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for want of a

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For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

[for want of a cup of tea]

In another world, a very specific cultivator in pursuit of the rogue cultivator scum Wu Yanzi would have stopped at an inn to take a break. By doing this, he would completely lose his lead on Yu Wanzi and be unable to track him down for another few years and, when he did, the tag team of Wu Yanzi and his new ‘disciple’ would kill the cultivator.

In this world, the inn ran out of the cultivator’s favorite tea leaves and he decided to forgo the break, thus arriving just in time.

“You…!” Wu Yanzi hissed, drawing his sword. Unfortunately, the cultivator was faster and killed Wu Yanzi before he could do anything. It was, at that moment, that the cultivator realized that he was standing in front of a small child who was, in turn, standing in front of a burning household.

“...” the cultivator said. He heard footsteps rushing towards the scene of the fire and quickly grabbed the child’s hand, absconding into the nearby forest.

“You killed my master,” the child said once they were both safely out of sight. Upon hearing that, the cultivator looked at the child in incredulous disbelief.

“That bastard took on a disciple?!” The child scowled at him.

“He told me that he would teach me cultivation if I managed to leave the Qiu Family,” the child said sullenly. At this, the cultivator looked at the child a little more closely and took in the myriad of bruises and other signs of abuse on his body.

“So you burnt them to death?” the cultivator asked with a raised eyebrow. The child remained quiet but sullen. The cultivator quickly came to a conclusion. “Well, judging from evidence, they probably deserved it,” he said, “and since I killed your ‘master’ I probably should take his place to compensate you for your loss.”

The child looked at him with wary and hopeful eyes. The cultivator really hoped that he wouldn’t disappoint the poor thing. Besides, if that Wu Yanzi could do it, this cultivator could do it too!

Probably.

-o-

[for want of a decent teacher]

Shen Jiu’s new Shifu -- he called him master, because that was what Wu Yanzi had told Shen Jiu to call him, and the look of complete abhorrence on the cultivator’s face almost made him bark out a laugh -- was a wandering, rogue cultivator who travelled from town to town to help people with their problems.

The first few weeks had been rough, as Shifu was already practicing inedia and completely forgot that Shen Jiu needed to eat. When Shen Jiu collapsed due to hunger, he had been filled with bitterness. However, his Shifu’s complete panic and clumsy but sincere care soon eased it. Afterwards, his Shifu had sat down with him and had a Talk about Asking For Things. His Shifu said he would not deny Shen Jiu anything without good reason.

Shen Jiu had constantly tested his Shifu, to see how far his Shifu was willing to go. When his Shifu almost died saving him from a deliberate mistake, Shen Jiu’s heart was eased.  

Under Shifu’s teachings, Shen Jiu’s abilities grew by leaps and bounds. Even though Shen Jiu often had qi deviations, Shifu was there to protect him and encourage him through them and he often managed to break through with his own strength.  

Shifu often marvelled at his potential and strength, causing Shen Jiu to feel a twinge of pride.

-o-

Shen Jiu dealt the final blow and the reanimated corpse was flung backwards, slamming against a wall before crumbling into dust. He cleaned the dirt off of his sword with grace before sheathing it.

“Nice!” Shifu told him. “You’ve improved again! Let’s go eat some good food to celebrate!”

By that Shen Jiu knew it meant that his Shifu was going to order a mountain of food for Shen Jiu to eat while Shifu only drank a pot of tea. Ever since the time he collapsed out of hunger, Shifu kept trying to stuff him with food, as if if Shen Jiu went one hour without eating, he would die.

It was endearing at first. Then it quickly became really annoying. They had a whole qiankun pouch dedicated just for food. How absolutely wasteful!

“This disciple thanks Shifu but that will not be necessary,” Shen Jiu said. “Shen Jiu actually has a request to make of Shifu.”

“Oh?” Shifu stood up a little straighter, his expression becoming serious. “It’s rare that disciple has a request. What can Shifu do for you?”

Even though Shen Jiu had deliberated on the matter for months, he still had to take a moment to gather up his courage. “Disciple wishes to look for someone named Yue Qi. Disciple considered Yue Qi to be his older brother but Yue Qi left for somewhere four years ago and disciple hasn’t heard from Yue Qi since. Disciple is worried for Yue Qi and, even if Yue Qi is… dead, disciple wishes to lay his bones at rest.”

“Yes, of course.” When Shifu agreed without hesitation, Shen Jiu breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank you, Shifu.”

-o-

Despite wanting to look for Yue Qi, it didn’t meant that Shen Jiu and his Shifu would stop attending to the requests townsfolk had for them.

The requests were not always straightforward subjugation requests. There were sometimes darker requests such as spywork or assassinations. At first his Shifu was resolutely against Shen Jiu taking part in such missions but, on an occasion where Shen Jiu displayed his talent at killing, along with his complete lack of reluctance to do so, his Shifu reluctantly allowed him to continue following him on missions.

The additional Buddhist scripture readings about morals, plus the sudden requirement of them having to do at least one good deed a day, was incredibly annoying though.

-o-

[for want of… morals?]

Shifu was grumbling about the Immortal Alliance Conference again.

“Shen Jiu would blow everyone out of the water and slaughter the competition but nooo, rogue cultivators aren’t allowed to attend,” he muttered under his breath, crushing solid stones into powder in his hand.

“Disciple doesn’t mean to offend but why is Shifu not part of a Cultivation Sect?” Shen Jiu asked. As time went by, he became more and more comfortable around his Shifu. It was almost like Shifu was a fathe--

Shen Jiu quickly got rid of such thoughts.  

His Shifu quickly turned to Shen Jiu with a feverish glint in his eye. Shen Jiu regretted his question almost immediately.

It wasn’t often but there were times when Shifu felt incredibly strongly about certain matters, prompting him to be able to rant about them for up to four hours straight. Sometimes Shen Jiu suspected that his Shifu didn’t even breath during those rants.

Topics Shen Jiu had come to avoid included tea, the difference between demonic cultivation and resentful cultivation and how it is not the type of power that corrupts but power itself that corrupts which is why it was important to constantly review yourself and your morals, the adorable appeal of cats, and now Cultivations Sects.

“Listen, the idea of Cultivations Sects may be good in theory but really it sucks. When you put so many powerful people in one place, you have to be careful or they would turn complacent and corrupt. See? How many people have we helped? How long have they waited for help? Most were in the territories of great and powerful Cultivations Sects but did those damned immortal masters come to help? No they did not. They would rather stay up there in their stuffy mountain and look down at everyone. Righteous cultivation? Righteous my ass! The corruption in the major sects is so abundant that you can smell it from here! And besides, the only difference between their cultivation and demonic cultivation is mere semantics! They’re all the same! It’s just that only humans can learn righteous cultivation and only demons can learn demonic cultivation! All people suck! Even I suck! But we all have a glimmer in good in us as well we just have to choose whether we want to cultivate that or the sucky parts of us, which is why we have to keep on reviewing oursel…”

Oh great, he was transitioning into the Power Corrupts topic. Shen Jiu readied himself to get his ears talked off for at least two hours without pause.

-o-

“Shifu, I thought you said that rogue cultivators aren’t allowed to attend the Immortal Alliance Conference?”

Shen Jiu and his Shifu were standing in the area where the conference was being held. Shifu turned to him and smiled.

“A-Jiu, we are rogue cultivators! The only rules we follow are right here.” At that, Shifu pointed to the area of his chest where his heart was. Shen Jiu didn’t even bother to hide it when he rolled his eyes.

“Shifu, we--” Shen Jiu’s breath immediately caught in his throat. There, in the distance, was a familiar face with the bearing of a noble, decked out in high quality clothes and surrounded by a crowded of adoring eyes.

“A-Jiu? What’s wrong?” Shifu looked in the direction Shen Jiu was looking and raised his eyebrow. “That’s… the head disciple of Cang Qiong Mount Sect’s Qiong Ding Peak, the Xuan Su sword. If I’m not mistaken, I think his name is Yue Qingyuan. Has he caught your eye?” Shifu was about to waggle his eyebrows and tease Shen Jiu but suddenly realized that something wasn’t quite right. “A-Jiu?”

“I want to leave.” Shen Jiu’s lips were pressed so hard together that they lost most of their colour. Shifu’s expression immediately turned serious as he nodded.

“Of course,” he said, without hesitation as always. “Let’s go.”

Before he left, he cast one more look at Qiong Ding Peak’s head disciple, eyes narrowing. Yue Qingyuan, huh? He’d have to make sure that Shen Jiu wouldn’t run into him in the future.

-o-

After a few hours of being offered fifteen different types of tea, snacks, and Shifu’s quiet and mildly panicky concern, Shen Jiu broke and told Shifu everything. Shifu listened in silence and offered no judgement. When Shen Jiu was done, Shifu pulled Shen Jiu closer and hugged Shen Jiu.

Later on Shifu would tell Shen Jiu of a similar story, of two young friends who joined a sect together in dreams of making the world a better place only for one of them to change after coming into power and the other leaving the sect, disillusioned by everything.

But now, with his face hidden in Shifu’s robes, Shen Jiu allowed himself to cry for the first time in many, many years.

-o-

[for want of a meeting]

It was a tension filled and incredibly awkward standoff.

“Let go of my hand,” Shifu said through gritted teeth.

“No,” said the other cultivator, who was donned in white robes. “If I do you’d just run away again.”

Shen Jiu would help his Shifu, possibly by attempting to sever the other cultivator’s hand, but he was locked in a standoff of his own.

“I won’t let you interfere with Shizun’s business,” said the boy in front of him. He appeared to be around the same age as Shen Jiu, with an incredibly pretty face and a beauty mark under one eye. He was also very strong, having both of Shen Jiu’s wrists trapped in his grasp as he prevented Shen Jiu from going to his Shifu’s rescue.

“I actually have something to do,” Shifu said coldly. “A demonic subjugation.”

“What a coincidence,” said the cultivator in white robes. “Me too.”

Shifu looked seconds away from throttling the cultivator to death. The cultivator, on the other hand, had his face carefully blank.

“Why don’t we discuss what we know over a cup of tea?” the cultivator said. “Is that alright, Disciple Liu?”

The boy holding Shen Jiu wrists in a death grip inclined his head forward. Shifu narrowed his eyes and realized that Shen Jiu was currently being held hostage.

“Fine then,” Shifu said through gritted teeth. “We’ll talk.”

-o-

This was the first time Shen Jiu saw Shifu behave so pettily. If the immortal tried to talk about something other than the demonic subjugation, Shifu would pretend he didn’t hear a thing, drinking his tea and pointedly making talk with Shen Jiu about the weather. Shen Jiu has heard about the sun outside the tea house sixteen times now. However, united in the face of a common enemy, Shen Jiu played along.

The demonic subjugation went by smoothly, with Shifu and that cultivator fighting side by side in an almost seamless manner, like they had fought together enough times to subconsciously cover each other’s blind spots and assist each other in battle.

Shen Jiu already knew who this immortal was. It made him hate the immortal even more.

From the corner of his eye, Shen Jiu noticed that ‘Disciple Liu’ seemed to be overwhelmed. For a moment, he contemplated allowing the boy to ‘accidentally’ die, but he knew his Shifu would be disappointed in him, despite the boy’s allegiances, and also Shen Jiu hadn’t done his One Good Deed Of The Day yet.

Fuck it.

In a flash of movement, Shen Jiu leapt to the boy’s side, parrying away a blow aimed for the boy’s back. He made a seal with his hand and the leaves on the nearby trees shook, just for a moment, before they detached and shredded into the demons surrounding him and the boy.

With one last swing of his sword, he made quick work of the demons nearby just as his Shifu and that cultivator dealt the final blow to the demon who caused this entire mess.

“Hey,” the boy said from behind him. Shen Jiu pretended he didn’t hear him. “Hey!” the boy said again, louder this time, grabbing Shen Jiu’s shoulders and forcing Shen Jiu to turn around to see him.

“What?” Shen Jiu snapped back.

“You, uh,” the boy blushed, looking away. “You fight good.”

Shen Jiu was deeply unimpressed.

The boy took in a deep breath, face completely red, and yelled out, “Please fight me!”

“??!?!?!?” Shen Jiu said, verbally, out loud.

“No, absolutely not!” Shifu came to the rescue, “We’re leaving right now!” He scooped Shen Jiu up and threw him over his shoulder. “Fucking, bye!”

And then he mounted his sword and zoomed off.

-o-

[for want of a sword]

Shen Jiu was well on his way to getting a golden core, but he still did not have a sword. It could not be helped, as his Shifu was only a rogue cultivator with no way of getting a sword for Shen Jiu.

That was when his Shifu had an idea.

“Infiltrate one of the major sects, get a sword, get out,” he said. “Treat it as something like an exchange program! There are minor sects who send their disciples to major sects all the time!”

“That sounds risky,” Shen Jiu said.

“It’ll be fine,” Shifu said, waving a hand. “And if all else fails, just use that nifty little transportation talisman I gave you and you’ll out of there! First, we need to forge some identities. And then, well, Cang Qiong is out of the question, so I guess there’s Zhao Hua, Tian Yi, and Huan Hua…”

After ruling out Zhao Hua, which was a temple with stupidly rigid and ‘righteous’ monks, according to Shifu, and Tian Yi which was a monastery that Shifu could only describes as ‘remote’, ‘hard to get to’, and ‘incredibly hard to get to’, Huan Hua seemed like the best place to go.

Except, Shifu had misgivings about that one too.

“I do not like that Palace Master,” Shifu said. “He smells of bad news and horribleness. I know I said there’s a spark of good in everyone, but I really don’t think there’s one in him.”

“Then there’s really only Cang Qiong left,” Shen Jiu said.

“No! Not Cang Qiong!” Shifu denied vehemently. “Cang Qiong has that irritating Bai Zhan Peak Lord and…” Shifu hesitated and it took Shen Jiu awhile to remember that Yue Qingyuan was also in Cang Qiong.

The thought of Yue Qingyuan still came with a pain in his chest but, as the days went by, the pain grew more and more muted. No longer did he feel like he couldn’t breathe when he thought of Yue Qingyuan, nor did he feel like he wanted to destroy things.

It hurt, but he was moving on. Like Yue Qingyuan had chosen to leave Shen Jiu behind, Shen Jiu was leaving the memory of Yue Qingyuan behind as well.

That did not mean that he wanted to see him again, though.

After much debate (“No sect is good enough for A-Jiu!!” “I still need a sect to get a sword, Shifu”), they ended up deciding on Huan Hua Palace.

-o-

Huan Hua Palace was more or less what Shen Jiu expected it to be. There was a lot on military strategy and arrays, which Shen Jiu soaked in like a sponge. The immortal cultivators praised Shen Jiu for his aptitude for learning but Shen Jiu found himself unhappy with the praise.

If he was missing the enthusiastic shouts and odd but sincere congratulatory gifts of his Shifu, he wasn’t going to admit it.

-o-

As the saying went, the nail that sticks out gets hammered in.

His rapid progress and skill did not go unnoticed by his peers and it appeared that they were displeased with him. Smiling to his face and trying to harm him behind his back, Shen Jiu couldn’t help but think that his Shifu was right, that power really did corrupt people.

However, there was one disciple that did not stay away from him; a female disciple named Su Xiyan who was just as strong, if not stronger, than Shen Jiu. Shen Jiu grew to be somewhat fond of Su Xiyan, of her straightforwardness and kindness.

So of course he had his misgivings when he found out that Su Xiyan was engaging in courtship with a Heavenly Demon.

-o-

Shen Jiu did stupid things for people who were lucky enough to receive his loyalty. This included trying to spy on a Heavenly Demon.

He was caught pretty quickly, learning a lesson in overestimating one’s strength. His Shifu would be displeased.

“And who may you be?” the Heavenly Demon asked, raising an eyebrow.

“This one’s name is Qin Li,” Shen Jiu gave his fake name, “And I would like to question you on your intentions towards Su-shijie.”

Shen Jiu had steeled himself for a confrontation, maybe even a battle.

He hadn’t prepared himself for a three hour long monologue on how beautiful, wonderful, kind, generous, etc. Su Xiyan was.

And then Tianlang Jun somehow got into his head that Shen Jiu was to be his Human Best Friend -- apart from Su Xiyan, of course, who was his best Everything -- and made Shen Jiu introduce him to human culture.

-o-

Shen Jiu crawled back to Huan Hua Palace and immediately requested for closed door cultivation. Upon becoming strong enough to choose his own sword, he exited closed door cultivation, went through the sword choosing ceremony, and then promptly faked his own death.

-o-

(When Shen Jiu found out about Su Xiyan’s death and Tianlang Jun’s imprisonment, he nearly broke down.

“I don’t understand,” he yelled at his Shifu. “Why do I feel… like this?!”

“Survivor’s guilt,” Shifu told him. “It doesn’t make sense but it happens.”)

-o-

[for want of a position]

Shen Jiu was considered strong enough to travel by himself, and travel by himself he did. He met up with his Shifu every now and then but mostly he wandered from town to town, helping people in need like his Shifu had taught him to do.

It was not what he pictured himself doing, when he was young and reckless and naive, but he was still content.

In a village near Luo river, Shen Jiu came across a child with no place to go. Something about the child reminded Shen Jiu of himself and so, like his Shifu before him, he made an impulsive decision.

-o-

[for want of a sword (again)]

“Shizun!” a sticky disciple wrapped his arms around Shen Jiu, making him sigh and attempt to pry the arms off of his body. The disciple had grown rapidly, and his height almost reach Shen Jiu’s chin.

“Luo Binghe,” Shen Jiu said. “It’s time for you to get a sword. Which sect would you like to… have an exchange program with?”

-o-

What the fuck,if Shen Jiu knew that sending Luo Binge to get a sword would result in him falling into the Jue Di Gorge, Shen Jiu would never had sent him!

-o-

What the fuck! Was anyone going to tell Shen Jiu that his disciple was a half-demon, or did he have to find out himself?!