Skep's Place


Chapter 68: The Case of the Empty Orange

At this point, I think you can see where the titular "Three Kingdoms" come into play. None of them are officially kingdoms at this point, but for the sake of simplicity, I'm going to begin referring to these factions by the names they will adopt, as follows:

Cao Cao / the Northlands: Wei
Sun Quan / the Southlands: Wu
Liu Bei / the Western Riverlands: Shu

With that housekeeping out of the way, let's get into this chapter.

Cao Cao's forces who just took out Zhang Lu in the west finally make the trek back across most of China to assist in the offensive against Sun Quan, so the forces from Hefei set out to strike Wu's naval base. Sun Quan wants to launch an attack to disrupt the Wei troops, really throw them off their groove before they arrive.

Ling Tong says, I can do it, give me 3,000 men.

Gan Ning says, that ain't bad, but I can do it with just a hundred.

Sun Quan says, okay you're pretty cool, but even I'm not buying you can pull that off. So he sends Ling Tong. Ling Tong duels with Zhang Liao a bit, but ultimately doesn't really accomplish anything.

Afterwards, Gan Ning tells Sun Quan, hey hey, my offer still stands.

Sun Quan shrugs his shoulders and sends him off. Gan Ning then takes his hundred horsemen and raids the Wei camp at night, causing a ton of disorder and confusion, and makes it back without losing a single man.

"Daaayum," says Sun Quan.

Although briefly stymied, Zhang Liao eventually presses the advance, and Sun Quan moves to engage his forces. At one point in the battle, Ling Tong has his horse shot out from under him, and Yue Jin moves in for the kill. But Gan Ning, still hot on his streak of badassery, shoots Yue Jin in the face with an arrow and saves Ling Tong. After this, the two finally become best buds instead of hating on each other.

Despite this, this ends up being a rough fight for Wu, and they lose a couple good officers in the battle. Zhuo Tai has to repeatedly dive headfirst into fighting in order to get Sun Quan out unharmed, and then he has to do it AGAIN to save some other guy.

A young Wu officer named Lu Xun eventually shows up with a crap-ton of troops to finally drive Wei back, so Sun Quan gets to keep his naval base, but it's a pretty pyrrhic victory overall. Neither side can gain any ground after that, and Sun Quan eventually makes peace more or less by submitting to Cao Cao as some sort of vassal state.

Also Sun Quan has a banquet where he makes Zhuo Tai take his shirt off to show all his scars, and asks him to relive every painful memory in describing how he got them all. Real nice guy.

Around this time, everyone up north starts thinking, hey, maybe we should make Cao Cao the King of Wei. They petition the Emperor, who—let's face it—isn't in a position to say "no". So that happens.

Cao Pi, Cao Cao's oldest son—or at least the oldest who wasn't killed as a result of his father's sexcapades—spends some time sucking up to daddy to be named heir. Although we have some really good examples from both Yuan Shao and Liu Biao about what happens when you don't name your eldest your heir, so Cao Cao was probably leaning toward Cao Pi regardless of the ass-kissing.

And then... things get weird.

A bunch of Cao Cao's guys are gathering oranges from Wu and carting the box back home when they're approached by an old man who's blind in one eye and who has a bum leg.

He's like, hey. Let me help you with that crate.

The workers do the honorable thing and let the old guy with the bad leg carry the crate for them. He does it like it's nothing. But when the crate gets home, Cao Cao cuts into an orange to find it totally empty on the inside.

The old guy is Zuo Ci, and he basically spends the rest of the chapter kinda just being a mystical trickster and alternately amazing and frustrating Cao Cao.

For some reason. No idea what this guy's motives are. Couple highlights:

Zuo Ci arrives at a banquet he wasn't invited to. Cao Cao then orders him to procure "dragon's liver" as a dish, obviously because nobody could do this. Zuo Ci draws a dragon on the wall in chalk, cuts into its belly, and pulls out a liver.

And Cao Cao's like, eeeh he had dragon liver up his sleeve the entire time.

Then when Cao Cao has finally had it with Zuo Ci, Zuo Ci escapes, and Cao Cao orders him brought back in. As a result, hundreds of guys looking EXACTLY like Zuo Ci are brought to him. Cao Cao figures the safest option here, naturally, is to have them all killed.

But a spirit rises from the bodies and does threatening spooky stuff, and Cao Cao collapses to the ground.

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