Skep's Place


Chapter 21: Chopstick Falsehoods

The chapter starts off with Ma Teng saying, "You know who we need to add to this conspiracy? Liu Bei." This actually has some pretty interesting ramifications, so I'd like to focus on just this bit before I get into the rest of the chapter.

Two main points: One, Liu Bei agrees to join and signs his name pledging himself to the plot. As I foreshadowed earlier, this is going to be a Big Deal. Two, and a little more complicated to follow: there is now an argument that could be made that Liu Bei now possesses the Mandate of Heaven to re-establish the Han, due to the fact that the emperor himself has decreed that Cao Cao must be removed, and Liu Bei has signed his name agreeing to take up that order. It's sort of like in Crusader Kings, how you can fabricate a claim on titles you don't own so you can fight for them. Sometimes dubious, but technically allowable.

So Liu Bei's in on the plot, but Dong Cheng's not ready. He wants to bring in more conspirators before he's ready to act.

"We don't have a demolitions guy, for example."
"Do we need that?"
"Also we should have somebody to sneak in and monitor their security feeds."

Anyway, to keep suspicion off of him, Liu Bei spends his days working a garden and basically keeping out of the way. Well, one day Cao Cao sends a group of soldiers to bring Liu Bei over to him. They sit down together under the pergola.

"I know about your little plot," says Cao Cao.

"My... plot?" asks an increasingly nervous Liu Bei.

"Yes, the little plot of land you've been cultivating your garden in!" says Cao Cao. "What did you think I meant? You've really been working hard at that thing. I figured maybe you could use a break, we can sit outside and have a couple of brews together."

"Well why the heck did you send a bunch of soldiers?" Liu Bei asks, but Cao Cao shrugs. "I dunno, this is the first time all book they haven't had anything better to do."

Anyway they chill out and have some drinks until a thunderstorm starts rolling in. This inspires Cao Cao to wax poetic about the spring dragon rising from its slumber and spreading through the land as an unstoppable force. "Just like the heroes of the day are doing! Speaking of which, who would you consider these heroes to be, Liu Bei?"

Liu Bei rattles off a couple names like Yuan Shu, Yuan Shao, and Sun Ce, but Cao Cao basically says "pssh" and waves them off. "Nah, you're wrong. I'll tell you who. There's only two true heroes these days: you, and me."

Well, Liu Bei doesn't know how the hell you even respond to a thing like that, and he drops his chopstick from the anxiety. But luckily there was some thunder right at that moment, so he claimed that it had startled him.

"Well, that's silly, but okay," says Cao Cao. "But what did you think of what I sa—"

But just then Guan Yu and Zhang Fei push past the guards and rush in with swords drawn... just to find a nice, peaceful conversation over beers. They had come home to find that Liu Bei had been summoned before Cao Cao and expected the worst; but now Cao Cao is very confused at what's happening.

So Guan Yu's like, "yeah, we heard our brother was over here, and we figured we might entertain you two with a sword dance." (And under his breath I'm sure Zhang Fei said "you honestly think I know how to dance?")

Cao Cao's like, "Mmhmm. This isn't a really bad assassination attempt, is it?"

"No, we've been practicing for a while, honest, we can show you," says Guan Yu.

But Cao Cao figures that would ruin the relaxing vibes they got going, and by now he can't remember what it was he and Liu Bei had been talking about, so everyone goes home instead. Liu Bei is still a little concerned, however; he had been pretending to be a humble gardener just so that Cao Cao wouldn't think he had any greater ambitions, but Cao Cao still called him out. This means that Cao Cao is liable to see Liu Bei as a potential threat.

However, the next day, Liu Bei is forced to hang out with Cao Cao once again, when CNN comes on. Turns out Yuan Shao has eliminated Gongsun Zan off-screen... which probably doesn't bode very well for Gongsun Zan's general, Zhao Yun, who had fought alongside Liu Bei a few times, and who Liu Bei had particularly liked.

In other news, Yuan Shu ain't doing so hot since everyone hates him now, so he's gonna give all his emperor shit to Yuan Shao instead. Which would be bad, because the Yuans uniting would be a lot of trouble for Cao Cao, considering they occupy the regions to his north and south.

So Liu Bei figures, hey, Yuan Shu would have to pass through Xuzhou, right? Give me some soldiers and I'll stop him. Cao Cao agrees and sends him out with a couple of his own guys.

But when they catch wind of this, Cao Cao's advisors rush in, like, whoa, what the hell buddy? You let Liu Bei go? What the heck bonehead move was that? You know what a threat he's going to be to you someday!

Cao Cao sends Xu Chu to recall Liu Bei, but Liu Bei tells him, "Oh, you know it's customary for a general in the field to ignore his lord's orders if he wants? That's totally a thing, look it up. So I'ma do that right now."

Anyway Liu Bei continues on and crushes Yuan Shu, who basically has no troops and no food and has to hole up somewhere. He chokes on the mealy porridge he has to eat, because he's been living the high life for too long. Then he asks for honeyed water, but he gets told, "All we have is bloody water. No honey."

So Yuan Shu figures it's as good a time to go out as any and falls over dead.

I think his son escapes, but he gets captured elsewhere and the Imperial Seal is returned to Cao Cao.

Liu Bei sends Cao Cao's generals back but keeps his troops, and decides to go garrison Xuzhou. Because why go back to Cao Cao? He's free now, bitchaaas.

The guy who Cao Cao put in charge of Xuzhou wants Liu Bei dead, so Chen Deng (who is now serving Cao Cao openly, since he can't be a mole anymore) suggests ambushing Liu Bei as he approaches the city. Well, Chen Deng tells his dad the plan, but Daddy Chen ain't happy because he likes Liu Bei, and tells Deng to stop it. So Chen Deng has to trudge out to Guan Yu and Zhang Fei and be like, "I'm sorry I set up an ambush for you guys", even though I'm pretty sure he's not actually sorry.

Tipped off about the ambush, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei approach the city at night pretending to be Cao Cao's troops. Which is easy... because they still have Cao Cao's troops.

Cao Cao's guy is like, "okay, I'll come out to greet you, but this better not be a trick!"

It's a trick.

So Guan Yu cuts his head off, and Liu Bei is in charge of Xuzhou again. Which is great, but next chapter they gotta plan how to defend against Cao Cao because he probably ain't gonna be too happy that they killed his guy.

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