A week after Jake and Neytiri returned to the clan from their honeymoon, he announced that he intended to take a couple of hunters and ride out to the wreck of the mobile lab.
Neytiri was surpised when he asked if she would mind staying behind. "Why do you want me to stay? Have I done something wrong?"
Jake cupped her face in his hands and rubbed her cheeks with his thumbs reassuringly. "No, of course not. It's just a simple trip to pick up stuff that got left at the lab. I should be able to handle that much." He smiled at her fondly "At some point I have to stop monopolizing your time to translate for me wherever I go. Besides, I don't want you getting sick of my company."
Neytiri snorted in amusement. As if she would ever get sick of his company! She understood his need to be able to function on his own, though. Even when he had been a human with crippled legs, his determination to 'stand' on his own had been a prominent part of his personality. As it is with most good males, she noted to herself. And conceded. She kissed his nose. "Be safe, and come home quickly."
She saw him off the next morning, waving farewell as he and three hunters rode off with the clan's five remaining pa'li. She turned back towards the Tree and thought Well, what do I do? The motion of her turn caused some of her braids to wave before her, and she noted that they were looking rather shopworn. Her spirits picked up and she headed off to find someone.
Ceyrene sensed purposeful movement and looked up to find the Olo'eyctan's mate headed straight for her. She waved, "Eywa ngahu, Neytiri!" and got a return wave in response, "Eywa ngahu!"
The tsahik stopped in front of her friend. "My hair is beginning to look like a riti's nest Ceyrene, can you help me?"
The woman couldn't resist the opportunity to tease and looked at Neytiri slyly, "Well, you have been rather occupied lately. Though I'm sure Jake hasn't been paying much attention to your hair!" She couldn't help but laugh when her newly-mated friend blushed a very becoming shade of blue. "Of course I can" she relented, and patted the ground in front of her "Sit down right here."
Neytiri gratefully sat down with her back to her friend, and the two women started removing the ties and beads bound into her hair. Then she relaxed and let Ceyrene start undoing the many small cornrow braids. It wasn't practical for an ikran makto to leave their hair free; loose hair blinded a rider. Male and female na'vi alike wore their hair in these small braids simply to make daily life easier.
She closed her eyes as Ceyrene started humming happily. Minutes later they were hailed by another woman "Eywa ngahu, Ceyrene! Eywa ngahu, Neytiri!"
They returned the greeting cheerfully, "Eywa ngahu, Beyral!"
The huntress whose name Neytiri had suggested to Jake as a potential mate sat down with them contentedly. "And here I thought I was going to be the first to get here today! Mind doing my hair after Neytiri's, Ceyrene?"
"Gladly!" the hair-woman replied. "Sit with us, I can start on yours while Neytiri is washing hers." The three women were soon happily chatting away about the new Hometree, hunting, jewelry, who was seeing who, all the little things that made up village life, in a ritual that was as old as village life itself.
It took a while for Jake and his escort to get to the mobile lab. It would have been easier to fly, but he needed the pa'li to carry the item he intended to return with. They camped overnight, and arrived at the lab about noon of the next day.
He didn't need to go into the lab; Norm had already recovered anything usable by the science team. Jake's eyes went steely when he saw Quaritch's broken AMP suit – and a few small bones scattered nearby. He turned to inspect the target of his journey.
The corpse of the Thanator had been stripped down to bare bones by scavengers, as he'd expected. He examined the skeleton. Viperwolves he noted, identifying the characteristic teeth marks along the ribs.
Jake saw the hunters looking at him curiously and gestured to the corpse, "Neytiri palulukan" He saw comprehension light their faces as they realized that this was the very Thanator that his mate had ridden. He explained with gestures and broken Na'vi that he wanted to take the skull. They nodded and helped him carefully separate it from the rest of the skeleton and get it onto the spare pa'li.
Once they had it carefully tied to the direhorse's harness, two of the hunters spoke to each other, talking too quickly for Jake to make out most of what they said. The older hunter gestured to him to come back over to the corpse. The man picked up one skeletal foot, from which ten inch long claws hung. He drew his knife and showed it to Jake, then gestured to the claws.
Jake instantly realized what the man was saying and nodded assent. The four of them together carefully harvested the claws and bagged them as well as some other bones that looked useful, and then started home.
Neytiri was expecting him, and so heard the scouts announce an incoming party. She almost skipped down the central trunk, happy at the thought of Jake's return. A chattering crowd surrounded the returning clansmen as they rode right into the central gathering-space. Her eyes went wide as Jake led the pack-mare in and she saw the reason for the chatter. She had no doubt of what the skull was.
Jake dismounted and turned to the laden direhorse just as Mo'at walked up. "What is this?" his mother in law asked.
He explained, "When the Na'vi were losing to the Sky People, Eywa sent the younger brothers and sisters to help us, from the small nantang, to the ikran, to the great angtsik." Jake gestured to the two meter long skull. "Neytiri told me that the Na'vi do not have any songs about the palulukan, but it too obeyed Eywa's call and came to help us." He looked at his mate with pride and respect "For the first time, there is a Na'vi who is palulukan makto. I thought that it – and she – must surely be worth at least one song."
Mo'at nodded and spoke firmly as the people murmured approval "Or even more than one. We shall put this in a place of honor. Generations of Omaticaya shall see it and be reminded of the brothers and sisters who came to help us in our hour of need. Palulukan will be remembered as a worthy child of Eywa, and a great warrior." She looked proudly at her daughter "As will palulukan makto."