“Hmm,” an old man disguised as someone else stroked his chin as he walked around the ship, taking in various pieces. “I see.”
“What do you see?” Anzela asked.
“The answer to that depends upon whether or not you are here to helpfully answer my questions, or if you are here to keep me from finding out too much.”
“You finding out ‘too much’ is kind of the price for your assistance, isn’t it?”
“That doesn’t mean I believe you won’t hinder my efforts.”
Anzela shrugged, “Look, I’m just here to make sure you don’t take anything apart.”
“Don’t be silly. That’s not required for me to obtain a sufficient understanding. Well then. I was led to believe that you were master spatial manipulators, but this…” Everheart waved an arm around them in a full circle, indicating the ring around the ship. “It only indirectly affects space itself.”
“So you lied to me.”
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t tell you anything about how it worked.”
Everheart folded his arms in front of himself. “That… might be true.” His fingers danced along his arm for a moment. “The cultivators of Rutera would be interested in this vessel.”
“Unfortunately, we’re not in official communication with them at the moment. So we can’t really do much about that.”
“Good. That will give me time to sell them the schematics first.”
“Hey, we gave you permission to come on board and look around. We didn’t promise schematics.”
Everheart looked at her and raised an eyebrow, “Why would I need schematics when I can look at it myself?”
“I know you’re an… esteemed scholar upon Ceretos, but you can’t expect me to believe you can recreate this ship just from looking at it. I’ve lived on this thing for years by now and I still barely understand half of it.”
“Yes, it would take someone of truly remarkable intellect to be able to pick apart each and every piece of this vessel, determining its materials and purpose.”
“And that someone is you?” Anzela asked. “Actually, you know what… if you’re that smart, I’m glad we have you. As long as you do what we need.”
“Of course,” Everheart said. “Which planet would you prefer I install the first soul-catching formation around?”
“What?” Anzela tilted her head.
Everheart smiled widely, “Surely you don’t intend to destroy the souls of each and every member of the Twin Soul Sect on your own.”
“Well I… I’m not the only one who learned that… technique…” Anzela frowned. “Who would even make something like that? It’s completely unnecessary for… well, everything I guess.”
“A genius scholar, of course,” Everheart continued to grin to himself. “And it’s quite necessary where this group is involved. I assumed you understood that when you chose to deal with the infiltrator yourself.”
“I suppose but-”
“Each and every one of them is a spy that can carry unknown quantities of information with them through death.” Everheart leaned closer, “And it’s the only way to make them lose. So while I will agree it’s completely unnecessary for literally any other situation, regarding the Twin Soul Sect… they must be erased completely from your world.” Everheart shrugged, “Unless you like your world being torn apart regularly. But there are easier ways to get combat experience.”
“Wow. You’re really passionate about this. What did they do to you?”
Everheart’s eyes flares. “They erased unknown millennia of history and cultivation techniques I will never get to see.”
“Oh. From the way you were talking I assumed they killed your wife and family or something.”
“… I don’t have any of those,” Everheart said. “Now then. Gravity. Your vessel seems to generate that to distort the space around it. I am impressed.”
Being in the void between stars was an uncomfortable time for Anton, and he was glad to have arrived in Weos… or at least vaguely close to it. Enough that he felt the strength of the star inside him. This time he was certain the connection was complete, as he wasn’t concerned about people specifically watching the star. Perhaps they would be and notice something odd, but that would provide a reasonable distraction.
From their direction of approach, it seemed that they were looking down- or up- on the plane of the orbiting planets. Anton and the others had received enough information on them to know where to look for them, though for the moment they would be waiting for local vessels to come pick them up. They might be able to blend in among the other cultivators, but their ships were different enough and unable to make proper communications as they approached.
So they would wait. At least, that was the plan- but Everheart grabbed Anton by the back of his collar and began to drag him away. “Should I be attempting to kill you?” Anton asked. “I won’t let you dispose of my body in secret.”
“Don’t be stupid. If we fought here we’d ruin the whole surprise thing we have going on. They’d at least be able to feel something.”
Anton nodded. Too many people had been able to feel the admittedly short battle on Ceretos. The atmosphere and planet was good at dampening the feeling, but a great distance of nothing was still not going to be that much more effective at hiding what happened. In short, since people had been able to feel the approaching invaders it wasn’t weird that feeling two people beyond the level the lower realms were supposed to support fighting.
“Anyway I just need you to give me access to the sun real quick,” Everheart said. “Setting up formations around each planet will be too slow so I’m just gonna do the whole system at once.”
“You’re not allowed to consume the sun. I need that. And so does everyone else.”
“Relax,” Everheart said. “I just need a little bit of energy. Nobody will notice if we take all of the light and heat perpendicular to the planes of planetary motion for just a few months.”
“I feel like someone’s bound to notice that. Also, that’s not a little bit of energy.”
“Yeah and it’s feisty too,” Everheart nodded. “So just help me get what I need without it trying to fight me so I can set up this thing.”
“This thing being?”
“The same thing I had on Ceretos and stuff. An entrapment field for everyone from the Twin Soul Sect.”
“I regret to inform you that a system is larger than a planet.”
“I set that crap up centuries ago,” Everheart said. “I can do way better now. Also, free souls are really easy to manipulate.”
“I hate that you know that and I don’t want to know how far it goes.”
“I manipulate far fewer souls than the Exalted Quadrant, Trigold Cluster, or even the Harmonious Citadel.”
“That doesn’t make me feel better.”
“Then do something useful,” Everheart dragged Anton to a stop with him. “Just throw some energy at me so I can get things moving.”
Anton took a few moments to take a look at what Everheart was pulling out, but ultimately he had to trust Everheart. But not too much. Using his energy to power this formation would give him at least a little bit more understanding and maybe a modicum of control as well.
“Why are we here in particular?” Anton asked. “Just to be away from the ships? Did you let anyone know we were going somewhere?”
“Nope. Guess you should do that. And we’re here because I’m gonna need to commandeer some of the floating rocks around here.”
“… Do you need glasses? There’s nothing around here.”
“I have frequently refined my eyes functionality to not need outside aid,” Everheart said. “And there’s a few good sized ones around here, in a general sense. Or there should be, at least, according to my calculations. Find some, would you?”
Anton spread out his senses, not expecting to find anything but stray particles and maybe space dust. At a certain distance he had to accept there was nothing… except he found slight trails of energy. He focused his senses to follow along those, and indeed was able to find some sizable objects, as well as a few smaller ones. “I found some things, but it could take days to get to them all.”
“Then we’d better get started. Besides, weren’t you working on your mobility? You should be faster than that.”
In the end, Everheart’s preparations only marginally delayed the plans… though it was really something that needed to be done in the first place. The two of them eventually made their way to Weos itself, the only planet that had been habitable by humans at first. The rest were still fairly inhospitable, but various outposts had been set up that would allow even non-cultivators to live in some of the locations. Others were more difficult, but cultivators were nothing if not adaptable… especially if that was required for having their own space and obtaining resources.
The largest population was still on the main world, of course, which was why both Anton and Everheart were going, even if they were the two most powerful on the excursion. Many other Life Transformation cultivators were going along as backup to the local forces Anzela, Rikuto, and their allies had put together… but no others in Assimilation or like Everheart. Speaking of which, Anton needed to wring more details about how difficult it was to travel back from the upper realms. He made it sound casual, but it most certainly would not be. Ceretos would need as many Integration cultivators as they could bring back, though. Unless the Trigold Cluster for some reason was uninterested in revenge. Though they already knew better, due to the ‘minor’ clashes in the upper realms.
Anton found himself with little to do but wait while Rikuto set up the whole big announcement reveal. It was almost guaranteed to turn into a battle, and if it didn’t there would still be battles elsewhere. Anton was currently familiarizing himself with the density of the atmosphere and the terrain for as far as his senses could stretch- then reaching out of the atmosphere and around, dipping back in. He couldn’t yet feasibly target the entire surface of a planet- and Weos was somewhat larger than Ceretos to begin with- but he could at least cover a few hundred kilometers from himself consistently and several times that through more circuitous and energy intensive methods.
Everheart was sneakily messing with formations, either because he was bored or they weren’t up to standards or because he wanted to be in control of everything. But they would no doubt be necessary when things started going down, so that was how it was.
Anton could feel them. The Twin Soul Sect cultivators, of course. They didn’t know they were being searched for, and Everheart had taught Anton even more effective methods for searching them out that were more difficult to detect. At best, they’d sense a powerful cultivator sweeping his senses across them, which nobody could really do much complaining about.
They weren’t quite everywhere, but Anton was uncomfortable with how many people he sensed. Rooting them all out would be difficult, and more importantly dealing with their ‘friends’ or allies would be troublesome. If they could manage a direct battle between those who were part of the Twin Soul Sect and those who were not, they would be quickly annihilated- but things wouldn’t be that easy. Anton had the urge to just start shooting them, but obviously that wouldn’t work out well.
Or he could get Everheart to set him up with a formation off the surface and-
No. That was just stupid, unnecessary impatience. And his occasional unhealthy desire to deal with everything himself instead of letting people solve their own problems. Even if he could do it, it wouldn’t be better for Weos, or an eventual peaceful coexistence with them. Doing something excessive would simply make him feared, and while that would provide some peace, it certainly wasn’t the long-lasting kind. And Anton wouldn’t be willing to do what was necessary to reinvigorate it.