"Pass me another mag!" Michael shouted. Jade pulled a rifle magazine out of a pouch in her belt and tossed it to Michael. He caught it easily despite his depth-perception problems and loaded it into his rifle. He had run dry very quickly, but Jade had plenty of clips to spare. The AMP suit to her left was firing its canon wildly, the enormous shells practically tearing Na'Vi apart.
A Na'Vi direhorse rider broke through the hail of bullets. The rider readied an arrow and aimed his bow at Michael. Michael dodged away from the arrow and returned with a three-shot burst, blasting the rider out of his seat. Jade ducked into a crouch, her left elbow planted on her knee to stabilize her rifle. She fired a three-shot burst which knocked a Na'Vi off his feet.
"Is it hard?" Marty had asked. "Killing people?"
"The first time," she had replied. "You replay it over and over in your head. You try to figure out how you could have changed it. You start to wonder if you deserved to live instead of them. If you're lucky, you realize that it was the only way, and move on."
A pause. "It's a lot easier afterwards."
Marty hid behind a tree, his chest heaving and his heart beating insanely fast. He was stuck using his own feet since he couldn't ride a Banshee or a Direhorse. His bow felt way too big, and heavy. He was carrying a fistful of arrows, poison glistening on their arrowheads. He readied an arrow and fired it into the crowd of marines. The bow's draw had been too much for him, and the arrow stuck in the ground short of its target. Marty ducked back behind the tree as bullets buzzed past him.
Michael noticed an Avatar on the front lines. It was using a broken-off door gun from a Samson to spray wildly at the advancing Marines. Michael steadied his aim and fired another burst into the Avatar's chest. He toppled over and lay still. Michael had no idea if the scientist would wake up in his link bed. He wasn't even sure he cared.
The Na'Vi were losing ground fast, their superior numbers paling in comparison to the RDA's advantage of firepower. Jade didn't know how things were going in the air, but there seemed to be a lot of dead Na'Vi and Banshees dropping to the ground, so she assumed the RDA were winning. Suddenly, the AMP suit to her left held up a hand to halt. The ground began to rumble and the bottom dropped out of Jade's stomach.
A herd of giant Hammerhead Titanotheres burst from the undergrowth. The enormous creatures levelled their massive bony heads and charged. Michael grabbed Jade and dived behind a tree, nestling his sister and him into a niche between two large tree roots. Beside them the AMP suit was bowled over by one of the creatures and crushed beneath the massive bulk. Michael looked up. The sky was full of riderless banshees.
"What the fuck?" Michael yelled. "Where did they come from?"
The wave of Titanotheres has passed, but the few left found themselves attacked by packs of Viperwolves. Michael and Jade scrambled to their feet as a Viperwolf snuck up behind a man and pounced on his head. Michael booted one of the Viperwolves in the head, sending it squealing into the undergrowth. He drew his knife and held it clamped against his rifle, slashing any animal that got too close. Jade found herself with her back to Michael, laying down wide arcs of suppressing fire.
Marty could scarcely believe it. Just a few seconds ago his people had been on the verge of defeat. Then, suddenly what looked to be the sum of Pandora's animal life had burst out of nowhere to win the day. There was an enormous explosion somewhere far off as, unknown to him, the shuttle full of explosives crashed. Marty yelled in surprise as a huge black shape streaked past him, but the Thanator took no notice of him. He almost had a heart attack when he turned and saw another Thanator. As far as he knew, the creatures never strayed within miles of each other. It had to be Eywa controlling them.
Jade reloaded her rifle, and turned. She saw the Thanator charging towards her, snarling mouth full of enormous teeth ready to tear her apart in seconds. Michael saw it as well, and reacted. He moved almost in slow-motion in relation to the thing's frightening speed. His bulk collided with Jade and she was sent sprawling. She rolled over and looked up just in time to see the Thanator snap up her brother.
Michael was dangling from the creature's jaws, yelling in pain. It shook him around like a ragdoll, which only served to intensify his screams. Jade emptied her entire rifle into its belly with almost record speed, but she may as well have been shooting a tank.
"JADE!" Michael managed to yell. "RUN!"
"I WON'T LOSE YOU!" Jade yelled, fumbling to reload her rifle. Michael went silent. There was a split second of almost serene calm before the Thanator swallowed him whole. Jade's world stopped. Her gun dropped from nerveless fingers, the spare magazine in her other hand spilling a bullet. The Thanator turned to her, barely satisfied with the meal her brother had made. Jade dropped to her knees, the sounds of battle far away and indistinct, like a faint buzzing in her ear. She could still see Michael in front of her, as real as the day before the mission that had scarred his face.
There was something on the ground in front of her. Jade looked at it with curious detachment. It took her a second to process the fact that it was a cluster if three grenade pins. Jade looked up. The Thanator exploded. Michael's last act – pulling the pins on the grenades in his belt – had saved Jade's life. She stood up and picked up her rifle.
Marty came out from his hiding spot. He spotted a Marine, covered in blood and holding a rifle. Marty drew back an arrow and sighted it. He loosed.
Jade felt something hit her in the stomach, sending her sprawling into the tree behind her. She looked down. There was a five-foot arrow protruding from her stomach. It had easily punched through her armour and shirt, and was probably protruding out the other side. Jade felt cold, primal fear wash over her. The pain started.
"Medic!" she yelled. Or at least, thought she yelled. It came out as a desperate croak. There was nobody there to help. Though she didn't know it, the medic that had saved her weeks ago was dead somewhere nearby, an arrow through his throat. Jade plucked uselessly at the shaft, her numb fingers sliding off without the strength to grip it. Her vision started to blur. She didn't know if it was the neurotoxin on the arrow or something else. A tall, blue shape rushed up to meet her, and Jade fumbled for her gun.
"Stay back." Jade tried to warn, unable to even grip the butt of her pistol. It crouched next to her.
"Jade?" a voice said, a quiet word full of horror. Jade's vision cleared slightly. She saw a fierce Na'Vi warrior covered in warpaint, its bow slung across its back.
"Marty?" she breathed. In her pain-addled delusions she thought it was Marty leaning over her. The warrior's gaze flicked all over her, always darting back to the wound.
"Oh no," it seemed to be whispering to itself. "No no no no no..."
Jade felt a fresh wave of pain hit her. How long had it been since the arrow struck? She didn't remember. Time seemed to be blurring.
"Jade, just... j-just hold on..." the warrior stuttered frantically, craning its neck to look around. "I'll find help."
"It's ok." Jade said, her eyes focused on something the warrior couldn't see. "The Colonel will save us. Never leave a man behind."
The pain was receding. The world seemed to be shrinking as well, compressing until that tiny patch of grass with her and the warrior in it was the only thing in the universe. Jade looked up at the stormy skies and felt wet tracks slide down her cheeks.
"It's raining." Jade wasn't sure if she had said this or the warrior. She struggled to raise her arms. She wanted to feel the rain on her face. Her hand fumbled uselessly at the seal of her mask and flopped to her side. The warrior reached over and gently lifted it off. Jade lay back and let the rain wash over her. Jade's mouth twitched into a smile.
"J-Jade?" Marty whispered. He stared at Jade, wanting her to open her eyes, wanting to see her chest move as she took a breath. She didn't move. The neurotoxin had done its work. He knew if he checked her pulse, he wouldn't find one. He stared at her for what felt like hours. He wanted to feel sad. He wanted to feel angry. He felt empty. There was a black hole in his chest that was collapsing him from the inside.
"Please." He begged. Marty put a hand on her shoulder. Her body was still warm, but growing colder with every passing second. He suddenly pulled her into a tight embrace, as if that would bring her back.
"I'm sorry." He sobbed, and the tears finally came.
Jake Sully was sitting by the Tree of Souls. The rest of the Omaticaya tribe was at Hell's Gate, herding the remaining humans onto the shuttle to go back to Earth. He was due to have his consciousness transferred to his Avatar permanently soon, and he wasn't really sure how to feel about it. It was raining heavily, something that annoyed Jake.
He heard someone draw near. He stood and turned around. Standing in front of him was a small Na'Vi, seven feet tall at most. He was carrying a dead human woman in his arms, a Na'Vi arrow protruding from her stomach. He wasn't carrying his bow, and the last scraps of warpaint were even now being washed away by the rain.
He walked past Jake like he wasn't even there. Jake was surprised. He was Toruk Makto – more or less the supreme ruler of the Na'Vi. The small Na'Vi hadn't even glanced at him. Jake watched silently. The small Na'Vi crouched next to the Tree of Souls and gently laid the dead woman on the ground.
Marty's arms were tired and burning from carrying Jade's weight. He had barely managed to make the last few metres. Lying there without her mask, Jade seemed almost peaceful. Marty's eyes were burning. He had cried his last on the way to the Tree, but his eyes kept burning.
"I'm sorry." He said quietly, as if she could hear him. "I gave in to my fear. I... was too scared to try and stop this. "
He dug his fingers into the muddy ground around the Tree's roots. "I'm not who you thought I could be..."
Marty looked up at the stormy sky, the rain stinging his eyes. "I'm nothing."
He looked back down at Jade's face. "Forgive me..." he choked.
"She can't anymore, kid." Jake said, standing behind the smaller Na'Vi. "She's gone."
"Be... Because of me." Marty replied, still looking down at Jade. Jake remained silent for a while. It was obvious what the small Na'Vi was feeling about the woman.
"Blaming yourself makes it easier." He said finally. "It keeps the pain at a safe distance. Same thing happened to me when Tom died."
"What the hell do you know?" Marty yelled, spinning to face the taller Avatar. "She's dead! I lost."
"I've lost people too." Jake replied. "Tom... Grace... Trudy... You need to understand that-"
"I understand perfectly well," Marty cut him off, new energy in his voice. "This is all because of you! You were supposed to stop this from happening! You were supposed to bring peace! You could have stopped this! But all you did was run around the forest and flirt with Neytiri! So don't you dare lecture me!"
Marty's energy seemed to leave him after the outburst. He turned back to Jade and crouched beside her. There was a long silence broken only by the patter of rain as it hit the ground and the two Na'Vi.
"You're right." Jake said finally. "I was supposed to help you, but I got too caught up with having legs again. I enjoyed being a Na'Vi too much. I came here with a job and I blew it. I'm sorry."
There was another silence. "A Na'Vi admitting wrongdoing," Marty retorted quietly. "Isn't that a sight."
Marty stood up. "When the humans return, I'll be ready," he told Jade. "I'll talk to them. I promise."
He turned and walked away from the Tree of Souls. He didn't even look at Jake as he brushed past. Before long the Pandoran vegetation had swallowed him up, leaving no trace. Jake glanced at the dead woman beside the tree and left as well.
The rain stopped. The clouds slowly began to disperse as the sun burned through. The last few raindrops slid off Jade's face.
A single seed of the Tree of Souls slowly floated down and landed on Jade's cheek.