When the primary ship carrying the diplomatic team for Vrelt finally arrived, Devon reached out for it. It was of such a size that creating a construct like his World Encompassing Chains to sense it was a waste of effort. Before he could even construct them, more basic senses would be able to take in everything all at once.
As he did so, Devon found himself surprised. Then annoyed. Finally, he arrived at an understanding of why certain information had been missing.
He approached the ship, entering through their airlock as they recognized him. On the other side of the airlock, waiting for him, was Aerona. “This explains why nobody told me who was heading the diplomatic efforts.”
“That’s not quite true,” the woman replied. “My position might even be below that of the others here.”
“And yet, word of your presence didn’t reach my ears,” Devon pointed out. “That could not be an accident.”
Aerona shrugged. “Perhaps not. Are you upset?”
“I can’t say what I feel,” Devon admitted.
“You know, if you had been keeping in touch better… you might have known.”
Devon sighed. “I’ve contacted you more in the last few years than my grandfather, ignoring the portions of time we were together. But I must wonder… what is the Empress of Udre doing here?”
“They needed qualified diplomats. And interacting with people is what I have focused my cultivation around.” She bit her lip. “Was the surprise really that unpleasant?”
“I am glad to see you,” Devon admitted. “But now I will worry more about security.”
She pouted slightly. “I thought it would be fun. But didn’t you plan to go somewhere safer… like Nidec?”
Devon shrugged, “When do cultivators’ plans ever work out? It’s not crazy that I drifted towards the greater potential danger. Or actual danger, as it turns out.” At least Aerona had advanced to Essence Collection, though that wouldn’t protect her as much as it would on her homeworld. After all, along with cultivators that could match Devon at the Assimilation stage, there were a great many Life Transformation cultivators upon Vrelt. “Please don’t say you came here just because I did.”
“I came here because people like me are needed,” Aerona said. “Much like you. But I admit that might not be the only reason.”
“What happened to people getting ideas?”
She shrugged. “With you, I imagine it will take more than a few years for anything to happen. And I’m not nearly old enough to be willing to wait longer for a chance.”
Devon’s job was, approximately, to stand around and be menacing. And in some ways, doing that from the maximum possible distance would have a greater effect. In this case, he just stopped hiding his cultivation, letting his energy naturally radiate forth from his body.
Along with him was another Assimilation cultivator from Ceretos, Cai from Marvelous Rabbit Mountain. Determining the man’s essence was difficult, but obviously it didn’t bind him to a single place. The third Assimilation member among them was from Weos. Atalanta was her name, and she was a member of a sect known as the Descending Apostles. From what Devon determined without asking, she should be more bound to the concept of gravity than a specific place… so any fight on or near a planet should be her domain.
Regardless of whether he understood how they functioned, however, Devon was certain they would be effective. This wasn’t a situation where the Lower Realms alliance was willing to accept failure.
As their ship approached the planetary barrier, the three of them kept their presence obvious but not directly threatening. That was not the case with the half dozen airships Vrelt sent towards them, containing more than twenty Life Transformation cultivators and single Assimilation equivalent. They let their aggression be known.
Probing energy crept through the barrier, able to transmit sound. The ship had to specifically interact with it, as its barrier was tailored to avoid simple weaknesses such as sonic attacks. “The planet is closed. Return whence you came.”
“That is not possible,” Aerona responded. Though she said she wasn’t above the others, in practice someone had to act as head diplomat in such situations. Or a small few people, as too many individuals vying for a chance to speak would result in a mess. “We are here to establish a diplomatic embassy.”
“You are not welcome. Leave.” The authoritative voice of a woman spoke from the lead ship below.
“Do you speak for the entirety of Vrelt?” Aerona replied.
“Of course. Do not press our patience further.”
“All of Vrelt? Including the Flaming Shore? The Supreme Silver Sect?” Devon was glad to hear that his reports had been read and made use of.
The inclusion of specific information that shouldn’t have been terribly easy to get caused the other individual to pause. Not for long, but clearly caught off guard. “Naturally. This is your last warning to leave our territory.”
“Then I’m certain you won’t mind if we speak to them directly,” Aerona said. Cutting off the transmission of their words, she spoke to the others. “Should we make for their headquarters? Our speed could also act as a show of might.”
The others agreed. That was one of the options, and indeed directly heading towards that sect had been a choice they had considered. Devon would have done that, as he found them to be the most likely candidate to support the embassy. They were not under the control of the upper realms as far as he could ascertain, and they were strong enough that it would be difficult for any one official faction to cause them trouble. Not without all of the Trigold Cluster acting together and revealing their conspiracy.
Devon would have been straightforward, but as they began to skim along the barrier- merely ten meters above it- he supposed that making it seem as if they were pushed to go to this group instead of doing it on purpose was actually a decent move. Now, that woman would take some of the blame.
“If I may…” Devon said as he noticed the ships falling behind on the other side of the barrier. “Now that we’ve shown we can outspeed them, we might want to let them follow more closely and see if we can lead them over some specific territories. Though perhaps that would be fostering too much dissent all at once?” Devon shrugged.
Aerona smiled at him, then began a quick discussion with the others, exchanging only a few words given that they truly could slip out of the reach of the skyships if they waited more than a minute or two.
Ultimately, it was agreed that they would continue directly towards their destination- where they would pass over a couple factions that might not take kindly to warships flying in their skies- but slow enough for them to keep up. They wouldn’t go out of their way to intersect with the territories of others below, however.
“… Wow they’re slow,” Devon commented after the first hour.
Aerona laughed, “My people can’t even build our own airships yet, let alone these spaceships that flitter back and forth between systems in a matter of days. I think they’re doing quite fine, personally.”
The local ships kept pace with them until the last leg of their journey. They hesitated at the border of the Supreme Silver Sect, and seemed preparing to cross until the image of a man with a gray beard that reached all the way down to his toes appeared. “What business does the Precious Palm sect have in my territory?” Devon knew this man was Taalay, the Supreme Silver Sect’s head.
The power of that declaration was projected in all directions- including past the planetary barrier- but the response was not. However, from the way the ships rapidly turned back the way they came they were clearly unable to provide a favorable answer.
There was a short period of silence, then the projection of the figure turned towards the sky, and thus the ship there. “And you?”
“The Lower Realms Alliances wishes to establish a diplomatic embassy here on Vrelt,” Aerona replied, the ship providing the returning path of energy. “That aggressive woman informed us that you supported the initiative to cut off the planet from the outside and reject all communication. But we came to request that you reconsider.”
“Reconsider? That woman doesn’t speak for me!” Taalay growled. “Sealing off our planet against invaders is one thing. Rejecting visitors is quite another. If your intentions are true, then perhaps we could consider hosting you. But first I must ask… why is it you who speaks? What of those three?” the man asked.
This was one of the difficulty points they had considered in advance. Not everyone would accept the word of someone weaker than themselves. But Aerona had an answer ready. “We find it is often better for individuals to specialize. My own job is to speak, while theirs centers more around the martial disciplines.”
“So you have specific people to do all the lying and political maneuvering,” Taalay grinned. “Smart.” That was about the best reaction they could hope for. “It seems you are prepared to stay for the long term, and I find my curiosity outweighing my caution. You may approach,” as he said the words the barrier thinned above the area, before disappearing. Though there was still a barrier over the greater part of the sect, there was a clear gap with something recognizable as a landing zone. “I trust you can maneuver your way there?”
“It will not be a problem,” Aerona replied.
Everyone felt a sense of relief as they began to descend, though Devon didn’t slack off in his awareness. The sect head could potentially destroy their ship, if he wished to. At least, if nobody was ready to act. Just because Devon and the other Assimilation cultivators would most likely be unharmed didn’t mean they would be careless. And he was not the only one of similar power within the sect- though Devon noted that the other individual of note was not currently present.
“This is one of the best scenarios we could have hoped for,” Aerona said. The others agreed. Devon was especially glad that they didn’t have to break through the barrier or act too aggressively, because not only would that look bad… it would give away a secret they had. Now, it was available for use later without anyone being able to prepare a response.
Devon thought to remind her that this sect head was not a pushover… but that seemed redundant with both what she had just seen, and would make it seem as if he thought she hadn’t paid attention in important briefings. Then again, that was also why he was in his position- and why they chose him.
As one might expect of its name, the Supreme Silver Sect had quite a few reflective surfaces- but they hadn’t gone so far as to cover everything with silver. Instead, they got a way with a bit more subtlety, as far as cultivators went. That was reasonable, especially since their name wasn’t simply because of a certain sort of metal.
Taalay came to greet them personally, but his expression flickered with confusion as he passed over their ship. Most likely because the vast majority of it was not currently shielding itself from perception. This was another ploy, of course. A declaration. There was no need to hide anything, because nothing could be replicated just by looking. Among other things were the mundane technological components that still took a deep background to fully replicate, but they also had unique branches of formations developed to run the energy components. Courtesy of Everheart, indirectly.
“Welcome,” the sect head said. “I, Taalay of the Supreme Silver Sect, am honored to welcome such an interesting group as yourselves. Fear not, as guests of the Supreme Silver Sect your safety is assured. I imagine you don’t intend to entreat solely with us, however?”
“It is our intention to establish relations with Vrelt as a whole,” said one of the other diplomats. “Or we would not need so many of us. But we can also negotiate individual trade deals and the like.”
“Is that so?” Taalay nodded, mostly to himself. “I suppose you must have noticed my earlier interest. Would such trade deals include ships such as that… one that flies outside the skies in the space beyond?”
“Only once a certain level of trust has been established,” the diplomat said tactfully.
Taalay grinned widely. “I see. How interesting.” His gaze turned to Devon and the other Assimilation cultivators. “And would you be interested in exchanges of cultivation knowledge?”
Devon could answer that one himself. “We would be happy to, as long as it continues to be to the benefit of both sides. I must admit some personal curiosity about your path to arrive where you are.” His observations hadn’t picked up many details, as it turned out people didn’t loudly discuss such things outdoors. And focusing in detail on any of those cultivators was more likely to get him noticed prematurely.
Obviously neither side would share important details of cultivation immediately. Most likely, they would share some low or mid level techniques. But that was just another way to encourage Taalay and others to give them time to actually establish trust… which they would need to reveal the Trigold Cluster’s infiltration. That also meant engaging with the Trigold Cluster’s minions to some extent, but that could prove valuable in some ways as well.