Skep's Place


Chapter 23: Poor Hiring Choices

Since Yuan Shao stalled out his own war machine, Cao Cao uses the opportunity to make plans against Liu Bei. Or he would if it wasn't winter.

In the meantime he's advised to get Zhang Xiu and Liu Biao on his good side though because he doesn't want to be fighting wars on three fronts. One of these is the guy who tried to kill him because he slept with the guy's recently-widowed aunt, and the other is the guy who's been largely indifferent to Cao Cao so far. Guess which of the two he actually wins over by the end of the chapter.

Cao Cao's message to Zhang Xiu says something along the lines of "Look, I shtupped your aunt, you killed Dian Wei, let's call it even."

Zhang Xiu says, "Hang on. Didn't I also kill his son and his nephew?" But Jia Xu tells him to just shut up and take the deal, because a messenger from Yuan Shao just came in making the same offer. And while it would be tempting to ally with Yuan Shao's much larger force, Jia Xu argues that Cao Cao's lack of military strength means that he will be more appreciative for Zhang Xiu's aid.

So Zhang Xiu is on side with Cao Cao, and everybody is happy. Mostly because everybody is getting promoted.

Anyway Cao Cao needs a guy to win over Liu Biao as well, and sending some sort of scholar to butter him up sounds like a good bet. So he goes to Kong Rong, who was the governor of the city that Taishi Ci and Liu Bei teamed up to save from Yellow Turbans in the bananas events of Chapter 11. Well, he doesn't have a city to govern anymore since Cao Cao owns it now, so these days he's just chilling in Cao Cao's court.

Cao Cao says to him, "Yo Kongy, didn't the book say you were descended from Confucius or some nonsense? I need somebody smart to go hang out with Liu Biao to make him think he's an intellectual so he rolls with our crew." Kong Rong, who doesn't feel like going on a business trip right now, replies, "Well I coouuuld do that, but I know a guy who's like ten times smarter than me, he's absolutely perfect. Everyone will love him. I'll even write a two-page letter of recommendation to tell the emperor how great this guy is."

Thus, Mi Heng comes in for his interview. Cao Cao's taps the edge of his papers on his desk, saying, "Okay, I'm sure this is mostly just a formality, but we have to do this, it's a corporate thing. Anyway, why do you want to work for Cao Co.?"

(this is a better joke if you mispronounce Cao Cao with a hard C)

Mi Heng just blinks. "Aren't you going to ask me to have a seat?"

"Oh," says Cao Cao. "I mean, would you like to sit do—"

But obviously Mi Heng was just waiting for that one thing that would set him off. You know, one of those kinds of people. Because all of a sudden he starts bitching about the boys' club Cao Cao is running, none of his guys are real men.

Cao Cao sticks up for his crew; he's like, nah, my guys? They're all heroes of our age. Mi Heng gets prissy and demands to know who his guys even are. Cao Cao rattles them off, but Mi Heng dismisses all of 'em.

"Zhang Liao?"
"Excellent drummer boy for your army."
"Xu Chu?"
"Better off back on his farm."
"Okay yeah that one was too easy. Well what about Xiahou Dun? No commander can outmatch him."
"Hmph. He deserves the title 'Unscathed General.'"
"Now hang on, if you know Xiahou Dun, you know that one doesn't make any sense."
"Doesn't it? Or maybe you just don't get it?"
"Ooh, he sure called you out!" says Xiahou Dun from the corner, as the camera pans over to him.
"Xiahou Dun, how long have you been sitting there? You do know he's insulting you, right?"
"I know, but it's still a funny joke. I have an EYE for these things, you know."

...Some of that may have been fanfiction I'm working on.

Anyway Cao Cao asks Mi Heng what makes HIM so damn special, and he's like, WELL. Because HE studied all of the teachings of Confucius and knows all the contours of both the earth AND the heavens and he's as smart as Einstein and as enlightened as the Dalai Lama.

But Cao Cao's getting tired of this guy, so to humiliate him, he assigns Mi Heng the task of playing the drum at his next banquet.


And yet people are still disgruntled because he showed up to play the drum in the equivalent of a sweaty tank top and mesh shorts. This isn't your run-of-the-mill banquet, after all. This is a fancy imperial banquet.

So when they start complaining about that, he just takes all his clothes off.

Because HE has nothing to hide. HE is still pure, unlike the corrupt Cao Cao! And he proceeds to list all the ways Cao Cao has allowed corruption to fester within him. Meanwhile Kong Rong is basically over in the corner facepalming so hard that his eye sockets go up to his elbows because he recommended this guy.

At this point Cao Cao figures, whatever, just drag him over to Liu Biao and get him the hell out of here.

Well, Mi Heng is placed before Liu Biao, and he starts praising and extolling Liu Biao's virtues... except he's being really darn sarcastic about it. So Liu Biao sends him away to someone else, who eventually gets pissed off at him and kills him offscreen. And when he's asked why he sent Mi Heng away instead of killing him, Liu Biao says, obviously Cao Cao didn't want to kill him, because killing a scholar is a bad PR move. So he tried to bait me into taking the hit instead.


Cao Cao: "Guo Jia, did we actually manage to accomplish anything narratively in this chapter so far?"
Guo Jia: "No, not really."

Anyway so remember Dong Cheng? He was the guy who was putting together the team to take out Cao Cao. It hasn't been going so great, and he's real stressed out, to the point he needs the court physician to tend to him. The doctor's name is Ji Ping.

One night, Dong Cheng has a very pleasant dream where he's brutally murdering Cao Cao. And then he wakes up... and realizes Ji Ping heard him talking in his sleep.

But it's okay! Because Ji Ping is totally cool with killing Cao Cao! And actually, because he treats Cao Cao's migraines, he's in the perfect position to do it! So he bites off his goddamn fingertip right there to prove his dedication to the cause and sets off.

BUT. Afterwards, Dong Cheng catches a servant messing around with his concubine. The servant gets beaten and confined, but escapes later that night.

"I'm sure that won't come back to haunt me," says Dong Cheng.

Of course the servant runs right to Cao Cao and tips him off about the assasination. So the next day when Ji Ping tries to pass off poison as migraine medicine, Cao Cao asks him to taste it first. Which, honestly, if that were me, screw it, I'm just drinking the poison. That's the best-case outcome for me at that point. But Ji Ping tries to force it in Cao Cao's mouth instead and gets captured.

The next couple days are literal torture for Ji Ping as Cao Cao tries to get info out of him. To his credit, though, Ji Ping never talks despite all his fingers being cut off, and eventually he bashes his own head in and dies.

No matter; Cao Cao still has the servant's testimony to implicate Dong Cheng. So Cao Cao searches his house, and SURPRISE SURPRISE! It's an imperial edict! And the signatures of everybody who was part of the conspiracy! How convenient!

Now wait, says Cao Cao, doesn't this mean we have an excuse to depose the emperor and replace him with someone friendlier like Dong Zhuo did? AND an excuse to kill Liu Bei ourselves without trying to orchestrate something convoluted?

The moral of the story is, don't leave your incriminating paperwork lying around.

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