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.
"Understanding how the cultivators balance personal power and descent is something that we are thankful to be able to rely on our ministers for. What is the expected future of this Wei Wuxian then? Teaching his Demonic Cultivation method? Serving his sect and clan? Something else?"
"Your Imperial Majesty, no one has any idea, including-- I am given to understand-- Wei Wuxian."
"Because the fate of the cultivators is hinging on the plans of a seventeen year old boy who, according to the best predictions of our most experienced advisors, is likely to be dangerous and unstable." His Imperial Highness lets out a slight modicum of displeasure.
"In addition, Your Imperial Majesty, demonic cultivation permits him to summon hundreds of fierce corpses at will and control their actions-- not merely to banish or suppress them as ordinary cultivators do. Our messengers attempted to find out more information about how he combines standard and demonic cultivation and were met with the response"-- he shuffles papers-- "'jeez, I am pretty sure my sword is around here somewhere-- shit, I left it back at the tent. Sorry.' Then he attempted to steal the forehead ribbon of a cultivator from the Lan clan."
He takes a moment to consider this. In normal circumstances, such an offense to Imperial messengers would be worthy of censure at the very least. But cultivators were cultivators. He suppressed a sigh. "Well, that seems impulsive but not necessarily hostile. There is a reason we do not prefer having the very young in positions of power." The slight reference to the man he had pushed aside to become emperor does not need to be elaborated to anyone in the garden. "Yet the cultivators have the right to select their own leaders, by ancient privilege. Do you bring recommendations?"
"With Your Imperial Majesty's permission, I have prepared several strongly worded letters to be sent in the event that the cultivators kill a non-cultivator. We have filled the granaries to relieve places where fierce corpse infestations without a cultivator to lay them to rest have reduced the harvest."
"As well-prepared as ever." One of the first lessons his mother had trained into him was that, no matter how unhappy information made you, you should never take it out on the messenger, or find yourself surrounded by fools. "Your report is appreciated and will be considered by the Court. We are aware that using ordinary soldiers against fierce corpse infestations has proven prohibitive in the past: it would be beneficial to have contingency plans in case this conflict grows."
"Your Imperial Majesty, we have sent messengers to the neutral sects and to various cultivators who have retreated to mountains or caves or similar. Your military advisors are studying the best tactics for ordinary soldiers to use against fierce corpses, should this become necessary."
"The empire is well-advised and harmoniously guided, and your work is appreciated."
Three years later--
"Your Imperial Majesty will recall the recent conclusion of the Sunshot Campaign against the Wen Clan of Qishan."
"It is always pleasing to see such regrettable conflict come to an end." He always preferred to be able to forget about the cultivators and focus on the important matters: he was sure one of his courtiers was having an affair with someone's wife, but was not yet sure who it was: since the courtier was not quite fastidious enough to escape the gaze from the throne, he anticipated conflict soon.
The Underminister looks like he is about to say "well, about that--" except that it is too impolite to say to the Emperor.
"Your Imperial Majesty, the Jin clan has enslaved the remnants of the Wen clan and set them to hard labor."
"A noble and wealthy clan, set to hard labor, in its entirety. Another attempt to crush their enemies entirely. Strength is one matter: cruelty another. It is saddening to see citizens treat each other this way." After all, if you were going to kill someone, it was truly kindest to arrange a simple dagger for them. Hard labor offered an opportunity of escape and kept them as useful hostages, but it still seemed unnecessary compared to simply imprisoning them. The Wen Clan was the previous Chief Cultivator's family! That surely meant something.
"The Wen clan includes Wen Ning, a friend of Wei Wuxian's. He objected both to the enslavement of his friend and to the enslavement of children and the elderly. He invaded the camp, killed all of the guards with fierce corpses, and took all the Wen remnants to the Burial Mounds in Yiling, the single location in China with the highest concentration of resentful energy. They are calling him the Yiling Patriarch."
"So Wen Ning presumably also uses this 'Demonic Cultivation.' Please review for the court what has been discovered about this form of cultivation since it was discovered by Wei Wuxian. From your description, it sounds likely that the Burial Mounds will make them stronger, faster."
"Your Imperial Majesty, Wen Ning did not use demonic cultivation. As far as we are aware, Wei Wuxian has taught demonic cultivation to no one. --Wei Wuxian has chosen to conceal the exact extent of his abilities, but we are aware that he can summon and control hundreds of fierce corpses. At a recent night-hunt contest, he played a single song on his flute and a third of the fierce corpses took themselves to the Jin and waited patiently until they were dealt with. And, yes, the concentration of resentful energy in the Burial Mounds should strengthen his demonic cultivation."
"It is a skilled leader who can delegate effectively, and it seems that Wei Wuxian has acquired this talent, then, if Wen Ning can use Wei Wuxian's fierce corpses. Hundreds of them. During one of these contests to put down fierce corpses, Wei Wuxian was able to exert almost perfect control over a large number with a single song. And Wei Wuxian is expected to become substantially stronger. How close is the bond between Wei Wuxian and Jin Guangshan?"
The underminister is having a very, very, very bad day. He replays the previous conversation, notices the ambiguous pronoun, and very quietly thinks fuck.
"Yes, Wei Wuxian's skills are great indeed, and your highness is observant. Wen Ning has been termed the Ghost General by the peasants because of his apparent leadership role, and because the peasants do not understand the nature of cultivation and assume a fierce corpse at the head of an army must be leading it."
The emperor rolls smoothly with this. "Wen Ning is now a fierce corpse, you say. You said that the Jin enslaved him, and that this was the motive for Wei Wuxian's attack. Did they not put him down when he rose? Surely if he had died after being rescued he would not have come back as a fierce corpse, unless all who die at the Burial Mounds come back as such. They need strong concentrations of resentful energy, either internal or external, and it is hard to imagine that Wen Ning would harbor such after being rescued by his friend."
"Your Imperial Majesty, we believe that Wei Wuxian is capable of transforming corpses into fierce corpses at will. We have also received reports that, unlike any other fierce corpse yet recorded, Wen Ning continues to have his ordinary mind and personality."
"Wei Wuxian can...bring people back to life. With their ordinary personality: none of the side-effects expected for even cultivating resentful energy, let alone being sustained by it."
"Yes, Your Imperial Majesty. Other than looking like a fierce corpse, reports say, the Ghost General appears to be identical to Wen Ning. --Our knowledge is of course limited because he lives in the Burial Mounds which we cannot enter. Our information comes from Wen Ning and Wei Wuxian, err, going shopping."
"Going shopping? Elaborate for the court."
"Wen Ning and Wei Wuxian leave the Burial Mounds once every week or two to buy cloth and seeds and alcohol and other items they cannot produce on the Burial Mounds itself. They are usually but not always accompanied by a toddler, Wen Yuan, who clings to Wen Ning's leg without fear. Our sources suggest that Wen Ning spends a lot of time having interactions such as reminding Wei Wuxian that he is supposed to buy radishes and then Wei Wuxian complains that radishes are gross and instead he wants to plant potatoes."
"Wei Wuxian can bring the dead to life. Is it feasible to simply give him radishes, potatoes, or anything else he wants?" Wei Wuxian needs to be his personal physician.