This particular chiron dodged to the left, into the spear of a flanking officer. It pulled right again reflexively, and into the spear point that gave the formation symmetry. The officer on the behind that spear stumbled backwards, absorbing the force of the chiron and turning to fight gravity. The second lieutenant, who covered the back of the formation, noted that it was time to finish the skirmish. "Take it down," he signaled to the two officers waiting above, and P-Ten, who still stuck to the back of the chiron. A-Pol, the second lieutenant, dove after the dazed right flanker as the rest of the squadron chased the creature into the lush grasses and ferns below.
"Good work," V-Naia approved, allowing P-Ten to take the finishing stab and the first morsel. "By the lore." The rest of the squadron followed P-Ten's lead, taking bits of meat from the muscular area just behind the chiron's wings. These they would carry impaled on spear point to those of the tribe who could not hunt for themselves. The rest they left to the dipter and other scavengers, a signal to other chiron that the northern borders of Epepreo land were not safe.
Just as V-Naia took the seventh morsel, a flash of yellow and deep brown appeared over head. "Who goes?" demanded copper-tinged A-Pol.
"M-Bene of the Epepreo, Southern Fern-Shaded Pool," the dancer replied with her learned flourish. "M-Nev bids your squadron meet at the Sunset Cycad. It is a Gathering. Make haste!"
She did not stay for conversation, flying off instead to find the next nearest sentries on chiron patrol, looking not unlike a vespin with the bands of alternating color along her abdomen.
B-Leon, another dancer, navigated the southeast vespin hive field. A dry night breeze rustled through the thick, tall grasses, and the ruby male was a bundle of nerves. So close to the border, he fretted to himself. Most keepers and sentries had been evacuated from this area already, leaving a skeleton crew to patrol in the temporary calm before more strategic security could be devised. But B-Leon had two more individuals to locate before he could call his assignment complete. "Have you seen M-Ela and Z-Geph?" he called out to a distant keeper.
"Sunward a few beats," the keeper replied.
"Thank you!" B-Leon took a sharp turn westerly, and soon realized how he'd missed the pair. Z-Geph, a pale yellow keeper and M-Ela, a dull orange hunter, were deep in conversation amongst a thick swarm of vespin returning to hive for the night.
"Where have you been?" B-Leon asked, flying headlong into the swarm and dispersing confused vespin left and right.
"Would you be careful? How'd a klutz like you get to be a dancer, of all things?" retorted the hunter.
"Stop. He's just excited," Z-Geph admonished. "I was just relinquishing a weak one for feed," she explained to the dancer. As if to confirm this, she corralled a lone vespin that tumbled through the air. B-Leon's charge had apparently been its last straw.
"I see," answered the dancer. He let the other male put the vespin out of its misery before passing along his message. "What I am here to say," he gathered himself, "is that the Elder Council bids you meet at the Sunset Cycad. It is a gathering, and you're late, so hurry!"
Its base was a brilliant reddish-orange, inside and out, and this vivid color extended to the its male cone. Its leaves were black at their tips and lightened in an irregular gradient as they broadened nearer the center and ground. The effect was indeed that of a sun sinking into the horizon, and that the Sunset Cycad was rooted deeply in a steep western hill was probably just coincidence. The Elder Council perched staid on its crown of leaves, and a flock of dancers hovered around them, waiting to remember history. One stranger, red and brown, hung poised above the cone. All around the rise, in innumerable restless strata, were Epepreo of all castes.
Satisfied that quorum had been reached, M-Nev, the Elder Sentry, rose from her perch. The bright twin moons illuminated her striped orange and green form in spite of the new night. "The Gomphid have sent to us, in their Elder Sentry's stead, a herald. C-Fas," she turned to him, "you have the honor of the message."
C-Fas obediently rose so that all could see him. "In the name of S-Fon, Elder Sentry of the Pool of the Gingko, and in the name of my people, I C-Fas of the Double Moon Pool declare war upon you the Epepreo who have but cannot spare the stuff of life."
"Will there be parley?" questioned M-Nev.
"The time is past. There will be no parley," replied C-Fas.
"No parley," repeated the Elder, for the benefit of those gathered. "Then we take you into custody, first prisoner of war C-Fas." She signaled in Tribal to a pair of nearby sentries, who approached the Gomphid in the center of the cycad. "Take him to the west magnolia grove and keep him there. Treat him well." The sentries did as they were told, flanking the dancer and escorting him to a distant cluster of red-leaved trees full of fragrant white flowers.
When C-Fas was out of sight, M-Nev continued her duties as Commander in Chief, sending perhaps half of her sentries to the battle lines, and to the vespin hive fields as security detail. She kept a reserve force in the vicinity of her pools. The other Elders distributed their respective castes accordingly. R-Tem sent many of her hunters to the borderlands to watch for chiron and other creatures who would take advantage of war if they could. F-Uan sent contingents of his keepers to aid in protecting their vespin. A-Sclep and H-Mes assigned certain healers and dancers to accompany the sentries, to act as field medics and heralds and historians respectively. V-Sta kept her nurturers at home.
Almost as an afterthought, M-Nev summoned an unassigned dancer forward. "M-Bene of the Southern Fern-Shaded Pool," she asked, "are you willing to go in trade to the Gomphid, to confirm Epepreo acceptance of war and no parley?"
M-Bene hesitated, thinking of her pool and her people. "I am willing," she finally replied.
"Go then, M-Bene, and Fate be with you."
"Fate be with us all." M-Bene sped off into the east, in the direction of the sentry force, the battle lines and the Gomphid.
"Indeed. Fate be with us at sunrise."