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.
"He was the one responsible for the torture and murder of our citizens, to which we responded with the usual strongly worded missives?'
"Yes, Your Imperial Majesty. He is believed to have tortured perhaps twenty or thirty noncultivators and murdered perhaps forty or fifty, although exact body counts are difficult since the Jin clan did not communicate numbers to the ministry."
"There will be no more, and that is more than sufficient. It is assumed that demonic cultivation was a contributing factor?" The new Chief Cultivator is going to get a *large* stack of gifts suitable for distributing to his subordinates. For most powers the emperor would send fine weapons, but in this case he suspects food and rice wine may do, and perhaps even a fine chef. Potatoes and radishes.
"Yes, Your Imperial Majesty, we do believe so."
The underminister summarizes the rest of the report, which is mostly an update on the sizes, territories, and military capacities of each sect and current estimates of how many fierce corpses were laid to rest in various locations.
The emperor will communicate that the responding gift should include paper, to indicate a continued interest in the correspondence, as well as the addresses of government officials for various territories arranged by sect, if it should prove useful. Forging deeper contacts with the cultivators would be a grand coup, and even modest efforts to bring them more fully (or at all) under the Mandate of Heaven would be a boon.
Two years later--
"Your Imperial Majesty, the chief cultivator has sent his latest quarterly report."
How strange that such an anodyne item still makes him grateful. "Please inform the court of any items of interest."
"Your Imperial Majesty, the item of the most interest is that Jin Guangyao intends to build twelve hundred watchtowers throughout China, each of which will have disciples assigned to it. They will raise an alert to local clans and rogue cultivators if suspicious activity is noticed. Jin Guangyao hopes that this will give the common people more reliable protection against fierce corpses, spirits, and other trouble of a supernatural nature."
Not to mention cementing the Jin Clan with superterritorial status and creating a visible symbol of cultivator power across the empire that the common people might look to for protection first, perhaps even against ordinary bandits once they are established enough. After all, what bandit gang could stand up to cultivators? This is a delicate matter.
"Inform him that Imperial Permission is granted to so loyal and honorable a subject, and that furthermore We are so overjoyed to see this effort that we will supply lumber, stone, and soldiers to support his efforts."
(That no permission had been asked for was, of course, something he was going to ignore.)
"Your Imperial Majesty, Jin Guangyao has stated in the report that, as a way of using their great wealth for the benefit of Your citizens, the cultivators will be able to fund the construction of the watchtowers themselves."
The emperor's smile pointedly does not grow brittle. That would be for lesser men.
"We are gratified to hear this. Include appropriate thanks for that, and offer the support of our soldiers."
"Jin Guangyao says that he understands that Your Imperial Majesty's soldiers are most needed fighting bandits, and he does not wish to burden Your army with the additional duties associated with the watchtowers. He of course offers the services of the watchtowers to Your soldiers whenever it is needed and hopes that cultivators and the military may work more closely together in the future. Perhaps cultivators could be of assistance with particularly refractory cases of treason or revolt."
Smile. Smile. This is the best chief cultivator in lifetimes, and the minor detail that this does not necessarily imply that the is the best chief cultivator for the Emperor and the Empire is something that can be managed.
"His offer of assistance is received with great warmth and thanks as We work to protect the people of the empire." In some cases the plural first person is exceptionally useful.
"Communicate to our loyal troops that if the Court sends instructions there may be cultivator aid." The "and only if" is silent.
He finds inspiration. It is a risky idea, but the heavens reward the bold. "Suggest that training exercises will be useful for the army and cultivators to work together, and ask if there is a sect with cultivators interested in understanding how the two may work together effectively. The Great General warns of the risks of not knowing oneself, and that applies not merely to the commander but to all troops under him. Some practice working together to develop a training regimen seems wise." Will Jin Guangyao waste the time of his enemies with this, and potentially allow the emperor to observe and exploit divisions? Will he attempt to take advantage of the cultivator's mystical reputation and battle-prowess to win over soldiers? The emperor looks forward to finding out: it should give him a better clue to his chief cultivator's motivations and goals. He hopes for the former: attempting to supplant the emperor is much more concerning.
"Yes, Your Imperial Majesty. I shall prepare the response right away. --The next matter is that of demonic cultivators."
"Indeed, Your Imperial Majesty. Many seem to have fallen to the temptation to pursue the power Wei Wuxian had. --Jiang Cheng, the sect leader of the Jiang sect, is convinced that Wei Wuxian is still alive."
"The Jiang clan is known to be very honest. Yet it seems that Jin Guangyao is not convinced."
"Your Imperial Majesty, he is concerned that Jiang Cheng is blinded by his strong feelings about Wei Wuxian, who is after all his adoptive brother."
"That would be understandable. What is the status of the other demonic cultivators?"
"Jiang Cheng is hunting down every known or suspected demonic cultivator and killing them on suspicion of being Wei Wuxian. Jin Guangyao is inclined to encourage this behavior, given the instability of demonic cultivators and the severe consequences of Wei Wuxian possessing a human body."
"Killing them on suspicion of being his adopted brother? Elaborate on the strong feelings involved."
"Your Imperial Majesty, I am not privy to the psychology of Sect Leader Jiang. But Wei Wuxian was taken in as a child due to the generosity of Jiang Cheng's father, betrayed his sect by rescuing the Wen remnants, and subsequently brought grave dishonor to the sect by murdering several thousand people including Jiang Cheng's sister. Strong feelings are understandable under the circumstances."
"Indeed they are. How many known or suspected demonic cultivators have been killed by Jiang Cheng? Has there been any previous evidence that Wei Wuxian is capable of possession?"