Avatar Fanfiction: One Of The People - 48. Eternal Bonds
To my readers: I usually type these notes at the end of a chapter but it’s been seven years since I’ve updated this whopper of a tale. Never did I expect this story to keep ranking in the second spot long after I stopped updating (school, work, life) but I missed this tale. After numerous reader pokes, reviews, and PM’s, I found myself immersing back in this world and I lamented not finishing this story. So, after kicking myself for leaving this tale behind, I slowly started to get back on the wagon to relearn a lot of things- we have this chapter . . . with more on the way. Thank you to all of my readers, old and new, for sticking to this story and encouraging me to end it. I’m sorry it took this long but let’s finish this Tsu’Jo story!
Music Inspiration: Joris de Man- “Homecoming”
The journey to the Omaticaya clan had not been lonely with Joanna by his side but Swizav had raised a protesting ruckus at having to leave his mate yet again. Their eggs were soon due to hatch and the expectant ikran parents were vigilant of their third egg to see whether they would have a third hatchling. Joanna had promised Xeki that they would return as quickly as they could because Tsu’tey could not be hasty with such a final departure. In the meantime, Kunu would watch over her to ensure she ate sufficiently in Joanna’s absence. Both women had to peacefully compromise on behalf of their mates while an irate Tsu’tey chased down a reluctant Swizav from the tree branches. Most often, it was an ikran that chased a na’vi down but it had been a humorous sight to see the hunter dragging the ikran by his tail. After initiating tsaheylu with his stubborn ikran, the hunter was able to tame Swizav long enough to tie down his belongings and help Joanna climb on.
The flight to the Omaticayan lands had been swift for the ikran because if his rider could settle his departure faster with extra time, he would grant it. Joanna had never experienced Swizav’s top speed in all of her time knowing him but she could only compare him to lightning. She swore the ikran was faster than any human-made aircraft and had clung to Tsu’tey to prevent being flung off as a passenger. Thankfully, they’d all arrived in one piece and Tsu’tey quickly arranged the Omaticayan scent necklace over his partner’s neck before he flew off again. All he saw was a departing hint of azure and a reprimanding hiss that he not be disturbed until it was time to leave again.
“Something feels amiss here” Tsu’tey pondered aloud to share his thoughts as he and Joanna walked down the spiral staircase of the Omaticaya. He greeted his kin with a cheerful smile since this would be his last time amongst them and would miss every face he’d grown alongside with. Even the leaves of Kelutral fluttered an early farewell in his eyes. Joanna looked over with curiosity as her attention was snatched away by the recent changes she’d missed in Kelutral. They’d changed the position of the bladder lanterns and with the upcoming storm season, quite a bit of Kelutral’s leaves had shed to make room for the new. Eywa did indeed change the land to bear the new changes of the seasons.
She smiled knowingly to what tickled his mind and replied cheekily, “You mean you’re not being overpowered by little hands?”
“That’s exactly right” he chuckled with humor to the flurry of questions and hugs his cousins bombarded him with when he arrived at the beach. He never had anyone awaiting him at the Omaticaya until he looked for his friends or the matriarch. His family, on the other hand, was always ready to greet him upon arrival and didn’t relent until they knew he was safe. It warmed his heart in a way he hadn’t experienced since his early life alongside his parents and he was humbled by their love.
“You miss them already” she smiled kindly since she longed for the beach quite easily after building a permanent life on the shore. It was hard not to miss the young children when Leti always managed to find her way to Tsu’tey and he spoiled her as if she were one of his own. Joanna would not be surprised if she grew to admire her honorable cousin since she listened to his stories with an attentive ear already. All stories, except horror, because he’d learned his lesson about scaring toddlers.
His ears flattened slightly as he allowed her to see his inner emotions and answered truthfully, “I do. They became a part of life rather quickly- it’s surprising.”
“They have that charming effect” she chuckled warmly to the bright eyes of the children and their manners reflected the polite upbringing from their family. Tsu’tey had expected his cousins to blink at him with unfamiliarity or run off on their first meeting but it had been the exact opposite. He had been trying to keep himself neutral between both clans but the Atykwe yielded the bonds of family to draw his loyalty. Her tail lightly brushed against the back of his leg as she soothed, “Don’t worry, you’ll have years to play with the children and watch them grow.”
He chuckled wistfully to the goals that needed to be accomplished to see his little cousins grow into respectful adults and stated, “The first step is always the hardest.”
She nodded with understanding since leaving the Omaticaya had been painful for her but in the end, she formed a life worth living on that beach. Her empathetic smile strengthened his resolve to see everything through to the end and she stated gently, “We have many to walk but the good thing about it all is that you’re the one that’s strong enough to finish.”
The search for their friends did not take long since the late mornings meant the morning chores were finished. It would soon be time for the residents to work throughout Kelutral to keep their clan running and he knew just where to find them. As they approached the healing alcoves, the two caught sight of a heavily pregnant Neytiri leaving one of the huts with Max trailing behind. From the look of it, she was not keen on having a chaperone on her tail every minute as she tried to increase the distance between them.
Neytiri’s eyes widened to the surprise sight as she narrowly avoided colliding into him and paused in mid-step to exclaim, “Tsu’Tey!”
“I See you, Neytiri, and yes, I’ve returned” the hunter replied with a polite dip of his head and turned to Joanna, who quickly greeted her two friends. Although she had been raised as an Omaticayan, she identified herself as an Atykwe and felt slightly out of place with her different garb. Tsu’tey didn’t know how to even begin approaching the prospect of leaving to his friends and inquired, “Is Jakesully or the mother Tsahìk nearby? I seek either of their counsel.”
“And not mine?” she teased gently since her childhood friend was all business and wondered what he was planning beneath the cool façade.
“I’m not risking a premature delivery and have the entire clan after me with torches” he replied hastily because he was overly cautious with any pregnant female, even taking drastic steps by walking at arm’s length. Neytiri was not amused to his joke because she had more than a month left in her pregnancy. She had handled quite a bit of stress during her life and managed to survive just fine. It had gotten to the point that she was growing annoyed with the special treatment because she was not a delicate atokirina!
Joanna and Max merely shared a look of amusement to Tsu’tey’s defense since he was scrupulously private. With Neytiri being heavily pregnant, he was dancing around the subject to avoid her ire. The hunter wasn’t certain how to voice his upcoming leave to any of his friends and stated simply, “I need to speak to either of them . . . preferably your mother.”
“What’s wrong with my mate?” she questioned indignantly as she crossed her arms over her pregnant belly and Tsu’tey refrained from pulling at his braids. Although hormones fluctuated to cause mood swings from time to time, Neytiri had a decent grasp at controlling it. This time, she just wanted to rile him for the fun of it and chuckled softly to dismiss, “Oh, Tsu’tey, you really are wary of expectant women, aren’t you?”
“Yes, very much so” he answered frankly about their uncanny capacity to carry a living being inside one’s self and pointed at Max, “and so should you.”
“Wait, what does that mean?” he asked with confusion to the multiple implications accompanying that. Did he mean Neytiri? Or his mate? Did Tsu’tey know something that he didn’t?!
Neytiri and Joanna uttered a long sigh in unison to his odd quirks, leading the young tsahìk to request, “Max, would you kindly help Tsu’tey find my Jake? It’s best that he gathers his thoughts before speaking to mother.”
Tsu’tey thinned his lips for a second but realized that a few moments with his friends would be cathartic. He hadn’t seen them in a while and they would likely calm his troubled heart with jokes or updates on life. He would not want to converse with the matriarch with a hot head or unstable emotions and he agreed hesitantly, “I . . . that is a good idea.”
“Good, and I will take Joanna so she may update me on the Atykwe” Neytiri stated with a pleased smile and approached the other huntress to lead her away from the alcoves by the shoulder. Joanna expected Tsu’tey to be the first to be separated from her but it seemed she was the first to go. She blinked with surprise and her heart fluttered at being back among the Omaticaya again.
Tsu’tey and Max descended the spiral staircase first with Joanna aiming a hopeful smile to her partner to make his transition as smooth as possible. She wished nothing but the best of luck for him. The frown on his face, however, told her a different story because he had planned to keep her by his side until he met the matriarch. When she lost sight of him, she turned to Neytiri as the young woman smiled knowingly and Joanna quickly began a debrief, “Well, the rainy season is coming soon-“
“Oh, Joanna, our matriarchs are as close as two clams on a beach” Neytiri chuckled sweetly to the strong tie between the two women and all she needed to do was speak to her mother. Joanna covered her mouth to stifle her laughter since the two matriarchs were indeed meticulous planners by nature and already three steps ahead of them. The Omaticayan glanced at her Atykwe friend because there was one thing she wasn’t sure of and asked curiously, “What is so important that Tsu’tey seeks both my mother and mate?”
Joanna looked around to see if there was a comfy log anywhere in the area and answered calmly, “Well, you’d best sit down to hear this.”
“Please unhand me, I can’t breathe!” Tsu’tey choked out politely in gasps since breaking the news to his leader had led to a long-overdrawn hug session. Being the type that abhorred physical contact with others, he tolerated it for his friend’s sake. That is, until his breathing became impaired. He preferred living over someone’s temporary comfort and intervened for the sake of his brain and lungs.
Norm and Max merely watched the interaction with bafflement and a hint of amusement. This did not please Tsu’tey at all since he liked maintaining his gruff persona. He didn’t want to have an approachable light cast on him or it would destroy years of calculated work. What was the point of that dedication to his image if he’d shatter it in one single moment?
“He’s turning blue” Norm called out as he watched Jake practically move the hunting leader like a rag doll. That was a sight he expected to see. . .well, never! Tsu’tey was naturally intimidating that nobody really dared to tread near him, much less hug him. He was more likely to knock you down and put you in a headlock than a hug. He’d already been pummeled into the dirt by the hunter once so Norm learned not to approach the silent thanator.
“We’re already blue- cyan, to be precise” Jake replied matter-of-factly and released the man from his iron grip so he could breathe normally once more. Tsu’tey coughed aloud as air finally entered his constricted lungs and he leaned over slightly to catch his breath. The things he put up with for the sake of friendship. The Omaticayan leader merely smiled innocently to his farewell brotherly prank; he would miss seeing his friend’s frowning face and poking good-natured fun at him. Waving a hand towards his glaring brother, he dismissed humorously, “Besides, I think I’ve earned it now that he’s leaving.”
Norm’s ears perked up to the news as a record scratched in his head and he exclaimed with surprise, “Wait, you’re leaving?! Why?”
The three men blinked with confusion as they forgot to inform Norm about it before assembling their get-together at the pa’li fields. Tsu’tey looked to Jake for answers, who promptly turned to Max, who shrugged with a negative shake of the head. Oops, they had forgotten.
Norm looked between each of them before dropping his shoulders in disappointed realization and complained, “Why am I always the last to know things?”
“We forget?” Jake supplied honestly and gently nudged his shoulder with his fist. It was a sad attempt at apologizing but it was all he had at the moment. Norm narrowed his eyes in a deadpan stare to show he was not amused with being left behind. Jake took it one step further by poking his left cheek in an attempt to get a smile.
“Having a friend move away is huge!” Norm shot back matter-of-factly as everyone happened to know this important fact, except him. Not only that, the person moving away was the leader of their hunters and the scariest na’vi he had ever met. They would be losing a heavy percentage of their intimidation factor in case trouble brewed. Pointing to the hunter in question, who hissed at being pointed at, Norm emphasized, “Not to mention, he’s capable of killing people without breaking a sweat. We’re losing heavy firepower there.”
Tsu’tey was taken aback momentarily to the compliment but appreciated the vote of confidence. He remembered both the human and na’vi version of Norm running from him multiple times, boosting his ego. Even Joanna had run from him during her first days and she was going to be his mate. Mulling over how to respond, he decided on a simple and respectful, “Thank you.”
“Only you would be proud of demolishing enemies” Jake joked with a snicker to his tough-guy persona since it flared amongst their friends. He winced the next second when Tsu’tey smacked him upside the head for the wisecrack and decided a random log off to the left was a better friend to stand next to. Tsu’tey merely snorted to his nonchalant behavior and shook his head.
“As to why I’m leaving?” Tsu’tey continued as he tried to keep his tone even instead of sarcastic, “You see, my small friend, when a male na’vi meets a female na’vi and fall in love, they-“
Max coughed awkwardly to break into his monologue before he went into adulterated topics in the middle of a public field. Tsu’tey was not pleased to the interruption to his story time but Max pointed out flatly, “I think we all know about the nature of mating.”
Tsu’tey furrowed his brow because that was completely off the road from his thoughts. Unlike the healer and his leader, he had yet to experience the culmination of such a union. All he had was pieces from verbal lessons and gossip so he wasn’t about to blurt anything scandalous or bring embarrassment to his lack of knowledge. Pinning the healer down with a stern glare, he informed sharply, “That’s not what I was implying! Also, Norm and I are not privy to that information so that only makes him feel more ostracized.”
“Not until you pointed that out just now” Norm muttered despondently to his lack of a love life and his ears flattened to having a spotlight shed on that. Tsu’tey hissed to dominate the conversation and end the interruptions. Isn’t that why they were gathered here?
“The point is that when a couple unites, they must live in the female’s clan” he explained sharply and dared anyone to cut him off this time. The reprimanding scowl he sent his friends quieted any further peeps and he withheld a smirk at always managing to uphold his intimidating aura. He hoped he could uphold the same power in the Atykwe as he did there. Glancing at Norm, he continued with a calmer tone, “Joanna lives with the Atykwe so therefore, I must live there because we will have our union soon. My children will be of her land just as I was of my mother’s.”
Norm’s lips formed an ‘oh’ of understanding to that tidbit on na’vi culture and asked uncertainly, “But you’re the most popular person here, couldn’t there be an exception made to have Joanna live with us? She lived with us before.”
“I’m not about to change tradition, considering I’m already a controversial trendsetter” Jake sighed morosely since ruling a clan was not exactly easy as pie. If he decided to tip the balance of tradition for the na’vi, he would have disgruntled residents raising a ruckus. It was a delicate position of balance and he wanted to bridge not only na’vi of different lands but the dreamwalkers with na’vi. On the other hand, Tsu’tey was the most respected man of the clan with more extensive knowledge than any of them and suggested, “Unless you’re keen on that?”
Tsu’tey shook his head because although he loved his clan greatly, there was a brighter future with the Atykwe. It was hard enough leaving the land of his birth and he declined respectfully, “No, I appreciate the thought but Joanna’s family is there and so is mine. We have a chance to build from that and I am ready to explore a new land unlike my own, whatever challenges might come.”
“What about the hunters?” Norm asked curiously because Tsu’tey kept careful track of everyone, along with mapping out hunting strategies and lands. Being a new hunter, he was accustomed to his friend’s plans and wondered who could even compare to him for the rank. He was the heart of their group and he emphasized with respect, “You’re our lead hunter, we’ve always looked to you.”
“Peyral will do a fine job” he admitted with a faint smile to reveal his new second in command.
“Wait, my Peyral?” Max blurted swiftly to the idea of having his mate ordering every hunter in Kelutral. Hmm, that was rather attractive when he thought about it. The woman was fierce when it concerned clan matters so he’d no doubt the hunters would do fine. He had been terrified of her for the first few months after meeting so their enemies wouldn’t be walking out in one piece.
Jake and Tsu’tey nodded once in unison because they knew no other. Max had yet to hear about this, completely in the dark, and demanded, “When did this happen? Was I there and somehow didn’t listen? Did I get Norm’ed?”
Norm cocked his head towards the healer for the newest joke of the day and crossed his arms to protest, “I’m standing right here, you know.”
“I assume she hasn’t mentioned it to anyone else” Tsu’tey confirmed with a warning undertone since he wanted to keep all matters private for the time being. Out of all the hunters, she fit the qualifications best and would understand the dreamwalker na’vi due to her union with one. While incapacitated after defeating the Sky People, she was the one who led the hunters in his stead while he healed. Without leadership training, she had accepted the role without hesitation and carried the burden for the sake of their clan. He could not think of anyone better. Frowning for a moment, he mused aloud to breaking the news to her, “She’ll be angry at my leave but proud for the rank, she’s the only one I trust to care for our hunters.”
“Is it just me or do we all happen to fancy dangerous women?” Norm pondered about their taste in women and the men blinked with surprise to that fact. Neytiri and Peyral were women you did not cross unless you were ready to face painful consequences or death itself. Although Tarazi shared the same rank, Norm had no doubt she could break his arms and make him eat dirt. Joanna was weaker than Tsu’tey but she had an arsenal of weapons to pierce his kidneys if she wished it.
“Maybe we have a subconscious death wish?” Jake joked dismissively and Tsu’tey glared to how being murdered by a mate was hilarious. Crimes like that were profoundly serious and punishable by death to ensure the safety of a clan. He waved away his friend’s annoyance with a shake of the hand to let him know he was becoming prissy again. Shaking his shoulders, he mulled over the impending birth of his child and told them, “Though once the baby is here, she might just break me in half for the labor alone.”
“Can we just go to the archery fields and enjoy ourselves rather than focus on our premature demise?” Max suggested with an overly cheerful tone to pull them away from their murder theories. The day was warm with clear blue skies and beaming sunshine that he didn’t want to be ruined by their daydreaming.
Tsu’tey nodded in agreement with the healer because he wanted to spend his last days at home happily and motioned to the east, “I couldn’t have said it better myself. Come on, you two.”
The four friends headed away from the pa’li stables towards the training fields of Kelutral. Tsu’tey smiled and greeted his clan members that passed by, bittersweet that he wouldn’t see them again for a long while but was leaving them in capable hands. The Sky People were gone and he doubted they would be arrogant enough to try a second attack anytime soon. It was all he could hope for as their protector for years and promised himself to do the same with the Atykwe people.
As they walked, Norm’s voice echoed through the forest for a shred of compassion, “Really, why I am always the last to hear the news?”
Having a fun archery game with his friends lightened Tsu’tey’s nerves before seeking the mother tsahìk. His friends had taken the news rather well, even with Norm’s complaining about the abrupt reveal. Still, it had been expected with his numerous trips to the Atykwe and Joanna’s residency being there. The attempted hugs had been rebuffed with repeated smacks to the head, shoulder pushes, and surprisingly, yanking back his olo’eyktan by his queue braid. After the silly emotional displays, the men promised a night of drinking on his last day. Tsu’tey was more than certain the same events would be repeated but with Norm unable to handle his liquor and vomiting, Max falling asleep, and Jake trying to wrestle imaginary beings.
With Neytiri being in the company of Joanna, Jake allowed Max to roam free to continue his daily duties. The healer was silently pleased since the poor tsahìk was desperate for alone time to roam and partake in her old activities. Before his leader could change his mind, he pulled Norm away so the two could head out on a short fishing trip before last meal. Being olo’eyktan, Jake was accustomed to knowing the schedules of his family members and guided Tsu’tey back to Mo’at’s alcove when her privately scheduled visits ended.
The two friends stood by the small log circle outside her concealed alcove to wait for the all-clear. Jake had observed Tsu’tey’s lingering gaze over every step, branch, resident, and even the inanimate logs. His inability to make eye contact, a sharp trait of his, as they ascended the path led the ex-marine to realize his old friend was lamenting each image as his last. Even as they stood, the hunter had crossed his arms to appear impassive but his tail was flicking from side to side to betray his inner feelings.
“You’re always welcome to return here, we’re not disappearing” Jake reassured his unvoiced concerns and it snapped the man out of his reverie. Tsu’tey was skeptical about that because catastrophe took seconds to occur but then again, he was pessimistic by nature. Jake sighed to his unconvinced expression since the man was a tough shell to crack and pointed out, “You’re moving to start a new life but I do expect a visit once my son or daughter arrives. I’ll be seeing you before the next season, you just watch.”
“If you’re trying to lift my moods, it’s a half-decent effort” Tsu’tey muttered dryly to his peppy reasoning because he was ripping the Omaticaya from his identity. He would not return as one of them but rather, an Atykwe. He would never look upon the Omaticayan Kelutral as his anymore but a guest home for visits. Jake hissed in rebuttal to his grumpy nature, crossing his arms to match his friend, and it stirred a small smile on Tsu’tey’s lips. Maybe he had rubbed off some of his personality to his impulsive friend.
Tsu’tey smirked to the shoddy rebuttal and Jake tried one last time to reach his stubborn mind, “The Omaticaya will always be with you and this is your home where you will never be turned away. You are my brother and if you don’t make a happy life for yourself, I will fly over there to smack you.”
“Your strike will carry the strength of a firefly” he insulted sarcastically as the two fell into their old schoolboy squabbles. Without Neytiri to corral them, the two men watched each other with narrowed eyes full of humorous challenge. This was another old pastime that he would miss as the dreamwalker kept his tongue and mind sharp on pranks and comebacks. Tsu’tey’s brow raised cockily as his half-lidded eyes dared him to make the next move and Jake’s smaller eyes narrowed into slits as his mind conjured the perfect reply.
“My toruk will smack you” Jake retorted dryly because he wielded the largest flying predator available to a na’vi for tsaheylu. Unless Tsu’tey had a thanator partner hidden somewhere, the verbal battle was lost.
“I stand corrected” he muttered with great reluctance because all he had at his disposal was a cranky ikran and a ruthless pa’li. His clan brother chuckled to his frowning defeat since Tsu’tey was not one to submit to anyone. His permanent leave was weighing heavily on his shoulders but instead of incensing his anger, it filled him with shame. Was he in the right to abandon his clan to make a new life? Wasn’t a warrior meant to protect his people until his dying breath?
His ears flattened against his scalp to what his people would think of him and he murmured softly, “Nobody will be disappointed or ashamed at my leave?”
“You have protected this clan with your life and you’ve earned the right to live a new life” Jake advised to assert that his choice was right and there should be no second guesses. Tsu’tey and Joanna deserved to be happy and begin the life they should’ve had many months ago. He understood there was wariness with moving away, he’d felt the same after his soul transfer. All he could do was encourage and support his friend through the change and promised, “I will protect this clan with my last breath and so will our friends. Not to mention, Peyral can be just as frightening as you.”
His heart lightened at hearing that because he wanted to leave capable individuals to fill his positions. He regretted having to relinquish his roles and place that weight on another’s shoulders, leaving him with a sour taste. He hoped Peyral understood that he believed in her, just as Eytukan believed in him, and he murmured, “I am afraid of disappointing our people for forsaking my duty-“
“Not if I order you to live happily by the sea” Jake cut in with a cheeky smile because the man was a stickler for following orders and traditions. Tsu’tey blinked awkwardly to his nonchalant tone but appreciated the suggestion for the sake of his happiness. In all his years, he’d never have imagined having caring dreamwalker friends and a mate. They had changed his life for the better and he smiled sheepishly when Jake grinned enthusiastically, “Then I can take the blame.”
Tsu’tey shook his head vehemently to his outlandish idea and warned, “Jake-“
Jake wasn’t having any of his righteous sass today and snapped his fingers to cut him off between words to declare, “You’re going to live a long honorable life with Joanna and your five children-“
“Five? Are you insane?!” he exclaimed with horrified embarrassment to having five pairs of hands reaching for him. He would drown under the little mass of raven-haired children eager for his attention and shuddered to the thought. He and Joanna had strong personalities and passing that onto numerous children was unwise for their sanity. Jake couldn’t help but laugh to his tense posture as even his tail stood straight on end and Tsu’tey disagreed with dread, “The energy alone would kill me!”
The soft song of chittering bugs and birds was broken by Jake’s laughter to his friend’s outraged but comical expression. While he was eager to meet his newborn, Tsu’tey was wary to approach one and hoped his new clan prepped him for it. The break from his stoic character relieved Jake, telling him that his shields were lowering, and he spoke with optimism, “Have a good life, Tsu’tey. Don’t worry about leaving with regrets.”
“Irayo, tsmukan” the hunter replied quietly with a polite tip of his head, grateful to leaving in a positive light. They had started out as antagonists as he threatened to kill the dreamwalker at every turn but they had become family, bickering like brothers and protecting their clan. He held immense trust in him to lead the clan prosperously and hoped that his new family would flourish as well.
Mo’at had heard their humorous bonding from inside her dimly-lit alcove and parted the green fabric curtain to step out. The amused smiles and brotherly swats to the shoulder between the two delighted her, showing the tightly knit bond between them. Eywa had blessed her children with happiness and she hoped it would continue until she passed into Her realm. Tapping her fingernails against the rough bark of Kelutral, their heads snapped quickly at attention and their banter stopped.
The matriarch chuckled to their politeness as they bowed their heads obediently and dismissed, “It’s quite all right. Trouble arises when I hear arguing or eerie silence from the clan.”
“Apologies, we were having a little too much fun” Jake spoke quickly to maintain respect towards his elder, not to mention all-powerful mother-in-law. Tsu’tey nodded quietly as he deferred to his leader to speak on their behalf, amusing Mo’at even further. She was accustomed to the two competing for dominance or watching the taller hunter smack the dreamwalker. Jake aimed a toothy smile towards his brother and admitted freely, “We’re lucky to have him.”
“Don’t make it worse, you skxawng” he sighed dismally because he had yet to break the news to the matriarch, not to mention the clan. An impish smile was his reply as Jake refused to shake off his funny banter, using humor as his defense mechanism.
Mo’at saw the shifty glances between the men as they spoke cryptically with humor. She was aware that this would be Tsu’tey’s last visit after meditation at the Tree of Souls conveyed the message through Nitari’s link. She was saddened to release one of her own to another clan but proud that he would be happy to join a worthy clan. It was what Eywa willed and she would obey, smiling serenely at the two, “I heard that you were requesting my counsel?”
“More or less” Tsu’tey replied earnestly as the day to request leave finally came. He attempted to display himself as confident with his head held high but his tone betrayed him. He had been indomitable when it came to hiding his emotions but recently, they filtered into his voice or nonverbal behavior. Instead of chastising that new trait, he accepted it because it made him a happier wholesome person.
Mo’at tilted her head with curiosity as he clasped his hands behind his back, noticing his swaying nervous tail, and pointed out, “You’ve never been one to shy away about topics. Come inside, young one.”
“That’s my cue to leave” Jake informed the two as he clapped his hands to summon some energy back into his body. The whole ‘Tsu’tey is leaving’ situation was making the day a little dreary but he would do his best to keep everyone cheerful. He would help his friend through his last days and smiled in farewell as he assured, “We will let the clan know at last meal.”
Tsu’tey couldn’t get a word in before his friend bolted down the spiral staircase with haste. His brother was growing craftier in defying him. . .and he was rather proud of that. Touching his forehead in respect before kneeling upon the ground, he took a deep breath to finally breach his request, “Tsah-“
“I already know, child” Mo’at soothed gently with a motherly smile and leaned down to touch his right shoulder. She wanted to nip any anxiety from his heart and squeezed his shoulder to convey understanding. His head lifted with surprise shining in his wide eyes, his lips struggling to form words, and she explained calmly, “Nobody warned me beforehand so steady your heart. Nitari and I have been meditating for weeks about this, it is Eywa’s will that your path continue into her clan.”
“You accept my request?” he asked with bewilderment that his choice to live elsewhere would be blessed. He expected a stern lecture on being strong against old loves and finding a woman from their clan to increase their prosperity. Instead, as he stood up on unsteady legs, he faced the motherly face of Mo’at as she gazed at him with sympathy in her wise eyes. He was not facing the revered tsahìk but his adoptive mother.
“I have expected this for a few moons, your heart is on display when you return from the Atykwe” she informed with a playful tone to his depressed bouts when he returned from traveling. Jake and Neytiri also divulged their attempts to cheer him up and boost his morale, which had backfired more often than worked. His ears flattened against his head as he averted his gaze with shame to being read so easily. Where had his strong intimidating aura gone? He blamed it on Joanna’s peppy personality and Leti’s endless cuteness for softening him.
Mo’at noticed the pout forming on his lips since he carried his pride with an iron grip and she complimented, “You have kept my people and our Kelutral safe for many years, placing your life on the life many times. Many roads were blocked in your life, each with heartbreak, but I am proud to release you to the Atykwe. You have earned the right to be happy, my dear child, so take that leap and see where it leads you. You deserve that chance.”
Uncertainty filled his heart to leaving him birth clan to fend for themselves and he voiced quietly, “What about the clan?”
“They have me, not to mention the clan leaders, and we will not fail them” she assured confidently with a firm tone because her clan would be fiercely protected. Her children were strong warriors and she trusted in Peyral to uphold his principles as leader of the hunters. They had survived many trials and they would face the next without fear, hoping Eywa would be on their side. Placing a hand on top of his head to stroke it as she had when he’d been small, she heartened, “Don’t look back and live free.”
His heart filled with relief, the cold clench that filled his chest the whole morning dissipating with her words. Mo’at wanted to hearten the last little ikran in her nest to fly off and experience the new life waiting for him. There was wariness and fear of the unknown in his golden eyes but she believed in him, offering a motherly smile. Dipping his head, he sighed softly with gratitude to her words and spoke politely, “Thank you, I will honor your memory and teachings every day I live.”
“When will you have your ceremony?” she asked curiously since the two had been prone to longing stares before Joanna’s leave to the Atykwe. Enough time had passed for the two to become familiar and carve a foundation for the rest of their lives. She and her friend had seen their path seasons ago and gentle nudging had led to positive results. Despite her little hunter was reluctant to embrace the new clan, she would provide positive support and advised, “Tsahìk Nitari has recommended a short courtship.”
After careful thinking throughout the flight to Kelutral, he answered with assurance, “Ten days after we return. It should give us enough time to plan our next steps and gather all materials.”
Mo’at nodded with approval and he added hastily to avoid an embarrassing snafu, “You and the entire clan is invited, of course. I will ask Tsahìk Nitari about accommodations-“
“Tsu’tey, you worry about your union and let me handle the clan” she stated gently to his tenacity to tackle every task that he could and his ears flattened. It was time for his to reach his full potential elsewhere as she relinquished one of her best warriors. She and Nitari would focus on the ceremony together as the adoptive mothers while he should enjoy his upcoming union and assimilating to the Atykwe. She shook a motherly finger to gently chastise his haste and reminded carefully, “You have done more than what one person could do for this clan and it is time for you to make your permanent life in another. The Atykwe are lucky to have you in their ranks and do not question your choice at all.”
“I will not. . .it is difficult to leave all that I’ve known” he whispered weakly as his vulnerabilities laid bare and he wrung his fingers nervously. He was a proud man that defied fear itself but his clan was the center of his life and he was losing it. It had been part of his identity for so long. He prayed to Eywa that he would fit in easily with the Atykwe or the struggle to find himself would begin again.
Unfortunately, Mo’at could only empathize with such a change since she was born among the Omaticaya. Being a matrilineal species, women would always live in their clan while men would be prone to moving away. Luckily for the hunter, he would be returning to the land of his father and his remaining paternal family. Nitari had informed her that his aunts were more than happy to have him rejoin them and she asked, “Transitioning to the new land with your trips has helped?”
“Yes, the landscape is stunning and being with my family has made me incredibly happy” he answered truthfully with a broad smile to cheerful and kind family members. Avi was more than happy to mother him, Nara traded hunting tips, and Zika patched him up and offered free healing kits. His uncles had quickly become his role models since his father and Eytukan had passed away. They had helped him plan his courtship with Joanna, his proposal to her, and his little cousins had been the innocent imps to do his bidding. Leti had already grabbed a bundle of blankets to make a bed in his hut for the next five years and he spoke fondly, “I miss my cousins even now. My family offers a new beginning but. . .”
A flicker of uncertainty surfaced in his eyes and she voiced that glimpse, “You are concerned.”
“I have risen in rank here by skill and all know who I am” he disclosed quietly to branching out all over again and turning a new leaf. It had taken him time to learn every nook and cranny of the current Kelutral and now, he would do the same with another. Not to mention, learn everyone’s names and spend time with the lorekeepers and hunters. His matriarch would not be Mo’at, who he could speak to about anything, and he would watch his step with everyone he met. It brought apprehension to the potential failure that lurked behind every success and he admitted worriedly, “At the Atykwe, I will have to begin all over again-“
“You will earn their respect through actions but I believe a majority know of you” she interjected matter-of-factly about his accomplishments because he was her best warrior. The Atykwe would be lucky in receiving her gifted child and she knew he would make them proud, just as had for her clan. He would be a hunter of the land, sea, and air- an admirable skill for any na’vi. Mo’at hissed lightly to strike a shred of his bravery back into his bones and reminded firmly, “You were our advisor and a prior olo’eyktan, not to mention one who fearlessly entered a floating metal city of the tawtute to fend off an attack.”
His ears dropped with modesty for his death-defying feat and he muttered dryly, “I’m not escaping that stunt from history, am I?”
“Apart from Neytiri, you are my pride” Mo’at stated proudly to how far her clan had come after the chaos from the tawtute. Tsu’tey had lost his parents, his intended, and his original home from their relentless attacks but he endured. He had a strong heart from birth, remembering the fussy newborn, and Mo’at expected him to live a long life after surviving his ordeal from the last battle. He was the one individual she would never worry about, knowing others would fear him, and finished, “I have seen you grow from a newborn to an independent and sharp hunter who is more than ready to begin the next phase of his life. Nitari told me you’ve built your home so I will not tear you away from that new life. It is time to begin living with your mate and make your mark in their clan. I’ve no doubt you will bring pride to both clans.”
“Thank you, Mo’at” he whispered with grateful appreciation to everything she had done from the moment he had been orphaned.
“Thank you for protecting our people” she replied with gratitude to his bravery to keep them safe against all dangers. Removing one of the thorns from the necklace that dangled from her headdress, she leaned over to grasp his weaved necklace. Her dexterous hands threaded the black thorn through one of the rows of twine to give him the parting gift. Meeting his modest gaze, she smiled with pride, “May Eywa guide you in every step.”
The meeting with the mother tsahìk put his mind at ease but it didn’t comfort his struggling heart. After endless years of knowing only the Omaticaya, it was hard to leave everything behind. His saving grace from Eywa was knowing he had his paternal family and future mate waiting from him on the eastern shores. His identity as living out as an Omaticayan but having Atykwe blood was blooming to fruition after a year of establishing contact with the old clan. As much as he could have refused to move and break tradition to move her back to his clan, he couldn’t do so. He enjoyed his time at the Atykwe now and he missed his family, wondering if they were finished with their chores and what trinkets his little cousins found on the beach.
I’ve done my work here, he thought as he gazed up at the massive Kelutral that he’d chosen to protect the Omaticaya. He had trained to protect them, bled and almost died for their safety, taught numerous new hunters to ensure their survival, and released old grudges against enemies to befriend them. He had grown over the past seasons from a hotheaded hunter ready to kill every dreamwalker to a moderately patient one that befriended them. Looking down to his left wrist where a seashell bracelet from his aunt Zika and his cousins lay, he thought optimistically, I have earned my new life in the east. Eywa, guide me to what awaits me.
Tsu’tey had headed for the pa’li stables after his meeting to reunite with his faithful Aci. As he broke the news to everyone bit by bit, he also needed to inform his steed about his move. Swizav was more than ready to hurry back to the sea and begin his new life alongside Xeki and their brood. Frankly, he was surprised he had not found him in the pa’li fields to nip at him during fly-by circles. Having Peke roaming around the beach was an advantage to convincing Aci to move but his mare was as headstrong as he was. She was born on Omaticayan soil and like a sapling, grew formidable to lead the pa’li during hunts. She was their matriarch, to both mares and stallions alike, and she would nip anyone that believed otherwise.
He had taken her on a stroll around Kelutral’s perimeter to waste excess energy and prepare her for the news. A ride before sunset and after sunrise had always been their routine to not only keep their clan safe but to maintain their bond. Also, it helped waste excess energy since she was scrupulous on staying active. Through tsaheylu, Aci sensed something was amiss in her rider since he was chattier than usual. The Tsu’tey that she knew was quiet and watchful of their surroundings, not talkative. Who had switched her broody rider for this complacent one? All the strong mare could do was blink awkwardly to the odd turn of events.
Her antennae perked up slightly, however, when he mentioned, “Peke is doing rather well, he enjoys his gallops down the shoreline.”
Despite being furious that the strange female dreamwalker had taken her son to the eastern shores to hunt elsewhere, Tsu’tey assured her of the decreased danger. Unlike the Omaticayan steeds, the risk of death from predators or hunting accidents was lower with the sea and plains clans. Aci was relieved to know her son would not be in imminent danger with the smart-alecky dreamwalker and that was her hope as she aged. Her rider patted her neck in support and assured her warmly, “They do not hunt as we do. Only the heavy rain seasons brings them to the interior of the forest since they rely heavily on ikran. He’s been safe making friends with all the pa’li.”
Good. . .but he best not become lazy, her thoughts shot back to him since she wanted her son to be fast as lightning on the field. She only had two children left and her daughter was the mare of a healer. Peke was her last offspring on the hunting fields after losing three in battles against the tawtute and she didn’t want to lose him to something trivial.
“I will pass the message along” he promised with a soft chuckle to her stern nature but there was love behind those words. After fulfilling his promises, he hoped that he would be able to unite the two once more.
Don’t say it’s from me!, she added in snippily to erase any concerns and appear detached. Tsu’tey could only smile in amusement to her finicky nature since she retained his old traits. Just as he had aged and turned a serene leaf, he hoped his new personality would extend into hers through tsaheylu.
“There’s another reason we went for a stroll and it’s to prepare you for this” he voiced as gently as he could to prevent her from bolting into the interior of the forest. He sensed a mix of curiosity and concern from the mare as he hesitated on how to tell her. It had been easier to do so with his friends who built their own lives but he was all Aci knew. There was no need to convince Swizav but she was a whole different matter. Taking a deep breath, he repeated the words to himself for encouragement before admitting softly, “I am leaving the Omaticaya to join Joanna and Peke with the Atykwe.”
If they hadn’t been sharing tsaheylu, Tsu’tey was certain she would’ve flung and trampled him in angry disbelief. Her antennae lifted defiantly and her stubby tail went erect as her entire posture tensed underneath him. Hmm, she might decide to kick him once he dismounted at home.
No! This is our home!, she refused with a wave of furious rage to being ripped away from her homeland. The forest was all her eyes had seen since her earliest memories and she aimed to keep it that way. How dare he think about moving away to a random land!
“You’ve been an alpha mare and my loyal pa’li for decades which is why I offer you the chance to stay here, with our pa’li, if you wish” he proposed quietly to offer her that respect after her years of endless loyalty because he wouldn’t force her to leave. Aci, however, wanted to live at home with her rider and was not cheerful at this new abrupt change. They were meant to roam their land together until the ends of their days!
Tsu’tey hadn’t encountered such rage from her in a long while and took a few calming breaths to pacify her in their link. He understood her alarm and empathized that he should have prepared her for this sooner, apologizing with respect. His mare was unyielding when it came to sudden changes but he hoped she would understand his choice. It wasn’t intended to cause hurt in any way and he emphasized respectfully, “You’re the most accomplished mare of all and if your heart is set with this land, I will not deny you that. It would be unfair and dishonorable to treat you that way.”
Why can’t we stay here? Have the huntress move here, she ordered bluntly since the dreamwalker had lived with them before. She could surely do it again and all would be happy! The two had been sickeningly sweet during her days there and her rider’s high position in the clan was exceeded hers.
“It’s not that easy, tradition must be obeyed and my family is there, Aci” he replied calmly but he was tickled with amusement to her tenacity. Similar to himself, she was accustomed to making the rules and taking charge. This time, however, her choice would be decided alone because he would not change his mind. As much as it hurt, his life would continue alongside Joanna and his family while Aci would decide hers. He had to honor her years of loyalty but he depicted the picture awaiting them in the east, “My aunts, uncles, and cousins live there. Joanna awaits me and Swizav’s mate as well. We have family to reunite with.”
Traitor, she muttered about the hardheaded ikran that flew the coop. What happened to their trio? Aci blamed the dreamwalker entirely since she had taken everyone from her gradually. First, it had been Peke, then Tsu’tey, and finally, Swizav. She pawed at the dirt in protest to moving away simply because her rider fell in love. What about her?
“Peke is there as well” he reminded calmly to pacify her fury since she’d picked up the pace erratically. He wasn’t going to control their ride unless she decided to veer off into the interior off-path or decided to buck him off. The wind flicked at his hair and a few leaves smacked his face, which he was certain was her crafty doing, but he refused to control her.
Peke? She’d forgotten the last of her offspring was frolicking around the same beach on his own. As soon as she heard his name, her frantic pace slowed to a trot because she missed him despite her tough love approach. She needed him to be strong to survive their harsh world and unfortunately, her tactics pushed him further away to protect him. She missed seeing him in his old spots and could only wonder how her little colt had grown over the year.
“The pa’li of the Atykwe are not like ours since their hunts rarely take them to the forest” Tsu’tey explained to convey the daily life of a pa’li on the coast. Through their bond, he managed to create imagery snippets of the pa’li stables within the cave encasing Kelutral, the white sand beaches, the rock wall blocking the forest from the beach, and the flower gardens dedicated to the pa’li. All of that was new to her and he sensed confusion and anxiety to moving to a new world. He needed to convince her they would be safe there and pointed out her strengths, “A strong mare such as yourself would be respected and I’m certain Peke wouldn’t mind the reunion. You would have new pa’li to lead and Peke would be happy to see his mother again.”
“I will give you a few days to think about my offer” he granted out of respect and allow her enough time to dwell on her decision. Moving would grant her a second chance to live beside Peke and build a new life of trust rather than chasing him away as an inconvenience. Aci’s life revolved around her rider and without him, what would become of her life?
Her antennae drooped with disappointment to an unexpected separation. She didn’t want to move to the sea but her rider was determined to begin the next phase of his life. Tsu’tey rubbed the back of her head with compassion to her inner turmoil and reassured gently, “My concern is your happiness, Aci. I will not force you to move and all I can say is that you would be more than welcome among our seafaring family. You have given me many years of loyalty and I will respect your choice.”
Aci expected a choice between a new food staple, not a new life, and snorted exasperatedly through her operculum.
Last meal had resurfaced that tense ball in his stomach as he kindly accepted the leaf plate from the cooks. He knew every na’vi in that working class while his uncle Rafil was the only person he knew at the Atykwe. Making new friends would be pivotal for integration, especially if he had a hankering for seconds. He took his regular seat beside his olo’eyktan as Jake sat bedside his mate and mother-in-law. To his left side, Joanna was happily sniffing the aromatic food on her leaf plate and letting the nostalgia fill her heart. The Omaticayan food palate was all she had known before venturing to the coast and she missed the soft hexapede meat along with the toasted teylu. She rubbed her hands giddily to dig to begin eating her delicious meal, thanking Eywa for another day of life.
“Don’t abandon me for the food” Tsu’tey joked softly to her quirky fascination and she snapped out of her daze, hissing quickly for the jab. Some things never changed for them.
“It’s quite a conundrum, yummy food or yummy hunter?” she proposed with an innocently confused voice that caused him to chuckle softly. He tried to hide the grin threatening to surface on his lips but her subtle tail brush against his lower back broke his resolve. She balanced the leaf plate in her hands, placing it beside his so they could share their meals, and leaned in discreetly to whisper in his ear, “I prefer my hunter.”
Her cheeks flushed lilac when she felt the end of his tail wrap around hers. She adored his subtle shows of affection as he kept his perfect poise and firm expression. As far as everyone knew, they were simply friends since he kept his private life a secret. By the end of his visit, everyone would be aware of their true relationship and he was certain Joanna had already prepped a hideout alcove somewhere around Kelutral. His first guess would be to investigate the tapiri herds for clues if she randomly disappeared.
“Would you look at that? Aren’t I the best for bringing those two thanators together?”
Jake was happily watching his two lovebird friends, basking in his matchmaking skills. They had wanted nothing more than to kill each other a year ago and now, they loved each other. Who else could claim such a feat? While he gloated with pride, his mate held a half-lidded gaze of disinterest because it had been a group effort. From inside her belly, her child agreed with her sentiment by wiggling around in protest.
“No, that prestige belongs to the matriarchs and to our friends as they found their way back to each other” Neytiri corrected shrewdly before her mate’s head got too big for his body and he floated up into the sky. His shoulders slumped as she pulled his head from the figurative fluffy clouds, pouting in self-pity. Sparing him a morsel of kindness, she released a small sigh and admitted, “Although, I will say you did push them together initially.”
“I will gladly take that!” he accepted with a perky smile and she shook her head with an amused smile. Her mate was a bright light in her eyes as he looked to the best in every situation and ignored the negative aspects.
Mo’at drew their attention by subtly clearing her throat to signal their task for the night. Her children’s ears lowered to how they would breach the topic but the matriarch was leaving this in their hands. As the new leaders, she had to let them take the reins in certain moments and this was one of them. Neytiri and Jake gazed at each other uncertainly as the matriarch simply dipped a banana fritter in sweet cream and nonchalantly nibble on it.
For once, the fluttering in Neytiri’s belly wasn’t caused by the baby. She didn’t know how to approach the clan about Tsu’tey’s leave and looked to her mate. He was much better suited for dramatic and emotional speeches compared to her, placing a tentative hand on his wrist brace. Jake wasn’t entirely sure how to even start and focused his line of vision on the burning hearth, taking a deep breath to clear his mind. He didn’t want any sadness or worry to seep into his voice, harnessing the same confidence he portrayed with his friends.
With that in mind, he cleared his throat and glanced around the clan circle to begin calmly, “My brothers and sisters, Eywa has blessed us with another day of food so first, I must give Her my many thanks.”
Yeah, he was still grasping the right way to prove his appreciation to the deity for sustaining the clan. For this, he preferred to defer to Neytiri a hundred times because she grew up with songs and prayers for this. Meanwhile, he was still attending classes with the lorekeepers.
His mate, however, smirked slightly to his casual choice of words and he kicked himself mentally. Great, off to a fantastically lame start. Flashing a friendly smile to the circle that was now entirely focused on him (no pressure), he continued, “Tonight, I am divulging the leave of one of our beloved members and to reassure you that our clan will remain strong in light of this.”
Neytiri dipped her head but her eyes met his as they brightened against the glow of the fire. There was nothing but reassurance in her gaze as she urged him to continue and he deliberated, “Tsu’tey will begin a new life in the Atykwe clan and will depart our land as advisor but he will always be our brother. His heart has beat strongly for our people, against all enemies, and he is justified in joining that heart with another’s. The Atykwe are good people and I am confident that Joanna will keep him safe and happy in their new life.”
Joanna’s eyes widened to match the size of Polyphemus and Tsu’tey quickly swallowed his food to avoid choking. This was not how they expected the news to break! They had happily been eating together, swapping food with fond smiles, but they stopped once they felt every single pair of eyes locked on them. Murmurs began to flow through the crowd and whispers blew into echoing mumbles as the news shocked them completely. For the first time in his life, he shrunk away from the piercing gazes of his hunters and Joanna prayed to Eywa that all the single women would not stone her.
Tsu’tey had been expected to continue his bloodline in the Omaticaya but he couldn’t fulfill that. His heart belonged to Joanna, just as his brother described, and he straightened his posture before raising his hands to reason gently, “This is not a matter I took lightly and I sought counsel with both clan matriarchs. We are all aware of tradition and although I love my people dearly, I am also devoted to the one I chose as my mate. I would not leave this clan unless I was certain it would be safe from danger and our leaders are wise. They have already seen us through multiple tawtute attacks and I’ve no doubt that will continue.”
A rabble of voices rang out with questions but Tsu’tey cut them off by stating firmly, “I am leaving, nothing will change my mind, but I thank every one of you for being part of my life here. In my stead, I will leave Peyral as the leader of our hunters with confidence that she will continue my work.”
He had never seen the headstrong huntress be modest in all his years until handing out the news. During his return trips, he had questioned and assessed each of his hunters- only she surpassed his inquiries. Peyral’s gaze softened slightly but when noticing the attention of her clan, she quickly dipped her head in respect to slip her stoic mask back into place. Max was beaming with pride and knowing his mate was a proud one, quietly ensnared his tail around hers.
“Can I do this?” she asked quietly with apprehension to failing as the new leader. Tsu’tey had been the gifted child in their cohort when it came to hunting and she’d always fallen into second place. Hearing the news and having Tsu’tey support in her new role, there was fear mixing into her usual confidence. Was she ready to step out of second place to lead their hunters?
“Of course, you’re Peyral” her mate replied cheerfully to brush away those flutters. She had always left him in amazement when they trained together and while on the field, she was a sight to behold. She competed against the wind itself as her movements were fluid but powerful to bring down prey. He wanted to brush back the long braids covering her face as she kept her eyes on the ground but they were in full view of the clan. She was reserved in the public’s eye and he reminded gently, “He chose you for a reason and you led them when he was injured, remember?”
Her shoulders relaxed as she forgot about that temporary leadership after the attack on the Tree of Souls. He had specifically ordered for her to lead them because of his heavy injuries and their people needed food after the fight and losing their Kelutral. She remembered his words of confidence but Peyral never imagined she’d succeed him. The only possibility in her mind would have been if he had ascended to the role of olo’eyktan but he was leaving their clan entirely.
“Tsu’tey has been a knowledgeable advisor for one his age” Jake complimented his friend because they had butted heads before working together. Besides Neytiri, he had learned from him to wield and grow comfortable with leadership over the clan. They couldn’t find someone sharp enough to match him as advisor which led him to admit freely, “I cannot replace him just as easily so Neytiri and I have decided to choose the mother tsahìk as advisor, seeing as we have a new tsahìk.”
There hadn’t been a female advisor in several generations, surprising the matriarch. She had expected to subtly nudge her children with answers but they had decided to assign the role. They smiled with anticipation as she felt her breath falter for the first time since she failed to catch this detail in Eywa’s plan. Did they really wish for her to advise them on all decisions? She had been groomed to become a tsahìk, nothing else.
“Please, mother, you brought our clan together after the loss of Kelutral and we look to you for guidance” Neytiri pointed out to beseech an agreement, certain her mother would wield this role just as adeptly as she had a tsahìk. Her mother had surpassed her role, becoming an integral part of the clan as all looked to her for guidance- even more so than the olo’eyktan. It wasn’t simply Eywa’s will that she interpreted but she cared for each member of her clan. Neytiri knew the limitations of her abilities as a young tsahìk and with her mother at their side, they would be a strong clan.
Jake nodded with agreement as he grabbed his mate’s hand, intertwining their fingers, and looked to Mo’at to state matter-of-factly, “You’re our matriarch and your strength through all of the recent trials shows your tenacity to survive. The Omaticaya must stay strong and with you by our side, it will be.”
Mo’at had taken quiet pride in her skills as a tsahìk but she never stopped to think of her other traits. Her children clearly saw her as more than a healer and conduit to Eywa, appreciating their thoughtfulness. She turned her head to look at her clan, the new faces and old, and saw nothing but respect in their gazes. Even the dreamwalkers held her in high regard and that was before the soul transfer.
“You will make a fine advisor, matriarch” Tsu’tey agreed with a wide smile because he had learned from her and Eytukan once his parents passed away. They had embraced him as an orphan child to partake in their family pastimes which was one reason why they intended for him to marry Sylwanin. Eywa had a plan for everyone’s path in life and it appeared the All-Mother wasn’t finished with Mo’at.
The matriarch was reluctant to accept but everyone had approved of her without a second thought. If she found a worthier candidate, she would send them to her children but for now, dipped her head to agree, “It will be my honor.”
“The coming changes will not be as dramatic as they might sound” Jake reassured the clan as the shock rippled through the circle and side conversations were ongoing. He was sure this would be the talk at the water pools and archery fields for the week. Still, his clan needed to be aware of the upcoming changes to their clan hierarchy. The clan would endure the loss of Tsu’tey but they would carry on day by day. Motioning to the women who would ascend their new roles, he reminded, “We are quite familiar to the faces rising to new ranks but our goal is to protect our clan.”
Mo’at took this chance to glance at Joanna as the young woman remained silent out of respect to clan matters. Her modest gaze met the firm one of the matriarch as she had one last request for her and spoke serenely, “Take care of my son.”
“I will, always” she vowed with a firm nod because she wouldn’t allow anything to hurt her future mate. He had protected her numerous times and she would return that care until the end of her days.
She had kept that interaction private but she raised her voice for all to hear as she smiled at Tsu’tey, “May Eywa guide your path in your new life, young warrior. Thank you for protecting us and come see us when you are free of your duties.”
Sentiments of gratitude echoed around the circle as the realization of his leave was finalized by the matriarch. She wanted him to leave with a guiltless heart and cheerful exuberance for what awaited him on the eastern sea. After years of watching him grow under her guidance, she would release him to Nitari for the rest of his days.
Tsu’tey watched the residents sing the Song of the Firstborn from his perch on one of Kelutral’s thick roots, closing his eyes briefly to hear the sounds around him. The echoing laughter of joyous children playing in the safety of the shadows of the small alcoves surrounding the hearth. The crackling of the fires that provided warmth to the people of the Omaticaya underneath the shelter of Kelutral. The quiet side conversations underlying the hypnotic tones of the singers as they sang of that fateful morning when the sun rose to greet the first inhabitants of their world. The trilling of nightly critters that were drawn to the bioluminescent glows of their home echoed in the background behind him. All of the sounds encompassed a happy community that no longer feared danger from the Sky People and it soothed his heart.
The guilt attached with leaving his people weighed heavily but he knew deep down that Jake would protect them in his absence. Joanna had settled his fears in reminding him he had helped to find and flourish the new Kelutral after the destruction brought upon the old. He had given many years of dedicated service to the Omaticaya and in turn, they have taught him knowledge that he could carry to the Atykwe to pass onto younger generations. Opening his eyes, the sight before him was of heartwarming bonds of family and respect for their way of life. The arrangement of the hearth, circles of residents, songs and chatter, and his surroundings remained unchanged from his first recognizable memory. The residents held different faces while those within his memory had grown older or passed into Eywa’s realm but the essence of a safe clan remained intact.
“I’ve lived a good life here, despite the tragedies” he whispered fondly with nostalgia and smiled faintly to the numerous memories. Joanna’s hand intertwined with his as she sat beside him, squeezing his fingers with support. Her silence abided to his reflection as she observed the people that took her in to give her strength to survive in the Atykwe clan. He broke his gaze away from the serene sight, looking to his loyal partner with warmth to admit softly, “I have nothing but the best optimism that the Atykwe will provide the same.”
“They will . . . I will” she promised caringly as she took advantage of the night to show sentimentality and kissed his right temple. His family provided a solid foundation for him to build his happiness since his first day and they would continue to be an integral part of his new life. He leaned into her calming touch to soothe his nerves and she brushed his braids back with a gentle touch as her presence calmed him. Joanna smiled sincerely since she aimed to uphold every promise and whispered, “I will give you a life worth a million memories.”
He moved back to his original position and cupped her chin, admiring her loyalty despite their tumultuous moments. She always returned to him with a beaming smile and he would never let her escape his heart after ensnaring it. Eywa had led her to him over a year ago during a critical moment of his life and he would not refuse Her will. She had helped him piece together a new home for his people, sat by his side diligently to heal him, shared her extensive knowledge, and opened the doors to return to his father’s clan. He did not even breach the hilarious fruit splatters, feather flying, thanator defying, and tapiri babysitting stunts they pulled. The sound of giggling children running underneath Kelutral’s arching root reminded him of the future awaiting them and he murmured with light amusement, “You’ve already begun since we met.”
She chuckled to their intertwined lives from being nemeses, student-teacher, and the friendship that evolved into more. There were a few memories that she’d rather remove entirely from their past and pointed out dryly, “I meant happy memories.”
“Admitting our affection in Kelutral wasn’t?” he preened playfully and watched her ears flatten against her head in a coy movement. He still remembered the feisty woman that he’d confused beyond reason as their miscommunication and avoidance of emotions delayed their admittance of it. Losing her to the Atykwe had been a heavy blow to his heart but he’d recovered by journeying to their land to rekindle what they had. If Eywa didn’t mean for them to be together, their paths would not have met repeatedly as they had. His calloused fingers brushed against the apple of her cheek affectionately and he spoke tenderly, “We will make new memories by the sea and when we are gone, they will be in the Tree of Souls for our children and future generations to experience.”
He grabbed his leather satchel to open it and fiddled inside to find a particular item he’d fetched from his alcove. Joanna merely smiled with curiosity as he perused through his bag, averting her gaze to the singers as their ethereal voices reached deep into her very being. Na’vi songs were deeply rooted to Eywa and the stories they taught related to principles, traditions, heroes of clans, and the history of their world. A voice alone could produce the same cathartic effect that an instrument could summon and for that, she never missed one in either clan. Many songs were similar due to oral dictation as Eywa united all the na’vi as one but each clan held their own respective songs as well. While the Omaticaya sang of lush forests and raging rivers, the Atykwe sang of the turbulent sea and the daunting cliffs.
Tsu’tey grinned victoriously when he found the item and covered it with his other hand to keep it hidden from view. Joanna’s brow rose to what he’d found or crafted this time, tilting her head to the side to nab a closer peek. He chuckled to her innocent curiosity but he wouldn’t open his hands until he had his say in regards to it. The orange glow from the fires on the base floor illuminated his golden eyes and he began softly, “My sentiments for you began to show when I gave you those earrings many moons ago and since then, a few more have joined your collection. Each of them holds a token of my love for you, each more sentimental than the last. My father did the same for my mother throughout their years together and I vowed to do the same for my mate one day. Our road has not been easy in the slightest but I hope that once we are bonded, it will be an easier and much happier path.”
He opened his hands to unveil a small hair comb crafted out of white bone and pearls of varying sizes decorated the top. Intertwined around the pearls was a piece of brown twine that the hunters used to create rope or jewelry. Joanna’s fingertips twitched to touch the delicate hair comb and couldn’t believe he kept outdoing himself when it came to heartfelt gifts. The comb was small enough to fit in her palm and the pearls shined against the glow of the fires. Tsu’tey’s warm gaze met her modest one as her fingers stroked the pearls and he admitted bashfully, “I’ve never been much for crafting jewelry, rather whittling, but you showed me how and I take my lessons to heart. I collected the items and asked Nitari to help me make this due to her mastery in the art. I didn’t think it would come out this remarkable but she has great skill that I’ve seen in no other person.”
Joanna chuckled fondly as her eyes blurred to his happy tone filled with pride for creating such a token. She didn’t doubt his or Nitari’s abilities for a second, knowing they came from humble backgrounds that worked hard for results. Knowing it came from the man she loved and her maternal figure brought a heavy meaning, quickly rubbing her eyes with her free hand. His index finger hovered over the comb portion and he explained confidently, “The bone comes from a specific fish since all others would break due to their brittle skeleton. Arat, Xuret, and Wätu helped me forage for the pearls in different areas to prevent disturbing the balance. As for the twine, well, I added it since my clan dwells in the forest while yours is the ocean, hence, the pearls. Together, they form the land and sea that bond Eywa’s world and Her creations.”
His hands encased hers as she held the delicate comb and he smiled fondly, “For you, my yawne.”
Her tear-stained eyes roamed over his handsome face, etching the beautiful markings of her future mate, as tears blurred her vision and she whispered tenderly, “I don’t think I’ve loved you as much as I do at this very moment, my tìyawn.”
He closed his hand over the comb to prevent dropping it when she pulled him into a tight embrace to show her gratitude. She burrowed her face into the warm crook of his neck as she wrapped her arms around his side to hold him close. He kissed the start of her ear, the closest area visible to him, and smiled dotingly, “And mine will only grow with each day.”
The reverberating songs of joy added to the emotions running through their hearts and Tsu’tey chuckled fondly, “Now, allow your beloved mate to put this comb in your hair.”
Joanna joined his happy mood with a peppy wide smile and released him to angle her head to allow him access. He weaved the comb into the left side braid of her mid-length hair, tugging it lightly to make sure it wouldn’t fall out and become lost. Hours of hard work and love were poured into the small comb so he would be sure it was wedged cozily before removing his hands. Joanna was on cloud nine of happiness to the night’s delightful surprise and longed to return that same love to him.
She didn’t dare to touch the comb at all until she was back in her guest alcove and only then would she examine the beautiful item carefully. Otherwise, her clumsy prone fingers might dislodge it and damage the beautiful gift. Her fingers combed through his soft braids in slow strokes as he relaxed contently against her touch and she uttered quietly, “I’ll be heading to your alcove in a minute and I expect you to follow suit. This Atykwe huntress has a gift for her brave pearl diver.”
All the blood in his body rushed to his head to the sultry voice in his ear and he forced his body to relax by breathing deeply. She beckoned him like a hungry pa’li to its nectar with simple movements alone and her voice held the power of lightning against rock. His golden gaze sent a similar anticipatory shiver of pleasure down her spine and he sighed miserably, “Joanna, you are not making this wait easier on me.”
She covered her mouth to muffle her laughter to his defeated tone since their relationship already resembled a mated couple’s. Tsu’tey sighed with miserable woe because the hardest parts keeping him from his mate were leaving the Omaticaya and the bonding ceremony. He’d already built her a cozy home that was ready to greet its inhabiting couple but they’d yet to recite their vows. Her fingertips trailed over his right ear with a sensual touch and she rested her head on his shoulder to chuckle softly, “You should’ve thought of that before giving me this gift, it was bound to have romantic repercussions.”
His little tapirus of a mate was milking the situation for what it was worth and he pouted to having restrictions on their relationship. When she pressed a feathery kiss against the start of his ear, he groaned dejectedly to his shoddy luck because he was stuck with simple affectionate gestures. Otherwise, he was risking being lectured until dawn by Mo’at or being chased out of the Atykwe by Nitari.
The morning of his leave had arrived and Tsu’tey had spent his last night in his alcove to feel close to Kelutral. His hammock had been packed away for travel since it would be moved to the Atykwe to be used for sleep until his union to Joanna. His intended had been snoozing away in the guest alcove but she’d arrived on time to help him carry his belongings. Swizav would be carrying his hunting gear and personal belongings to the beach just as Taka had taken her belongings during the move.
He’d spent the entire night tossing and turning, his sleep in Eywa’s embrace disrupted by worried thoughts. What if he couldn’t live up to his tsahìk’s expectations? He’d already had water tossed at him! At the Omaticaya, he was their advisor and lead hunter but to the Atykwe, he would more than likely return to a hunter status. His identity and roles would change dramatically, not to mention the faces would all be foreign. His saving grace was having his family and Joanna so his focus would be them. Keeping them and the clan safe would be his priority, the rest would slowly fall into place.
By daybreak, he had managed to sneak in a few hours of sleep as the glow of the bladder lanterns lulled him to sleep. It wasn’t the best sleep he’d ever had but it was enough to function for the trip ahead. He had stared at his alcove for an extensive time, memorizing each little groove in the bark like the back of his hand. This had been his home after the final battle with the tawtute and with his leave, another would take its place. It was the largest alcove compared to all the other hunters and he’d informed Jake to have it passed on to Peyral, if she wished it. Being a mated huntress, it might not be suitable for a couple but he would offer out of respect.
His presence would no longer exist among the clan but his mark had been made in finding their new home. The lorekeepers had carved his name and likeness in one of the Kelutral murals depicting the last fight against the tawtute and that was enough. He would be remembered through his work and his memories would one day pass into the great pool that connected the Trees of Voices. Now, his next journey lay ahead to the sea and he shoved aside his frantic thoughts to push forth a stronger resolve to succeed. He would make his family proud and with his future mate being a huntress in her own right, they would be a formidable team.
“Well, that should be everything” Tsu’tey sighed softly as he gazed at the emptiness of his small alcove and sniffed the air one last time in reminder. He might not have spent more than two winter seasons at Kelutral but he had worked to make it resemble home. In the end, he succeeded as the clan prospered against all odds and his people would not starve nor shudder from lack of shelter. He would miss the Omaticayan people the most since they were the heart of the clan. He had grown alongside them since the day he was born, learned from and cared for them, and would only see them again when he visited. His beloved friends were here . . . but the woman he loved lived elsewhere. He also had family that had never forgotten him and cousins that adored him; he couldn’t cast them aside either.
Joanna wrapped her arms around his waist from behind, offering a supportive squeeze as she rested her cheek on his right shoulder blade. His posture hunched slightly from the emotional weight bearing on his heart and she could feel the tension in his back muscles. He laid a firm hand over hers to return the sentiment and smiled faintly as she asked gingerly, “If you have any last thoughts, I implore you to think it over. As much as I love you, I don’t want you to be unhappy-“
“You are where home is, my mind has decided that for quite some time but the memories formed here. . .” he explained softly since he’d trekked to this specific Kelutral to deem it fit for their clan. She had helped him pinpoint their new haven for a future and he would leave in peace knowing that his people were safe. They were the first to lay eyes on this Kelutral and he hoped the last wouldn’t come to pass for many generations.
“We will return, I will make sure we have plenty of trips back to prevent any homesickness” she promised quietly to make sure he would be comfortable with this new change. She was treating him with the frailty of glass but a side of logic to make the transition easier on his emotional and mental health. Taking him away from all he’d ever known wasn’t easy but she would walk alongside him to keep him strong.
He turned around to face her, breaking their embrace, and he intertwined their hands with a warm sincere smile, “You have given me the fondest of memories in this Kelutral. I cut off those ‘eyebrows’ as you called them on our first day here, we mended our broken tutelage in the healing alcoves below us, we admitted our affection in the fan lizard fields, professed our love in the clearings, and sealed our plan to bond in this very spot. I hope whoever resides here after me is as lucky.”
“You and our future children will return, I want them to know everything about their father and his people” she whispered tenderly because her dearest memories in Pandora included him. He had become a huge part of her life from the moment he literally fell on her and continued to embed himself into her heart. She would never deny him to return to his birth clan, squeezing his hands before leaning upwards to kiss the flat of his nose. His ears flicked back with delighted surprise to the public display while his eyes gleamed brightly to her small token of affection. He was her courageous warrior, fearless against all storms, and she smiled lovingly to admit, “Thank you for doing this.”
Releasing one of his hands, she leaned down to pick up his pack of belongings to slide the strap over one shoulder diagonally. She was surprised to its midweight and hoped he’d packed the rest away. Otherwise, his cousins would be filling his hut with plenty of trinkets- so would she. Unlike herself, he was simplistic with his lifestyle and kept only items that would serve in daily life. Smiling brightly at him, she encouraged some pep in his step by saying, “Let us say our goodbyes and depart for our home.”
He nodded silently to allow her to lead the way from his private alcove, gazing back over his shoulder one last time. His life as Tsu’tey of the Omaticaya was soon to fade and although it was one of hardship and bittersweet successes, there was a new horizon ready to shed sunlight in his heart. He would become Tsu’tey of the Atykwe and that life would branch to intertwine with Joanna’s, along with whatever offspring they had. His gaze softened towards her as she held onto his hand, facing the intricate braids of her hair, and he brought forth tentatively, “About children. Can we agree not to have five in consecutive order?”
Joanna stopped in midstep to double-check what she’d just heard as her ears perked up to their highest point. What was this about five kids? Was he out of his mind thinking she’d pop one after the other? Her golden eyes were wide with bewilderment to birthing five hardheaded children like themselves and blurted with disbelief, “Five?! Are you trying to kill me?”
Here’s hoping my writing’s still as good as back then! Thank you for the unwavering support, I appreciate all of you readers! I want to finish this story for you guys- hopefully, before Cameron unveils the next film. Thank you!