This was a deliberate incursion into enemy airspace, but the scouts found themselves too preoccupied with gathering intelligence to notice they'd been discovered.
Looking like the East Moon following the rising Phanerosian sun, the captain of an Epepreo squadron appeared in front of the invader. She held a long wooden spear expertly in her right foreclaws. The Gomphid leader noted that it was considerably longer -- and sharper -- than those issued to a standard scout.
The captain flew a field signal to her two lieutenants, who moved to shadow the remaining scouts. Her four officers covered the scouts' potential exits, above and below, left and right. V-Naia approved. Her squadron was responsive, and made talented use of "blind" spots which, for a race blessed with near 360 degree vision, were few and far between.
Switching from Tribal to Common Flight, she demanded, "Who comes forward?"
"D-Proi of the Gomphid, Double Moon Pool," he replied, keeping some attention on the spear she held at its length, hovering at ready.
"It is not for me to say to you."
A warm, water-heavy breeze blew between red and blue as V-Naia considered. With no indication of diplomacy, her options were in fact few.
"Then I cannot offer. Forward or back?"
"So be it." The air became a blur as the Gomphid attempted retreat, and the Epepreo met the challenge. V-Naia took the leader alone, as was proper, but her six took on the two. Spear met spear, and spear met exoskeleton, and almost as soon as it had begun it ended, no hemolymph drawn.
"Forward or back?" V-Naia asked again, her abdomen heaving.
"Forward," conceded the equally fatigued scout.
V-Naia bowed, giving up altitude, then retaking it. "To Elder Council," she signaled to her team in Tribal. And forty long wings beat forward, twelve of them in custody.
Ph-Lyre rested on a fern, and watched the deep pool before him as it churned with nymphs first hatched, near-adult, and every molting in between. He also watched his mate as she told her story. His wings quivered with the subtleties of Common Alighted. "Is that all?" he asked.
"No. It was a routine mission. We easily apprehended the Gomphid. But Ph-Lyre," she replied, still aerial, "this is no less than the fifth mission of its kind for us in as many days."
"What do they need?"
"The vespin. According to the elders, the vespin of the Gomphid are dying, and nobody knows why."
"And with the vespin, the pools."
"Yes," she replied, finally landing on a broad leaf beside Ph-Lyre.
"Can we spare?" he asked, after a moment.
"No, we can't spare, especially if the death may spread."
"And what of the Gomphid?"
"They will keep scouting for territory. It will come to more than three at a time."
"The Gomphid you captured."
"Oh, those," her wings twitched. "Two we sent forward and away. The one, the leader, we kept on. His information may be valuable and besides, new blood."
"Of course. Which are ours, do you suppose?" he wondered, abruptly changing the subject.
"Of the nymphs. Which are ours?"
"All of them are of the Epepreo."
Now she knew what he meant. It was not a thing V-Naia often thought about, but as a nurturer (resting at the moment), she supposed Ph-Lyre considered it rather often. Which nymphs had been given to the Epepreo by them, by their circling above the pool for those moments.
They would never know. She couldn't find it in herself to express the obvious.
A small swarm of vespin flew by, from one flower to another. A breeze rustled the leaves shading the pool, and Ph-Lyre arose from rest to assist an older nymph who had ventured from the benthos to the surface, after a wriggling dipter larva.
Meditating on the glimmering, falling water that fed the pool, she wondered if that nymph was hers. And why the vespin were dying.