His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of the Great Song Dynasty, Son of Heaven, Lord of Ten Thousand Years, Ruler of the Central Kingdom, sits upon the Dragon Throne, ruling a land of ten thousand li in every direction, bearing the Mandate of Heaven and supported in his absolute and total rule by able and capable servants. Everything in harmony. Unlike the shirt of the under-minister for internal affairs, which had clearly not been adequately steamed, and did not quite match the flowers that had been selected for the month. It was going to be one of those days. He has not been on the throne very long, only a handful of years, and yet the acclimation to his subjects flying around on swords is something he is certain will never cease to unsettle him. As a child surviving in the harem, he had known the ultimate reward, that he would rule the court that all in ten thousand li owed obedience to. But the clans and sects of the cultivators seemed to treat that obedience as less of a divine mandate and more of a polite fiction. Thankfully they at least did not visit him at court. But the under-minister was approaching, so His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of the Great Song Dynasty, Son of Heaven, Lord of Ten Thousand Years, Ruler of the Central Kingdom reflexively corrects his posture and beckons him closer.
"Probably a good thing he takes after Lan Zhan, Your Imperial Majesty," Wei Wuxian continues, "when I was his age I was killing thousands of people in a single night with fierce corpses."
"And yet you are now a priceless treasure of the realm, soon responsible for protecting tens of thousands from disease." Wei Wuxian had not seemed as interested in the military implications, and the emperor sees no need to remind him.
"Right, Your Imperial Majesty. Who knows what Lan Sizhui will be up to when he's twenty-seven?"
The emperor stares at the forty year old man in front of him. He appears younger, of course, but that is the way of cultivators, who strive to achieve immortality. "Why do you say 27?"
"Well, Your Imperial Majesty, I was dead for thirteen years of it, I don't really think that counts."
"Understandable. On that topic, Wei Wuxian, I would ask something of you. A task that, as I understand it, only you can do."
"Ready to hear about it, Your Imperial Majesty."
Not the instant promise of obedience he would have expected from almost anyone else, but perhaps that was wiser for Wei Wuxian, who clearly would not be able to deflect with polite diversions if he had already promised support. Still not what he had hoped to hear as the culmination of his efforts, but something. "You may approach the throne." That he did not want word getting out would hopefully not fly over the head of even Wei Wuxian.
Wei Wuxian approaches the throne.
A softer voice, not the wide-whisper he sometimes employs but genuinely quiet words, a real chance at protection against what he has feared since his older brother was murdered when he was six. "You are aware, of course, that your plans invite reprisals from the sects. If We openly support them, give them our blessing and our protection, We fear some young hothead may strike at us. You returned Wen Qionglin from the dead. We would ask that you do the same for us."
"I'm sorry, Your Imperial Majesty, but that is terrible idea."
"Why?" Taking offense can come later. Has to come later. If there is any chance.
Wei Wuxian whistles five notes. He does not touch his flute.
And Wen Ning begins to dance. It's simple, a peasant dance; it's not at all something someone would do voluntarily in front of the Emperor.
Wei Wuxian whistles another three notes.
Wen Ning stops, blinks, and looks quite like he wants to run away from the Imperial throne room as quickly as possible.
Oh. An immortal emperor under the complete control of Wei Wuxian. That would be a terrible outcome. It had not been a terrible idea, of course, but that distinction would be lost on the man in front of him. At a normal volume "Thank you, Wen Qiongling, for that demonstration." He moves back to the private voice, and considers. "If you would train three members of the imperial guard to be demonic cultivators, We can send loyal and stable men to you. It would provide at least some protection. If you wish to pay taxes in training rather than in money, you would be more than welcome to do so, now or at any time in the future." Given the discussion of the utter lack of use for money that Wei Wuxian has, it is unlikely to be soon, but eventually all men need cash.
"Do cultivators ever actually pay taxes, Your Imperial Majesty, I think you send us tax collectors and we don't pay and there's nothing you can actually do about this. --I'm going to have to talk to Lan Xichen, Your Imperial Majesty, he's the one who actually gets politics. He told Lan Zhan all the things he was supposed to say and told me I was supposed to sit in the background and look terrifying and be quiet."
The emperor laughs softly. "Taxing the sects would be impractical, and rogue cultivators contribute in other ways. But you propose to make everyone a cultivator: you see how the Empire can't survive if everyone is exempt from taxation?"
"Oh, of course, but that doesn't mean you're going to tax me, Your Imperial Majesty."
"On one hand, powerful people employing demonic cultivators has, in general, gone very very badly. I know Your Imperial Majesty is aware of Xue Yang. On the other hand, cultivators being above the law has also, in general, gone very very badly. We want to work with Your Imperial Majesty because if someone had been able to stop Jin Guangshan or Wen Ruohan the past thirty years would have been much less... interesting. It's... not good that we can wind up with phenomenal power in the hands of Lan Xichen, Nie Huaisang, and a thirteen-year-old."
There are benefits to not letting Lan Wangji handle the dangerous parts of the conversation, particularly since Wei Wuxian seems to be, if not in charge, at the very least not under the thumb of the others. More honest reactions are always valuable. "My advisors tell me that in a few decades your tunic-making operation could produce as much as is needed by the entire Empire. Not taxing someone is much easier when they are not, for example, arranging food deliveries sufficient to meaningfully affect the supply of an entire region. As to your other point, Our impression was that demonic cultivation makes people more impulsive, but that you had managed to address this by choosing people with a predilection for stability."
"That's true, Your Imperial Majesty, but demonic cultivation is still a lot of power to have in the hands of a single person who doesn't plan to use it to make tunics."
"Do you expect Us to believe that you have no plans of expansion?"
"Your Imperial Majesty, my plans are"-- he counts them off on his fingers-- "to learn what other kinds of manufacturing are more efficient if you're using fierce corpses and do them, invent some cool talismans, systematize demonic cultivation, publish books, educate the peasants, figure out a better kind of immortality before I die, get someone else to be chief cultivator before Nie Huaisang decides to lie in his bed with his covers over his head and never come out, drink a lot, throw excellent parties, adopt a truly unreasonable number of children, have lots of sex with my husbands, and send Lan Qiren into a qi deviation. None of my plans involve torturing anyone except Lan Qiren and he's asking for it. With all due respect, Your Imperial Majesty, can you honestly say that's true of Yourself?"