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Title: Dragon in the Shallows
Premise, or Lack Thereof: The Three Kingdoms is very different without Zhao Yun on the Shu front
Reason for Banishment: Lost steam


Dragon in the Shallows
a DW5 Alternate Reality ‘fic by Dot


滾滾長江東逝水
Eastward the Great River’s water roll,
浪花淘盡英雄
Its waves on the heroes take their toll.
是非成敗轉頭空
Right and error, victory and loss all turn to vain,
青山依舊在
Yet still the green hills remain,
几度夕阳红
and countless times sinks the red sun.
白髮漁樵江渚上
The old fishermen on the river’s shore
惯看秋月春风
Long accustomed to the season’s sights
一壺濁酒喜相逢
Make merry over a jug of wine.
古今多少事
How many tales of yonder lore
都付笑談中
Are told among those laughing times?

(epigraph for The Romance of the Three Kingoms)


Introduction


Zhao Yün, styled Zilong, or Little Dragon, began his career as a brave but otherwise unremarkable soldier in Gongsun Zan’s command. Upon the breakout of the Yellow Turban Rebellion, Gongsun Zan was joined by a contingent of volunteer soldiers led by a certain Liu Bei, styled Xüande. Zilong, impressed by Xüande’s charisma and dedication to virtue, joined him and fought by his side, rising through the ranks until he became one of Shu’s Tiger Generals.

In our world, he would become legendary for his many feats of courage and might.

In this one, however, he would not be so fortunate.


I. Little Dragon is Ensnared at Long Plank Slope


Surrounded. Outnumbered. Injured.

Zhao Yün allowed himself a small, grim smile. His kind of odds.

He gave his dying horse a fond pat on the nose before charging back into the fray on foot. That little steed had accompanied him through thick and thin, but as it fell under the assault of the innumerable weapons that flashed around him he would have to leave it behind.

He had been aiming for speedy deaths, because he knew that they were being loyal to their lord, as he was to his, but now he was beginning to entertain darker thoughts. He didn’t just want to kill them any more.

He wanted them to bleed.

Part of himself scolded him for being so petty, but the remainder was tired, irritated at the endless waves of soldiers who kept pouring towards him no matter how many he struck down, and wishing he was already back at his Lord’s side.

There! The bridge! If he could reach it, he would be that much safer. He could see the banners of Shu flying on the other side. One of them could lend him a horse, and then he would be on his way—

Too late he heard the sound of an arrow being released from a bow.

Too late he felt it embedding itself between the bands of his armor, where it should have struck his heart.

Where he had placed the future of Shu.

His world went red, and he knew no more.

***

Cao Cao was about to commend his cousin on his excellent shooting skills when what sounded like the roar of a great beast arose from the battlefield, and all he could do was stare at the ensuing massacre.

Xiahou Dun caught wind of the garbles words that the enraged Zilong were screaming, and his remaining eye widened. He drew his sword. “Congratulations, Cousin. You have just killed the son of Liu Xüande.”

Xiahou Yüan turned alternating shades of pale and flush. “So that was why—”

Cao Cao composed himself and gestured for his officers to approach. “His fury makes him all the deadlier, but also susceptible to capture. Here is what I want you to do—”

***

Zhuge Liang approached his agitated master, keeping his face a blank mask of calm. “My lord, if you remain any longer—”

“Silence, Kongming,” Liu Bei hissed, his knuckles turning white as he clutched as his reigns all the tighter. “I will not abandon my people, nor would I leave Zilong to die in the fields like some animal.”

The strategist gauged the elder man’s body language as he spoke with care. “Those who are straggling now cannot be saved but by the gods themselves. And Zilong is a capable warrior, you have said so yourself.”

Zhang Fei caught up, having lagged behind to hold the bridge for as long as it had been possible. “Brother, if you don’t get your ass moving soon Cao Cao’s going to mow all of us down, and that’ll be the end of our brotherhood, these people, and your dream!”

Thank you, Yide, Zhuge Liang thought, for once grateful of the other man’s bluntness. He pointed his fan into the distance, where the outlines of sails could be made out. “Yünchang will be joining us soon. You do recall how he, too, was separated from you for but a short time, do you not?”

Liu Bei began to vacillate. “But could Zilong have gone back for that was worth risking his life?”

Zhuge Liang had to hold back a groan of dismay. The escape had been so frantic that his leige had not noticed who was missing from the entourage. “Whatever it was, I trust Zilong’s judgement. I advise for you to do the same, my Lord.”

Liu Bei stared at the sky for what felt like an eternity. When he answered, his voice was tinged with resignation. “Very well.” He raised his right sword. “It’s our turn to move, men! We must all get out of this alive!”

As the men obeyed, their spirits lifting, Zhuge Liang broke his steed into a gallop, casting a quick backwards glance at the hills behind him. Forgive me, Zilong, but the safety of our lord takes priority over yours.

***

If looks could kill, then everyone in the encampment would be dead a thousand times over. But Zhao Yün was helpless, bound and caged, with a large contingent of guards at constant attention to watch for any sign of escape. Even if this wasn’t the case, he doubted he had the strength to so much as lift a finger. But he continued to glare daggers at anyone who dared to approach him anyway; he wasn’t in the mood to talk to his captors.

He had failed. He could not save the Lady, nor the young Lord, nor even himself. With each passing moment, the faint hope in his heart grew dimmer and the temptation to die that much stronger. Still, he remained too proud to end his life by his own hand, and he was not yet willing to give up on the thought that perhaps he would be able to rejoin his fellow soldiers someday.

The wagon containing his cage lurched forward; he sucked in a sharp breath to keep from crying out, splitting his lip from the effort. They were leaving, which meant that the campaign to capture Liu Xüande had not succeeded. It had have failed, since no one came to brag to him about it. He hung onto that thought with the same tenacity as he did the chains around his wrists.


Unnecessarily Long and Tiresome Authoress’ Notes:
Style names guide, in order of appearance –
Xüande = Liu Bei
Kongming = Zhuge Liang
Yide = Zhang Fei
Yünchang = Guang Yü
I killed Ah Dou (i.e. Liu Shan/Chan, the Latter Lord of Shu). I’m such a bastard. *grins*
I’ll be following the approximate timeline set by the Dynasty Warriors 5 game, but I’m not sure which battles I’ll cover just yet. I’ll also be saving a lot of characters on all three sides from untimely deaths because I’m that nice of a person. Overall, though, I suspect the tale will have quite a bit of Shu bias, as I’m using both DW5 and Romance of the Three Kingdoms as source material.
The inspiration for this story came from the Wei-side campaigns, where it’s possible to “capture” (i.e. defeat) Zhao Yün at Chang Ban. As my somewhat cynical father once pointed out, if Cao Cao had not admired Zhao Yün and told his archers to back off, the Little Dragon would not have survived the ordeal, l33t skills or not.

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