“Stay still,” Neytiri commanded, dipping her fingers in the orange dye before drawing a simple pattern upon Toms face. Symbologists would debate at length the reasons behind each marking as well as the act itself, but Tom knew it was a great honour to be decorated with the tribal paints of the Clan. He felt Neytiri’s soft fingers run over his skin, keeping his eyes fixed upon hers as she worked.
“I’m still not sure about this,” he admitted quietly. Neytiri stopped her painting for a moment, never having heard the dreamwalker show fear or apprehension before. She knew he was not comfortable in the high branches but she assumed that hesitancy had been lost over the weeks they spent together. After explaining the final rites of passage she watched the dreamwalker become more and more uneasy in what was ahead.
“You will do well, Eywa has put great faith in you Thomsully,” she finally said, taking one of his alien hands in her own and pressing their fingers together so that he had one digit left untouched. “The Ikran will only choose you if it knows you are worthy of heart.”
“Do you have faith in me?” Tom said, stepping closer so that his arms encircled the smaller Na’vi woman. She looked to the side shyly, feeling her heart beat as if a Palulukan were standing before her and not an alien hybrid.
“We are all One, to trust another is to trust all. Do you trust me Thomsully?”
“With my life,” he admitted honestly, letting his arms drop lower as he looked up into the sky, watching the wild Ikrans flit above. Soon he would be high above amongst them.
“Then you will do fine,” Neytiri laughed, daubing a last dollop of paint on his forehead. “Now go, Tsu’tey will lead the initiates through the Thundering Rocks.”
Picking up his bow, Tom took one last deep breath and hurried off. “Good luck,” Neytiri whispered before heading to find her own Ikran and circumvent the torturous journey to the summit of the floating mountains.
Tsu’Tey stood waiting impatiently at the base of the floating mountains, only two other young Na’vi accompanying him. He snorted with disdain at Tom’s markings, because of the harried fingermarks or who had painted them Tom couldn’t tell.
“We go,” he said with authority, leading the trio for their trip. The direhorses could only take them so far, eventually resorting to them climbing the near vertical mountains, the constant swaying motion not helpful coupled with the strong winds. Eventually reaching what appeared to be the top of the stack they were climbing Tom looked around, oblivious to where to go next. Tsu’tey stood beside him and snorted before taking a running leap of the edge of the rock, grabbing hold of a vine that hung precariously before them. Without pausing the other two Na’vi followed suit, all three slowly inching themselves higher.
Tom peered cautiously over the edge of the gap, his heart leaping into his mouth. Heights. Of all the things for the final test to involve, why did it have to be height? he wondered angrily to himself. He had come too far to give up now but his body seemed to resist any thoughts, as if his psionic link had suddenly become interrupted at the thought of putting his avatar through such a torturous ordeal.
Taking one final gulp of air, Tom ran full pelt, arms outstretched to snatch at a vine before him. Fingers thrashing wildly he slid several feet before managing to catch himself. Clinging tight to compose himself he followed the others upwards as quickly as he could, though they had obviously being waiting for some time when he finally arrived at the top. One of the youngsters reached out to give him a hand over the edge but withdrew his hand quickly when Tsu’tey cracked his bow against it harshly.
At this high an altitude the continual screech of the wild Ikrans was easily audible over the rushing wind, though their nesting place remained out of view. The small cave they had found themselves in was suddenly buffeted by a blast of wind as Neytiri elegantly guided her own beast in through the wide opening, gently patting it on the beak as she dismounted and walked towards the party.
“You should not be here,” Tsu’tey said angrily, blocking her path.
“Eywa asked me to watch over Thomsully, I am following her wishes,” she said quietly, placing a hand against the warriors chest to placate him. “I will not interfere, I come only to watch.“
“I’awn,” he said finally, stay. “Follow,” he commanded to the rest of the group. As Tom passed her, Neytiri touched his arm lightly, her eyes finding his for an instant. “Just like we practised,” Neytiri said. “Eywa ngahu.” Eywa be with you.
Tom felt his heart lift, and quickly hurried on with a spring in his step which faltered all too soon when he saw their destination. At least a score of the giant beats called a narrow outcropping home, some resting peacefully, others engaged in various activities. Even as they stood watching more arrived, angrily vying for space amongst the rocks.
“Dreamwalker, you first,” Tsu’tey said with obvious relish, standing back to let Tom pass. The Ikran did not take kindly to his presence as Tom moved between them, squawking loudly and taking flight as he approached each in turn. As he passed the midway point Tom felt a heavy thud behind him and turned to see an Ikran standing firmly between him and the only way off this rock. The great beast bowed its head low, emitting an angry hiss from a sharp mouth.
“Guess you’re my ride,” Tom said, carefully unwinding the binding rope he had been learning to use and swinging it slowly back and forth. The giant bird hissed again before starting to turn away. “Oh no you don’t,” Tom said, leaping with all his strength for it.
The giant bird thrashed violently as Tom grabbed hold and sought purchase on its back, wrapping his legs around its muscular neck in an attempt to lock himself in place before it bucked him off too soon. The beak, unrestrained and full of sharp teeth, gnashed wildly at him, nearly taking off an arm before he could wrap his rope around securely. Now came the hard part, making the first Bond. With the bird now in even more of a panic it moved frantically, doing everything in its power to rid itself of this unwelcome parasite.
As Tom fought to find the Ikrans neural interface he suddenly felt the world lurch sideways. The bird in its haste had stepped over the side of the mountain and was now tumbling wildly downwards, the clouds and obscured ground rushing upwards at them. Frantically grabbing his own queue Tom shoved the two together, feeling the bond rush through his system. Nothing like a trial by fire he thought, letting his desire to rise flow through the link and into the Ikran. It responded as if they had been born together, instantly extending its wings and soaring upwards in a gentle arc.
Tom felt the wind whip through his hair, the world spreading out before him in all directions. He patted the Ikrans side, amazed at having finally succeeded in overcoming one of his long standing fears. Without warning another Ikran flew by overhead, nearly decapitating him in the process. Looking over he saw Neytiri laughing playfully, banking her Ikran to fly alongside him.
They flew for together until the Sun gave way to night and the cold winds made their skin shiver. Setting down at the top of the Hometree Tom had never been so relieved to have a solid footing beneath his feet, even if he was still high above real ground. Neytiri embraced him tightly as they walked downwards, praising him on his first flight. It seemed he had passed the final rite of passage to becoming a member of the Omaticaya Clan with flying colours and the whole tribe would be celebrating his second-birth tonight.
Neytiri took great care decorating him for his moment of glory, painting exquisite patterns upon his skin. He still couldn’t quite believe how far he had come in such a short amount of time. As soon as Neytiri had told him of the final test, the last pieces of his plan had come together and even now Tom was thinking how he would tell her of the troubles that lay ahead and what he must do to prevent it.
Standing before Eytukan and Mo’at, Tom felt more proud than he had at any point in his life. As each member of the clan linked bodies and he was finally accepted as one of the People, Tom knew that he would give his life to defend these people.
“You are one of us now Thomsully,” Mo’at said, her piercing stare cutting deeply into Toms very soul. Could she see what ailed him so badly?
Neytiri lead the dreamwalker through the iridescent fields away from the Hometree, her heart as light as a seed from the Tree of Souls. Tom chased playfully after her, enamoured after finally joining her people. He knicked playfully at her tail, causing her to dance out of his way. Finally she arrived at the Tree of Voices, a sacred place for all of her kind and one that Thom was now worthy of seeing for himself.
“This is very special place, all Na’vi that have been are here,” she explained, taking one of the long tendrils from the tree in her hands. “You can hear all their thoughts, their feelings.” Gently placing her queue against the tendril Neytiri closed her eyes and appeared to be lost deep in thought.
Tom followed her actions, placing his own queue against a tendril and instantly felt the voices of many wash through his mind. It was a surreal sensation, as if he were at one with them all, knew each intimately and felt every hope and desire that had ever been shared. Eventually he pulled himself away, finding Neytiri standing studying him in the pale blue light.
“You are Omaticaya now,” she began slowly, turning her body sideways ever so slightly. “You may make your bow from the wood of Hometree. And choose a mate from the women of the tribe.”
Tom stepped closer, an instinctual drive pushing him forwards until he stood before her.
“Ney’nat has the best voice amongt the Omaticaya,” Neytiri said quietly, turning her face away from Toms.
“She most certainly does,” Tom repeated.
“And Pey’lal is the most skilled huntress.”
“She is, but I don’t want Pey’lal,” Tom whispered back quietly. “I’ve already decided which woman I want, but she must choose me as well.”
Neytiri lifted her eyes towards Toms and felt herself lost in them.
“She already has.”