JOSH: Now what?
ZULEIKA: Now we climb.
JOSH: I was afraid you were going to say that.
FOUR HUNDRED FEET up the beanstalk, the hunters clamber among the gargantuan vine-trunks. They pass one of the trapped unobtanium boulders which is providing the lift for this incredible tree. Josh looks down and can't believe how the massive trunk dwindles to the apparent size of a licorice stick before it gets to the ground. A chunk breaks off the unobtanium boulder as they climb over it... and it floats upwards. They reach the upper branches of the beanstalk tree.
Above them, Mons Veritatis fills the sky with its craggy underbelly. They are close now. Spray from one of the waterfalls hits them. Some of the vines hanging down are brushing over the upper branches of the beanstalk with a crackling hiss.
One by one the hunters grab onto vines as they pass. Josh grins at Zuleika and leaps to a passing vine. She follows and they climb rapidly up toward the bottom of the floating mountain.
They work their way up into the grotto from which a waterfall is thundering down into the void like a faucet of the gods. The hunters assemble in the grotto. Josh peers down, through a rocky window on the world below. Surreal. Tsu Te leads them through the cave until they emerge at the...
CLIFF FACE. The sheer side of Mons Veritatis. And Josh sees where they are going. It is the bansheeray rookery. Scores of bansheerays huddle on the rock outcroppings, some hanging almost like bats.
Zuleika explains that this is the only place they land... never on the ground below... and the only way to approach a bansheeray is when it has landed.
JOSH: Why would you want to approach a bansheeray?
He's about to find out. Tsu Te creeps up behind a large specimen. As graceful and deadly as it is in the air, it looks clumsy on the rocky perch. Its wing membranes are folded and ugly, and it hugs the rock to keep from slipping off. It is almost comical. It can't look behind itself, which is where Tsu Te approaches from.
Tsu Te works his way up to it and plugs the end of his queue into the tip of the big ray's antenna. It shrieks and tenses up, but Tsu Te strokes its back with his palm, and is able to climb onto it now that he has motor control.
Tsu Te locks himself to its body with his arms and legs, and shouts a loud, whooping cry. The bansheeray leaps from its perch and drops, pulling out of a dive and gliding away. Tsu Te guides it back toward the others, and it banks past with a whoosh of air. Raising one hand in an exultant salute, he shrieks and the bansheeray shrieks with him.
Zuleika gestures for Josh to go first, pointing to a nice, healthy specimen with a 10 meter wingspan.
Josh does it just like Tsu Te did, and manages to make the hookup. His ray flaps its wings, spooking... but he gets it calmed down. He climbs on its back and...
THWAP! THWAP! The ray is off like a shot. Josh screams in terror, and the ray shrieks, drowning him out. They fall together, spiraling out of control, and he is almost tossed lose. The thing is squawking and shrieking so much he can't think.
JOSH Shut the hell up!!
JOSH: Level out! Fly straight!
It does. To say it, he had to think the command, and by thinking it, he made the big ray do it. He thinks "bank left" and it does. He starts to get the hang of flying a bansheeray.
In a world of wonders, this may be the most exhilarating thing yet. He looks beside him as Zuleika falls into formation with him. We see the approval in her expression. She signals to him with a hand gesture, and banks away.
JOSH: I'm your wingman, baby.
He banks after her in a steep turn, joining the rest of the flying hunters. They all fall into formation, ten of them in a delta pattern like migrating geese. They dive together toward the rainforest far below.
VIDEO VIEW OF THE RAINFOREST from above. There is an undulating river below... a river of sturmbeest. Thousands of them on the move. Their indigo and orange stripes merge into a rippling moire, a living rapids of thundering muscle.
Marcia De Los Santos points her stereocam down from the rear door of a Samson flown by Trudy Chacon. Dr. Giese stares down, transfixed by the sight, as he is every year. Giese tells Trudy to get lower.
Giese sees something and his jaw drops in amazement. A bansheeray pulls up alongside the Samson. Josh/Avatar waves at them, then peels off and dives toward the herd below, catching up to the other Na'vi hunters.
The sturmbeest follow the same trail, and have done so for millennia. There are no large trees here, and the year's worth of undergrowth is pulverized under the thundering hooves in seconds. Dust rises from this living river like steam from a python's back.
AT GROUND LEVEL, the camera vibrates like its in a paint-shaker. The roar is sustained thunder. We track with the herd as they gallop over the rolling ground, dividing like a flow of water around rocks.
Suddenly a blueskinned Na'vi hunter appears in FG, astride a direhorse at full gallop. The sight is breathtaking. The hunter, even on his enormous mount, is dwarfed by the sturmbeest, which are like freight engines. The Na'vi has a huge spear, 3 meters long.
FROM ABOVE we see the herd filling frame. Bansheerays, ridden by Na'vi hunters, come into shot diving like hawks toward the sturmbeest herd. The ray-mounted hunters have long spears as well. Lashed to the business end of each is a living SLINGER DART, making it a venomous harpoon. If you're getting the impression that sturmbeest are hard to kill, you're right.
WHAT FOLLOWS IS AN EPIC HUNT.
Horse mounter Na'vi plunge fearlessly in amongst the galloping sturmbeest, whose shoulders are above their heads. It's like riding next to a thundering wall of rippling muscle.
The mounted hunters try to isolate one animal, carving it out from the herd, so that the flying riders can make the kill. But this is hairy stuff, as the sturmbeest go into evasive action, turning unpredictably, and kicking out with their back hooves as they crash through underbrush and decimate anything in their path.
When the sturmbeest feel threatened the stream divides, branching out into smaller trails through higher trees. This makes staying with them, whether on horseback or rayback an obstacle course.
Josh skims low over the herd with the other flying hunters. He zigs and zags through the trees, trying to make a shot with his spear. The dust from the sturmbeest herd is sometimes blinding. He dodges trunks and branches as the herd pours like a torrent through narrow channels in the brush.
Two direhorse mounted warriors gallop through the herd, targeting a single animal. They jab it with their spears, and it turns outward from the herd. The riders stay between it and the main mass of the herd, forcing it further away.
Tsu Te swoops in on the isolated animal, coming up behind it. He crouches far forward on the back of the big bansheeray, his dart-tipped spear held back and high for the thrust.
Tsu Te goes for the shot. The dart strikes home, in the vulnerable spot between the armored shoulders, just at the base of the neck... the only place the dart can penetrate.
The dart hits the nerve plexus there and the beast crashes forward, flipping twice from the speed of its run. The herd thunders past it, a few meters away as Tsu Te swoops off, his arms raised in triumph.
A direhorse mounted rider leaps a fallen log, staying with the herd. A moment later he is hit by a zigzagging sturmbeest, and knocked into some brush. His mount tumbles and he is thrown clear. He scrambles up and runs like hell as the river of sturmbeest bears down on him. He makes it out of the path by inches, the enormous hooves thundering past him.
Josh and Zuleika fly among the trees in a hairy display of aerobatics.
Trudy Chacon, in the Samson, tries to keep up with him and can't make the tight turns. Marcia is cussing her out, trying to get a good shot of Josh.
He homes in on a single animal, flying up behind it, closer and closer, poised for a strike.
He hurls the spear and it misses the mark, sticking harmlessly in the thickly armored shoulder.
He switches to his bow for another shot when he is knocked clean off the back of his ray by a tree branch. He tumbles to the ground and gets up running. His ray shrieks and flaps away.
A sturmbeest is charging toward him like a living Kenworth. Zuleika swoops down, and hurls her spear... missing the plexus. It sticks in the beast's shoulder. The sturmbeest roars and bucks, shaking off the spear, just as it passes Josh. Then it wheels in a rage, stopping in a cloud of dust. It lowers its head and charges Josh.
Josh dives for the fallen spear as the sturmbeest thunders toward him. He plants the blunt end of the spear in the ground, and angles the sharp end up toward the thing's muscular chest. He leaps aside at the last microsecond.
The spear is driven deep into the sturmbeest's chest, piercing its heart. Josh is knocked aside by its armored shoulder, and kicked by one of the legs as the beast collapses. It crashes to the ground and skids to a stop in a cloud of dust.
Josh staggers to his feet, shaken. Two direhorse riders pull up to a stop at Josh's kill, whooping and waving their herding spears.
N'deh, one of the riders, salutes Josh with a formal gesture of honor. Josh runs up an incline to a rocky outcropping. Zuleika swoops in to an expert landing with her bansheeray, and Josh jumps on behind her. With a powerful take-off stroke the ray leaps into the air. Zuleika grins and whoops, ecstatic that Josh is not only alive but has killed a sturmbeest. He has the heart of a mighty hunter. Who knew?
Tsu Te, flying above, sees this and isn't nearly so happy.
BACK AT THE VILLAGE, that night, the festival of the hunt is in full swing... a feast with music, dancing and lots of sturmbeest steaks. The huge bonfires illuminate the happy faces of the clan members.
The music and dance are surprisingly sophisticated for a technically primitive culture. Expressive and emotional, the sinuous movements are a celebration of the body, a celebration of life, movement, breath.
We see an epic "song" which is a complex performance by several members of the group which involves dance, rhythmic ethnic music, chanting and singing, and incredibly agile "hand-dancing" where the long, tendril-like fingers of the singers weave a poetic narrative of their own, on harmony or counterpoint to the other elements of the dance. Rapid controlled shifts of the dancers' bioluminescent spots add to the magical beauty of the performance.
When the song ends, a new beat begins and a dozen people rush in to dance in a circle. Zuleika grabs Josh's hand and pulls him into the circle of dancers. He is a little clumsy but game to try, and he puts some variations on their classic forms that are definitely inspired by MTV.
We see him shedding civilization and inhibition, letting himself go and dancing wild and free with the Na'vi people. Grace watches him with approval. She slips her hand into N'deh's, and he puts his arm around her. We realize that they are much closer than we thought.
Josh and Zuleika flow amongst the dancers, but they are looking only at each other. A couple of the young girls watching from outside the circle are giggling and talking about Josh and Zuleika. The Matriarch follows their look, and sees that the connection is being made. She and the Patriarch confer.
They are not sure if it is a good or a bad thing that their daughter and the alien seem to be coming together.
Mato'a is against the Matriarch's idea of teaching Josh too much of their knowledge. He thinks it is wrong to trust the aliens. It will only bring sorrow. The Na'vi see us as emotionally disturbed children, smart but out of control... violent, intolerant, uncentered.
Mo'at's instinct is to trust this one.
IN THE FOREST Zuleika leads Josh along a moonlit path. The sound of the festival is distant. She is taking him to her special place. They pass along the base of a waterfall and come to a basin, or pond, completely surrounded by the luminous weeping willows.
Zuleika dives from a rock, swimming across the pond, which glows from beneath. Josh swims with her, and they pass over beautiful glowing anemenoids, in a fantastic variety of pastel colors. Josh and Zuleika, swimming slowly under the surface, seem to float in some cosmic dance above a luminous garden of waving, hypnotic shapes. Tiny purple fish swim around them, darting away and swirling back.
Zuleika emerges from the water at the edge of a small glade. Josh joins her and she leads him by the hand to the center of the stand of willows. It is an exquisitely beautiful spot. Surrounding them are patterns of glowing pastels, blues and cyans, slashes of purple, and brilliant accents of scarlet. Underfoot, a rolling bed of moss glows faintly. It reacts to their footsteps with expanding rings of light. A flock of fanlizards flick into spinning flight, like a blizzard of brightly colored frisbees.
The willows stir, responding to the presence of Josh and Zuleika. She holds up her hands and speaks softly, in the Na'vi language. The tendrils sway as if in a soft breeze, and seem to caress her. Josh puts out his hands and the tendrils play over his fingers, his palms, his forearms. He feels something... a faint tingling, barely there.
Some willathewisps circle around them, some alighting on their shoulders and arms. She tells him that the willathewisps are the seeds of the willows and that they are an important part of the soul of the forest. They have accepted Josh, and that is why the Matriarch gave him a chance. Josh is not like the other aliens. Except for Grace, who is as close to a Na'vi as any alien has ever been. But even with her years here, she still holds back. She has never thrown herself completely into the forest, into their life, the way he has.
Josh has embraced the animistic forest, which is alive with invisible dynamic forces, spirits. Things which he doesn't understand, but accepts, in a way a scientist could not without taking it apart and finding out how it worked. He deeply respects these primal people who are in touch with forces we no longer see and feel.
Josh puts his hands on Zuleika's shoulders and turns her around, to face him. He tells her that he thinks he is starting to see. She smiles. Closes her eyes and opens them. Yes.
He puts his face close to hers. She rubs her cheek against his. They kiss. She pulls him down until they are kneeling, facing each other in the sacred glade.
Zuleika unbinds her queue, letting her hair tendrils float freely in a glossy mane. Like the willows they seem to stir gently in a breeze that isn't there. Her supple fingers slowly, lovingly, unbind Josh's queue and his hair flows out around his shoulders. They come together in another lingering kiss.
With its own life, their hair floats together, intertwining with gentle undulations. Josh rocks with the power of the direct contact between his nervous system and hers. It is how the Na'vi make love (or a part of it), and it is the ultimate intimacy.