Josh, in desperation, screams at the top of his lungs, spreads his arms wide and runs straight at the thing.
It stops its charge abruptly, with an oversized bleat.
ANGLE ON JOSH. He is amazed the gambit worked. He grins. Makes a face at the titanothere. Something rises up behind him out of focus... RACK FOCUS to it, revealing... A MANTICORE. This is what really stopped the Titanothere's charge.
The manticore is the most fearsome of Pandoran predators, and by the look of it might be the toughest carnivore in the known universe. This thing could eat a T-rex and have the Alien for desert.
It is a black six-limbed panther from Hell, the size of a tractor trailer, with an armored head, a venomous striking tail, and massive distensible armored jaws. Its shiny black skin looks like polished leather, and is banded with thin stripes of yellow and scarlet.
It has four powerful legs forming a base for a torso which angles up, centaur-like, to a powerful shoulder girdle. Folded against its chest are two long forearms like the striking limbs of a praying mantis. Curving up over the back is a muscular scorpion tail which ends in a scythe-like stinger, over a foot long.
The locals call it "Palulukan", which translates as "Dry Mouth Bringer of Fear".
Josh, still unaware of the silently advancing manticore, yells "boo!" to the Titanothere. It wheels around, trumpeting in fear, and thunders off down the trail.
Imagine Josh's surprise when there is an earsplitting snarl behind him and seven tons of rippling manticore launches over him, landing between him and the titanothere. The hammerhead is shaking the ground at a full gallop, but the manticore runs it down in half a dozen powerful bounds.
It leaps to the titanothere's shoulder, seizing it in the powerful front limbs, and then the muscular tail arches over, slamming the foot long stinger through the beast's armored neck. The neurotoxin venom is pumped in with one contraction of the muscular tail, and the titanothere topples to the ground with a crash, shaking the forest.
Josh gapes as the manticore rips into its prey with massive jaws lined with distending fangs 9 inches long. Josh backs slowly away, trying to be invisible. He slips behind some foliage, then runs like hell.
CUT TO JOSH chopping at a sapling he has cut down, fashioning it into a long spear. He hacks at the end, forming a crude but sharp tip. His motions are jerky and manic with fear. He sticks the machete through his belt and carries the spear two-handed as he moves through the forest like it's a minefield.
THE POV AGAIN, through the leaves.
And the eyes, bright in a slash of sunlight. Golden irises like a cat, in a feral blue face. They duck away as Josh approaches.
Josh passes a tree, and on our side of the tree we see a figure, standing utterly still, listening to him pass.
A NA'VI WOMAN. She is young, and lithe as a cat, with a long, slender neck, muscular shoulders, and nubile breasts... a statuesque vision. Let's not mince words here... she is devastatingly beautiful. For a girl with a tail. In human age she would be in her late teens.
In the sun dappled shadows, her banded markings make her invisible. Josh passes less than a meter from her and never knows she is there. She watches him, frozen, only her eyes moving.
CLOSEUP on the Na'vi girl. She sniffs the scent Josh has left behind him in the air.
AT THE CRASH SITE the rescue ship as arrived. Trudy climbs aboard the hovering Samson, but Grace and N'deh say there are going to look for Josh. The VTOL craft banks away. Grace looks to the west as she walks to the treeline. The twin suns are setting behind a black wall of alien trees.
DUSK IN THE RAINFOREST. Josh, moving through the quickly darkening forest, has got problems. In the deepening gloom he sees black shapes moving with liquid grace among the shadows behind him.
He is being stalked by a pack of VIPERWOLVES. Josh catches movement out of the corner of his eye and realizes one of the things is moving up to a flanking position. He sees a glint of eyes, a slinking black movement... then nothing. Darkness. And behind him more glints... pairs of eyes. Then a hideous sound, more like a hyena's maniacal laugh than a dog growl.
Josh starts to run along a game trail he has been following. He catches glimpses of the viperwolves bounding through the woods, staying with him.
His running has made them bolder. They sense his fear and they are closing in. He sees another on his opposite flank now.
The forest has come alive with bioluminescence as the day fades. Spots and patterns, ghosts and galaxies of blue-green light dance before his eyes, disorienting him... seeming to surround him with the glowing cat-eyes of the viperwolves. Their psychotic laughing barks become more intense as they signal each other, getting excited. He can see the shadows of the viperwolves moving through the undergrowth, leaving a tell-tale trail of flashes as they brush against the sensitive plants.
Finally one makes a run at him. He senses it angling in on his legs from behind and he whirls, whopping it with the flat of the spear. It yips and goes past him, but instantly another moves in. He jabs it with the business end of the spear and it yelps, retreating, baring its fangs. Josh realizes that he is making his final stand.
The viperwolves circle and Josh gets his first good look at them. He doesn't like what he sees. They are like wolves painted by Francis Bacon...
Hairless, with shiny skin that looks like overlapped leather armor. They are mostly black, banded with vermilion and thin lines of iridescent blue. Earless low-slung heads, with chitinous neck shields like a triceratops. Bright, intelligent eyes. And the same distending, snake-like jaws as the bansheerays, glistening with fangs that look like they are made of glass. Most disturbing are the creature's paws, which are like leathery black hands... almost human in shape, with a thumb for gripping. These things can hunt in the trees as well as on the ground.
There are half a dozen of them, maybe more in the shadows.
Josh feels a rush of adrenaline, or whatever does the same thing in his avatar body, like he has never felt in his life. It goes through him like a lightning bolt and the fear is gone.
JOSH: (shouting) You want me? Come on! Come and get some!
With sharp snarls and a blur of motion they attack. Josh plants the spear in one, striking true, but the speed of its attack wrenches it from his hands. He draws the machete and chops at another, just as a third sinks its teeth into his arm. He yells in pain and fury, slashing across with the machete. It cuts deep into the throat of the one on his arm, and it lets go.
He sprints, trying to escape, but one of the viperwolves grabs him by the ankle with its powerful fore-hand. Josh tears away, but goes sprawling. He looks up in time to see four viperwolves lunging toward him. The nearest leaps at his throat. THUNK!! An arrow appears in its chest. It lands on him, already a dead weight. He pushes it off in time to see a blue figure wade in among the remaining wolves. It is the Na'vi girl.
She cracks her bow down on the skull of one of the wolves. Then grabs another and picks it up bodily, hurling it against a tree. The last one leaps at her and she drops under its weight, but rolls somehow, coming up on top of it with a knife in her hand. The knife flashes down, buried to the hilt in its heart.
The last two viperwolves, stunned by her blows, retreat yipping into the black woods.
Josh gets up, amazed to be alive... amazed by this girl... this vision. She recovers her arrow from one of the dead wolves. He speaks to her, not knowing if she understands him. Finally she speaks, in halting English. He knows she must be one of the Tsumongwi clan, the ones taught by Giese's people how to speak English.
Her name is ZULEIKA TE KAHA POLENOMA. Josh thanks her for killing the viperwolves. Zuleika's eyes flash with anger. This is not a thing to thank someone for, she says. It is a sad thing, and it is his fault.
She blames him for the unnecessary deaths of the wolves. If he had known what he was doing they wouldn't have attacked. But he is clumsy and stupid as a baby. These are unnecessary deaths. She touches the fangs of the wolves respectfully. She murmurs to them in her language, asking them to forgive her. And to forgive this stupid alien man.
What should I have done? He wants to know. She explains how sap from a certain leaf imitates the smell of a slinger dart... you rub it on your face... and it scares them. They think you are a slinger. They won't attack you.
Zuleika stands, walking away as if nothing has happened. Josh grabs his machete and sprints to catch up with her. She scowls at him, and says that you alien people do not understand this forest. You should not come here. You only cause problems.
Josh asks why she saved him, then. Why not let her wolves have a nice meal, if she loves them so much? What's the deal?
She stops, meeting his eyes for the first time.
ZULEIKA: Because you are brave.
He grins at the complement. She scowls, turning away again.
ZULEIKA: But you are ignorant as a child.
JOSH: Teach me, then.
She looks at him again.
JOSH: You don't want to leave me out here alone to harm more animals. I'm a menace. I need to be taught what to do.
ZULEIKA: You aliens do not see. Never see.
JOSH: Teach me to see.
ZULEIKA: No one can teach to see.
Needless to say, she lets him go with her. First she binds his wound with some plant dressing that stops the bleeding and the pain.
As they walk he asks her questions. The first lesson is silence. They walk on. The sky is black and full of stars. There are two moons providing more than enough light for his large cat-eyes. The bioluminescence is everywhere.
A GHOSTBIRD flies through the trees above them. A glowing, transparent membrane, delicate as a blown-glass figurine. Elegant and insubstantial. Its song is eerie but quiet melodic.
There are other things wafting through the high branches, little points of light like fireflies. A couple drift near him and he sees that they are like glowing dandelion seeds, about the size of large butterflies, waving their silky cilia to move gracefully through the night air.
They cross a large bed of moss, which reacts to the pressure of their footsteps. Rings of blue-green light, like water ripples on a pond, expand outward from each footfall.
Josh sees movement in the trees ahead. Suddenly a glowing manta-shape banks toward them... a bansheeray. Josh raises his machete, bracing for a chop. He slashes at the shape and...
It dissolves. Into a swarm of MOONWRAITHS. These insects fly in a tightly patterned swarm, imitating the shape of a bansheeray to discourage insect-eating predators. The moonwraiths disperse like a mist and reform further on.
ZULEIKA: You do not see.
They pass through a grove of trees like willows. A fountain of gossamer tendrils from each central stalk. The long tendrils hang down like straight hair, and they glow faintly. They sway hypnotically, as if in a breeze, but there is no breeze. They reach out, gently caressing them as they pass through. Zuleika runs her fingers through the tendrils as she walks. She murmurs to them in her language. Josh listens to her, talking to the trees as they walk through the suddenly magical night.
Zuleika breaks into a loping run. Josh catches up, and soon they are running silently together through the dappled moonlight. His body is powerful, and this is effortless. He feels almost like he is flying. Looking down, he sees exploding rings of light where his feet touch down.
They approach a waterfall, a wide curtain shimmering in the moonlight.
Zuleika runs agilely over a fallen trunk, across a broad pool at the base of the waterfall.
LOOKING DOWN we see glowing, gently moving shapes covering the bottom of the pool. They are giant anemones. Zuleika and Josh are silhouettes sprinting over a garden of blue, cyan and salmon colored living starbursts, some over three meters across.
They run on in silence. Josh breaths in deeply, smelling a thousand things he never noticed before. He feels like he knows what they are, at some cellular level. Something, deep in his brain, deep in the fabric of this alien body, is awakening.
They enter a clearing filled with chest-high ferns. She signals him to stop, then shows him a creature perched on a nearby fern.
Josh sees a black, stick-like lizard thing perched on a frond ahead of him. It is about a foot long and ugly as a toad. As he approaches it goes SNAP!
A long spine lying along its back snaps around in a circle, unfurling a bioluminescent membrane of bright orange and blue... a perfect disk almost a meter across, opening like a Chinese fan. The rapidly distending fan-wing imparts enough angular movement to spin the creature like a frisbee. It glides, spinning, through the darkness. It floats across the clearing to another branch where the wing furls, vanishing as suddenly as it appeared.
Zuleika runs forward with a sharp cry, plunging into a large patch of ferns. With an explosion of color, two dozen FAN LIZARDS snap into motion, and Josh is suddenly surrounded by luminous floating disks, which spin away between the glowing trees.
The ugly little lizards become one of the most beautiful things he's ever seen. In fact, this world which seemed so ugly has become one of awesome beauty.
Josh's face fills with childlike wonder. He looks at Zuleika, and sees her smiling. Josh notices that the chromatophores on her body have brightened and changed color. He looks down. His have too. His own skin pulsing with colors he has never seen before. He doesn't know what it means. But Zuleika does.
Several of the dandelion-seed things float near him. The humans call them WILLATHEWISPS, and they are more plant than animal. But right now they seem to be acting with purpose. Now there are more, circling around him. Some alighting on him. He laughs as more of them come. Soon Josh is a pulsing, glowing, fluttering mass of light, standing in the clearing.
Zuleika is very impressed by this. She takes it as a sign that he is accepted by the willathewisps. The forest is giving him a blessing. Why, she does not know. But she knows not to question it. And she is secretly glad. Because she is fascinated by this alien, and now she has an excuse to bring them to...
Josh follows Zuleika into the village of her clan. They live inside the bases of three of the enormous mangrove-like trees. Cookfires are visible through the pillars of the roots, and people move past them as tall silhouettes.
Zuleika calls to them and they come out to look at Josh. The PATRIARCH and MATRIARCH stand waiting for Zuleika to explain what she is doing. She goes into a long, uninterrupted explanation, in rapidfire bursts of her lilting, musical language, accompanied by lots of hand gestures which fascinate Josh with their eloquence. Her jointless fingers are hypnotic to watch as she talks.