Weos was much more familiar than Rutera, with the standard trappings of a cultivator civilization. Formations were more familiar, though not like those of home. And of course, everyone exuded the power of natural energy. Well, not actually everyone. They were simply the most obvious. Various workers throughout the city showed no signs of cultivation. What Anton presumed to be the capital was densely populated and filled with great power, yet missing the touch of cultivation on the smaller aspects. Outside the city, cultivators still huddled together in their own little sects and clans, hoarding the denser natural energy for themselves. In that manner, it was behind Ceretos.
Yet it was not weak. Anton could sense many Life Transformation cultivators, including those who were on the threshold of Ascension. Most were older, though Anton wasn’t certain if that was because they couldn’t ascend or not. Even Ceretos had a glut of older cultivators, those who didn’t have the ability to advance. Perhaps Weos had completed methods and those with talent to reach the peak while young ascended regularly. Anton would likely ask… but later.
For now, they were waiting inside a large defensive formation that had presumably been modified to reveal things people didn’t want known at a key moment. There was no reason for Everheart to lie about that, so Anton accepted that it would work. Both of them were standing guard, mixed in among others, while Rikuto got up on stage for his announcement. He was a better speaker than his wife, and in a social position better suited to the task. Others they trusted were gathering together in different locations throughout the system, to make similar announcements. This was one place where Rutera definitely had the traditional cultivators beat, the dissemination of news. Sure, people would exchange messages immediately as the announcements happened, but they couldn’t see what was happening in one place all together. Not yet, at least.
Eventually, Rikuto began his announcement. “I speak to you today on a matter of utmost importance. The security and stability of our very lives. I am sure many of you are aware we have recently made contact with other cultivators in a nearby system- a new one we had no previous contact or conflicts with. Unfortunately, we were met with disturbing news. Not something about our neighbors, but about ourselves. There are traitors among us. Hidden in secret for centuries, part of the very same invaders who come from the upper realms.”
At this point, if the Twin Soul Sect was completely foolish and impulsive, Rikuto would have found himself attacked. Several members in the crowd were actually considering that, sacrificing themselves to conceal the information… but that would only result in their deaths, and provide greater validity to anything his living allies might say. Besides, they were confident in their concealment methods. That was quite reasonable, given how well they had worked so far.
“Take a look next to you, to your left and your right,” Rikuto continued his prepared speech. “Does it trouble you, knowing that traitors might claim to be a brother from your sect, a friend? Who can you trust? Worry not… for there is a simple solution. We will just reveal the truth.”
Out of tens of thousands in attendance, for less than one hundred to suddenly reveal different cultivations was still eye opening. Even at less than one percent, there were a great many cultivators who suddenly stuck out like sore thumbs… exactly as the formation intended them to.
“We have methods to find and reveal these cultivators, more than just these formations. Many copies are available for anyone to freely learn and study, verifying the results for themselves. As for those in the crowd… you will surrender yourselves for arrest, or face immediate execution.”
Cultivators were known for making swift decisions. The Twin Soul Sect was always ready with an excuse for what might happen, but with so many people around them pressuring them in different ways, there were bound to be some who made the selfish decision. And it could easily have been the right one- who could recognize one individual out of so many if they managed to get away? But they only revealed their guilt as they impacted the formations surrounding them.
The last thing that Anton would claim was that the announcement went smoothly. In fact, there were instant outbreaks of battle- cultivators who didn’t believe what had been said defending their friends… or possibly co-conspirators who knew all along. But even with the split, the vast majority of cultivators in any given sect joined together to suppress those among them who suddenly were revealed to be something foreign, no signs of the cultivation they had previously displayed. Many people died- not just Twin Soul Sect cultivators, but others caught in the crossfire.
Anton clenched his teeth, but he didn’t know a way to have done things better. The formation did an excellent job of suppressing the Twin Soul Sect members as well, so those who weren’t them or their allies were a smaller portion of the casualties. The chaos didn’t last long, however. Most groups handled things ‘internally’, and those who tried to run were quickly caught against a barrier.
“Trust first those here today,” Rikuto said slowly. “If we could have the leaders among you step forward for the distribution of the aforementioned techniques, you can return to your sects with your prisoners intact. Then you can verify the situation yourself… and that of those near you. As previously noted, the starports are closed. Work with us to resolve this matter quickly and we can all get back to our normal lives.”
Anton thought things went rather well… which unfortunately meant that the results might not be as good in other places. The real issue would be any sects that were deeply entrenched with the traitors. There would be much bloodshed.
A hundred arrows pierced into a ship from all directions as it left atmosphere. Some of them impacted in places that they weren’t aimed, while some were entirely deflected away from the ship itself. Those that did strike did so with little impact… but the following volley was more effective. And then, a single arrow pierced through the ring of the ship, tearing it apart and bringing the whole thing to a screeching halt. Or rather, it continued to drift forward at great speed… but without distorting the space around it to heighten that effect. Several authorized vessels swiftly caught up to it, dragging it back into the atmosphere to be dealt with. Afterwards, the other ships remained low- because aside from catching anyone trying to flee, nobody was authorized to leave atmosphere. Not until they were done.
Anton lowered his bow, letting the plethora of surrounding energy bows fade back into him. There would no doubt be many questions about a powerful archer who was previously unknown, but Anton could honestly say he came from a remote location. And if he needed to be completely honest, he would be able to point out that he hadn’t killed anyone. He only stopped ships from leaving.
Everheart, on the other hand… he had kept himself occupied by moving around the city, taking down members of the Twin Soul Sect. Whether they lived or not didn’t seem to concern him. Anyone who tried to defend a friend who was no doubt planning to use them as a sacrifice decades ago found themselves swiftly dealt with… though Everheart at least seemed to understand killing people not directly part of the Twin Soul Sect would be a bad look. And they probably wouldn’t even be permanently crippled… but Anton wasn’t sure about that with some of them. Either way, most wouldn’t be able to do anything for a year, if they were lucky.
On Weos itself, everything was going well… but word and lack of word from some of the other planets indicated it wasn’t the same everywhere. Unfortunately, reinforcements couldn’t be sent anywhere because attempting an incomplete purge was pointless. Maybe after there was full agreement about what was actually happening, with people having learned to sense the hidden cultivations around them.
Meanwhile, on Rutera, the lines of combat were more cut-and-dry, but also uncomfortably shifting. The planet itself was still basically secure, though it suffered constant attacks. The shifting lines were more related to other planets where they had only a small presence, science outposts or smaller settlements. With enemies that seemed to be limitless in number and able to come from nowhere, tensions were high.
Since all of the initial attacks were focused on their homeworld, Matija had felt safe when she was transferred to an outpost on their innermost planet, Sizipra. Now that the attacks were spreading out… she didn’t know if that was the case. She looked down at the military grade laser rifle at her side, the sort that a scientist was completely incapable of getting their hands on. Unless they had exactly the right connections, she supposed.
Matija picked it up, walking outside into the hot sun. It wasn’t summer heat, either, but more like standing in a furnace. Being in a suit helped slightly, both with the heat and the minimal amounts of actual air. She was nowhere near strong enough to go out without it, and she could only dream of standing unprotected just some hundreds of kilometers from a star, tapping on the airlock of a ship.
Sometimes, she didn’t even believe that had been something that actually happened, despite witnessing it herself and still being in contact with the very same individual who did that. It was… strange. Especially since she felt she was only at the beginning of the path of cultivation, despite having practiced seriously for over a decade now. She’d been cautious when she first learned, but after the attacks by Azoth began she just didn’t feel safe without being stronger. She still didn’t, but at least she could melt rocks that her laser rifle wasn’t rated for.
There was just something to it, about feeling the flow of energy the device drew from within itself and from within her. That second power had been in there all along, but was only trained secondhand. Rutera had awareness of the fatigue brought on by activating their devices, and that people grew more accustomed to it over time… but they hadn’t really been able to train directly. They hadn’t known… and frankly, the world wasn’t quite set up for it.
The military had energy gathering arrays now, to train their soldiers. Nice, consistent, and sufficient to have them grow to Spirit Building or maybe beyond, not that many people had reached that level. As Matija felt the unfiltered sun beating down upon her, even through her suit, she supposed that what she had might be better. Choosing to practice the One Hundred Stars was sort of the default, but it fit her quite well along with Anton being intimately familiar with it. She was still a very long distance from the actual sun, but the heat and light it battered Sizipra with came along with large amounts of natural energy. Rutera itself maintained a smaller amount than Ceretos, but out here was a paradise. A sweaty, uncomfortable one. But she was strong now. Kind of.
As she melted boulders that had only just solidified after her last assault, Matija wondered. She’d ended up sparring against military officers for a while, and she had learned that some of her basics had been lacking. Now, she had a decent cultivation… but she couldn’t pilot a ship or otherwise contribute to the war. All her training only made her more personally secure… yet she still felt like a coward.
Then she saw it, a glint of something beyond the almost nonexistent atmosphere. Instinctively she reached out with her energy, the thin tendrils that Anton had taught her. There was nothing there to sense… but there had been something. A trail of energy that she felt herself being pulled along, but not quite fast enough to keep up with something. Then, something passed through her. Something there, yet not there. Invisible, but not because it should be. It was simply somewhere else.
Was that how they moved around? Yet what could she actually say about it, and how could she prove it? There were all sorts of theories, and Azoth moving through some sort of subspace had already been thrown around… but there hadn’t been any data on it. And… Matija supposed there still wasn’t- because as it turned out she wasn’t a proper scanner nor did she record information that could be disseminated to others except by saying “I felt it”. But maybe she could work with a scanner to make it sense what she did. If only she knew when something would be moving by.
Oh right, and if they were passing so close to Sizipra, was she even safe? That was another important question to ask.