Beyond just the single success near Sarton, some other members of the same group were found and successfully captured. That was harder than it sounded, because even though the group hadn’t yet figured out that their weapons gave them away their members were often skilled and more importantly extremely unwilling to be captured. If a cultivator was willing to give up their life, it was only a small effort to tear themselves apart with their own energy. Most wouldn’t, unless they expected to be subjected to extreme torture, because everyone seemed to want to live. Yet they seemed to have little regard for their lives.
It wasn’t impossible for a cultivation sect to have dedicated groups of fanatics willing to give up their lives for something, but usually it didn’t go so far. It wasn’t a surprise though. Even back in Black Soul Valley they had been willing to sacrifice themselves to empower a formation pushing one of their members towards ascension.
For those same reasons, interrogating them was difficult. Even if their energy was restricted from leaving their bodies, they could still kill themselves easily enough. Only if their energy was completely drained- or if it was frozen- could anything progress in that area. Doing either of those was not so simple, and required someone of a significantly higher rank and usually a bit of stealth.
Elder Adelina of the Frostmirror Sect was in early Life Transformation, but even she took some time and the element of surprise to be able to freeze the energy of the mid Essence Collection cultivator that had been fighting on Chikere, Hoyt, and Timothy’s side of the battlefield. So far, he was the highest cultivation person that had been captured- and even if the group didn’t know how they were being discovered, they quickly enough learned they were being pursued and began to hide themselves even more carefully.
The interrogation process by the alliance of cultivators was long and slow. Regardless of whether or not ethics were considered, prying useful information out of a cultivator with torture was rarely possible. As many of those they captured were practitioners of illusory techniques, it was difficult to gain information through those methods as well. But slowly they pulled bits and pieces of information out of the captives.
The first few times they were nearing useful answers, their prisoners died in rather violent explosions, even without access to their own energy. After that, they were more careful with their interrogations and eventually managed to discover formations carved into the very souls of their captives. That meant if they were close to revealing sensitive information, their souls would be torn apart and they would die along with their memories. But once such formations were known about, they could be studied and counteracted.
The more Catarina interacted with the soul killing formations, the more she realized how far the hole of forbidden techniques went. She was only at the far edge of interacting with the process, allowed to study what was learned but only under strict supervision. Just thinking about modifying the very core of a person, especially for reasons that clearly weren’t in their own best interests, sickened Catarina.
Interacting with another person’s soul on the level where the formations could be sensed and properly observed was another level of forbidden technique all on its own. Trying to unravel the formations without causing it to activate in any way- whether the intentional fully destructive method or anything else- was quite difficult, even for Elder Rana and the other formation masters involved. Catarina wasn’t considered a true master herself yet, and she found it difficult to make sense of how some of it worked.
The formations were easier to unravel on the weaker members, but they also had less information. The only concrete information was an actual name for their group- the Twin Soul Sect. There was some speculation as to why they would be called that, but delving into knowledge of cultivation techniques was harder. The more complex information was, the harder it was to get someone to say it either through coercion or subterfuge.
They didn’t actually have twin souls, but a careful inspection revealed that each member had two cultivation techniques. The one they displayed to the world, and the dark, often illusory related technique that they all made use of. That information was discovered by capturing some of their members who held weapons from the same maker, before they had revealed any other form of connection. Interrogations of such people were done cautiously in case they turned out not to be connected to the same group- but only one actual mistake was discovered.
One man in particular had managed to survive one of their attacks and found that their weapons were better than his own. When the man- Jameel- found out why he had been captured, he gladly gave up all the information he had. He was reluctant to allow an in-depth look at his soul, but with the solemn vow that nothing would actually be done to him as long as he was not a member of the enemies, Jameel accepted and was declared clean.
The various sects provided reparations to him in the form of cultivation resources. Perhaps that might not fully make up for being captured and interrogated, but he was just a member of a sect of mediocre power and wasn’t willing to raise too much of a fuss after at least being compensated.
With the information gained from the others, techniques to determine members of the Twin Soul Sect were being developed one piece at a time. It was hoped that they would be complete before the group discovered the full measure of what was happening and went completely underground… but if it was possible to sense their true cultivations, they couldn’t really hide permanently. Even if they managed it, the attacks would be forced to stop. But such things weren’t accomplished in just a week or a month, and the research still continued.
Though some might have liked to keep quiet the news of Everheart’s tomb- which tantalizingly offered information related to ascension- since Everheart himself clearly didn’t want that, the news spread. There wasn’t just one place that notifications of the tomb’s opening came from, but all around the continent. As for the location… it seemed to be everywhere. At the very least, many places claimed to be an entrance to it. As far as anyone could tell, they all seemed equally legitimate. Which is to say, being related to Everheart… all highly suspicious and seemingly powerful.
With many locations all promising access to the same place, nobody was in control of who entered. Though generally nobody was allowed to restrict access to such places, an alliance of sects in control of a given country might conspire to keep out certain enemies. But with at least a dozen different locations toted as the entrance, none of them better than the others, it was impossible to restrict access to any specific group. If they could not go one place, they would find somewhere that wouldn’t reject them.
Even universally reviled sects like the Flying Blood Cult would be able to arrive at some of the more remote locations without being spotted. It had to be assumed that Twin Soul Sect members would be coming as well, though picking them out might be more difficult. The various bits and pieces of information about that weren’t public knowledge, but instead only known to the Order, Frostmirror Sect, Glorious Flame Palace, and a few others including the Ears of the Fox. The Ears of the Fox fully intended to sell or otherwise distribute the information to others, but given that they couldn’t be fully sure who to trust they were still holding out on that so as to not alert the Twin Soul Sect.
One of the various entrances was more or less smack dab in the middle of the Order. Unlike many of Everheart’s other tombs, this had not been hiding in a plateau or under a dry lakebed, posing as an otherwise inconspicuous location. At least not in the same way. Because instead of opening up, a structure actually came out of the ground… right under a farmer’s house.
The entire farming family had been out in their fields when it happened, and then their home was just… up in the air, atop another building. That was unfortunate for them, but they reported it to local authorities- and just everyone in the nearby towns who would listen to their crazy story- and the Order quickly got word.
Though getting a house down from atop the flat structure that had pushed itself out of the ground was not simple, retrieving everything from inside was rather simpler. While it wouldn’t be quite the same, a replacement home was being built. The land it was on was still occupied by the new structure, and the Order couldn’t make any promises as to whether it would be usable again in the future. That would depend entirely on what happened with the tomb.
Each Everheart was different. The one in the middle of Graotan was a portly man with a huge cask of ale strapped to his back, constantly drinking from a mug in his hand. Even so, Anton heard he’d been extremely helpful and informative. Concerningly so, given Everheart’s proclivities for being unpleasant.
He had given the information that “a few thousand” people could enter through the particular entrance in Graotan. Beyond that, he’d also informed people that they could be stuck inside the tomb for several months, and that they would need to bring supplies for that time. And of course there were those same words thrown about again and again.
“Ascension,” the figure said as he gestured with his mug. “You all want to know about it. It’s just about time, too.” A drunk Everheart grinned, “You’ll be… surprised.”
Anton didn’t like the sounds of that, but from his experience he knew that Everheart wasn’t evil, or even truly malicious except against those who came into conflict with him.
“Senior Everheart, there’s no limit on who can enter?” someone in the crowd standing nearby asked with obviously strained politeness.
“None at all. As long as everyone can fit in the building, it doesn’t matter. Fun for all ages!” Everheart’s projection downed his mug, sloshing some of it onto his shirt. “More fun for quick studies though. I like geniuses.”
Unlike many times with similar events, most of the cultivators around were from the Order or otherwise local to Graotan. Anton could tell some weren’t from the area, but as long as people were on good relations with Graotan access wasn’t restricted in any way. Notably missing were most people from Ofrurg, but for most of the country there was a closer entrance regardless. Only somewhat western located sects like the Grasping Willows were present. Likewise, there were cultivators from eastern Ambati, southern Estary, and northern Droca.
Most countries didn’t have a centrally located entrance. Unlike Graotan, many other countries had two or three entrances scattered about. There was no clear pattern that had been found, except that they were generally similar distances apart. At least it seemed that Everheart hadn’t predicted where countries would be centuries after his death, just placing entrances to this place wherever he could. Usually somewhere remote, though one appeared in what had become a bustling city in Estary.
It probably wouldn’t have been easy to keep it a secret while building them, but once they were placed underground… they could have stayed there the whole time without any fuss. By the amount of earth they brought with them, the entrances also hadn’t been shallow. Perhaps hundreds of meters or more deep in the earth, beyond the range of the senses of even Life Transformation cultivators, unless they had reason to look underground at the exact spot the entrance was located.
“Ah, it’s time,” Everheart said. “Everyone in! Hurry up!” he clapped his hands. “I haven’t got all day. And neither have you.”
Some people hesitated, but those who knew Everheart hurried as he said and the rest followed quickly. Nothing horrible happened as they stepped inside the big cylindrical building that had come out of the ground, though even Anton could tell there was some sort of formation at work, slowly building up energy.
“Hope nobody’s late,” Everheart said. “I was very specific about that. Now then, you’re all in. Going down!”
Anton felt his stomach jump for a moment as power washed over him, and then the sky went dark. Except not quite.
“Just kidding,” Everheart laughed uproariously. “This is Ascension we’re talking about. Why would we go down?”
The sudden darkness caused Anton to look out the door, where he saw the night sky. Except something was wrong with the moon. It didn’t look the same at all. It was too blue and… cloud-covered. Anton’s eyes widened as he realized what had happened, and it seemed many others had come to the same realization as himself.