"Yes, I know it's all chaos. Give me an audience." A dancer actively blocked V-Naia's path, determined to follow protocol in time of war. She hovered, brilliantly red in the morning sun. At her left, her second lieutenant gleamed copper, and at her right golden G-Siol hovered. Together they were a sunset at the Sunset Cycad.
"Tell me again why..."
"We have a proposal for M-Nev's eyes only. An audience, please!"
"I can't let you by unless I know why."
"Just let us the hell through," huffed G-Siol, flying forward, posturing. The dancer, undaunted, moved to block the sentry.
"G-Siol," V-Naia warned for the dancer's benefit. "Look, dancer, this is important. We would not be requesting audience with M-Nev if it were not."
"V-Naia, is it, of the Pool Fed by Falling Water?" M-Nev, who had been issuing orders nearby, inserted herself between the dancer and the sentries.
"Southern Fern-Shaded, Elder M-Nev," replied V-Naia, dropping altitude in deference to her Commander. A-Pol and G-Siol followed suit.
"Of course. F-Enek, you may go. Fly with me, all of you." The Elder Sentry was a robust female, impossible to ignore. Her exoskeleton was a deep green, striped in dusky orange and etched with evidence of a thousand battles. They had been as sand carried on the wind, and she a desert stone.
"My squadron is downed with two injured, or we'd still be fighting. Elder M-Nev, the Gomphid are too many. Too many for a dying two pool tribe."
"It is true." M-Nev wheeled through the air, motions erratic with Flight Language and travel. She kept the focus of her great green jewel-faceted eyes on the ballet chatter of the dancers around the Cycad. "Most of our reserves are committed to the defense of our lines. We suspect that the Gomphid have bolstered their own force with hunter recruits."
"That would not explain the numbers, not completely." V-Naia shot ahead of her Commander, leaping in Flight before settling onto a leaf of the Cycad and fading into the wing twitching of Alighted. M-Nev joined her, choosing an adjacent leaf. G-Siol and A-Pol remained aloft.
"Other castes too, then, none of them learned in battle but determined enough to fight." M-Nev's shining lenses met those of V-Naia, whose deep red eyes followed the complex wing motion. "What is your proposal?"
"G-Siol suggest we go around."
"Go around what?"
"The border. We go to Gomphid skies and find a weakness," G-Siol explained, fiddling with his spear, slightly unnerved in the presence of the Elder.
"A reconnaissance mission. We've sent scouts, G-Siol. They have not returned. What makes you think you would succeed where they have failed?"
"We are Blindsiders, Elder," interjected A-Pol, as though that explained everything. He kept his own spear at ease.
"That we are, that we are!" P-Ten darted into the field of view, flying with an enthusiasm that belied her recent injury. Clearly she had had a refreshing rest. Subdued F-Ness followed her closely for the sake of caution and under the orders of a healer.
"Do you even know what they're talking about?" demanded F-Ness, her amber-gilded amethyst a blur keeping up with her bright fuchsia charge.
"Well, no, but I assume they'll fill us in." P-Ten managed to stop before colliding with A-Pol, though it was probable she'd cut things close on purpose.
"P-Ten! Good to see you flying again," V-Naia greeted her first lieutenant.
"Yes, good," managed a slightly vexed A-Pol. "What of N-Centh?"
"She will live, but she may be in pain for the better part of a long cycle, the healer thinks," answered F-Ness, flying in a shallow mutter. "C-Epon is with her. We have moved her from the east magnolia wood to poolside. She is resting."
"But will she fly?" V-Naia needed confirmation. She'd had high hopes for the youthful officer, and did not like to see them dashed.
"Yes, she will fly, but not with us. Not soon."
"So we fly at six."
"No, you will fly at seven," M-Nev interjected. "You will take on the mission you've proposed, and you will have full rank."
"What is the mission? Will somebody tell me?" P-Ten leapt, performed a frustrated barrel roll and concluded by violating G-Siol's personal airspace.
He reflexively backed away, and repeated, "We go around."
"We're taking on a reconnaissance mission, infiltrating Gomphid skies," explained V-Naia. "But, Elder, tell me how you wish us to fill our ranks?"
"Wait a few beats. You'll see soon enough.