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.
"Yes, Your Majesty. All of the Wen remnants are dead. It was... less of a war and more of a slaughter. The fierce corpse army mostly transformed into regular corpses without his will to maintain them. Wen Ning can kill an entire army of cultivators single-handedly. It is believed to be a consequence of his... unique status."
"Has Wen Ning returned to his rest with the other fierce corpses of the army?"
"Your Imperial Majesty, his body was not found."
"So someone who can kill an entire army of cultivators single-handedly, and whose entire clan was just slaughtered, is possibly wandering around, and in the worst case is just as powerful but now full of mindless rage once they again see a human. Why was this not one of the first points made? Is it less concerning than it sounds?"
"My deepest apologies, Your Imperial Majesty. In Your wisdom You have seen penetratingly to a point Your humble servant overlooked."
"Not even the greatest scholar can have understanding without information, and We would not be able to rule without the information our loyal ministers gather for us. Keep us informed of developments with Wen Ning. With Wei Wuxian and the Wen clan dead, what is the expected future of the alliance against them?"
"The alliance appears to have dissolved and clan politics have returned to their ordinary state."
"Is there anything else?"
"No, Your Imperial Majesty."
"Continue your good work, and keep particular attention on locating Wen Ning if at all possible."
Two years later--
"Your Imperial Majesty, the chief cultivator has died."
"Your Imperial Majesty, his heart gave out while entertaining two dozen prostitutes at once."
His eyebrow is raised very very high.
"Unfortunately, Your Imperial Majesty, due to the deaths of much of the Jin clan in the Sunshot campaign and at the hands of Wei Wuxian, the Jin clan does not have a... suitable... heir to the position of chief cultivator. It has been taken over by Jin Guangyao, Jin Guangshan's illegitimate child by a different prostitute. By all reports he is a very filial child."
"The son of a servant could not be chief cultivator, but the bastard son of a prostitute can? Cultivators have strange habits. What is known about Jin Guangyao?"
"Your Imperial Majesty, it is common although not required that the position of chief cultivator be passed from father to son. Jin Guangyao had assisted his father in his duties as chief cultivator, and consolidated his power rapidly before the Lans could object. It helped him that the other major clans are fairly weak. --Jin Guangyao is well-liked but has committed to few particular stances. He was filial and obedient to his father and heroic during the Sunshot campaign. He is sworn brothers with Lan Xichen, one of the finest cultivators in the Lan clan. He was sworn brothers with Nie Mingjue, the deceased sect leader of the Nie clan. These relationships likely improve his political position."
"He sounds effective. We hope that he will be a wise subject of the crown, and that the atrocities of recent years are finally over." What else is there to say, really. A Chief Cultivator who is schooled in politics such that, for example, he would not be forced into the position of publicly taking abuse from a teenager or refusing the heartfelt demand of the most militarily capable person in the world (as the emperor could admit to himself, at least).
"Your Imperial Majesty, he has sent you a report."
(This is new. Chief cultivators do not, as a rule, send reports to the emperor.)
The emperor is going to pretend that this is normal, and hope that the next one sticks with it. Reports are a form of accountability which can ultimately lead to other forms of power. If nothing else, any information about the cultivator clans would be dearly appreciated: the underminister tries his best but bribing cultivators is not exactly effective. It still rankles the emperor that he could not even offer Wei Wuxian potatoes and alcohol effectively without offending the clans. If he can get more information on their divisions and relations, that is all for the better.
"Please summarize for the court, and present us a copy."
"With your permission, Your Imperial Majesty, I will read it."
The report opens with a long list of the Emperor's titles, following scrupulously correct etiquette for a high-ranking minister submitting a report to the emperor. The next few paragraphs explain the humility of the emperor's servant, request the emperor's patience with these subjects of little import, and express deep gratitude for any attention the emperor chooses to spare for these minor matters.
The meat of the report begins with "Your Imperial Majesty, your humble servant must beg your pardon for the offenses he has committed against you. My father was a wise and beneficent man, but even the wisest and most beneficent of men can be misled by ill-minded advisors. I regret that his kind and trusting nature has been so taken advantage of. Though in my weakness I can hardly expect to live up to my father's example, I was blessed by the Heavens when I did my routine review of the chief cultivator's offices. To my shock, I discovered that we had not been sending You the reports and censuses to which You are entitled. I must beg for Your mercy upon this unworthy man. The cultivators whose error led to this violation of Your laws have, of course, been disciplined severely and stripped of all honors, and I will follow Your guidance about what must be done with them."
The emperor is not in the slightest convinced that any of this has actually happened. That said, he appreciates the gesture, and does not want to overplay his hand or invite excessive mockery. At the same time, cementing that it would be better not to have such a mistake happen again would be best. The emperor is well-acquainted with the Court, and all this thought and composing an answer barely lasts long enough for his ministers to notice.
"Even with ministers I meet with personally errors have been known to happen. When you reply to Jin Guangyao, inform him that such punishment is adequate, and remind him that men can only be as good as the laws that bind them, and while those laws must be enforced, and we are glad to see that enforcement, something else remains. Instruct him to ask not only which men were responsible, but which rules allowed the error to go unnoticed. There, he shall find his true problem. But continue with the report."
"Due to the former inadequacy of the reports, I am concerned that the Emperor has been misled concerning certain events. Specifically, the Ghost General Wen Ning was executed by the Jin clan two years ago. I know the emperor is concerned always for the safety of His people, and I regret any dismay or worry that this mistake may have caused."
The emperor smiles. "We owe a debt to his clan for being able to defeat such a powerful foe, and one at such risk of reverting to the mentality of a fierce corpse. Include a token of our deep appreciation. Such information will calm our citizens. And include a congratulations on the old victory." It would be dangerous to build ties with the Jin clan, which would at least in the future have organized enemies who might express displeasure with the emperor, but lavish gifts to the chief cultivator, some of which were chosen based on the known preferences of Nie Mingjue, Lan Xichen, and key figures in the Jin clan, would likely be safe enough, particularly while emphasizing something that the chief cultivator had done for the emperor. He was fairly confident that the underminister would have enough information to select suitable gifts, both to target the individuals and not offend anyone.
"Your Imperial Majesty, as per Your most recent request, I have investigated the activities of the demonic cultivator Xue Yang, a guest disciple the Jin clan. His violations of our laws have far too long gone unpunished. I have arranged for his execution."