At last, FF has added a Ryuuroden category at my request! I'm so grateful! (I love historical manga, and this one has great drawings. If you decide to give it a shot, don't stop at the first chapter. It's at the second one that things start to fall into place and get interesting)Before you read this, I assume you've read up to volume 12 at least, or else you won't understand. Another note: in this fic, Masumi and Shiro are merely childhood friends and Cao Cao's feelings for Masumi are not strictly platonic anymore. Well then, enjoy!
As cries rang out for her death, the soldiers persuaded that Masumi had ordered them not to use water from the stream, the young girl tried in vain to explain to them that the notice, which was unfortunately not yet out, was for them to properly boil the water before using it, not stop using it altogether. Her explanations were in vain. Incensed, the soldiers were not in the right state of mind to listen to her.
Her guards tried in vain to protect her, but driving away the mob was impossible without killing anyone, and so she stopped them, not wishing for anyone to be hurt anymore. So many people had already died that she did not want any more deaths on her hands. Her determination would not falter in front of them, forcing them to comply with her determined wishes.
Still, she did not defend herself against the stones pelting down on her. Her blood flowed freely, and with it, she felt her sins leave her one by one. Her grief and sadness at deceiving every one of those men she had come to care for left her slowly as more and more of her blood stained her skin and clothes. She stood, eyes closed, as she awaited her punishment, knowing and almost appreciating that her words would not be heard.
A stone finally struck her temple and she crumbled without a sound to the ground, hair fanning out around her prone form as she lost consciousness, one single, lonesome thought remaining in her mind.
They'll be saved when they follow my instructions as soon as the notice is out…
The men seemed to regain their senses when they saw the form of their goddess incarnate fall to the ground wordlessly, much like a dismantled puppet. Despite the blood that marred her face like crimson tears, the barest hint of a smile touched her lips.
And then rain began to fall in spades, wiping everything clean, as though trying to wash away the hate and the despair. The men's arms hung lip at their sides, their lax grips releasing the stones they had, but a moment ago, been prepared to throw at the woman they thought was responsible for the epidemic that ravaged their ranks, stealing old and young men alike from their duties, leaving them as grotesquely bloated corpses. As the stones fell one by one with wet thuds, a lone voice rang out, disrupting the uneasy silence that had overtaken the medical grounds.
No answer came forth from the slightly parted lips of the unconscious woman.
And then they realized that their goddess's human shell was just as fragile as any normal human's as her injuries continued to pour blood over her pale skin.
If one didn't look at the bandages encircling Masumi's head, one would think she was merely awake. However, the men present in the room were very much aware that she wasn't simply sleeping. Hua Tuo had spent quite some time patching her up, as the irate soldiers had done quite a number on her before regaining their senses. He had left after saying that now, they could only wait for her to wake up. Unfortunately, he had no idea when that would be. If she had suffered from a simple concussion, she would have awoken by now, but her state seemed far more serious. She was slowly falling into a deep coma.
Sitting in a chair next to her bed, Cao Cao could only watch as her condition deteriorated. For a man who liked control as much as he did, the situation was unbearable. Especially since he actually cared about the Dragon Princess. He remembered, months ago, explaining how he viewed her to his most trusted advisor.
Everybody believes in my strength…but no one ever understands my feelings…But Dragon Princess is never afraid nor does she doubt me and she believes me with all her heart…It feels like she is my own daughter…strange…
Now, though, as he watched dutifully over her, he could not help but feel that the paternal feelings he had had for her at the time had morphed into something deeper, stronger.
I…actually desire her…
He knew it was not due to his wish to control people. He had long since gone past that point. Probably since the day she had made the dragon appear in the sky and he had realized that trying to control her would only lead to disaster. A seed of respect had been planted in him then, and had only continued to grow further as time went on, for she was not only beautiful but virtuous, her very existence a balm to his and his battle-weary soldiers' hearts. She complemented him, her virtues filling the voids in him where flaws would and had taken over before.
"Wake up soon, Goddess…" he murmured, staring at her pale face pensively.
He wouldn't let her leave him. And that wasn't because he needed her to boost the morale of his soldiers.
Masumi continued to sleep, unaware of his inner turmoil and the effect she had on him.
Zhang Liao entered the tent quietly, stopping next to him, gazing at the goddess wordlessly. Cao Cao knew he had come to see if there was any change in her condition. It seemed his general felt like he had failed her by not being there to protect her at the medical grounds. He knew that months ago, he would have punished him harshly, but it seemed that the Dragon Goddess had changed him far more than he thought, as this time, he did not need her to plead for his subordinate's life to spare him.
"She has not awoken," he uttered calmly.
Zhang Liao nodded in understanding. He, too, longed for the young woman to open her eyes and smile gently in her usual manner. With a bow, he excused himself from the tent.
It had been days since Cao Cao had last had a real night of sleep. He left Masumi's side only when necessary, such as when he consulted with his advisors. The rest of the time, he observed her unconscious form long into the night, never leaving his high-back chair. There was no mistaking the effect it had on his body, but he was quite able to withstand a few nights without much sleep. On the other hand, Doctor Hua Tuo had to force the sleeping woman to regularly drink water in small quantities and then rub her throat to incite the reflexive peristaltic movement so that she didn't choke.
Of course, that water had been boiled beforehand, as per the instructions she had left, so that there was no chance she could contract the illness that had taken the lives of many of his men. But no more. The notice had been issued, and since then, no new case had been reported, which had been noticed by his soldiers. The morale of his troops had heightened by far. And then dampened as the men had realized that due to their actions, their goddess had yet to awaken.
Cao Cao pressed his thumb and forefinger to the bridge of his nose in tired aggravation. He didn't know what he would do if she didn't wake up soon. Yet he had a feeling that the goddess' coma was a sign from heaven, a punishment for doubting the Dragon Maiden and injuring her. And it appeared the soldiers thought so, too.
As if to prove the point further, Masumi suddenly stopped breathing.
"Zhang Liao! Get the doctor!" he bellowed at his trusted general, not turning around to see him make his way out of the tent at a run.
Instead, he marched to the young woman's bedside and boldly pressed his lips against hers, breathing into her mouth.
Pulling back, he urged, "Breathe, Goddess!" in a tone more desperate than he would usually like to appear.
He did not hear the clamor in his camp as the soldiers learned of the situation, nor did he hear Hua Tuo come in, followed by Zhang Liao, until the doctor came to a stop next to him. He took a few steps back to let the doctor do his job but didn't let his eyes stray from his goddess' prone form.
Only at that moment did hearing return to him, and he heard clamors from outside.
"What is all that noise?" he asked Zhang Liao.
"My lord, the soldiers want to see the goddess. They are wondering what's happening," answered the general.
Both men turned to the doctor who only shook his head negatively.
"I'm sorry, my lord, there's nothing I can do. She's gone."
Cao Cao closed his eyes painfully, grinding his teeth together. He hung his head in silence and nodded stiffly in understanding.
"Thank you, doctor. That will be all."
With a bow, the man disappeared, his footsteps quickly receding. Then Cao Cao bent down and gathered the fragile form of the goddess in his strong arms and made his way to the flap of the tent that Zhang Liao pulled open to let him pass.
He faced his army much more calmly than he felt. The pain was raw still, and he couldn't wait for it to settle into a feeling of hollowness. The clamors didn't stop with his appearance, but rather strengthened immediately.
"Silence!" he roared, and was pleased to see his men obey him at once. "Heaven has punished us all for not treating the Dragon Goddess as we should have. She is lost to us and has gone back to the land of the dragons, for we were found unworthy of her presence."
He hung his head, closing his eyes to keep the suspicious moisture from rolling on his cheeks. All around, his soldiers did the same, some looking at the sky, crying openly at their loss. Cries of pain rose from them, unbelieving. They could not believe that their beloved goddess was gone, leaving her human shell behind.
And then, as though it had been summoned by their pain, a gigantic dragon appeared in front of them. It hovered above them and looked at the leader of the Wei with understanding eyes. For the longest moment, Cao Cao and the dragon looked at each other in silence, and the man had a feeling it was a goodbye, that the dragon had come to bring him forgiveness.
Dragon Goddess…So this is your real form…
His eyes rove across the clear white scales from the tail till her head, and then his eyes locked with those of the goddess he had lost.
Despite everything…Thank you for forgiving us, Goddess…
The dragoness closed her great eyes and flew upward, soon disappearing into the clouds.
"My lord…What was that?" asked Zhang Liao quietly next to him.
"That dragon was Goddess…She came to forgive me, to forgive all of us for the wrongs we did to her," he answered, eyes never leaving the cloudy sky.
If only I had one more chance, one last chance to make it right…I would give my life to make sure you're happy, Goddess!
He didn't know if his heartfelt thoughts had been heard by the heavens, but a blinding column of light suddenly shot straight down from the sky through the clouds, illuminating brightly the encampment. Cao Cao had no choice but to close his eyes tightly; then a light movement, not quite a squirm, was felt in his arms. He promptly looked down, chest tightening.
It was faint, but the goddess was clearly breathing once again, her chest moving up and down regularly.
Thank the gods!
He fell to his knees, cradling her tighter in his arms.
"Men of Wei! Our goddess has returned!"
"How fares the goddess, my lord?" asked Zhang Liao.
"Much better. Doctor Hua Tuo says she is steadily recovering."
"The men were wondering if she has awoken yet."
"She hasn't, but it's only a question of time before she does. How did the soldiers react?" he asked, eyes never straying from Masumi's sleeping form.
"They are celebrating her return, my lord. Since the notice about the epidemic has been out, they have been repentant, and they now feel like they are given a second chance. They're anxious to prove themselves to Dragon Goddess."
Cao Cao didn't say anything, feeling very much like he himself was given a second chance, or more likely, a trial. And that was one trial he had no intention of failing. Especially now that he was acutely aware of how easily the Dragon Maiden could be ripped away from him.
"She has always given great morale to the troops," he mused. "I once decided to make her my second, for she tempers me and has the charisma that I lack at times. And now…now I long to make her my wife, for I can't feel at ease when she is not nearby."
It was not until the next afternoon that Masumi slowly came to. She moaned imperceptibly and blinked hazy eyes, feeling weak and sluggish.
She turned her head to the side gingerly and met the eyes of a tired-looking leader.
"Prime Minister…" she murmured softly, lips hinting at a smile.
Cao Cao inclined his head respectfully.
"It is good that you woke up. The men will be pleased."
And so am I.
She closed her eyes for a moment.
"I'm sorry to have worried you," she replied.
"Just get some rest, Goddess," said Cao Cao, putting a warm hand on her shoulder. "Take your time."
She hummed her agreement, slowly drifting off to sleep once again. Her sleep-laden voice rang out one last time in the tent.
"Do you think I could go horse riding again, Prime Minister?"
"When you're better, I'll personally take you horseback riding, Goddess," he promised.
And he always kept his promises.
And this is it for now, though I probably will expand on this at some point.