“Tell us you’re not a member of the Twin Soul Sect.”
“Tell us that the cultivation technique you practice is the same as the one you display.”
Anton looked down at the man in front of him. “Good. Now do it without lying and I’ll let you go.”
The man lowered his eyes. “I already did. But you’ve already decided to use me as some sort of display of power, so it won’t change anything.”
“I don’t need to kill someone like you to display my power,” Anton said. His direct questions should have been sufficient to give those with training in insight at least a feeling. People could lie directly to specific questions and have little reaction, but there was always something. Anton felt it clearly, though he didn’t need anything more to convince him.
“You might as well kill me now,” the man said. “I can’t stomach more disrespect.”
“We’re not going to kill you,” Anton said. “Because we know you’re not afraid of that. But Scholar Eulogius can teach the others how to shatter your soul, which should concern you a little bit.”
“You can’t let them do that!” the man pleaded towards Anzela and Rikuto. “Death is inevitable for a cultivator, but something like that-”
“Is what you should expect people to do when they find out you’re planning to betray your entire world.” Anton turned towards the group from Weos. Everyone from Ceretos was already on his side- they mostly had practice with the techniques for detecting members of the Twin Soul Sect, and those who didn’t trusted in the appraisal of the others. “You should get started practicing that technique,” Anton said. “Though you’re welcome to study it as long as you like.”
“What if… we don’t?” Anzela asked.
“Don’t what? Learn the technique? Shatter this man’s soul?”
“Then we’ll send the rest of you on your way and you won’t ever be welcome near our system again,” Anton stated simply. “We can answer any questions you have about the Twin Soul Sect and their connection to your invaders. You can even message your homeworld, though I would advise against it. If they become aware of a consistent method of rooting them out they’ll have an opportunity to adapt.” There was actually one more person he needed to convince. Nirmala.
“… Why did you not mention this to us?” Nirmala asked.
“It came up,” Anton said, “But perhaps only in passing. It seems your world has been isolated from the upper realms for whatever reason.” Probably their minimal resources, by cultivator standards. “None of us who visited found any signs of the Twin Soul Sect upon Rutera. And I suppose we hoped that what happened in our world was more of an isolated incident. Rutera knows your history, stretching back thousands of years, correct?”
“More or less.”
“We’re at… seven hundred. More or less. Anything older than that was intentionally left behind to throw us off.” Anton could tell that something about his words was familiar to those from Weos as well. Hopefully they would act rationally. One man, even if he’d endeared himself to some of those involved, was not worth their world. Besides, anything they liked about him would probably be fake.
The diplomatic meetings upon the moon were rather more subdued after the discovery. Much time was spent by those from Weos studying- and Anton hoped practicing– the techniques to sense the true nature of Twin Soul Sect cultivators. Once they actually practiced, they would sense what he intended- but whether they believed the truth was something else. Anton could have easily forced the man’s cultivation to reveal itself, but that could easily be seen as if he were the cause. In a way, making them arrive at their conclusions the slow way was a test.
And also extremely annoying. Anton wanted to start cleansing Weos of the Twin Soul Sect himself, but that wouldn’t be the correct solution. Avoiding them entirely would be better, as this wasn’t a good time to get into a war. Not that there ever was one, but they were specifically aware of an upcoming invasion. The fact that it might still be a century or a century and a half away didn’t mean they could afford to lose people. Weos might reject their theory, but for one individual they wouldn’t start a war. Unless they were just looking for an excuse to begin with, in which case they might as well just get it over with. Though Anton didn’t get that impression from either Anzela or Rikuto.
The only one who looked more impatient than Anton himself was Everheart. “It would be a shame to have to wipe out a whole system,” Everheart said.
“I don’t think you can,” Anton replied. “Not as you are now.”
“You’d be there too, obviously. And pretty much anyone else from Ceretos.”
“Our interstellar ships are still… new. And definitely not as good as theirs. We couldn’t bring a proper army there, and from what they were saying I think they’re quite… populous.”
“I suppose so,” Everheart sighed. “Guess we’ll have to wait until you can pierce through the heart of a world in one shot. That would help.”
“How long would that take?” Anton asked. “I doubt it’s simple.”
“Who knows?” Everheart shrugged. “In the upper realms, it might take a Domination cultivator to do that simply. But the difference here is not just the energy. But give it a few centuries and I’m sure you could figure something out.”
“A few centuries, huh? I hope I make it that far.”
“Why wouldn’t you?” Everheart asked.
“Because I’m not exactly young now,” Anton pointed out. “As I cultivated, my lifespan didn’t increase as much as others. And now…”
“Now what?” Everheart prompted. “Assimilation has to have added some years onto your life.”
“Maybe,” Anton shrugged.
“Look, if you’re going to die of old age you don’t have to hide it from me. It will let me plan a smoother transition to my control of the world. Less bloodshed. You’d prefer that, right?” Everheart grinned.
Anton wasn’t sure how serious that was or not. Not because he didn’t think Everheart could make those plans or achieve them, but because he didn’t seem like the leader type. And he seemed far too attached to Ceretos to just plunder the entire world when he could get more in the upper realms. “I just don’t know,” Anton shrugged. “I should still be near the end of my lifespan. Fleeting Youth seems to be quite happily growing stronger. Though we should probably discuss what you know about reincarnation and all that. My understanding of this spectral energy is… less than optimal.”
“Hell if I know,” Everheart shrugged. “I’m not willing to give up reincarnating to try it out. But I did learn some secrets in the upper realms that might help. What will you pay me?”
“Not smothering you in your sleep.”
“Hmm, tempting. But I don’t have to sleep. How about you throw in eternal shelter in the lower realms? Just in case I get in trouble after this.”
“What, you actually trust me to protect you from people?”
“The Trigold Cluster, at least. I just want you to promise not to turn me over to them.”
“… I have the feeling that doing that would hurt them, though. You’d have to take down some with you, right?”
“Not as many as if I get to live longer.”
“Fine. I’ll offer you shelter here in the lower realms… as long as you don’t harm anyone I care about.”
“Can you give me a list?” Everheart frowned. “Wait, you’re not one of those guys that cares about everyone, are you?”
“I have a lot of family,” Anton said finally. “And sectmates and allies. We’re even growing into the upper realms. But I could convince them to mutually stay out of your business if you promise the same.”
Everheart sighed. “Can’t believe I’m agreeing to this, but fine.”
“I know that look,” Anton narrowed his eyes. “If you break your promise and try to hide out in the upper realms, I swear I’ll finD a way to shoot you from here.”
Everheart shivered, though he tried to hide it. “That’s not…”
“Possible?” Anton raised an eyebrow. “I believe you were one of the greatest proponents of anything being possible with cultivation. And if I only have to target you, I’m sure I can make it easier.”
“Hah. Well, good luck with that. You’d have to be like, twice the genius I am and it’d still take you centuries to even get close.”
Though he acted like… well, Everheart, Anton had the feeling that he really meant to keep that promise. At least at the moment, which was all Anton could really ask for.
Anzela crossed her arms in front of her chest. “This is not… something that is easy to accept.”
Rikuto nodded. “With your… high cultivation perhaps it is trivial to set up something like this. But-” the man didn’t let his point go unfinished, “If what you say is true, it should not be impossible to find more like him, correct?”
“They will be worming their way into upper society if at all possible, the best sects and clans and organizations of any kind,” Anton assured the man. “Like an exploration vessel looking for other groups of cultivators.”
“Could you relinquish him back to us?” Rikuto asked. “We could bring him to some who we…”
“Trust?” Anton asked.
“… have greater experience with,” Rikuto said as diplomatically as possible. “Some with soul-reading capabilities.”
Anton shook his head. “I’m afraid that’s impossible. If he dies normally, the information he has now will be worth quite a bit to those in the upper realms. We can’t risk that.”
“What if we bring them here?” Anzela asked. Rikuto shot her a glare, but she brushed it off. “I don’t want to believe you, but if your words are true we must confirm them and then act upon it.”
“You can do that,” Anton said. “But if any vessel returns without you, we’ll assume the worst. And if you want to trust me, there should be more than a few people in your own system to check out… if you can manage to capture them without triggering a dangerous chain of events. At the very least, though, you can determine that this signature isn’t just random.”
Anzela grimaced. Anton couldn’t tell exactly what she was thinking, but he knew how he would react if he learned there was someone on his crew that was planning to betray everything he knew. It happened with some of those infiltrating the Order, leading up to Vandale’s death… which was strangely still a hole within him despite knowing the man lived once more. But if those you cared about didn’t tear some of you away with them when they passed, then Anton doubted that it was much of anything to begin with.
“There’s a slight problem with this,” Anzela said.
“In what way?”
“We’ll be returning one short. Any others who know about him will find that suspicious.”
“Then,” Anton suggested, “Leave some more with us. I swear we’ll treat them well until your return.”
“I can’t make anyone do that,” Anzela frowned.
“Ask for volunteers. Maybe someone who wants to learn the bow or the sword.”
“Would you actually train them, though?”
“If we’re not going to be enemies? Gladly.” Anton smiled, “Once you are convinced of what we’ve said, we’ll be able to consult about our mutual problems and be friendly neighbors.”
“For someone who is so interested in being friendly, you’re terrifying sometimes,” Anzela said honestly.
“That’s just the way things are in this world. It requires power. I’m sure you all know that, as fellow cultivators. And I’m quite certain you have more than a few tricks up your sleeves in case we were to come into conflict.”
“Of course. I wouldn’t risk my husband so easily.” She said that, but Anton could tell she was understanding she underestimated Anton specifically- and she knew he wasn’t the only one of similar power. He could do more than just move quickly to restrain a weaker cultivator. In generally, it was easier to kill someone than capture them. Anton just hoped he didn’t have to do too much of either in the near future… or if he did, he hoped it would be by the side of individuals from Weos instead of some sort of crusade to annihilate them. Though obviously not all of Weos was corrupted, or there wouldn’t be the point of the Twin Soul Sect remaining hidden. They would just take everything.