The scout and the engineer image card

Imavenyi - the last week of A'urei, 2999


When they docked earlier that day, Kian Cybershot had felt a rush of sympathy for Samsara Scout as the ranger threw up over the side of the hovership, but now, any trace of that sympathy was long gone. 


He watched with rising irritation as the 19-year-old Ranger, a full-fledged Warrior of the Guild, sifted a handful of leaves through her fingers while giggling like a kid. 


Kian’s eye twitched.


They had been standing in front of this tree for the past ten minutes and all the ranger had done was pick up leaves and watch them fall back to the ground. He was starting to lose his cool.


“We’re running out of daylight,” he lied, hoping it would shock her back to reality, and back to the mission. But Samsara just waved a hand dismissively and sifted even more leaves. 

It was the final week of A’urei*, so most of the trees had already shed their leaves in time for Calikoea**. The golden and red remains drifted lazily along the ground, crinkling as Samsara scooped them up and fluttered like butterflies when she let them go again. If he had been maybe five years old, Kian would have been enraptured by the pretty colours and probably would have chased the leaves as they whipped through the air. 

But he was 22 now and as such, had no patience for childish things like that.

He was about to say something intentionally mean, perhaps along the lines of ‘this is why no one wants to partner with you’, or maybe something equally true but wouldn’t cut so deep (his words didn’t have the same precision as his attacks so he never knew what he would say until it was out of his mouth), but the ranger turned back to him and held up her hands, palms facing him. A bright smile stretched on her face and the wind pushed strands of her dark hair across her cheeks as she eagerly switched on her voice recorder. 


“I was right!” she laughed. “This is a variety of the Pilwich trees on Leaflore!” 


“The what?”


She stepped closer to him and offered her hand. “There are tiny bits of pollen stuck to my palm, can you see?” 


Kian frowned but leaned forward and, indeed, little flecks of gold pollen clung to her skin. 


“I thought the branch pattern looked familiar,” Samsara continued, half to him and half to her recorder, “But the leaves are completely different. This variety releases pollen from the leaves instead of the bark like the ones back home!”


Trees that produced pollen? He hadn’t even known such a thing existed on Lumina. Regardless, this had nothing to do with their mission. The Guild hadn’t sent them here to study the trees of Imavenyi - they were here to fix the Beacon Link. Guild Master Lapis Angel had told them to be speedy about it (which is why he had insisted on using the hovership even though it was still in beta mode so the ride was incredibly choppy) and here Samsara was slowing them down just for her hobbies. His frown deepened.


“I wonder if there’s a variation that actually produces flowers? Wouldn’t that be-,”


“Are you aware of how important the Beacon Link connection is?!” he snapped. 


The girl clicked off her recorder and stared at him with wide eyes. 


“Every second that we waste, someone could need it to contact the Guild for help,” he clarified, trying to rein himself in. 


“I- sorry,” she said and lowered her eyes, dusting her hands on her pants. 


When Lapis had told him he needed to take a pathfinder with him so he didn’t get lost in the wilds of Imavenyi, he’d begged her to let him recruit literally anyone but Samsara. She was nice, but the mission time automatically doubled when she was part of it. 


“What about Ander? He’s a skilled tracker!” he’d suggested desperately. But she shook her head and told him it had to be someone who could wield green Sparx since they were going to a green island. And just his luck - every other green-island pathfinder had missions or duties they couldn’t skip. He was stuck with Scout.



Kian ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “Let’s just… get this mission over with.”


The Ranger chewed on her bottom lip but nodded. She supposed she could always return to Imavenyi later to record her findings and add a new chapter to her book. Samsara was used to working with other warriors and knew how impatient and hasty a lot of them were. Kian wasn’t any different, but she didn’t really mind. She wasn’t here to make friends or forge life-long bonds with anyone. She was here to guide him so he could fix the Beacon Link.  


Samsara gathered her things and the pair set off into the deep wilds, their navigation systems useless since the Beacon Link was down. They were in the unknown now, completely reliant on each other for their safety.



****


The sunlight soaked the tops of the trees in its golden glow as the Ranger and the Technomancer trudged through the thick undergrowth. Well, Kian trudged. Samsara felt entirely in her element nimbly stepping over fallen trees and expertly weaving through giant spiderwebs. She practically glided through the jungle, but had to stop several times to wait for Kian to catch up to her. The Technomancer’s shiny boots were caked with mud and marsh and other things he really didn’t want to think about. She had to admit, seeing him struggle was a welcome sight. He had said nothing to her since that initial outburst, just giving her vexed looks every time her eyes lingered on an interesting plant, and she was starting to feel a similar irritation towards him. Sure, her other missions hadn’t been a complete delight, but at least those warriors were willing to meet her halfway! Kian wasn’t even remotely interested in exploring. 


As soon as she’d managed to sense the path the island was creating for them, he had insisted they stick to it and not stray even a hair’s breadth away from it. And, yes, she could understand why: the Beacon Link was important, its signal was the only one strong enough to reach the Guild all the way back on Arcencai. The people who lived here would need it if they were ever in trouble. But she knew how dangerous it was to charge through unknown territory. They could run into something far more dangerous than if they were to simply get lost (she could always find the path again, so that wasn’t even a concern, but try telling that to the one-track-minded man).


“How much farther?” came Kian’s breathless voice from behind her. 


Samsara stopped again and sighed. “I don’t know, Cybershot,” she said through clenched teeth. “My skills are path-finding, not time-keeping.”

She saw his eyes harden but he only pressed his lips together. 


Kian wasn’t used to walking through terrain like this. His cybersuit had flight abilities - he should be soaring through the sky, zipping overhead til he found the Beacon Link, but Lapis had told him to save his gold Sparx rations for when he actually needed them. So he had no choice but to follow this breezy, carefree warrior as she likely led them in circles until they both died.


“You’re scowling again,” Samsara said, her back to him as she gracefully leapt over a boulder. 


Kian’s eyebrows shot up in surprise but he played it cool. “Lucky guess.”

He saw her glance back at him, smirking. 


“Not luck, actually. Either you’re super predictable, or the jungle and I have been talking about you. Take your pick.”


What in Oan’s blood was that supposed to mean? He wasn’t predictable! His parents hadn’t predicted him running away like that, the Guild hadn’t predicted him helping Lapis form the Technomancy Faction - no, he wasn’t predictable. 

So then… what was the jungle saying about him?


Kian felt his cheeks heat up in frustration as he clambered over the boulder to keep pace with Samsara. If she was going to talk about him to the wild world, she could do it in front of his face. He was about to say as much when the Ranger suddenly halted.


“Don’t move,” she whispered. 


But Kian, not the biggest fan of following commands, did the exact opposite and spun around. In an instant, something spiky and green shot out from the moss and wrapped itself around him, pinning his arms to his sides. 

He struggled against it but Samsara hissed, “No! Stay still!”


“What is this?!” he yelled, every fibre of his being begging him to run, but it had worked its way around his legs too, trapping him. The thing he realised was a plant of some kind pressed harder, white thorns pushing uncomfortably against him as it squeezed the air out of him.


“Choking Vine,” she said, voice barely audible. “It can sense movement and sound so try not to speak, okay?”


For once, Kian obliged. He was grateful to himself for designing his suit so well that the vine’s sharp thorns couldn’t penetrate his skin.

His eyes widened, though, when he noticed the girl next to him wasn’t doing anything. 


Get me out of this! He silently screamed at her. But Samsara remained motionless.


“Can you blast it?” she mumbled. Kian shook his head the tiniest fraction. His energy weapons were specifically designed to not damage the natural world. No matter where he aimed, the blasts were calibrated to avoid nature.

Why did he have to design his suit so well?


The scout scanned the ground then, her brown eyes taking in the jungle floor. Pebbles, dying leaves, worms… 

Finally, she spotted something that could be useful: a stone a bit smaller than her hand lay near them, just waiting for someone to pick it up. So, she leaned down ever so slowly to reach for it. 


The vine around him stopped squeezing momentarily. Kian realised it had sensed her movements. What should he do? If the vine wrapped around her that would be bad but if he moved it would be worse. He felt sweat start to trickle down the side of his head. 


The vine loosened a bit more when the ranger stretched out her arm, splaying her fingers, and then Kian could breathe again. 


She almost had the rock, but he felt the thorns slide against his suit as the vine began unravelling itself and Kian didn’t think. He jerked his body suddenly, and the Choking Vine immediately swapped targets again, almost crushing his ribs with how hard it was squeezing. 


At that same moment, Samsara grabbed the stone and skidded it across the floor of the jungle. It rolled jauntily along the dead leaves and hit a nearby treetrunk with a ‘thump’. The vine let go of him and chased after the stone. Samsara wasted no time (for once) and grabbed Kian’s arm, pointing up at the sky. 


He didn’t need to be told twice. Thank goodness he’d pre-loaded the sparx into his suit so all he needed to do was cross his arms and tap his shoulders. His suit powered on and they were up in the air, climbing into the sky at an alarming speed. Samsara gripped onto his arm, her legs kicking like she was swimming. 


She looked… kinda ridiculous. 

He couldn’t help but laugh. And when the girl gave him a confused look, he held onto her tightly and whipped around, happy to have the ability to move back. The sky was bright blue and chilly, the wilderness below them shaking and blurring as he spun her around and around.

 

“We did it!” he cheered, almost forgetting he had to hold her so she wouldn’t fall. 


When the Ranger’s skin started getting pasty, Kian remembered she didn’t fare well with flying things and slowly set them down in a random spot far away from the Choking Vine, not caring right now that they were probably way off the path.


Samsara threw up again but gave him a wobbly smile afterwards, the filtered light catching on the buckles of her straps. Suddenly, he felt bad for the way he’d been treating her earlier. 

After she drank some water and regained her composure, Kian cleared his throat.


“Look,” he began, mud-caked shoes scuffing the floor, “I’m sorry for being a jerk.”


She blinked in surprise, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “I’m sorry, too. I forget sometimes that the mission is the top priority… I’ll work on that.”


Kian held out his hand. “I’ll work on my thing, too,” he said, offering her a half-smile. 


Samsara shook it and then clapped him on the back. “I guess you’re not predictable after all, Cybershot.”


“Pfft,” he grinned and shook his head. “So then that means you really were talking to the jungle about me.”


Samsara shrugged and slung her backpack over her shoulders. “Maybe~” 


The two of them checked themselves for injuries, sharing a grin of relief when they found that they had been lucky enough to escape unharmed. Fate had favoured them today. 

This time when Samsara knelt gracefully, tracing the soil with her fingertips to feel where the path was, Kian waited patiently beside her. He may not be entirely ready to trust her completely, but he would allow her to prove herself at her own pace. 


The path revealed, the pair set off to fix the Beacon Link once more, and although Kian was still finding it difficult wading through the muck, Samsara extended her hand this time to help, no longer secretly hoping for his stumble. 
She concentrated her focus on the mission at hand, ignoring the tantalising mysteries of this jungle, and Kian slowed down just enough to marvel at the things she pointed out. Samsara felt a little warmth spread in her chest when she realised that he was trying his best to meet her half-way. And Kian, though he would never admit it, appreciated how hard she was trying to stick to the path. She told him countless times, though, that she was definitely coming back here when there wasn't a pressing job to do! 


By mid-afternoon, they had found and repaired the Beacon Link (in record time thanks to Kian’s impressive engineering skills) and by sunset, they were back on the hovership, skimming the waves back to the Guild. Kian piloted the ship with greater care this time, making sure his fellow warrior wouldn’t need to empty the contents of her stomach again. It was after he’d asked her if she was okay with the speed that Samsara, with a contemplative look shading her eyes, asked him a question of her own. 


“Would you ever return to Imavenyi?”


“I mean, hopefully not,” he said as he recalculated the route to account for the changing winds, “The Beacon Link’s signal shouldn’t fail again so there isn’t a need.”


She nodded slowly, chewing her bottom lip again. “And you wouldn’t want to… I don’t know… record some notes of exploration with me…?” she asked, her body adjusting to the bumps as the ships hit the waves. Kian paused and blinked at her. 

“Or- Or not, yeah you c-can’t survive in the wild haha…”


But the Technomancer sat down across from her and looked at her seriously. “You would want me to join you? I thought you couldn’t wait to be rid of me.” He was... more than surprised. Majority of the warriors he knew only wanted to hang out with him in a professional capacity. This was new. He tried to contain his excitement.  


Samsara rubbed the back of her neck. “You’re not that bad… I’m getting used to you, I guess.”


The young man cracked a smile. “Wow, Scout,” he said, leaning over to lightly punch her arm, “I had no clue you were so fond of me!”


She rolled her eyes. “Do you want to or not? Cos, there are other warriors I can ask! I have friends, you know.”


But Kian told her he wouldn’t mind at all if she wanted him to join her next time - so long as it wasn’t Imavenyi! He had seen enough of the jungle to last him for a while.


The ship sliced through the seaspray, carrying them to the horizon, beckoning the call of the next adventure. The Ranger and the Technomancer, polar opposites in every sense, realised they had discovered something in one another that they hadn’t in anyone else. And so, what had begun as a begrudging alliance had blossomed into the start of an unlikely friendship.






*Lumina’s autumn **Lumina's winter

Characters 

Kian Cybershot
Samsara Scout
Guild Master Lapis Angel (mentioned)
Ander Wisely (mentioned)

Locations

Imavenyi
Arcencai
(mentioned)
Leaflore (mentioned)