Avatar Fanfiction: One Of The People - 49. The Last Binds
Music Inspiration: Joris de Man- “Years of Training”
The Last Binds
For the first time in his adult life, Tsu’tey was as nervous as a skittish prolemuris who had been hurled out of his tree branch. He had only felt this way once before his Iknimaya rite and the fluttering sensation in his stomach left when he claimed Swizav in victory. Now, he stood in the clearing beside the pa’li enclosure as he prepared to fetch Aci to see whether she came to her own decision. The bright sunlight of morning filtered through the open spaces in Kelutral’s canopy to bathe the area in illuminating beams. It was a beautiful sight and he wouldn’t see it for many years since the Atykwe Kelutral was encased in a protective stone dome.
Hands rested on his shoulders to snap him out of his wary thoughts and Joanna whispered gently from behind, “Go on, my strong hunter.”
With that said, she released him with a slight encouraging push to the awaiting faces of his clan. His mouth was suddenly dry as he walked uncertainly into the crowd that had woken to bid him farewell. His clan leaders, the mother Tsahìk, and his friends formed the first line and Mo’at was the first to help him along by weaving him into the center of their group. She had seen him from birth when he was introduced to the clan, to his success in Iknimaya to signal his adulthood, and now, to his leave as their advisor.
His nervousness was replaced with melancholy when multiple hands rested on his shoulders with silent support. Echoes of farewell filled his ears as they flattened against his head and he smiled sadly at his brethren. He had done his best to protect them from all dangers and he hoped they would remain safe for many seasons to come. There was no ill will or resentment in their eyes, simply a twinkling gratitude that filtered into their voices. They had shaped his life as much as he belonged in theirs; a separation of his old identity that would not be easy.
“Irayo” he whispered sincerely for their willingness to see him off one last time. He wasn’t prone to sentimentality in public but his voice wavered as he spoke to them. His throat was constricting as he felt a heavy weight on his chest, not from guilt, but leaving his home. Kelutral might be a different place for him now but home was always The People, no matter where they went. Eywa watched all Her children in their walks of life and he would be no different.
That moment bound them as a clan, an entire entity, and he was proud to have been part of it for as long as he had. He smiled widely without restraint when little hands touched his knees and he saw the children had also come to bid him farewell. Leka’s round face held bright eyes filling with tears and she piped up, “You have to come back and see us.”
“I will, little one” he promised with a warm smile to making a lasting memory with the children as well. Joanna had helped to weave him into that aspect of clan life since her early days were spent with them. Her effect in his life had pulled him from being a stoic hunter focused on the destruction of the tawtute to a protector and advisor of all his clan’s people.
The comforting hands on his upper body retreated as the silent farewell bolstered his courage. His tough outer shell didn’t matter anymore and he smiled broadly at everyone to say, “Eywa ngahu.”
The clan heartily echoed the same words to wish him the best on his journey. Touching the top of Leka’s head in farewell, he turned to find his adoptive family waiting at the end of the circle surrounding him. Each step towards them felt heavier on his legs as he left his kinsmen behind for the last time. Still, he felt their radiating affection when hands brushed by his shoulders as he made his way to the edge of the circle.
Mo’at broke away from the line to meet him and she placed two fingers over his heart to remind, “The People will always be with you, no matter where Eywa takes you.”
He dipped his head silently with acknowledgment, but the words comforted him greatly. He didn’t want to forget his roots, his people, his family- none of it. Raising his head, he met her softened gaze and he confessed in a whisper, “I will miss all of you.”
“You carry your home with you. . .but I release you to your heart” Moat comforted kindly because she held pride for each of her children. He would go on to make her proud and she had read his path seasons ago to allow him to fly away into safe hands. She would await future visits with open arms but first, he had to establish a new life and branch into his new home.
She motioned for Joanna to approach them and the huntress sheepishly closed the distance. The matriarch placed a hand on her right shoulder before touching his with the other, peering at the young couple to advise, “You will be one heart, beating for your clan. As hunters, the clan’s safety and their nourishment will be of the utmost importance. Together, you will be stronger to defeat so never allow your weaknesses to win.”
Mo’at believed in them as a couple from the moment she had seen their first covert gazes at each other. They had begun as opposites that clashed repeatedly but time had served to cool and mature their hot heads. With that in mind, she flicked both of their ears in one last motherly gesture and lectured, “Don’t ever let me hear from Nitari that you’ve returned to your old stubborn ways.”
“Yes, tsahìk” they replied obediently in unison as they shared an awkward glance. Even as adults, they would be prone to lectures from their elders.
With that said, she stepped aside to let the couple carry on their way and ushered her clan to begin their daily duties. Her people obeyed with reluctance as their day became bleaker with the leave of their most trusted. Mo’at bore the same loss in her heart but she couldn’t linger on it as she followed the same motto. Tsu’tey watched his maternal figure leave but this time, his saving grace was knowing it wasn’t death claiming her. He would be leaving his adoptive family but it was a happy ending that would leave nobody hurt. His birth clan would continue to grow strong under the new leadership and he would strengthen his new one.
“If it gets too boring at the Atykwe, we have gorgeous forest views from the honeymoon suite” Jake’s voice spoke up behind him and Tsu’tey turned to find the Omaticayan leader grinning with amusement. Unlike himself that wielded dry sarcasm, his clan would do fine with the charismatic dreamwalker. That, and Jake had a level-headed mate that would keep him in check.
“Don’t start selling vacation packages now” Joanna joked with a short laugh to his sales pitch while Neytiri shook her head. The young tsahìk prayed to Eywa that their child would take after her or she’d be driven insane with a witty child. Joanna, however, smiled forlornly to the clan that had opened their arms to her after the chaotic battle between their species. If Nitari could spare her for a while one day, she would love to return to her mate’s home to bask in the lively forest. Still, she couldn’t help but chide her old friend, “We have beachfront property.”
Jake scoffed dismissively to the attractive scenery and raised the stakes by declaring confidently, “We have the Hallelujah Mountains.”
Damn, he was right. That was a breathtaking view that nobody could beat and her shoulders dropped in defeat as she murmured, “You got me there.”
Tsu’tey sighed to the joking duo because the two were lightning with their teasing. Both had driven him insane on numerous instances and he glanced at Neytiri to request, “Take care of my babbling brother.”
“I don’t babble, I make astute observations for hilarity” Jake shot back quickly to defend his humorous honor against enemies. He and Tsu’tey had gotten into memorable scuffles, both tense and amusing, since meeting but he wished the best for him. His own life had been a series of interesting events that he would not take lightly, especially now with his child on the way. Smiling at his mate, he assured his departing friend, “Neytiri and I will be fine, we’re tenacious survivors and we’ll protect the Omaticaya.”
“The tawtute have been gone for two winters, we will endure” Neytiri agreed with a confident tone because they would face any obstacle without fear. She had a clan and a new family to protect so she wouldn’t cower in the face of danger. She smiled sadly to her childhood friend, who had been by her side through many conflicts in their young lives, and spoke gingerly, “Return home with a clear mind, my brother. You kept the clan safe but now, you have to protect your family.”
Tsu’tey flinched with shock when Jake reached forward to pull him into a one-armed hug. The hunter tried to wriggle himself free but he found himself locked into an iron grip. When had the dreamwalker gotten this strong? Why couldn’t he deflect him? Had his own body failed him? While Tsu’tey flailed like an alarmed fish, Jake wrapped his free arm around his deadpanning mate as he grinned impishly, “Come now, give us a hug!”
“Na’vi aren’t huggers! How many times must I remind you?” he shot back swiftly to his ridiculously friendly brother, chastising him like he would a child. Except, this was his leader. He gazed pitifully at his future mate for salvation when Jake refused to release him but she simply laughed. Great, betrayed before they even shared their vows.
He frowned deeply when Jake flashed a perky grin and justified proudly, “I’m bringing it back!”
“How can you bring something back that never existed?” Peyral asked Max with confusion on her face as she tried to understand her leader’s logic. Her mate simply lifted a finger to his lips to signal that she drop it because logic sometimes flew past Jake’s head. After all, he was the only one insane enough to tackle a toruk in mid-air and miraculously live.
“This is why I’m leaving you in charge” Tsu’tey emphasized as he met Peyral’s gaze with a firm look. He required an assertive leader for his hunters and one who would protect the clan leaders. She had always been his second and witnessing her leadership during his recovery affirmed his choice to leave her in his stead. More importantly, she wouldn’t fall prey to Jake’s schemes that could lead to embarrassing catastrophes. He tolerated it out of brotherly amusement but Neytiri was there to chastise them both. This time, she would be focusing on the birth of her child more than lecturing her adventurous mate. Peyral was both nervous and excited for her new promotion, until she heard, “Beside sustaining and protecting our clan, your highest priority is to make sure he doesn’t fall into mischief.”
“You can’t deny it wasn’t fun” Jake reminded slyly to their brotherly bonding in the outdoors that left the taller man grumbling for hours. Tsu’tey snorted to his deluded opinion but the back of his mind prodded him that there was truth to his words. Joanna infuriated him in their early days but he grew captivated in their antics as they dared him to break from his shell.
Max waved a hand to stop his instigation before the two ended up roughhousing for the millionth time. He had expected their boyish behavior to end once the assimilation to their culture ended but the duo continued. Despite Tsu’tey’s complaints, the healer ascertained early on that it helped to strengthen their friendship and assured, “He’ll be fine, I don’t think he’ll do crazy stunts with a child on the way.”
Jake shot him a challenging smile but Neytiri wiped it away when she smacked him upside the head. He could bicker with anyone until he was purple in the face but she was one individual that he’d never trifle with. The clan leader recoiled from her heated glare, feeling tinier despite being taller, and she narrowed her eyes to threaten, “If you leave me with a child, the astral plane with Eywa will be the least of your afterlife problems.”
His voice decreased from a confident tone to an awkward squeak when he blurted weakly, “See? Nothing to worry about.”
Norm shook his head to the shoddy convincing job, especially when it came to Tsu’tey. The man was practically a thanator with investigating and he could smell lies miles away. Their goal was to reassure him that his leave wouldn’t bring a cataclysm of destruction. He had grown accustomed to being the little brother of the group but this time, he couldn’t hold back from lecturing his leader, “You’re going to make him regret leaving.”
Jake stopped rubbing the side of his head to scoff matter-of-factly, “He can’t or he’ll risk enraging Joanna there.”
The huntress failed to bite into the argument morsel and shrugged her shoulders to state apathetically, “My rage has curbed considerably.”
“You two have changed for the better” Cheryl smiled proudly to how far they had come from their antagonistic beginnings. The couple shared a brief warm glance in acknowledgment to their less than stellar character traits that had been shed. It hadn’t been an easy journey but their tribulations had been overcome to flourish a pure union. The young herbalist hugged Joanna in farewell but this time, there was only hope and no melancholy attached. Her friends were finally ready to fly off together and she spoke optimistically to wish them well, “You’ve been waiting for this for a while so take care of each other and prosper in your new home.”
“Go on before we have to shed any tears” Norm chuckled softly since they’d become a close circle of friends at Hell’s Gate and a family of even greater diversity. He had taken notice that mostly all dreamwalkers had taken na’vi mates, breaking all the barriers that had existed between their species years ago. It was even more of a victory for them after abandoning their pasts and fighting to protect a new world from their own kind.
Joanna pulled Norm into a hug with her left arm as she held onto Cheryl with the other. Tsu’tey took a simple sidestep to avoid the emotional display and added another when Joanna leaned towards him. He was not about to be unwillingly dragged into another dreamwalker hug and glared at the young hunter to chide, “You’re as emotional as an expectant mother.”
Neytiri batted him on the shoulder for the wisecrack since Norm had become her little brother after training him. He was a humble and friendly man that had earned his keep by helping anyone in need, particularly the elderly. She would hear nothing ill against him. Tsu’tey barely acknowledged the smack since he’d tangled with worse and snorted under his breath to state coolly, “I regret nothing.”
“Good luck when you’re pregnant” Neytiri stated dryly as she met Joanna’s peppy gaze but it turned to alarm at the last word. Why was everyone mentioning pregnancies during the whole visit? A union didn’t automatically mean she’d be heavy with child within months, right? Right?!
Joanna stammered to that idea because it had been a battle to simply court each other. Now, they had to work as an effective team as intimate partners and hunters for their clan. Finding a balance with their new roles and life would come first before anything- at least, for her. Her hug-fest stopped as she looked back at her tall hunter and saw the same puzzled glance in his eyes. Yep, not ready for screaming newborns. Chuckling awkwardly, she avoided the topic by mentioning simply, “Our focus will be adjusting his life to the shore.”
Tsu’tey accepted that his time with the Omaticaya had ended and it was time to begin his new life. Otherwise, Joanna would be more than happy to continue hugging people and he’d be left to rebuff pregnancy jokes. Placing a hand between her shoulder blades, he suggested with a hint of regret, “Let us be on our way before our hearts grow heavier.”
Releasing her old friends, she smiled widely at them before tipping her head respectfully to the Omaticayan leaders. He had been a pillar of strength for them in trying times and she promised, “He will be loved and respected among the Atykwe.”
Tsu’tey dipped his head to in farewell, touching his forehead with his forefingers to whisper, “Eywa ngahu.”
The ruling couple returned the sentiment with a bittersweet smile as their bonds as a clan was severed. They wouldn’t joke with each other around Kelutral, partake in hunts, eat together, and all the other activities they shared as a family. Joanna wrapped an arm around his to support him when he hesitated on turning around, knowing he wouldn’t see any of them again for a long time.
Together, the two walked away to begin their trip home to the Atykwe.
Icy blue eyes of fury stared impassively at the two approaching na’vi as they made their last stop.
Tsu’tey released a small sigh as he tackled his final task on cutting his binds to the Omaticaya. Swizav was packed and ready to head out to live his new life but he’d hissed irately when Tsu’tey informed him Aci had not decided yet on their trip. After repeatedly swatting his rider with his tail, the azure ikran warned through their tsaheylu bond that he’d pick her up if needed to get moving. Tsu’tey was not about to have a fight break out between his ikran and pa’li so he decided to handle this delicately with Joanna. He left Swizav in a nearby clearing to let the eager ikran calm down and to make an easier getaway than returning to Kelutral. With each step forward, he couldn’t afford to look back.
Aci, however, did not approve of the female na’vi at her rider’s side. The mare’s icy blue eyes watched Joanna with shrewd calculation since she hadn’t seen the woman in many months- she’d almost mistaken her for a stranger. Her hair was no longer kept long and instead of ribbons, she used small shells and beads in her short tresses. There was an air of confidence about her, not of arrogance but certainty, instead of the old hastiness that led her to trying to bite the woman.
Tsu’tey whistled to call her attention to break the silent stare down, already aware of her behavior. He was the only person she would never defy and her antennae flicked upwards to his approach. Her fierce gaze melted away into obedient benevolence at his side as her posture straightened with attention.
“Aci, I am here because it’s time” Tsu’tey informed gently but with finality as their time came to an end. She had expected a small trot around Kelutral’s perimeter but it seemed their old routine was about to receive a swift change. Being a sharp pa’li, she couldn’t feign ignorance and walk off to smell the flowers. Instead, she was forced with deciding her fate by either staying with the familiar or taking a gamble with the new. In the end, her rider would leave for the coast and Tsu’tey met her gaze to explain, “I am leaving now and all I can hope is that you’ve made a choice.”
Her antennae drooped as the time came for her to decide but the Omaticaya clan was her home. It had always been from her earliest memories. Tsu’tey took a few slow steps before raising his hands to stroke the sides of her head with a kind smile. He understood the same pain quite well since he’d raised her from a small foal to where she was now. Their lives had been intertwined for many seasons and although it would hurt to be separated, he would wish her well. His Swizav had much to gain by moving to the Atykwe but Aci would lose her clan and status. The only positive aspect he could see was Peke and he smiled warmly, “Whatever you decide, I will abide and respect it.”
The mare had placed much thought to the decision since hearing about it. Her blue eyes lingered on the Atykwe huntress since she began this whole mess but Tsu’tey quickly snapped her out of it again. With a firm fatherly glance, Aci neighed stubbornly in rebuttal for having to shift her life around someone else. True, there was another option but Aci’s life revolved around her rider’s. There was no other worthy as he was!
Glancing back at stables she called home, she was saddened to leave the pa’li in her care. She was their leader in every hunt and protected them as well as she did her rider. They looked to her for guidance as the alpha and if she left, she could be placing their safety at risk. She would be leaving one of her children for another but her mare was grown and capable of defending herself. Peke was young and living in the coast, a place that wouldn’t see danger but he had to be prepared to face it.
She knew that Tsu’tey had assigned Peyral as his second and her stallion was formidable during a hunt. Despite her worry, she also had to allow the new generation to shine and become leaders as well. It was natural for her to be territorial but Aci cared for her people, as much as a direhorse could.
Maybe her time as matriarch here had ended and she was destined for a new role elsewhere. Was this Eywa’s way to tell her it was time to move on? Her Peke was by the sea and she’d never seen water larger than a river. Tsu’tey was her world and if he was moving to where her little stallion was. . . maybe. . .maybe it was time for her to move. There was still much she could show new generations elsewhere and who knows, maybe she’d like the sea?
Aci batted her rider’s shoulder with her antennae as she refused to budge from her spot. She would go with him, loyal as ever. Tsu’tey saw a firm glint in her blue eyes and smiled widely, “Are you with me?”
She licked his face to demonstrate that yes, she would travel with him to the Eastern Sea. He chuckled softly as he wiped the saliva off his cheek, being reminded of his childhood all over again. He was overjoyed and relieved to know she was willing to uproot her life in the Omaticaya to move elsewhere. She was a proud pa’li and he would provide the best home for her in the Atykwe.
“I will see you by the sea, my friend” he smiled with appreciation to her commitment and she batted him with her antennae one last time. She agreed to do so but she wasn’t a happy tapirus over it. Rubbing her head one last time, he prayed for her safety, “May Eywa watch over you on the trip.”
With that said, he turned around to leave Joanna to the task of taking his mare to the coast. Aci, however, was not a fan of being left behind or kept out of a plan. Her mind blared with alarm to watching her rider leave. Why was he leaving? Wasn’t he taking her there himself? She uttered a neigh with alarm to his leave, unsure to what was happening. Tsu’tey turned around quickly as she trotted next to him, refusing to budge from his side. He laid a hand on the center of her head and spoke gently, “I am glad you’re joining me but I cannot make the journey to the Atykwe with you.”
What? What did he mean? If it wasn’t him, who-
“I See you, Aci” Joanna greeted courteously as she stood in front of the mare, dipping her head to show her respect. She smelled differently, a salty air hanging about her as her garb contrasted against those of her Omaticayan people. Aci didn’t know if she’d like smelling of salt or if this woman was worthy of her rider.
The mare snorted at her before pinning her rider with a heated gleam in her eyes. How dare he give her this choice?! This was her reward for following him loyally to a new unknown land?! She pawed at the ground furiously, picking up dirt that she blew in Joanna’s direction. The huntress, however, couldn’t help but be amused to her abandonment tantrum.
“No, Aci” Tsu’tey reprimanded because she was hotheaded at times, needing her to calm down.
Her pupils dilated in rage and she was hurt that he’d chastise her for wanting to stay by his side. Joanna raised a hand to gently intervene, interpreting Aci’s nonverbal cues for distress rather than disobedience. Meeting her stubborn gaze, she spoke directly with respect, “You have always been a proud mare, a fierce protector of your kind. The Atykwe pa’li are gentle creatures and danger is rare until they must venture into the forest. I would be honored to have a strong mare like you watch over and protect them.”
Aci’s stare remained unyielding, her front hooves pawing at the ground, and Joanna smiled softly, “Peke will be there also and he has missed you. He might be growing older but there are many lessons he can learn from you to ensure his future survival. He is very dear to me as I know he is to you.”
Tsu’tey handed over some tough love when he informed simply, “I will ride with Swizav to the Atykwe lands because he can only bond with me.”
Aci snorted derisively at that special bond because the blasted ikran had made numerous trips there already. Shouldn’t his sensory memory remember the path? She’d never been there at all so she should have priority!
Tsu’tey stepped forward to rub the top of her head, giving her a parenting glare as she returned a stubborn one, and instructed, “I am leaving now and I hope to see you on the coast. Joanna will keep you safe, I trust her with my life.”
The mare could remember several instances where the two tried to beat each other into submission. She was supposed to trust that judgment?! Had her rider hit his head on a rock while swimming in the ocean?
She watched the two with shrewd calculation when Tsu’tey kissed Joanna’s right temple. It would be long trip and he hoped the two would make it home safe, smiling bashfully when she pulled him into a hug. She wasn’t shy in displaying her affection in public and doted fondly, “I will see you soon, my love. Be careful in the skies.”
“Stay on your path” he advised gently as he placed his chin on top of her head, enjoying her body warmth. He didn’t want anything to happen to either because the forests could be dangerous. Releasing her, he reminded carefully with affection, “Xeki, Peke, and I will be waiting. The same goes for the matriarch, your friends, and my family.”
Her family was waiting for her at the endless sea and she had to return. Touching his forehead in farewell, Tsu’tey left the two to head out to the field where Swizav was waiting. He could already hear the faint screeches of exasperation from afar.
Joanna turned to Aci, who was none too pleased at the predicament, and smiled, “You and I will be venturing into the forest since I remember the paths to be taken. I hold no ill will towards you, Aci, and want to safely reunite you with Tsu’tey-“
She neighed in protest since Swizav could’ve merely followed them by air and now she was supposed to allow this woman to ride her. How dare she?! Joanna didn’t have to be a mind reader to sense the hostility from her and calmly stated, “I would never breach your comfort zone unless it was absolutely necessary. If you do not want to initiate tsaheylu, I will abide, but voiced orders can attract predators and we must move quietly in the interior of the forest.”
Aci snorted but reluctantly agreed with her logic, knowing that she’d have to bear it in order to see her rider again. If she knew the way, she’d gallop to the coast by herself but she couldn’t. Joanna could see the distress in her body language as she yearned to be with her rider and she soothed gently, “I will bring you to him and all I ask is that you trust me. I would never allow harm to come to those Tsu’tey holds dear.”
The woman wasn’t as snappy as she remembered her and Aci had no choice but to agree, exhaling roughly before tipping her head down to allow tsaheylu. Joanna stepped forward carefully, laying a hand on top of her head to touch her for the first time. It was a surreal experience because she behaved as tough as an ikran and never allowed anyone but Tsu’tey to lay a finger on her. Smiling with relief when she didn’t kick in her kneecaps, she promised firmly, “I will take care of you, Aci. You are the mother of my Peke and I will reunite both of you.”
With that said, she initiated the bond and found herself surprised by the restrained rage towards her. She didn’t fight against that emotional flood, merely analyzed where it originated from and assured, I never meant to take Peke from you or Tsu’tey. The laws of bonding are matriarchal and Tsu’tey abided, you will love it at the Atykwe. They will be there waiting for you and a new home will be yours to explore.
Aci disagreed completely but Joanna mounted her carefully to begin the road home. She was definitely larger than her Peke and her tense body posture told her that she wasn’t a happy camper. Still, they needed to get moving to arrive on time and avoid the usual prowling times of predators at dusk.
The mare heard Joanna’s direction on which path to take and she boosted her step, eager to reunite with Tsu’tey. As they left the Omaticayan lands behind, Joanna piped up, “I also brought some nectar cubes and insect bars if you get hungry.”
If she had to give the oddly smelling dreamwalker a compliment, it was her delicious snacks. Whenever she tried to be friends, she would offer snacks that she fed Peke. Although she initially chased her down for daring to approach her, they were quite tasty. With that in mind, she picked up her pace so they could cover ground faster.
The journey to the Atykwe lands was awkwardly silent between the two but Joanna thanked her lucky stars that Aci hadn’t flung her off once. Although, she had received a swat or two to the head from her free antennae. The pa’li had been deathly silent the entire ride but whenever she could control her speed on the route, she took it. Joanna said nothing since the proud mare was accustomed to Tsu’tey only but admitted she was formidable galloping through the forest. Despite her large size, she knew how to squeeze through narrow spaces and make her steps quiet in the bustling forest. Her numerous seasons of experience led Aci to resemble a ghost in unknown trails and her mind wasn’t keen on the dense terrain as they reached the last leg of the journey. The nectar cubes had sufficed to curb her irritation to traveling alone but she’d chase after her rider once they reunited.
Their trip had been safe for the most part and sporadic periods of light rain served to cover their tracks from predators. Aci had expected the odd na’vi dreamwalker to complain about the rain but she surprised her by cupping water in her hands to drink it with a smile. She’d offered the same to the pa’li but Aci had made use of hollows in fallen trees to take a quick sip. She was a proud mare and would find her own sustenance before turning to another for help. Still, she begrudgingly appreciated the gesture from the other woman.
Unfortunately, that chance came for her and she cursed her rider’s path choice when she heard the familiar taunting laughs of viperwolves. She was one pa’li without her protective herd and against a pack, her speed was the only advantage. At the same time, she was with a na’vi that lived by the sea and not her forest-raised rider that knew the situation of a forest by merely sniffing the air. Well, she might end up meeting Eywa by the end of the day instead of the peaceful seaside view Tsu’tey had promised her.
Joanna smelled the viperwolves before they jumped out of the forest to snap their jaws at the large pa’li. Aci’s lightning fast movements were quick enough to thwart their jaws and the pa’li escaped easily. Despite their smaller size, they were not deterred as five burst from the foliage to begin their cohesive pack attack. The huntress had prepared a satchel full of items in case they were attacked on the road and she removed her bow from her shoulder to order Aci to continue a straight path. She let the experienced mare run the show when it came to escaping while she focused on defending her from any swipes from their paws or sharp teeth. She hissed loudly in return to show them they meant business but na’vi didn’t have the vocal chords of thanators to roar.
The defensive hisses did nothing and she used the corner of her bow to strike a viperwolf under its lower jaw before he came an inch closer to Aci’s hindquarters. She wasn’t risking a single scratch to the mare because she and Tsu’tey depended on her. If she couldn’t protect her temporary partner, she wasn’t worthy of her huntress title. Another tried the same attempt on the opposite side and she pushed it back with the opposite corner, earning a painful yelp for the strike. She didn’t want to kill them without justification and if she could make them scatter, that would be enough.
She directed her towards a space in the path that would hinder their numbers and Aci shot back that she was already heading there. The pa’li had not lost her stubborn sass but Joanna could tell through their bond that there was a flicker of worry. She managed to keep the pack at bay and dug into her bag to remove a leather bola to hurl the weapon at the closest viperwolf, catching its forelegs in the binds. The force from her throw sent the interconnected cords into an immediate restraint around the animal, causing it to topple over its own trapped legs. It was meant as a deterrent in the chase and the animal would be able to chew through it to escape with no harm.
Despite the attack to fend off the pack, they were undeterred which meant she would have to utilize her bag. Digging for her resources in the bundle, she withdrew a net that regularly caught fish and hurled it towards the front group to ensnare them inside. Three were caught in the net, falling to the ground in a heap as their bundle of limbs obstructed the rest immediately in the narrow path. The thick ropes of the net weren’t easy to chew through which would buy them time to escape. Joanna quickly informed Aci to take the rightmost path when it branched off into a forked road since they were close to their land now and with the viperwolves temporarily disabled, dug into her satchel for a small vial. Hunters used it to mask their scents when leaving hunting areas to protect their tracks. Removing a small rag, she doused the liquid into it carefully to avoid contaminating her hands. She didn’t want to return to Kelutral smelling like hexapede urine because that would send Tsu’tey scattering away into the sunset. Throwing the saturated rag full of hexapede pheromones, it would leave the small predators confused to where they’d gone.
The dense foliage swallowed the duo as they escaped and Aci avoided touching any of the large leaves hanging from the trees to avoid leaving her scent. The two carried on their way to the coast with silent precision as Aci kept her eyes on the road while Joanna eyed their environment. Her defensive attacks had left the viperwolves confused and restrained which would deter them from following them. Aci didn’t hesitate to pick up the pace as the close call unsettled her and wished for her rider at that very moment. If she was injured, she would rather fall serving him than any other na’vi. Anything else would be unacceptable.
I’ll return you to him, I promise, Joanna vowed firmly because she wouldn’t let anything harm her partner’s oldest friend. She was his shadow during a hunt and the mother of her own pa’li so the huntress would defend her fiercely. Regardless of the animosity for her, she respected the pa’li mare.
She showed the path to the Atykwe and Aci picked up her pace to shorten the distance, eager to leave the lively but dangerous forest behind. The forest had returned to its cheerful bird tweets and the prolemuris howls, settling down her hiked heartrate at hearing no breaking twigs or viperwolf laughter. Her ears remained perked and opened to their fullest to detect any abnormal noises and kept a tight grip on her bow with her free hand. The craftsmanship on her weapon was amazingly efficient since she expected a dent from the harsh strikes to the viperwolves but it held sturdy.
Her heart soared at seeing the large boulders that served as the natural maze barrier emerge from the forest. The wall towered over them but she happily informed Aci that they had arrived when her mind became puzzled to the odd sight. As a pa’li, she had never seen anything like it but she didn’t waste time to gallop into the concealed crevice that served as an entrance. There were three entrances along the entire wall for visitors and they kept strategic bushes at the start of each entrance to deter wildlife. For pa’li, they could easily jump over to clear the small bushes and Aci was off through the narrow path as walls of rock met her on both sides.
Don’t worry, the rest of our land doesn’t look like this, Joanna reassured her curiosity since she was accustomed to the forested terrain. A boulder or two were nothing with the Hallelujah Mountains being the only true boulders she’d witnessed. These were bound to the earth and the immense immovable walls made her feel trapped, hastening her pace. What was to stop one from falling onto her? At least if one dropped from the Hallelujah Mountains, she’d have time to escape its path.
I don’t like this place, she shot back snippily to show her distaste and the huntress refrained from laughing. Not many things could unsettle the mare and never thought boulders would be it. She was not keen on having the huntress know about that and snapped, It is not amusing.
She weaved through the maze path as Joanna guided her and the mare snorted when white sand began to mix into the brown earth from the forest. The odd terrain change mystified her and her pace slowed down when her hooves sank into the soft earth, surprised to the soft dryness of it. The dirt of her forest was damp and squishy, sticking to her hooves, but this pale one slid off without any residue. Joanna couldn’t help chuckling this time and a friendly pat to her left side stiffened the pa’li as she reassured, “It’s sand, our earth is different by the seashore.”
A defensive snort was her reply but the pa’li decided to trust the woman, darting forward to finish the trek to the sea. When her hearing caught the sounds of rushing water and echoes of na’vi laughter, her blue eyes brightened. After dealing with endless silence and the wildlife of the forest, she was eager to see the na’vi because her rider would be there. Enthusiastic to finish the maze of a trail, she galloped forward with renewed vigor but Joanna reminded gently, “The earth will slope downwards once we exit so please be careful, Aci.”
The mare knew how to adjust to unexpected terrain but quietly obeyed her when the rock path ended. Hmm, it appeared the woman was right when her hooves slid over the powdery sand as the grainy consistency changed. Happy to regain her stability, she burst forward with careful steps to greet the Eastern Sea and its people. The glittering blue sea was a new sight for her as the sound of rolling waves pleased her hearing, calming her tense muscles. It faded into the blue dome of the horizon with no end in sight and she wondered if she had reached the end of the world. Her hooves sunk into the white sand as she followed the natural path to the shoreline and caught sight of the large cavern off to their right. Na’vi walked the entire shore in similar clothing to the huntress and she saw fabric huts on the sand and Joanna explained, “We sleep by the sea during the dry season and we return to Kelutral for the rain. Pa’li have their own pen for sleep but we let you wander similarly to the ikran. You have no predators here, except for the deep water and once you venture past the wall.”
She was surprised to hear it but the hunters protected Kelutral at the Omaticaya as well. Did that mean her Peke had been safe the whole time? How much had he grown? After spending seasons without him, she wondered how her last offspring was faring in his new clan. He had moved away from all he’d known and she’d followed similar steps, apprehension filling her to the unfamiliar environment. Her son had completed a similar journey and his bravery was besting hers at that moment. Joanna smiled faintly at catching a hint of her emotions and she soothed, “You are family now and although it is different from the Omaticaya, you will gradually adapt. You will be safe here and my hope is that you will lead the pa’li here as well when we do need to hunt.”
Wait, she wasn’t losing her role? Aci’s antennae rose in question since she couldn’t move her rear pair of eyes to question her and Joanna laughed. The mare had expected to start from the low ranking as a new resident but the huntress revealed, “We are not forest hunters by nature unless we are forced to venture there. You and Tsu’tey are a formidable team so it is my hope that you two will lead our teams since it is your strength.”
Aci peered out to the gentle sea as waves rolled onto the white sand and her blue eyes watched young children playing in the water. Her rider was undoubtedly walking through the shore somewhere and so was her child. Raising her head proudly, she refused to be timid as a newcomer and return to her headstrong position as a top hunting mare. Was weakness the impression she wanted to give the new pa’li of this land? Whether she was Aci of the Omaticaya or Aci of the Atykwe, she was no pushover.
Joanna smiled widely at seeing her sudden gumption since it had wavered in small amounts during their trip. Now that they had left the forest and its dangerous wildlife behind them, there was nothing but safety marching forward. She had brought the mare to her new home and hadn’t been flung or chased- that was a huge plus.
Tsu’tey had finished unpacking his belongings in his hut while he waited for the two women in his life to return. The back of his mind held worry for the natural predators lurking in the forest but he reminded himself that Aci was formidable and Joanna wasn’t the student he’d taught seasons ago. Swizav had happily settled into his mate’s alcove to continue helping to tend to their eggs, which would soon be due to crack open to meet the expectant parents. Xeki was pleased to finally have her mate beside her so she could hunt in the sea without worry for their safety and to also enjoy some time to herself. Swizav was more than ready to begin his new life as he returned to his family and didn’t question his decision.
His little cousins had managed to find him when they saw activity next to his hut since they had kept strict watch on his home. He had burst into amused laughter when he found the children wielding slingshots and toys to hurl in case he’d been an unauthorized intruder. He appreciated their dedicated care because they had been eagerly expecting him to finally begin living as a large family. They had tried to drag him by the hands to his aunt Avi’s hut but he managed to break free, promising that he’d visit after Aci and Joanna returned. Leti had not been happy to hear it but a gemstone necklace had quickly pacified any crestfallen tears.
Time flew past him incredibly slow as he circled the entire beach and Kelutral endlessly in case he missed their arrival. He must have looped back four times before he found the two at the outdoor pa’li stables, surprised to see Aci allowing Joanna to brush her clean of dust from their trek. His mare didn’t mind it at all as she suckled on the nearby nectar plants since she deserved a nice brushing and her reunion with Peke brought joy she hadn’t felt since birthing him. He wasn’t a small colt anymore and could see a great stallion in the making, leading her to brush her antennae against his in warm greeting. Her cold demeanor didn’t help during their time at the Omaticaya but she’d try to tone down her facade for her youngest child. Peke didn’t care at all; he was just happy to see a familiar face and beckoned the other pa’li to introduce them all.
Peke was simply overjoyed to have his rider return to him and kept running his antennae over both females. Joanna laughed softly to his unabashed affection as she rubbed the center of his forehead while simultaneously brushing the mare. Aci returned the gentle pat to his head and Joanna smiled to the touching interactions between the two, encountering the rarity for the first time. She was a tough mare and Peke had run from her numerously when Joanna had first arrived at the Omaticaya. Like her, he was searching for his home and family which was why she had chosen only him as her pa’li to fill that void for both.
The trio noticed the approaching hunter and Joanna abandoned her brushing to throw her arms around his shoulders. She had decided to stay in one place after arriving to make it easier to reunite with him, not wanting to leave Aci alone in unknown territory. The mare snorted to their silly romanticism as they hugged and grudgingly admitted they were annoyingly cute. Her son was practically beaming as his little tail swayed from end to end with joy. It appeared he had been infected with a jollier disposition at life than she had and that brought her hope that his life would fare better than hers.
“How was it?” he asked with veiled concern that they had hit a snag on the road to the coast. His lengthy flight to the sea had been smooth since the sea lacked airborne predators to the ikran and the clear skies meant no heavy winds or rain to hinder them. Swizav had been happy to fly in the sky with no traffic but he wasn’t able to carry out any twirls or loops due to his rider’s belongings being strapped to his back.
“We hit a small bump in the road but we’re safe now” Joanna smiled widely at Tsu’tey as he patted the top of Aci’s head, chuckling to her upbeat demeanor. Quite frankly, he expected his pa’li to be chasing his partner down the coast and kicking her rear legs at her. It wouldn’t have been the first time he witnessed such an act since she only allowed him to clean and feed her. Seeing her calmly by Joanna’s side surprised him but it lightened his heart at the thought that she was lowering her guard.
“Thank you for bringing her here safely” he smiled appreciatively since their trip had plagued his mind through the entire ride. Swizav had assured him that they would not kill each other but he hadn’t guaranteed that they would both arrive together. Aci was as fierce as an ikran and Joanna held her hints of stubbornness that could burst in an instant like himself. Still, he was relieved to see them safe at home and looked to his pa’li with a hopeful smile, “It wasn’t that bad, was it?”
Aci snorted distastefully because having hungry viperwolves trying to take a bite out of her legs hadn’t been exciting. She would rather gallop valiantly into a hunt to bring food to the clan than evade a hungry pack to save her own hide. It had been a twist of excitement for the day but she could have lived without it. Her icy blue eyes brightened with curiosity when she caught a whiff of Joanna’s nectar cubes and saw the huntress holding out one for her. Swallowing her pride, she decided to accept the treat with a quick flick of her tongue and swallow that instead.
“Uneventful except for the viperwolves that Aci fought off” Joanna explained carefully to sugarcoat the incident to avoid worrying him, chuckling nervously about the event. Tsu’tey displayed calmness initially until hearing the last bit and his mouth dropped to the misadventure. They had faced a pack alone? Before he began checking the two for hidden injuries or bruises, she wrapped an arm around his shoulders to pin him in place and exclaimed proudly with glee, “You should’ve seen her! She flew like the wind and kicked at them with blinding accuracy.”
His golden eyes dulled when she pretended to karate chop a viperwolf and kicked at the air. He was quite sure she was exaggerating the events and even Aci dropped her head in embarrassment. This was who her rider picked as a mate? While Joanna went to town on showing off her silly karate moves, Tsu’tey tried his earnest not to laugh at her and cleared his throat, “Really now?”
Joanna nodded hastily with confidence while he initiated tsaheylu with his bored mare. Aci’s world was surprisingly laidback this time as the trip to the coast and the free brushing with treats calmed her usual fiery self. She was happy to feel his mind in her midst and he asked for the truth with curiosity, Is that what really happened?
Aci hesitated on answering the question because the truth was that both had been alarmed initially. She didn’t want to appear weak in front of her rider and the dreamwalker had protected her from the pack. The huntress was embellishing a few things by. . .a lot. . .but she was shedding a courageous light on her, which Aci didn’t mind. She had nipped, neighed, chased, and kicked at the woman since meeting her but Aci was beginning to tolerate her. She wasn’t as obnoxious as before and her rider had become infected by her charm somehow.
Watching her fail at imitating a charging pa’li, she sighed in her mind and relented, All right, I agree she might not be so bad.
Are you warming up to her?, he asked with veiled enthusiasm to her tough façade cracking to Joanna’s humorous personality. He hoped the two would meet at a middle ground eventually since they would all be living on the coast now. Joanna had returned her to him, reunited her with Peke, and brought her to a new land where she could still be the top mare.
No! . . . Maybe. . . Don’t make me say it, Aci remarked with great reluctance to disclosing the truth but would never make it known to the huntress. Her treats were surprisingly delicious so she understood why Peke galloped to her endlessly during his Omaticayan days. If she could have a few of those and avoid enemies unprepared, she would allow Joanna’s presence around her.
Tsu’tey embarrassed her further by laughing in their bond to her flat tone on the matter. It appeared the huntress was slowly growing on her and he would do his best to keep that progress moving. He didn’t shy away from reminding her of his future, She will be my mate and the mother of my children.
Fine, I will try, she sighed dryly to push across the dread of becoming chummy with the huntress. Pa’li were meant to be socializing creatures that held no bias on riders but she’d been raised by Tsu’tey only. Peke had become similarly attached to Joanna but unlike her, he liked making friends with everyone. It appeared she would have to take a lesson from her son and be more approachable.
He chuckled softly to her grumpy reluctance because she would often tell him no bluntly. Her gruff words were only a tough demeanor to match him and he knew that his pa’li would eventually accept Joanna. She was tied to him and Peke so she wouldn’t be going anywhere. Having her head out on a trip with another na’vi was a feat for a fierce mare like her and he thanked her, That’s all I ask. You have made me very proud by undertaking today’s trip without me.
Aci scuffed the ground with her hoof to show modesty for not being at his side. Still, she had done what she needed to return to him as any loyal steed and had conquered her journey. Thankfully, the huntress hadn’t nagged or talked nonstop which made the trip bearable. Her icy blue eyes lingered over the darker sea that glittered under the sun, curious to the rolling waves, and she asked curiously, Do you truly like it here?
I really do, he admitted with fondness to his new home because he had blood ties to the Atykwe. He was certain his little cousins were eagerly anticipating his return and he wouldn’t disappoint them. Eywa had finally guided him to his rightful place, despite his initial reluctance, and he breathed in the salty air of his true home.
Breaking off their connection, Tsu’tey rubbed her head with a warm smile and she neighed happily in return. Peke and Joanna cut into their moment by huddling against the two as she latched onto his arm while Peke tapped Aci’s head with his antennae. The mare wondered what the huntress gave him to keep him so peppy all the time but let him be. The hunter’s smile widened to the hug from his future mate as she squeezed his forearm to dote fondly, “We’re very happy to see you.”
“So am I, Eywa returned you to me” he replied earnestly as the largest hurdle of their upcoming union was tackled and completed. The move to the Atykwe was the hardest in terms of physical labor and severing his emotional ties to the Omaticaya. He had bid his clan of birth farewell, leaving all that he knew behind to immerse himself into a new clan. Leaving Mo’at, who had been a second mother, had been the hardest but Nitari never hesitated to lend an ear whenever he was at the coast. She would his clan leader from now on and the one he would obey, shedding his life as a forest hunter to become one of the Atykwe.
He could now empathize with Joanna, who had undertaken the similar journey, and she was happy with her life. His paternal family was here and the land was a beautiful oasis to raise his own family one day to continue the teachings of his ancestors. Joanna caught the melancholic glint in his eyes as he gazed at the cave shielding her Kelutral, likely reminiscing of his old life. It had been a painful tear in the heart for her seasons ago and she squeezed his shoulder to comfort gently, “One day at a time, my love.”
Being in private at the pa’li stables, he drew her into his arms to hug her tightly for comfort. She brought his heart peace when troubled and Joanna did not falter, clutching him around the waist. He had undergone a swift shift in his life to be at her side and she would shield him from negative thoughts or moments of uncertainty. Pa’li were incapable of rolling their eyes but Aci came close to being the first on Pandora as she watched the sentimentality between them. Peke, however, was simply ecstatic to the public affection as his tail swayed to the reunion. Aci snorted at realizing she was the only one not falling into the jovial mood but her cold front dissipated when he nudged his snout under hers.
Joanna released her crestfallen hunter and tried to think of an idea to liven up his demeanor. Now that he was permanently at the coast, she did not want him to feel lonely or out of place amongst her clan. They were officially the newest faces on the block and she smiled broadly to suggest enthusiastically, “Let’s show her the coast!”
Aci turned to the huntress with sharp question as she grinned eagerly to continue their adventure. Wasn’t flying through the forest at top speed enough for the day? Peke perked up at hearing this since he loved splashing at the shore and his short tail wagged happily. The eager faces of the na’vi didn’t help her chances either and she resigned herself to the impromptu trip. She had never seen the sea up close and out of instinct, preferred to keep it away where she could remain safe. Tsu’tey initiated tsaheylu with his mare and sensed the same apprehension he felt when it came time to sleep on the coast. He reassured her that the trip would be safe and it would allow her to memorize the area to prevent becoming lost. Aci, however, would stick to the stables and sandy beach until she was assured nothing would burst from the water to eat her.
Joanna mimicked her partner to initiate her bond and her stallion neighed happily to the connection. Hugging her faithful partner around the neck, she mounted the pa’li with a hearty pat to his side. He was more than ready to shoot down the coast as his hooves dug into the sand expectantly and she chuckled, “Peke has been more than eager to explore the land so he might be your best guide.”
“Your pa’li?” Tsu’tey asked dryly because he remembered the stallion running from anything remotely scary. He wouldn’t have been surprised if the rolling waves scared the young stallion. Peke snorted indignantly, similar to his mother, to the insinuation that he couldn’t handle such a feat. Did the hunter think he didn’t have a handle of his land? His home?
“He has a lot of free time nowadays” she chuckled softly as she rubbed the left side of his neck to simmer the flicker of protest. Her pa’li was a happy entity but as he grew now that he was heading into his prime years, he was beginning to have spurts of irritation like his mother. Still, he never hesitated to obey her and she doted sweetly, “What do you say, old friend?”
Her steed was more than happy to lead the small group down the coast and show the Omaticayans what the coast was all about. Despite being born in the forest, his heart was free running along the open coastline. His antennae swayed happily as he trotted forward to find a clear path away from the residents and he used his tail to point them in the right direction. Tsu’tey faltered for a second to what he witnessed as the little colt he remembered took off like a true stallion and heard Joanna’s laughter in the air. It appeared her personality was rubbing off on Peke through tsaheylu.
Aci was impressed to her offspring’s tenacity as he broke into a full gallop down the beach, diverting away from the huts. Exhaling through her spiracles to get her rider moving and not left behind in the sand, Tsu’tey muffled a laugh and obeyed his mare. She didn’t hesitate to take off with the same strength and speed, kicking up sand in her haste to match her son. The land was entirely new to her but she was learning that the sensation of the soft sand under her hooves wouldn’t swallow her. Her first set of eyes focused on Peke as he darted down the beach with his rider while the second glanced over the colorful huts adorning the beach. A few residents wandered the area as a few children pointed to them in awe since ikran were their animal of choice, surging flickers of pride in her chest. These would be her people now and she had to protect them with the same ferocity she had given the Omaticaya.
A playful bark from Peke snapped her away from her rumination and the mare snorted to being called out on her daydreaming. Tsu’tey said nothing as he let the two bond after seasons without seeing each other, smiling at his future mate as they approached. Joanna couldn’t help but beam with pride as the two pa’li ran side by side, riding together for the first time as mother and son. Her little colt had grown from the innocently playful pa’li into a friendly but confident stallion that was the spitting image of his mother. Aci was unaccustomed to running through open spaces and it was exhilarating to run freely without fear of a predator catching her unaware. She almost felt like a wild pa’li!
Tsu’tey smiled openly at her joy to the new sense of freedom and promised this land would be hers until the end of her days. Peke neighed to alert the happy duo that the shore was approaching and darted forward to break formation. The downward slope of the shore propelled his momentum forward and he threw his head back happily when the cool water met his hooves. The stallion ran through the shallow water, kicking up rivulets of water and wet sand in his wake. The waves retreated to leave behind the holes of his hooves as he galloped down the coastline, inviting his mother forward with a bark.
Aci was apprehensive to touch the wet shore at all after only arriving hours prior, sticking to the dry sand out of reach. Tsu’tey laughed to her hesitation and assured her that the shore was completely safe unlike the deep ocean further out. The mare, however, was simply happy to hear the crashing waves and watch the water roll over the sand. The pools back at the Omaticaya never behaved as such, being gentle and still. Tsu’tey patted her neck with a comforting hand to reassure her the sea was safe but allowed her trepidation, “In time, my friend.”
Joanna and Peke had left the two in their dust as the sounds of the gentle waves stirred them forward. Sunset would be upon them soon since the sky had turned a beautiful silver-grey as the sun lingered to provide a few hours of sunlight before beginning its curtain call of colors. Peke reared back on his hind legs to kick his forelegs joyfully, calling out to his mother as she lingered further down the coast. Had he beaten the old proud mare already? Aci barked in defiance to his dominance display, amused by it, and took off down the dry coastline to close the distance between them.
You’re happy, Tsu’tey remarked at feeling the hidden joy in her heart as she galloped freely. There was no tension or caution to her surroundings, bringing forth the motherly mare instead of the war pa’li that she was. Aci quickly denied such a thing but her emotions quickly betrayed her when gazing at the glittering sea and the bright eyes of her little stallion.
Waiting on the two to rejoin them, Joanna smiled widely and opened her arms to tell the mare, “All of this is yours, Aci. From the caves in the north, to the rock wall in the west, the Eastern Sea, and cliffs in the south- this is our home. There is no fear on this land but you will be our protector.”
Aci exhaled from her spiracles because the huntress wasn’t making it hard to hate her anymore. What happened to the little loudmouth that chased after her rider? She spoke eloquently but firm, a stark comparison to her old self. Her words had a bigger effect than she expected, especially after leaving her homeland. This was a foreign world to her but knowing that there was safety in all four corners soothed her. Seeing it all firsthand soothed her guilt in allowing Peke to leave the Omaticaya but her rider had been right- he was safe.
Where’s the cranky student that left? I feel better at having the chance to trample her, not this one, she muttered flatly to her rider because this new personality before her was more likable. When had she changed so much?
Are you beginning to like my mate?, Tsu’tey teased gently because he hoped the trip to the coast would allow the two to bond. Their interactions were nonexistent while he traveled to the coast and her rare trips to the Omaticaya left the mare keeping to her area. They had met more often during her time among his old clan but all of those instances led the mare to chasing the frazzled dreamwalker out.
An incoming ikran screech from behind sent Aci into defensive mode immediately to protect her rider, twisting her head to find the source. Weren’t ikran friendly in this clan? Other pa’li would scatter at the terrifying sound but not her, standing her ground fiercely. Tsu’tey quickly asserted the mare that it was safe to stop her tense bucking but she barked in alert to protect her youngest. Her son ignored it completely and she watched in awe as a large sapphire ikran soared far too close to the huntress. Had they survived against the viperwolves only to fight off a wild ikran? What a day.
Instead of watching her scream in terror, Joanna held out her left hand as the creamy underbelly of the ikran flew over her head. The large ikran soared past them as it screeched its dominating presence again and Joanna laughed to her ikran’s ferocity, “Xeki, my trickster!”
Peke took off to give chase as the ikran screeched once more, circling around to return to the ecstatic duo. Xeki had noticed the familiar forms of her rider and the perky pa’li, eager to see them after spending her day in the nest. The glittering sea and its gentle waves beckoned her to ride the air currents as she hunted her latest meal. The hours before sundown were safest for her as her hide concealed her against the dark water and hid her creamy belly.
Aci was flabbergasted to watching a pa’li play alongside an ikran as Peke trotted under the circling ikran. Not to mention, this ikran was larger than any she’d seen back at the Omaticaya. Were they really this large at the coast? Xeki snorted hot air from her spiracles onto Peke as she dove for a graceful landing, flying past his head to dig her taloned feet into the sand. The young stallion barked before rearing on his hind legs to continue the banter now that his friend had arrived. Joanna laughed to their innocent teasing as Xeki hissed playfully before opening her large wingspan to mimic him.
“Have you missed seeing us this much? Or has the nest kept you lonely?” Joanna chuckled to her eagerness to play, sliding off Peke to disconnect their bond. Her stallion barely batted an eye as he continued to practically hop on his hooves from his excitement. She approached her large iran with a polite nod of welcome before running her hands under her speckled snout with an affectionate smile.
Xeki’s yellow eyes locked onto Tsu’tey with a protective edge and the hunter dipped his head in respect. With him being her mate’s rider and the mate of her own rider, she offered mutual respect to him and trilled in greeting. He had returned her mate safely to her and allowed her freedom to roam her land for the first time in days, grateful for that opportunity. When she noticed the larger pa’li next to the hunter and sniffed her scent as a foreigner, her body lowered against the sand in defense and her long neck craned forward as she roared furiously in warning. Her amber eyes dilated as she moved into a defensive position to protect her rider and their land, raising her wings into the air to appear larger in size. Instead of cowering against the frightening ikran, the pa’li stood her ground and neighed in defiance. This only served to enrage the proud ikran.
Joanna halted her protective stance by initiating tsaheylu because her girl could be quite intimidating. She had splashed Aci with the sea water of their land to conceal her forest scent but her ikran had smelled right through it. Xeki was fiercely protective of her land, especially now that she awaited her new brood, and hissed to the outsider in warning. There was nothing but fury and protectiveness in her ikran’s mind as Joanna joined her thoughts, soothing gently, Whoa! Easy, my brave one. Stay.
Before her ikran could say or do anything else, Joanna informed firmly to end her territoriality display, “This is Aci, Tsu’tey’s pa’li and Peke’s mother. She’ll be living as one of us now.”
What? The ikran’s four eyes blinked rapidly as the fight left her and she turned to the young pa’li in question. She squawked in reprimand to the revelation while Peke neighed innocently, hiding his face comically behind his antennae. Xeki had taken a protective role over the young pa’li since the three of them were a team on the coast and had never heard about it. The two females squared off in defensive gazes until Joanna and Tsu’tey cleared their throats to interrupt the small dominant staring match.
“We’re going to be one big family” Joanna emphasized proudly as she rubbed the heads of both her loyal steeds. Peke licked her hand joyfully to the new additions while Xeki purred into the other, obeying her rider without question. She loved her partners like her own children and nodded to Aci with respect that they would not bother her. Returning an affectionate gaze to her sapphire ikran, she remarked excitedly, “Especially once the baby ikran arrive.”
“Time flew rather fast with the eggs” Tsu’tey agreed since the two ikran had fought each other to deem each other worthy of being mates. He hadn’t expected a nest of eggs until a few seasons in but unlike his rider, Swizav didn’t wait to be attached to his chosen mate. His tenacious ikran was likely tending to the nest to allow Xeki to venture out, especially since the female kept her wings open to stretch her muscles. He hadn’t meant to wait so long to return to the coast but leaving his birth home hadn’t been easy. Resting a hand on Aci’s head, he informed his partner, “Xeki is Swizav’s mate and we are expecting their offspring soon.”
What? He chose this gargantuan ikran as his?, she questioned indignantly because the reptilian female was larger than the ikran. Is this why he’d been insistent to leave the Omaticaya that morning? Why was she the last to know these things? It appeared she would have to be more involved to avoid being the last to hear news.
She pawed at the ground when her rider dismounted to break their bond but he stood in front of her as a boundary. He had been a good mediator between na’vi squabbles but he had yet to attempt an interspecies one. Playing negotiator between pa’li and ikran would be a new one. Joanna chuckled behind her hand as he attempted to be the peacemaker with a reluctant expression and asked her with curiosity, “Does that make us ikran grandparents or an aunt and uncle?”
“Aunt and uncle” she replied easily because she was not ready to be a grandparent yet. When she had children of her own, hopefully, her partners would be the same with her little ones. She could already see Peke giving out rides for treats. Rubbing her perky pa’li, she doted fondly with cheer, “Peke’s about to be an uncle too!”
What’s an uncle?, he thought innocently since his kind held their bonds by scent. He only remembered his mother and sisters, nobody else. He blinked with expectation to his mother, who only returned his puzzled behavior. She was as lost as he was!
Xeki sniffed the air around the two pa’li as they carried a similar forest scent. Peke, however, had a mixture of the sea from his stay amongst the Atykwe pa’li. Memorizing the scent of the new female to count her as an ally, she snorted into the sky to remove the scents from obscuring others. Her receptors were acute in catching the slightest difference and she trilled softly to eliminating any threats from her flock.
“I think that’s her way of saying welcome” Joanna chuckled modestly to her ikran’s finicky demeanor and Xeki nudged her shoulder with her snout. Aci was not overly trustful of the new ikran but her son didn’t help by tapping his antennae against Xeki’s. The huntress chuckled to the camaraderie between her partners, one who was a predator and the other prey, and she looked to her partner with amusement, “We appear to have quite the animated partners.”
Tsu’tey agreed completely to their chosen steeds, impressed that even their ikran paired off, and replied flatly, “Good thing Swizav is egg-sitting.”
Joanna ran her hands over Xeki’s neck to rub the soft underside of her scaly skin to coo gently, “Have you eaten, Xeki?”
She trilled with content as she raised her neck for better access since she missed spending time with her rider and flying. As an ikran from the coast, her happiness came from soaring over the sea rather than dwelling in a tree. Once Swizav had returned permanently to their nest, she had taken off to eat fish to her stomach’s content and spent an hour flying through the sky. Joanna was pleased to see her ikran relaxed and happy since the endless weeks had forced Xeki to shift into a hibernating state to cope with being an ikran without a partner. She had even fetched fish for Xeki when she couldn’t guard the eggs in order to prevent stress to her ikran. Now, the finish line was almost within reach for the attentive new mother.
Speaking of family, she turned back to Tsu’tey to find him wedged between the two pa’li. Peke kept trying to lick his face while Aci kept swatting her rider with her antennae. Yes, they would be quite an interesting family. The hunter tore himself away from the two, which led them to trot along the coast in small circles, and she asked inquisitively, “Have you seen the matriarch or your family?”
“Only my cousins, I hoped you would accompany me for the other” he confessed sheepishly because he wanted to spend his free time alongside her. One, for the insight to his new life and second, to be by her side. She was a great help when he had little hands flying at him for hugs or playtime and he knew Leti was waiting for him. Gazing out to the calm sea, the peaceful sounds of the coast soothed his heart and he whispered earnestly, “I am still becoming familiar with this land.”
“You have all the time you need, dear one” she assured with confidence as she removed her queue braid from Xeki’s antennae. Closing the distance between herself and the hunter, she reached out to grasp his hands to intertwine their fingers. There was strength in her touch that settled the nerves in his stomach and he squeezed her fingers with appreciation to her support. She had never failed to pick him up when he was uncertain or worried and he touched his forehead to hers. Her ears flattened against her head for the open affection and she whispered tenderly, “This is our forever home.”
“I never expected my road to lead me here . . . but I am happy for it” he confessed with disbelief that his destiny diverged from the Omaticaya completely. It was unexpected and something he never imagined but Eywa worked in mysterious ways. His life had changed from the moment he had literally fallen on Joanna and her life had tightly intertwined with his, even if he had been an unwilling party at the start. Peering into her golden eyes, he was ready to walk the last step in their journey to be bonded and smiled, “All we have left is our ceremony.”
A/N: Tsu’tey has officially moved to the Atykwe roster of characters now! It’s been a long time coming but a partnership between Joanna and Aci was another facet of Tsu’tey’s life that I wanted to explore. She’s a tough mare but Joanna and Peke will soften her like putty now that she’s at the beach. Tsu’tey will need his support system more than ever after leaving everything behind which will be the focus of the next chapter. I can’t wait to bring back little Leti and the kids.
Thank you to all of my old readers who returned to my story after such a long leave and to my new readers, you’ve all astounded me in the statistics charts. I also want to reply to my last chapters reviewers to return the respect!
Potatis02: I am totally back! It’ll be about a month between chapters but I think that’s better than seven years, lol.
MoonWarriorLuna: Thank you for reading! I’m continuing this story since we’re not too far from a close and I want to finish it for everyone invested in it.
xlostinmyownworldx: Thank you for loving this story so much, I truly appreciate it. It’s the prime reason I want to finish it for my readers to bring them closure on it.
COWR: Thank you, I believe my update surprised a lot of readers but I’m glad it’s on a positive note. I was worried my skills on the Avatar world would be rusty but not too bad so far, thank you!
gossamermouse101: Having 5 children without pause in between would drive the two bonkers, given their independent streaks. Thank you for the writing compliment, I’m still delving into the Avatar world (both Cameron’s and the one I created) to ensure there’s nothing out of place years later.
TenebrisSaggitarius: Congratulations on completing high school and college! 7 years is a long time! I went through undergrad, nursing school, took a 5-year break for work experience to currently dive into graduate school right now. Tsu’tey is definitely not used to losing control and giving up his old life is the ultimate ‘let go’ action he could do. You’re right, however, in his huge support system at the Atykwe since Joanna only had Nitari, Anaya, and Arat when she moved into another new culture, not to mention, world. Thank you for sticking to my story despite the years, I appreciate you!
EdenMae: You’re very welcome and thank you for coming back to read my story! I want to finish the story for the readers and for myself to mark another completed on my roster, even if it might make me melancholy to end it.
theoakleafbearer: Thank you for returning to read my story, I’m glad that it brought you happiness during rough times. I’ve often turned to reading and writing to calm my stress, especially during rough shifts (this pandemic’s shooting that stress level up), so I’m humbled you chose my story to read.
gypsygirl368262: I’m glad the chapters have brought you laughter!
Books-n-Harleys: Haha, thank you for enjoying the story! I’m loving the feedback and reactions from the readers, I’m glad to see the enthusiasm for this tale and its characters.
Guest: Thank you and it’s good to be back!
Justagenericusername: It’s definitely a long re-read since I had to do it myself to reboot the story and often wondered if I really wrote this. Thank you for returning to read the story though!
neytirisdad: Thank you for continuing to read my story, I appreciate it!
SharkToothFairy: I’m glad that you’re happy for the update and thank you for reading!
DeepBlueDragon: I remember the binder! The readers of this story are the prime reason I’m finishing this tale because I kept re-reading chapters and trying to finish a chapter but the motivation lacked for the first five year due to the intensity of my nursing program. Now, I’ve finally pushed myself to continue writing and not stop because I can easily pull up the reviews of encouragement to keep writing. I want this story finished as well to give finality to the characters. Thank you for sticking with me since 2010!
Lily Borja: You’re very welcome and thank you for reading my story, I appreciate it wholeheartedly! I hope this chapter was just as exciting as the last one.
Dulce: Haha, my story was definitely lost in limbo for a little while. Thank you for re-reading the story, it’s not an easy feat, and for continuing to read the latest chapter! I hope I was able to pull the same emotion from this chapter with Joanna’s trip and Tsu’tey’s departure from his clan.
rosiepine: Thank you for returning to the story despite the long years and there will be regular updates from now on in monthly intervals. I’m glad you enjoy this story, I appreciate all my readers for taking the time for it!
Thank you for reading!