The annual STURMBEEST MIGRATION is the time of the biggest event in the lives of the Tsumongwi and the neighboring clans.
HUMAN JOSH is on the line with Giese, telling him excitedly that he has been asked to join the big hunt... the annual sturmbeest hunt. Giese is impressed. This has never happened before. He's going to come out there with Marcia and see if they can get some of it on film, to show the folks back home. Josh tells him he has to go... he has to get back under the link. They have to make some kind of pilgrimage to the Hallelujah Mountains today, he's not sure what it's all about.
CUT TO MOUNTAIN TRAIL as Tsu Te leads a small group of hunters, mounted on direhorses, up the slope. Josh, riding well enough to keep up, looks up at something ahead. Tsu Te signals a stop.
REVERSE, LOOKING UPSLOPE... they are at a strange site. The mangrove-like trees rise arthritically out of the rock. Some large boulders of unobtanium have been trapped in their gnarled grip, and hang suspended far above. Farther up, almost five hundred feet above them, more of the boulders are woven into the twisted tree trunks. This is some sort of freak natural occurrence, but the result is spectacular. It is like the mythical beanstalk, going up into the clouds.
There is a THUNDERING ROAR, like an artillery barrage, and the ground shakes. Josh looks around, and sees one of the superconductor mountains grinding against the flank of a mesa near them. A huge rockfall is set loose, tumbling down the side of the mesa.
The Thundering Rocks.
By its motion, Josh can see that this mountain, MONS VERITATIS, will pass over or near the beanstalk in less than an hour. The hunters dismount... Josh a little clumsily. Zuleika steps up next to him.
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
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...
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 loose. 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.