Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed (I'd list everyone, but there are 20-some and I'm thinking people would like me to get to the story). Sorry it's been so long since there's been an update, but I've been trying to figure out how to end this one and jump into the second part, and it's not really working out. At this point I think there'll be a chapter or two to bridge the time and then finally the challenge and the end of it.

"speech" = English

/speech/ = Na'vi


Jake shifted quickly, planting a hand on Eykir's chest, and Tsu'tey winced in sympathy as Eykir was flung up and over Jake's head in a move that Tsu'tey had become all-too-familiar with in the time since they'd officially been declared 'healed.' Well, since quite a while before then, if one was going to be entirely accurate, but being entirely accurate led to disapproving frowns and lectures from his mother so he generally avoided that with regards to his personal well-being.

Eykir slammed into the dirt of the practice circle back-first, his breath driven from his body by the impact, and while he recovered quickly, it wasn't quickly enough. Jake pinned him to the ground and held him there until he signaled acceptance of the loss. The bodies of the Sky People were much smaller than those of the Na'vi, but their frames were broader through the chest and shoulders, and Jake's Dreamwalker body reflected that. Tsu'tey knew that Jake didn't considering himself back in full fighting shape yet—he complained about it often enough—but he was already among the strongest in the clan. His fighting technique reflected his unusual build which shouldn't have been a surprise given that he'd learned that among the Sky People as well, and—

Tsu'tey tilted his head as Jake rolled back to his feet, tail lashing as he grinned and looked around for another sparring partner. Jake had learned to fight among the Sky People. He'd known that before, but he'd never really thought about it.

May'ka began to push herself to her feet, and Tsu'tey shook his head and pushed himself up abruptly, signaling her back down. Not that he had any concern that Jake would hurt her, but if he was right he'd finally figured out a way to even the score with Jake in these matches. Not that there was any official tally, but young warriors especially tended to keep their counts, and Tsu'tey was privately well aware that he barely was barely able to best Jake in one match out of five. Besides, it was only fair to use Jake's own…techniques…against him.

Jake's ears twitched, clearly catching the interplay between himself and May'ka, but he didn't seem particularly concerned about the change in partners. Although his eyes did narrow a little as Tsu'tey stepped fully into the circle and after a bit of staring he shifted into a stance that Tsu'tey hadn't seen before. It was still clearly a Sky Person stance, though, which was all he cared about at the moment.

They circled at first—Tsu'tey had learned a few times over what a fast forward assault generally gained him where Jake was concerned—and then Jake feinted in and Tsu'tey spun past him and kicked out at his back leg. Tsu'tey was still the faster of the two of them and Jake knew it, not even attempting to take advantage of Tsu'tey's momentary imbalance as he let himself roll to the side to recover. Two thrown and blocked punches put Tsu'tey back in front of Jake and he deliberately left Jake an opening to lunge. The knowledge that it was coming allowed him to spin aside and Jake to lurch past, and Tsu'tey bared his teeth as one hand shot out.

"Ow!"

Jake spun, flat-footed, to stare at the tail Tsu'tey had yanked, and Tsu'tey suppressed his laughter at Jake's expression, leaping onto his shoulders and driving him down. As he'd known all along, Jake fought like a Sky Person, and while Sky People didn't have tails to use for balance, they also didn't have tails to track in fights. Despite the times Jake had pulled his tail back at the Sky People's place, Tsu'tey wasn't at all surprised that he'd forgotten that he had one now as well. He just wished he'd thought of it before now.

Jake realized what was happening as Tsu'tey made contact and nearly pulled out of Tsu'tey's grip through sheer strength when they hit the dirt together, but it wasn't the first time Tsu'tey had fought someone with more muscle than himself and he held a full pin.

After a minute Jake shook his head and slapped the ground to signal his loss and then rolled to his feet grinning when Tsu'tey finally released him. "Do that again!"

Tsu'tey shook his head. /I win. Your turn to sit./ He grinned to take the sting out of the words, not that he thought that Jake would take offense anyway, and unsurprisingly Jake nodded and dropped down in Tsu'tey's vacated place in the circle as May'ka stood. Tsu'tey shifted his stance, careful to keep her in front of him as the match began—it wouldn't do to best Jake and lose his first bout after—but she was still young and the majority of his thoughts were on how he could replicate that last win. That trick probably wouldn't work again, or at least not more than a few times more since Jake would be determined to counter it, but Sky People didn't have ears like the Na'vi either. Or…well, queues were obviously completely off limits, but there had to be other things like that that he could use now that he was thinking about it.

Tsu'tey returned his full attention to the match at hand as May'ka attacked in earnest. Later he'd think about it more.

The signal for the meal after two more bouts—Tsu'tey the victor of both—ended the training session, and Jake punched Tsu'tey's shoulder lightly as the two of them fell back slightly behind the rest of the warriors on the walk back. "Dirty trick, brother."

/Dirty trick,/ Tsu'tey translated automatically. He didn't have to do that nearly as much these days, at least, although he'd pretty much given up on correcting Jake's atrocious accent and only slightly less horrible phrasing. He knew that Neytiri and Norm were still working with him on it, but they were more patient than he was. /And you don't seem upset,/ he returned.

/Was good plan, just dirty trick./ He grinned. /Won't work again./

/It might. We'll see./ He echoed Jake's grin. /Anyway, you gave me the idea./

Jake tilted his head, frowning, and then it turned into a grin and he rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well, I'm dumb like that sometimes. I'm still going to kick your tail the next time we spar, though."

/We'll see,/ Tsu'tey repeated. Jake glanced up as they crossed a small clearing, eyes finding the open sky above them, and Tsu'tey tilted his head. /You miss Toruk?/

/Sometimes. I know he had go, but…./ He shook his head. "I don't know. I was used to him. Banshee doesn't miss him, though."

/Neither does Denan or any other ikran,/ Tsu'tey agreed. /He will return, though, after mating. This is his territory./

"I guess."

There were several unfamiliar figures standing with Mo'at, and Tsu'tey left Jake to find Neytiri and went to join them. Horse Clan by their clothing, and messengers by their jewelry…he recognized two of their faces although not well enough to put names to them.

/Olo'eyktan, I See you,/ the eldest greeted. /We bring news from our Olo'eyktan and of the clans beyond./

/I See you,/ Tsu'tey returned. /Welcome to our Hometree./ If they brought word from not just Patak this was more than a simple trip, but none of them seemed stressed or worried. Besides which, if their journey had involved an urgent need someone would have fetched him from his sparring session as soon as they'd arrived. /If you are not traveling in haste, please join us for the meal./ Mo'at had no doubt already invited them, but he'd be remiss if he didn't make the offer as well.

/We will be pleased to. I am Toktan, these are Si'at and Krenn./

/I See you,/ Tsu'tey repeated with nods to the younger two. /I will be pleased to listen./

Conversation through the meal was pleasantries only, and afterwards Mo'at signaled for Neytiri to join them as they moved with the messengers to the trees.

/Patak sends you his greetings and well-wishings,/ Toktan said. /He also wishes us to let you know that the last of Horse Clan's injured have fully recovered and hope that the Omaticaya have also had Eywa's blessing./

/That is good news,/ Tsu'tey agreed as Mo'at murmured a blessing. /The last of our injured have healed as well./

/Patak also thanks you for informing him of the young Palulukan's travels towards our territory. He turned to follow the river and did not trouble us./

/That is excellent news./ Tsu'tey hadn't been thinking about it at the time, but he'd never intended to drive the Palulukan towards another clan when they'd collapsed his den, and when he had turned for Horse Clan Tsu'tey had hoped he'd alter his path well before he could threaten any other Na'vi. It was good to know that he had.

/However, we have made this journey because we have received word from the Nacryn Clan that they wish to begin arrangements for the clan gathering,/ Toktan continued.

/So soon?/ Tsu'tey asked. It was coming, true, but Tsu'tey hadn't even thought to begin making travel plans for the clan yet. Neytiri seemed equally confused, although Mo'at was nodding slightly.

/Given the distances to be traveled by many of the clans, it is common to begin passing word well before the time comes,/ she explained. /And as the next clan to host, the Nacryn are expected to begin the message chain./

Tsu'tey considered for a moment and then nodded as well. He hadn't considered it before—for the last clan gathering they'd only had to travel to the sea cliffs, and he hadn't been Eytukan's second during the time of the gathering before that when they'd traveled far to the arid lands where the Sircin lived—but there were a number of clans coming from distances so far that they hadn't even been able to send ikran makto to the battle. It made sense that those clans would have to begin making their travel plans sooner. /What help can the Omaticaya offer?/ he asked.

/We have information about safe travel through both our territory and the Woodland Clan to reach the Nacryn, and we will need to pass that information on to you and your clan's messengers as well./

And the Omaticaya messengers would then be expected to pass it on to the clans nearest to theirs, along with information about safe travel through the Omaticaya territory, Tsu'tey realized. Now that he thought about it, he did remember Eytukan sending out messengers. Again it was a sensible thing to do given the varying territories that the Na'vi occupied, and obviously he should have been paying more attention the last time than he had been. /I will arrange a gathering of our messengers and a number of scouts and warriors for this evening,/ he said. /Unless there is a reason not to, I think it would be best if many ears heard this. Until then, you are welcome to rest or visit our Hometree as you please. And you're welcome to stay after, of course./

Toktan nodded. /We thank you for your hospitality. We do have a number of personal messages to pass along as well as carrying out our official duties./

/I will be pleased to help you find anyone you need to speak to,/ Neytiri offered.


/Olo'eyktan,/ Eykir greeted with a slight nod. /I See you./

/I See you,/ Tsu'tey returned.

/Do you have a moment?/

/Of course./ They had been friends long enough that the formality was strange outside a formal setting, and Tsu'tey remained quiet as Eykir settled himself.

/Si'at carried a personal message for me today,/ he said after a moment.

The need for three messengers had become clear as not only Neytiri but also Ninat and Tosna had been pressed into service to help the messengers find everyone they had words for, and Tsu'tey nodded. It shouldn't have been a surprise, really, many of the injured from Horse Clan had become close to those here and would want them to know how they were faring.

/She and I have spoken of mating./

A personal personal message then, and Tsu'tey's head snapped around almost of its own volition. /I hadn't realized./ It wasn't unreasonable that Eykir was thinking of mating, they were of an age and Tsu'tey would have mated Sylwanin by now if she still lived, but aside from the occasional glance of any young male Na'vi at the females, it wasn't a topic that had come up between them before.

/Her pa'li was shot out from under her in the battle and she remained here as her leg healed,/ Eykir said. /We spoke often./

Tsu'tey nodded, still not sure what an appropriate response would be.

/She lost her brother in battle and is now helping his mate to care for their children,/ he continued after a minute. /They have two, and she does not wish to leave them. She asks that if we mate I leave the Omaticaya and come to live with her clan./

Tsu'tey opened his mouth and then shut it again. His first response was denial. Leaving aside the fact that Eykir was one of his oldest friends, he had been acting as the leader of the ikran makto and Tsu'tey's default second since Tsu'tey had returned. Unofficially, maybe, but without his assistance Tsu'tey would have been even busier than he was, and that was saying nothing of all he had done to protect the people between the battle and Tsu'tey's return. /Do you wish this?/ he asked instead. The answer would almost certainly be 'yes' given that Eykir had come to speak to Tsu'tey privately, but it was a reasonable question, at least.

/The Omaticaya is my clan,/ Eykir said. /Leaving is not what I would choose to do if it was entirely my decision. However, as my mother pointed out, and she left her clan to join my father here so she has some experience, if we mate it is not entirely my decision. I understand Si'at's desire to stay and help take care of her family, especially since her parents have both gone to Eywa in recent years so yes, I would choose to do this./

/When do you wish to go?/

/After the clan gathering, I think. She has other messages to pass now, and since we will pass through Horse Clan's territory on the way there and back, I would simply stay rather than continuing further with the Omaticaya./ He paused. /I realize that this leaves you in a difficult position, but there are a number of ikran makto who can take my place./

/None of them are nearly so prepared as you are,/ Tsu'tey said with a shake of his head. /The clan would have been in a far worse position than we are if you had not been there./

Eykir echoed the headshake. /I did the best I could under the circumstances to protect them, but Tsa'dran and Mo'at and the others deserve praise for the planning far more than I do./ He tilted his head. /I know this is not my place, but I had some notion that this was coming and have had time to think if you wish a suggestion to take my place./

/If you have a suggestion I would hear it,/ Tsu'tey said.

/Jake. He may not have been one of us to start, but he is not what I thought at first, either./ Eykir's ears twitched. /He should not be allowed to speak to a group without help, I don't think, but he would be no bad second. There were others who might have been better, once, but.../

But they had gone to Eywa he didn't say, but Tsu'tey heard it anyway. The suggestion of Jake as his second echoed a comment that Neytiri had made once before, though. It was not something Tsu'tey had put a lot of thought into since given all the other things that had had to be done and the fact that the duties were being handled, and he tilted his head. /You do not think he will win the challenge and take my place?/

/I don't think he wants to win the challenge,/ Eykir returned. /But even if he did, I don't think he is the best choice for Olo'eyktan, and while she would never say so, I don't think Mo'at believes it either. And as Tsahik, her words will carry much weight. He is a capable fighter, though—I'll admit I'll be very surprised if he doesn't best you in single combat—and Toruk Makto, and neither of these is a bad quality. And if he doesn't think exactly like one of us…./ He shook his head. /I have spoken to Norm and some of the other Sky People on the radio, and that may not be such a bad thing if other Sky People return./

It was a fair point, and Tsu'tey nodded slightly. /I will consider it. And while we have been friends since…always…and I can't say that I wish to see you go, if this is your desire, I support it./ He glanced over and grinned slightly. /But I will prove you wrong about single combat./

Eykir bared his teeth in return. /Pulling his tail was amusing, at least. It is good that the two of you don't wish each other harm any more or that could have ended very badly./