"Oh yes," replied M-Nev, calmly shifting her wings in Tribal Alighted. "He is an accomplished sentry in his own right, and he will get you past the border."
"But we captured him. I personally fought with him. Now you ask me to ally myself with D-Proi of the Gomphid?"
"It's not a request, V-Naia, and it is not up for debate."
D-Proi tried to interpret the unfamiliar dialect, but not being a linguistic scholar, failed miserably. So he interrupted, pulling away from his escort, and inserting himself between V-Naia and and the Elder. "I have answered your summons," he signaled stiffly in Common Flight. "What is it you wish of me, Elder?"
"Sentry, you are to join a squadron in need of a member. Together you will venture into your old tribal land."
"Need I remind you that I can refuse this?"
"You may, but surely you have a mate you've been longing to see?"
D-Proi backed away a distance, and rose a bit. "I do miss my mate, but I can't betray my people."
"He has a point," offered V-Naia.
"Not a good one," countered M-Nev, not leaving her perch. "His people are dying. He loses nothing by taking rank."
"No, just his dignity."
"Your people are sending nurturers to the front lines, D-Proi." M-Nev turned her attentions back to the Gomphid. "Nurturers, keepers, dancers… You could lose your mate tomorrow. You may have lost her already. Can you live with the not knowing?"
D-Proi lurched, but retained his poise. "Well, that is war, isn't it?"
"Oh, by Fate," G-Siol swan dove into the center of the triangle of debaters. "Gomphid, you join the Blindsiders for this one mission. M-Nev, you allow him to leave if he chooses, once that mission's done, and stay with his tribe, much good that will do him. And V-Naia, be a captain and deal with it. Fair?"
"Fair enough, G-Siol. I agree to that." M-Nev's wings twitched in amusement. "D-Proi, do you agree?"
"I suppose I don't have much influence in the matter. Yes, I will agree to that. One mission only."
"Agreed, then." V-Naia surrendered her hover to an air current for a moment, allowing the atmosphere to sigh for her. "D-Proi will take N-Centh's rank. Fourth officer. We will have our goodbyes and then reassemble by N-Centh's pool. G-Siol, you will be D-Proi's escort until further notice. Are we clear?"
"We are," the present Blindsiders replied, almost in unison.
"Good. Until dusk at the Pool Fed by Falling Water. We'll depart from there. Oh, and sharpen your spears," V-Naia relayed her final orders of the day.
"Fate be with you," M-Nev signaled the squadron, launching herself from her leaf. She had more responsibilities to tend to, after all.
"And also with you," replied V-Naia. And the Blindsiders dispersed.
They had once been modest kettles, carved by glaciers only extant in some distant ancestral memory, danced out like slithering ghosts in tribal lore. Since that long ago age, Phaneros had drifted into warmth, and the kettles had tested their banks, growing their own lobes, reaching through soluble minerals for greater depths. Their territory had grown accordingly. Like giant amoebas, they covered perhaps five to ten acres of surface area each. They maintained themselves with the gentle, scattered but reliable rains, and sometimes pulled additional fluid from hidden underground springs. They lived.
The Pool Where Trees Cradle the West Moon was the northernmost of the Epepreo pools. Spring and rain-fed both, it was the largest of the three productive waters. Its three primary outlets converged into a stream that casually meandered south through soil and stone, gathering discharge as it went. The surface was almost unmarred by eddies, and the crystal waters revealed a pebbled surface that leapt and rolled with rhythm and method.
It was all the more surprising, then, when the stream made its plunge. By the time it met the precipice, it was about three meters wide. The scarp itself was at least twice that in height, its strata looming over white, bubbling water. The daily rains, who had reduced themselves to halfhearted mists, met the spray at the knickpoint.
Sunlight usually shown through the water just so, hinting at the overhanging rock behind the shimmer. Today, however, the light leapt through the mists just so, unfolding into an astonishing array of color. V-Naia perched opposite the waterfall, her wings completely still. Radiant ultraviolet gave way to blues and greens, ultimately fading into dull near infrared. Ph-Lyre shared a leaf with his mate. She was mesmorized by the radiant arc, but he was not so calm.
"Do you think it's an omen?" he twitched, in broad exaggerated strokes, trying to catch her attention.
"An omen? Of what?" she finally replied.
"Of... of anything, V-Naia. Good or bad."
"I don't read omens. Ask a dancer."
"Look at me, V-Naia."
"This may be the last time we see each other. You're leaving tomorrow?"
"We are, yes." V-Naia broke away from the falls, finally turning her attention to her mate. Ph-Lyre glimmered with minute water droplets that resembled clear jewels on amber. "But we'll return. You'll see."
V-Naia could only guess. Instead, she began a standard prayer, her wings brushing against Ph-Lyre's as they moved. "We have given of ourselves unto the water."
He offered the response. "The water has given unto us the sky."
"We have given of ourselves unto the sky."
"The sky has given unto us the light."
"We have given of ourselves unto the light."
"The light has given unto us vision."
"And sighted we ride Fate as wind," she concluded.
They fell again into stillness, not comforted but filled with acceptance. Her duties dictated that she go, and his that he remain home. They had chosen their life courses and would not change them in midstream.
The sun set. The rainbow faded. The sentry and the nurturer had been blind to everything but each other and the falls. That blindness faded, too, in time for V-Naia to see her squadron approaching in the distance.
"So, it's time?" asked Ph-Lyre, again restless.
"It is. Take care of our nymphs, Ph-Lyre."
"I will. Keep them safe, V-Naia.'
"I will. Fate be with you."
"Fate return you to me."
"It will. Trust it." Her wings touched his one last time, and then she arose from the frond, tightly clutching her spear and her hopes.