Skep's Place


Chapter 50 / Red Cliffs Part 8: The Flight

So now everything Cao Cao owns is on fire. It's bad. I mean, you have the wind fanning the flames, spreading the fire to all the ships that Cao Cao had so smartly linked together with chain. If you're on a boat, your options at this point are basically to either burn to death on board, or freeze to death in the icy river.

It's so bad that Cao Cao doesn't even consider a counter-attack; he just cuts and runs.

Huang Gai chases him down; but Zhang Liao is on bodyguard duty, and he shoots Huang Gai in the armpit, and he falls over into the water. But then later Huang Gai grips onto the rudder of Han Dang's boat and is brought aboard, so he's fine.

But if you're the kind of person who's like, hey, how did he survive when he fell injured into icy water in full armor? The author's got you. Huang Gai is fine because he's "used to the water". So cop that, nerd.

At this point all of Zhuo Yu's ground forces get involved, and they absolutely wipe the floor with whatever parts of Cao Cao's army weren't on boats, because their morale has just tanked. Meanwhile, Zhang Liao is trying to find an escape route for Cao Cao; his only real option is the one path that isn't on fire.

So they go that way, and they get jumped by Zhuo Yu's officer, Lu Meng. Zhang Liao has to stay behind to fight him off, but Cao Cao continues on.

But then Ling Tong jumps in out of nowhere to attack Cao Cao... who escapes again because Xu Huang shows up out of the blue to hold Ling Tong off.

Cao Cao manages to unite with a small contingent of troops, which bolsters his mettle a bit... But then Gan Ning shows up, slays the officers in charge, and runs off Cao Cao again. Cao Cao at this point is expecting reinforcements from a nearby city, but he doesn't get them; Sun Quan has already cut off all routes, and Cao Cao has to continue fleeing as Lu Xun and Taishi Ci bear down on him.

Fortunately for Cao Cao, not only does he finally clear the last of Sun Quan and Zhuo Yu's forces, but he unites with Zhang He, too. So actually, things are looking a lot better

So much better that Cao Cao actually throws his head back and laughs.

He's like, okay, okay. Zhuo Yu and Zhuge Liang are pretty good. But if they'd truly been thinking things through, they would have put an ambush right here. That's what I'd have done. All of us here would have been devastated if they'd done that.

Then the war-drums roar and flames shoot up around them. Zhao Yun rides out, saying, maaan you guys were slow to get here! And he attacks. Now we start seeing Zhuge Liang's foresight in sending out Liu Bei's troops; this time Zhang He has to stay back and hold Zhao Yun off.

Cao Cao keeps going, but at this point heavy rain springs up, and the retreat is absolutely miserable for everybody involved. Li Dian and Xu Chu show up to help, but there still isn't enough food; they're resorting to eating horses, which were being exhausted to death anyway. But they eventually find a little dry spot to set up some cooking fires and dry out their clothes.

And Cao Cao laughs again.

He's like, man, if I were in charge of their forces? Oh, this place right here, I would have absolutely put an ambush. We're too tired, we would have been destroyed. Good thing those other guys are idiots.

Anyway, it turns out that Zhang Fei is actually here, and it's his turn to launch an ambush. Now Li Dian and Xu Chu are left behind, and Cao Cao is once again fleeing alone with whatever paltry amount of soldiers haven't been killed in ambushes or starved to death yet.

There's a split in the road here: on one side, a nice easy road with sunshine and rainbows, and on the other, a hard, dark, mountainous road with twisted trees and all that. Scouts report smoke from campfires on the hard path, and suggest they take the easy path to avoid enemy soldiers.

Cao Cao's like, you dippy, I know this trick. They set up the fires there because they want us to take the easy path into an ambush. They don't actually have anybody along the hard path.

Turns out Zhuge Liang doesn't have troops on either path; he just had a couple dudes set up the fires. But Cao Cao takes the harder of the two and suffers for it; two-thirds of whatever troops he still possesses just don't have the strength left for this route, and either die or get left behind.

But finally, he gets past it.

And once again, he laughs.

He says, ah, man. THIS would be the place. If they'd just been as clever as me, this would be THE place for an ambush. I would have been absolute toast, game over.

Well, if you've been following the pattern up to now... yeeeah, Guan Yu steps out. And Cao Cao's heart just drops.

But he has a history with Guan Yu. So there's perhaps one option left.

Cao Cao says, hey, remember when you served me? I treated you so well. So much so that you might feel like you're indebted to me maybe?

But Guan Yu replies, ah, yes, I would, but I did kill Yuan Shao's generals Yan Liang and Wen Chuo for you. I figured that kind of squared us.

And Cao Cao responds, yes, yes, it did. But if you remember, when you left, you did kill a BUNCH of my checkpoint agents along the way.

And Guan Yu is like, ah, shit. Yeah, I've felt terrible about causing you all that trouble this whole time. I mean, I don't feel bad about them, they were dicks. But trying to hire good employees is just the worst. So I guess I do owe you one after all.

So Guan Yu lets Cao Cao pass.

This is exactly what Zhuge Liang predicted would happen, because he had read the stars, and he knew that today was not Cao Cao's day to die. So he sent Guan Yu last, figuring that "allowing" Guan Yu to spare Cao Cao would remove any feelings of indebtedness going forward. Which is a little clever.

...Although if you ask me, maybe the reason that the stars weren't showing Cao Cao's demise was because Zhuge Liang was going to send Guan Yu, and if he'd have said "hell with the stars" and sent Zhang Fei last without doing any fortune-telling, Cao Cao actually would have been finished. So maybe Zhuge Liang isn't all that smart.

But, what IS now finished is the Red Cliffs arc. And in one battle, we have established Liu Bei and Sun Quan as legitimate opposition to Cao Cao's control of the Han remnants. So I hope you enjoyed that mini-adventure, because not only is it one of the most exciting stories from this period, but it also marks the beginning of what can truly be considered the "Three Kingdoms" era.

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