"P-Ten! Fewmets!" V-Naia tried to focus on her remaining squadron. They were nearing the end of the third short cycle, and after three dawns and dusks, they were making mistakes. P-Ten, for instance, was more reckless than usual. At least it seemed as though she'd taken out the rival captain.
"Before they come together, A-Pol, lead against the four! N-Centh," she signaled her youngest officer, "we'll take the other two."
The second lieutenant split his group of four in two, joining one of the pairs. The pairs wove back and forth in a figure-eight pattern toward the four Gomphid. One Gomphid, weary or inexperienced or both, fell into the trap, attacking an officer only to find herself at the end of A-Pol's spear. A Gomphid lieutenant quickly responded, calling for his two strays to rejoin the squadron.
"Don't let them go," warned V-Naia, as she and N-Centh attacked their marks. Just as she said this, her opponent seized the moment and answered his lieutenant's call. "Keep on yours!" V-Naia yelled to her officer as she sped after the enemy.
She overshot her opponent. Perhaps she misjudged her own speed, or perhaps the Gomphid simply slowed, but either way it was a tactical error. Trying to correct this, V-Naia decreased her velocity, and quickly found herself in a mid-air vertical roll, opposite an enemy doing the same thing. V-Naia attempted to block his spear with her own, all the while mimicking his speed, but they were evenly matched and approaching the primary skirmish.
"On alert!" A-Pol ordered his three, who dove out of the way, as did the three Gomphid. C-Epon, the first officer, then dove back in the way, timing it well and picking off V-Naia's Gomphid as they tumbled by.
V-Naia managed to right herself and return to her squadron. The remaining Gomphid had retreated to recover their wounded. "Wuff. Nice work. What are our numbers?"
"P-Ten is down," A-Pol reported, "and three Gomphid. Where's N-Centh?"
N-Centh, no match for the more experienced (not to mention bigger) Gomphid officer, had fallen. V-Naia did not know where that fight had ended, but she did know where it had started. "A-Pol, go after P-Ten. I'll find N-Centh. F-Ness?" she signaled her third officer. "Come with me."
A sparse wood of sweet magnolia preceded the eastern borderland of Epepreo territory. It spanned almost as far as the northern border, but petered out in the south, giving way to the vespin hive field V-Naia and her Blindsiders had been defending. The canopy of this wood was usually thick for all the individual trees kept their distance, but at the moment many limbs were stripped of choice twigs and leaves, and the last sunlight of the third short cycle shown through it.
A sentry lay upon a leaf on the floor of this wood. His wings were crumpled beyond repair. His legs curled stiffly inward and hemolymph had pooled and long since congealed beneath him. His formerly emerald exoskeleton already seemed dusty, even in the dying light.
V-Naia tried to ignore it, choosing to focus on her own sentries. P-Ten and N-Centh clung steadfastly to life, though they remained unconscious. A-Pol had flown after a healer, and the rest of the Blindsiders huddled around their fallen, among endless rows of casualties on leaves.
The red moon, in waxing crescent, had risen above the treetops before A-Pol returned with a healer. P-Ten perched limply upright on her leaf, asleep but stable. N-Centh, her left hind leg twisted strangely, lay without comfort on her side, her wings askew. It was her the healer tended to first.
"Sentry," said the healer to her in subdued Alighted. N-Centh, now awake but groggy, barely noticed. "Here. Chew this." The healer offered a small bit of odd vegetable matter, and the officer took it in her mandibles. Its juices flowed through her and she soon slept again.
V-Naia watched over P-Ten, and kept an eye on N-Centh with her peripheral vision. A-Pol held N-Centh's leg straight as the healer carefully applied a poultice. The rest of the squadron just watched. A sentry's knowledge of field medicine was minimal at best, consisting primarily of stabilization and transport techniques.
Not long after the healer had left for other fallen, the night lepido emerged from their arboreal nooks. They were sparrow-sized shadows on wide graceful wings, and they spiraled from one flower to the next, navigating the blossoms with long feathered antennae and sipping nectar with longer unfurled tongues.
They were easy prey.
Five Blindsiders sat by their fallen comrades, munching their midnight meals. "This is futile, isn't it?" V-Naia's wings twitched as her mandibles cut through an unfortunate lepido's thorax. "We can't win this way."
"It's not over yet, Captain," replied A-Pol, also chewing.
"It will be over soon if something doesn't change."
"We're one squadron. One downed squadron. What are you suggesting we do?" asked F-Ness, the third officer.
"We go around, that's what we do," suggested G-Siol, the second officer.
V-Naia rose on her tarsi, setting the remains of her lepido in front of her. "That's good. That's what we do. But around what, G-Siol?"
"The front, the border. Into Gomphid skies. We go around and find a weakness."
"And if there isn't one?"
"There's always a blind spot, V-Naia. Isn't that what we train to find?"
"He has a point," chimed in A-Pol, finishing his dinner.
"Hmm. So he does. We may go around the line, but we will do this by the lore. G-Siol, A-Pol, come with me to Council at first sun."