"Well, we're here," Evanescent Blossom said brightly. She smoothed down her blue robes as she turned to her companion and added, "What exactly are we looking for? What's so important that they needed to send two of us?"
Yuan Shi Feng, Chosen of the Maiden of Journeys, shook his head. "Ura-sama didn't tell me. Just that there were a very large number of small disturbances in the Loom out here, and the cumulative value was worth investigating.
"Here" was the middle of nowhere, fifteen hundred miles west of Gem. In the First Age, the jungles and swamps around them had been a natural perserve, and tens of thousands of people had visited them every year. Now, it was nothing more than a tangled mass of vegetation. A few scattered human and mutant tribes ecked out a living, and Feng had warned her when he gave her the orders from Ayesha Ura that there was a Lunar and her children in the area, but they hadn't seen anyone since they stepped out of the gate to Yu-Shan. That had been almost a week ago. They had just reached the exact area of the disturbances.
Blossom looked around the swamp, trying to find something out of the ordinary. All she could see was trees growing in the muck and mist, and hear the weird cries of the swamp birds. In the distance, plants rustled as something large moved through them. She turned toward it, trying to identify the sound, when the heard the tang of a bowstring from nearby. When she turned back, Feng was lowering his bow and moving through the swamp. Not seeing anything else, she followed.
At first, she thought they had found the beastmen of the Lunar they had been warned about. The bodies in front of her were covered with segmented shells and their heads had enormous, insectile eyes and odd mouthparts, but when she looked closer, she saw that they were men. They were wearing armor with overlapping plates, and their helmets had some sort of odd breathing apparatus and goggle setup. Both of them had arrows directly through their hearts.
"What is that?" she asked, pointing to one of the soldiers' weapons. It was a bow, but smaller and set on its side on a long wooden frame. The frame had a winch, presumably for holding the bowstring, and a trigger beneath to release it.
Feng shook his head. "I don't know. I've never seen weapons or armor like these before."
Blossom unwrapped Lost Love from around her waist and looked into the mist.
"Did you sense them coming," she said as Feng fitted another arrow to his bow.
He shook his head. "No. Nothing. It's like-" His voice trailed off, and he looked nervously out into the mist. Blossom felt a chill run down her spine. If these strange people, undeniably human, were Outside of Fate...
"Come on," she said. "We have to find out where they came from."