he had been forced to gain their respect. Quite literally, or else he would never be able to do his job. The k'nairi did not listen to suggestions or advice but rather orders and it was the job of the healer not only to heal but force the winged egos to take their medication, to tie them down to make them rest. They would not listen to anyone inferior to them and healers had to prove that no strength or not, they were not lesser. Ryraso was not lesser and he had learned not to stand for any of their bullshit while living with them. When they yelled at him, he yelled straight back and by standing up to them and refusing to back down, he had gained their respect.

He had earned their respect and was protected fiercely by the winged people. He wasn't treated like glass or as a prized possession like some of the useful humans with a link, but he was watched and guarded. They weren't going to risk losing their prized doctor. Too few healers knew how to heal a k'nairi, and most k'nairi did not have the mental aptitude to learn such a discipline. As much as some k'nairi hated to admit it, they needed the human healers who came to study there.

Ryraso's chest hurt as he realised he had to start changing tenses with healing the k'nairi. It was now 'he would never have been able to do this job'. He couldn't stay in Navat now that it was Dmar. It would be an insult to his family's memory.

He had to leave that night, or else he would never be able to leave. Tai'ray and his mates were possessive over him, if he didn't go now they would keep him there until they could trust him not to go.

However, as Ryraso fastened the last buckle on his bag, he knew he had one last thing he had to do. He owed Winglord Tai'ray too much to simply run away without saying anything at all. Bag packed, he took one last look at the room he had made his own for ten years with a mixture of sadness and regret before closing the door. Steeling himself he went to Tai'ray's chamber, as he should have down straight after the duel to tend to the wounds left by Loror.

It was time to say goodbye.