A/N: Hello, hello! Apologies on the lateness of the chapter; I truly have no excuse for this being up later than I'd planned. In my defense, it's almost twice as long as chapter 7, and hits around 11,000 words! I truly didn't expect it to be this long, but so much happened and there's a mystery to be solved, and we finally have the beginnings of a romance (sort of), and….well, read and find out! As always, thanks to reviewers and readers alike, although reviewers a bit more than readers because reviewers do a little more work.
Note: I just realized that the Day 2 chapters are all longer than the Day 1's...except for Shu. The reason for that is I don't have as much fun with Shu characters and I apologize but that's the way it is.
Also, italics are thoughts or emphasis, depending on how long the italicized words/phrases are. Chances are, if it's a sentence, it's a thought. If it's one or two words, it's emphasis. I also don't tend to leave out quotation marks, so those should be a tipoff.
Disclaimer: These characters and places belong to history. Their costumes, weapons and half their personalities belong to KOEI. The plot belongs to me.
Chapter 8: Day 2, Wei
Zhen Ji woke on the second day of the Prank War feeling warm, cozy, and extremely content. Sighing appreciatively, she burrowed deeper into the confines of her bed towards the strange heat source next to her, intent on making the most of this comfortable atmosphere. Warm…she thought sleepily. Warm, warm teddy bear…wait…teddy bear? With an ominous feeling, Ji warily cracked an eye open.
Wow…Slightly more awake and aware now, Ji found herself very close to a very well-defined, very masculine chest. This seems a bit too good to be true…Slowly, she raised her eyes up towards her bed-mate's face, only to find an also awake Sima Yi looking at her impassively.
Blinking confusedly, Ji decided to break the awkward silence. "Good morning."
Yi raised an eyebrow, but deigned to reply. "Good morning."
Ji waited for him to say more, but when he clearly wasn't going to, she decided to go back to sleep. Ignoring the surprised look on the strategist's face, Ji closed her eyes, pulled the covers up farther, and snuggled back against her "teddy bear". "Don't move," she ordered sleepily. "I'm warm."
Yi stiffened imperceptibly when he felt Ji cuddle closer to him, but decided to make the most of it. Relaxing, and finding himself quite comfortable, he too drifted off to sleep again. Yes you are, was his last thought. Very warm.
People often said patience was a virtue. Cao Pi, for one, acknowledged that it was useful at times. Too bad he didn't have any. Patience, that is. And maybe virtue as well, but that was anyone's guess. Not that it really mattered, since Wei was more about ambition than honor or virtue anyway. Besides, his impatience was well-deserved.
Because honestly, what sort of Prankster slept in on one of the five days of the War?
"Maybe they were particularly tired," a voice offered unhelpfully.
Pi shot an irritated glance at the other unfortunate person forced to wait outside the guest room for his partner. "We were all tired. That's no excuse to sleep in during the Prank War!"
Zhang He shrugged, figurative feathers unruffled. "Perhaps. The Prank War tires everyone. But maybe Ji and Yi were more tired than we were."
"Why would they be?" Pi asked, irritated. "They can't have gone to sleep much later than we did. Any time after midnight is safe time, after all. There wouldn't have been anything else to do besides sleep."
He raised a delicate eyebrow. "Pi, you're an intelligent boy. You figure it out."
Pi huffed and rolled his eyes. "Get your mind out of the gutter, He," he retorted disdainfully. "I'm pretty sure Ji and Yi weren't doing anything inappropriate."
He shrugged in response. "You never know. They're both very beautiful individuals, though. I wouldn't be surprised." Hmm…plant a seed of doubt. I wonder if he cares at all…
"He," Pi gritted out, feeling rather disturbed. That, added to the combination of impatience and irritation was causing his already short temper to rise. "That's a very unpleasant image you're beaming into my brain. I suggest we change the topic before the urge to pummel you becomes overwhelming."
The butterfly general smirked. Translation: the fact that Ji and Yi are sharing the same room and bed, and may possibly be taking advantage of their situation makes my stomach churn with jealousy so let's change the subject before I take out my jealous anger on you! End translation. Unfortunately for you, Pi, Ji and I have a beautifully crafted deal and you and your little attraction to Ji are not going to get in the way. "Very well then. What would you rather talk about?"
"How about whether or not we should just knock down the door and drag our partners out of there?" Pi suggested, half-serious about the idea. All this waiting isn't good for my sanity, after all.
"That is not a good idea," replied a voice from right behind him.
Pi jumped, startled that someone had managed to creep up behind him so easily. "Uncle Dun, what are you doing up so early?"
Xiahou Dun glanced disinterestedly at the two officers pacing outside the guest room. "Your father kept Yuan and me up very late two nights ago, so we retired rather early last night. As a result, my sleeping pattern still has yet to return to normal. Although waking at the crack of dawn might actually be a habit worth keeping. Trains discipline."
"Good for form, as well," He added thoughtfully. "It is healthier to wake early and retire early."
"Exactly," Dun nodded. He leveled a glance at the door, adding, "And I would highly advise against vandalizing the castle. Your father would not be pleased. And I would imagine Sima Yi wouldn't be happy about it either."
"And that," Pi replied with a smirk. "Is exactly why we should!"
Dun eyed his nephew amusedly. "Incidentally, have you forgotten that Lady Zhen Ji is in that room as well? Or were you planning to see if her honor was tarnished?"
Pi shook his head, "That's the least of my worries. Ji would never do that, not before she's married. She knows there're already a lot of people who think no lady of such high social standing should be unmarried, so she can't give them any reason to reinforce that. If she slept with anyone before marriage, they'll say lack of a husband ruined her."
"Isn't that all moot, though, since she's sleeping in the same room and bed as Yi?" He pointed out more than asked. "There are bound to be skeptics who'll say they did have sex merely because they're sharing a room. Ji might have decided 'to hell with it all'."
For some reason, that really irritated Pi. Deep breath, Pi. You can kill him after the Prank War. "He, are you trying to make me angry?" If so, it's working and that's really not good for your health. Or beauty since that'd probably hurt you worse.
He cocked an eyebrow at the prince. Stifling a smile, he replied nonchalantly, "I don't see why what I've said would make you angry. I'm just pointing out some possibilities." And gauging your reaction, but you don't need to know that.
"Wonderful," Dun said disinterestedly. "You two can go back to wondering how to drag your partners out of there. I am going outside to run a few laps."
As the warrior walked away, Pi felt something niggling at the back of his mind. Something doesn't see right…wait… "Did he say—"
"—Partners?" He finished Pi's question, furrowing his brow. "Yes, if I'm not mistaken he did."
The two stood in silence, pondering. "Do you think he knows?" Pi asked cautiously. If Uncle Dun knows about the War, then in all likelihood, he'll tell Father. Those two are so close they should have just become sworn brothers.
"It's possible," He replied, serious for once. "Although since we know he overheard you asking if we should knock the door down and 'drag our partners out of there', it's more likely he just took the word from there."
"...Wow. You know, I don't think you've said the word 'beauty' or any of its many forms for a good five minutes now."
He smirked, "Perhaps because you don't inspire beauty."
"Was that supposed to be an insult, butterfly boy?" Pi raised an eyebrow, amused.
He laughed and shook his head. "Pi, if I truly did not find beauty in you, I would have left Wei a long time ago. Cao Cao won't live forever, unfortunately, and I could never follow a leader with no beauty. Fortunately, you're the heir, and since you possess just as much beauty as our lord, I won't have to leave Wei. Unless, of course, someone comes to enough power and deposes you."
"Don't worry," Pi said arrogantly. "That won't happen."
"You're very sure of that, aren't you?" Yi asked rhetorically as Ji followed him out of their room. "Good. It takes confidence to rule a kingdom."
"Oh, Ji," He declared emotionally. "You're looking beautiful today, more so than usual! What have you changed?"
"She slept in," Pi retorted with a scoff. "Which would be fine by me if you," here he leveled a glare at Yi, "hadn't slept in as well! Honestly, do you both realize that you missed breakfast?"
Ji and Yi looked at each other and shrugged simultaneously. "It was warm," Ji replied, waving all of Pi's arguments aside. "Do you realize how cold it is, up so north? I was warm for once and I'm happy about it. You throwing a tantrum like an overgrown child first thing in the morning is not going to ruin it."
He smothered his laugh before turning to his teammate. "Let's stop by the kitchens. I'm sure you're hungry so you can grab something to eat before we immerse ourselves in our plans."
"Good idea," Ji nodded to He before turning to Yi and Pi. "We'll see you boys later. Don't get into too much trouble!"
"We won't," Yi replied smoothly. Then, glancing at Pi, he said, "I'm assuming you think there's no time for something to eat first."
Pi glared at him. "I do. However, you'll likely be functioning at a sub-par level without breakfast."
Yi raised an eyebrow. "I can always function perfectly fine no matter the conditions."
"Right," Pi rolled his eyes. "Look, do what you want, but I'll expect you in the library study room in fifteen minutes. We need a strategy, not just random pranks, and with the morning half gone we need to come up with one quickly."
Lord Cao Cao, ruler of Wei, paced about his study while observing his various collections. Fifty jade miniatures, no larger than his thumb, all depicting various animals. Ten jade dragons, majestic, wise, and powerful. Twenty five paper fans, all depicting tranquil scenes from nature and flowing strokes of calligraphy. One hundred sixty five scrolls of novels, poems, histories, treatises, all works of literature lovingly crafted by their authors, and only a fraction of the number of scrolls in the palace library.
Then, the less showy collections, more subtle in their worth, many from his youth and some from his later years. Thirty beautiful seashells, each unique, each with a pearlescent glow. Fifteen stones, varying shades, worn smooth by the Yangtze River. Fifteen beautiful butterflies, pinned on a flat bamboo stick, wings brittle but beautiful. I hunted for years to catch that many, Cao reminisced. And there must be more types, more beautiful types, more vibrant wings…
Oh yes, Cao was a very zealous collector. One might also call him a packrat, but that just wasn't very dignified. So collector it was. Cao walked over to the window and, gazing out, heaved a sigh. But the greatest collection of them all…housed in the Bronze Bird Pavilion…is still incomplete.
Well, technically, the collection could be complete whenever he felt like it was complete. And he did already have many women in the towers of the Pavilion already. It's too bad Lord Lu Bu is absolutely enamored with Lady Diao Chan, he mused. She'd have made a good addition as well. But alas, the couple had gone into hiding after Dong Zhuo had been killed, fearing repercussions and wanting no more than to live peacefully with each other.
And Zhen Ji was already "part" of the collection, Cao reasoned with himself. The Pavilion, contrary to popular belief, was not a brothel, but more like…a hotel. (1) The women stayed there for a time, left behind a trinket and a portrait with their name, then returned home. Ji, since she was an officer of Wei, was an exception and Cao considered her part of his collection, though she probably didn't know that.
And that left the two Qiaos. Cao knew their father, was good friends with him in fact, despite Qiao Xuan's relatively low status as a minor nobleman. Honestly, is it too much to ask for him to send his daughters over to the Pavilion for as long as it takes to paint a portrait of them? It's not like I'm going to keep them there forever! For one thing, they'd get ugly as they age. That's why I collect portraits and baubles; keeping the women themselves would be pointless!
Huffing his discontent, Cao stalked over to his desk. I can't believe him! Sending the girls to Wu? Honestly, traitors to the Han, all of them! They stole the Imperial Seal! And their male officers obviously have no male pride. Half of them look like girls for Fu Xi's sake! Wei only has to deal with Zhang He, and we could lock him up for a few days! (2)
Now thoroughly disgusted at his friend's distrust, Cao swept out of his study, muttering under his breath. I need to read something before I get to the full-blown rant, he advised himself. Otherwise I won't be able to concentrate on anything for the next hour.
"Hey, Dun!" Xiahou Yuan called to his pondering brother, who was sitting beneath a tree in Garden 3. Similar to Wu and Shu, Wei also had gardens at some of the larger palaces. Garden 1 was the "guest garden", a typical garden for nature-lovers and someone just wanting a bit of fresh air. Garden 2 was the "be careful where you sit or you'll get eaten" garden, with exotic and strange plants. Garden 3 was specifically harmless plants, mostly herbs or aroma-therapeutic plants like lavender and lemongrass.
And it was in Garden 3, a garden made for scientists, scholars, and those wishing to meditate or ponder, that Yuan found his elder brother. "You're looking contemplative. What's eatin' ya?"
"I heard 'eating' and 'Dun' in the same sentence," remarked Zhang Liao, who had just entered Garden 3's other door. "And I must insist that someone stop him from eating his second, and only eye. One was quite enough to prove a point."
Dun ignored the comment, deciding to run his suspicions by his brother and best friend. "Something strange is going on."
Liao and Yuan shared a glance. "Really?" Yuan prodded. "And what makes you think that?"
"I've been pondering this since I ran into Pi and He this earlier. I thought it was only someone or ones, at first. But it has to be more than that," Dun continued.
"Wonderful," Liao said sarcastically. "Mind telling us exactly what you're getting at sometime soon?"
Dun shot his friend an annoyed look. "Well, haven't you noticed it? How, starting three years ago, odd mishaps would happen every year around this time? Think about it; both Zhen Ji and Sima Yi's rooms have to be cleaned at the same time, and especially now? And the servants sent to clean up won't allow anyone in there. And Ji, Yi, Pi, and He have strange fights about seemingly nothing at all."
Yuan shrugged. "What's your point? Maybe those four have an annual game or something."
"That's not it, though!" Dun exclaimed, frustrated at his brother's skepticism. "Haven't you noticed? The amount of letters written to Wu and Shu has increased by about 50 since Pi woke us all up screaming his head off yesterday. Ji and Da Qiao exchange letters, yes, but Ji sent out five letters two nights ago and received five letters back! And she's already received three letters since then. Something is going on, and it's not just in Wei, either!"
Finished his tirade, Dun huffed and waited impatiently for his friend's reactions. When Liao and Yuan just exchanged glances again, he scowled. "What?"
The two were silent, obviously wondering whether or not they should tell him what they thought. "Just spit it out already!" Dun said irritably.
Liao sighed. "Very well. Dun, have you ever heard of the Prank War?"
"The Prank War," Liao repeated patiently. "I'm assuming from your reaction that you haven't heard of it."
Dun shook his head, "Of course not! What the hell is it?"
"Well, it's a game, of sorts," Yuan answered vaguely. "It's a war where there's no hand-to-hand fighting and no permanent damage."
Dun looked at his brother dubiously. "Well, what's the war about? What are they fighting for?"
"It's not even real fighting, per se," Liao replied. "It's more a competition. Teams compete against each other by tricking or pranking the other teams."
"Traps, tricks, mayhem-causation, frustration abound, et cetera," Yuan supplied. "I think the point is to cause as much damage to the other teams' sanity without getting caught."
Dun frowned, "Why in all of the Middle Kingdom would they want each other to go insane?"
Liao shrugged in response. "Personally, I think it's a stress reliever. It's a way to fight and compete while knowing no one will die or get hurt. Since the competitors are apparently trying to keep the War secret, it also fosters camaraderie. And besides, it's a way to waste time during peacetime."
"I see," Dun said thoughtfully before scowling. "That seems to make sense, though why you would want to waste time is beyond me. So who are these Prank War competitors?"
"They're called Pranksters," Yuan informed him. "And, to the best of our knowledge, the only ones participating in the War are Ji, Yi, Pi, and He."
Upon hearing the names, Dun shook his head exasperatedly. "Why am I not surprised?" he asked, giving the sky a morose look. "It figures that if something secret is going on, that little brat would be involved…"
"You know," Liao sighed. "You could be nicer to your nephew. He is the heir, after all."
Huffing, Dun replied irritably, "He's also far too immature for the good of Wei. Did I tell you that I heard him wondering in all seriousness if he should break down the door of the room that Ji and Yi were sleeping in? Honestly! Such irresponsibility does not befit the heir of our kingdom! And his participation in such a pointless game as this Prank War is just another example of his immaturity!" Having finished his tirade, Dun waited for someone to nod and/or exclaim about Pi's irresponsibility as well.
Yuan suddenly became very interested in his fingernails. "You know, brother," he began nervously. "I was thinking about joining the War myself." Catching the beginnings of a disdainful look on his older brother's face, he continued hurriedly, "It's just a game, right? Who said generals can't have fun, especially since we're at peace right now? And it sound like fun; I'm not sure what they do for pranks, but if they get so angry and paranoid about everything, it must be interesting!"
Liao nodded in agreement, "Surely an innocent pastime such as the Prank War would not be detrimental to the kingdom. We are, after all, at peace, and what better to do than enjoy it?"
"How about training and practicing so we don't get killed on the battlefield?" Dun asked sarcastically. "Or, even better, how about figuring out what we should do as soon as the ceasefire elapses?"
"Or," Yuan interrupted. "How about we leave all that boring stuff to the strategists since we've already been doing that for two nights with our revered cousin? I want to have fun, brother. We can be as intense as we want when the ceasefire's about to end, but we've still got four months of peace to prepare for war again. A week of fun and relaxation won't hurt."
Dun glared at the two people closest to him, besides his cousin. "You're seriously considering joining this…game?" he asked suspiciously.
Yuan and Liao nodded.
After a moment, Dun heaved a sigh and shook his head. "Fine. Count me in." Seeing identical grins spreading across Yuan and Liao's faces, he added, "But mark my words. This will not end well. I've got a horrible feeling about this, and when my gut tells me something, it's usually right."
Looking up from his ominous declaration, Dun started. "Hey, you dolts!" he yelled after his friends' retreating backs. "You were supposed to wait for me!"
"Now this is certainly very strange," Yi said thoughtfully as he observed He's room's door. The prank he and Pi had set up the day before had vanished like it had never been there. Yi glanced at his partner. "You're absolutely sure that He didn't set off the trap?"
Pi gave Yi his most sardonic look before folding his arms and scowling. "Yi, trust me when I say that we'd know if he set off the trap. Whether or not he was caught in it, He would have made a fuss, either cleaning it up, or sulking at his beautiful hair being ruined."
Yi thought about it. "Not necessarily true. He would have been upset, but he might have just cleaned up and decided to let the prank slide in hopes that we'd assume it didn't work."
In response, Pi pulled out the Wei copy of the Prank War Rulebook. "The Prank War, while a war, is not going to be dishonest. We are not fighting over something tangible, we are fighting over a title and our own egos. Therefore, all successful pranks must be reported and recorded accurately, along with the prank planner and team. Arguments over details of the prank may be debated, but the success of the prank itself should be unambiguous and cleared up if there is any confusion."
"So we should ask He whether or not he set off the prank, and whether or not he was caught in it," Yi concluded. "And he'll have to tell the truth or face the punishment, which is disqualification."
Pi clapped his hands mockingly. "Yay, Yi-Yi read the Rulebook!"
Yi glared at him disdainfully. "Of course I read it," he snapped. "I am an original Prankster!"
"We're all original Pranksters, Yi," Pi rolled his eyes. "Honestly, we're falling behind the other kingdoms. You do realize that Wu and Shu both had three new Pranksters this year? Zhuge Liang, Pang Tong, and Ma Chao joined the Shu Pranksters and Sun Ce, Sun Quan, and Zhou Yu joined the Wu Pranksters. And both Wu and Shu have five original Pranksters. Wei only has four original Pranksters, and no new ones!"
Yi shrugged, "I did not realize, actually. Shu and Wu Pranksters are of no concern of mine, and I don't communicate with officers in other kingdoms. Your father doesn't trust me, I'm not sure you trust me, and I'm not about to be executed for suspicion of treason."
Pi looked slightly uncomfortable after this declaration. "Well, you are too brilliant for your own good, Yi. And it's not that I don't trust you, it's that I'm not sure if you'd take an arrow that was meant for me, so to speak."
"Well," Yi replied bluntly. "Let's hope you never have to find out. Because honestly, I'm not sure I would either." He glanced at He's door again. "Now, back onto the original topic, before we started discussing Wei's deplorable lack of Pranksters. We need to find He and ask whether or not he set off the trap, whether or not he was caught in it, and if he didn't set it off, who did?"
"And we're interrogating He after lunch, right?"
Yi looked at Pi questioningly. "Why not now?"
To that, Pi answered with a glare. "Just because you woke and had breakfast late does not mean that we're having lunch late as well." Assuming a less irritated tone and a more petulant one, he continued, "I'm hungry. I want food and nothing you want to do right now is going to stop me."
He studied his partner carefully. "So that's how it is, huh?"
"Yep." Ji raised an eyebrow, "What were you expecting? You know I would never do anything inappropriate."
He smirked, "I know, but baiting Pi was certainly very entertaining. Especially since it was Yi, out of all people."
"Tell me about it," Ji leaned against the headboard of He's bed. Having brainstormed pranks the rest of the morning, the two had snatched a quick lunch and retired to He's room, as Ji's was being cleaned. Ji was sitting on He's pillows, while the room's inhabitant lay sprawled on the foot of the bed. "I half expected to have to fight with him for every square centimeter of the blanket, but things went rather smoothly."
He regarded his partner thoughtfully, "…So I suppose our alliance regarding Xiao Qiao and Zhou Yu is still in place, then?"
Ji shot He a sharp look. "Of course it is. Why wouldn't it be?" He is definitely hiding something. Honestly, we're best friends; we've been colleagues and officers of the same force longer than anyone else. Why would he hide something and what is it?
"No particular reason," He answered dismissively. No need to let her know that I'm against her forming any sort of romantic relationship with Pi or Yi. After all, that would endanger our plan. "Women are fickle beings, though, so I thought I would ensure our beautiful cooperation would not be soiled by unexpected interferences."
"...I see," Ji blinked, also shrugging the topic off. Before she could bring up more pressing matters, however, a knock on the door sounded.
"Make yourselves decent," an arrogant voice drawled from the door. "We're coming in."
As Pi and Yi entered He's room, Ji suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. Pompous brat, she sighed mentally. Would it have hurt him to ask instead of demand? She caught He's eye, and giggled when he raised his eyebrows and shook his finger at her. She could clearly hear what he would say if he could. He wouldn't be Pi if he asked nicely, now would he?
Of course not, Ji shook her head at herself. And why am I talking to myself again? "Alright, what are you two doing here?" she asked the pair in front of her, hiding a smile.
Yi and Pi shared a glance, and Yi cleared his throat. "We wish to assert our right to question and demand honest answers from the other team regarding the recording of a prank," he declared formally. Straight from the Rulebook. As long as you're quoting the Rulebook correctly, you are never absolutely wrong.
"Alright," He said with an indifferent shrug. "Ask away. However," he warned, "if your questions do not pertain to the recording of said prank, I reserve the beautiful right to remain silent."
Yi nodded. That's also from the Rulebook, albeit without the 'beautiful'. "Fine. Our first question: Did either of you set off or dismantle the trap set above He's door?"
Ji looked at He, startled. Did he set it off and not tell me? She thought suspiciously. He's been acting strangely. But he'd know better than to play the Prank War dishonestly!
"No," He replied. Glancing at Ji, he asked her, "Did you set it off?"
"What trap?" Ji asked, shaking her head. "I didn't know there was a trap there."
"I wasn't aware of it either," He nodded. Turning to Yi, he continued, "Neither of us was aware there was a trap set anywhere near my bedroom door. Unless we unwittingly set it off and didn't notice, your prank didn't work."
Yi frowned thoughtfully. "I thought not. Well, the trap obviously didn't go off, since we'd hear about it from someone. It wouldn't have been a normal occurrence and its unusualness would definitely have caused people to talk."
"What was it?" Ji asked interestedly. "The prank, I mean."
Pi waved a hand dismissively, "Not much and a secret, since it technically hasn't been executed yet."
Ji scowled, fighting the urge to sulk and pout. Honestly, she thought irritably, I am far above using such childish tactics to get my way. "Well then how are we supposed to figure out what happened to the trap?" she asked, annoyed.
Yi glanced at her, her question waking him from his thoughts. "I think it's very safe to say that the prank was dismantled."
"And why, oh beautiful strategist, is that?" He prodded.
The said strategist leveled a glare at He, before answering, "Obviously, if it went off, Lord Cao Cao would be interrogating all of us as to why something so strange happened. It would have had a very noticeable effect. Now, back to the matter at hand, the servants do not disturb our rooms without our permission. He, did you allow anyone in your room yesterday or today?"
He frowned, "No one besides us beautiful Pranksters; I'm not that forgetful! We did establish a rule saying that all of us must keep everyone except other Pranksters from entering our rooms during the Prank War except for servants and only when they're cleaning up after us. Did you think I forgot?"
"No," Yi responded with a shrug. "But it's better to cover all the possible options."
"So no servants entered this room and therefore no servants set it off," Ji said thoughtfully. "Maybe another officer set it off but didn't report it?"
"Unlikely," Pi said dryly. "The unfortunate victim likely wouldn't get far without being noticed as being unusual and questioned about it. No, the prank was not set off, but it was noticed and dismantled. My question now is who would do such a thing."
"More like who actually figured out what it did and how to dismantle it," Yi muttered darkly under his breath. In his normal voice, he added, "This is very serious. Someone other than the Pranksters has discovered a prank and dismantled it. It has not been reported yet, but we may be facing blackmail, especially if the culprit knows the War is secret."
"So then we don't know whether or not the dismantler knows about the War," He thought out loud. "All we know is that they found the prank and took it down. We don't know if they did that on purpose to thwart us, to send us a message, or if they merely saw something out of place and decided to get rid of it."
"That latter possibility is unlikely," Ji shook her head. "I'm assuming you two put up this prank yesterday when you two were dressed up to hide from us?" she asked Yi and Pi. At their nods, she continued, "He and I were outside the room after you two finished setting up the prank, which we were unaware of. We didn't see anything unusual on the doorframe or door itself."
He continued her train of thought, "That means that the prank was set up inside the door, yes?"
"That is correct," Pi affirmed.
Nodding, He added, "If the prank was set up inside the room, inside the door, then a random passerby would not see it and know it was there. Therefore, whoever took the prank down knew it was there, and likely knew its purpose."
"And that," Yi concluded decisively, "is most definitely not a good thing. We are unsure how Pi's father will react to the Prank War, and it is unlikely that others will be willing to keep a secret this large from him."
"So what do we do?" Ji asked, somewhat rhetorically. Everyone knew what they needed to do after all. Watch, wait, and keep our ears peeled. Not much else we can do.
"We could keep tags on the other officers," He began unconvincingly, trailing off at the end. "But that would interfere with our concentration on the war and would be rather difficult to do while remaining subtle."
Ji scowled worriedly. As if we didn't have enough to worry about, she thought irritably. The War itself takes a heavy toll; any interference is going to make it worse. And if Ying is right about Zuo Ci's plan for a combined Prank War, interferences are the last thing we need.
"Keep your eyes and ears open," Pi ordered finally, after a long pause. "We don't know who took it down, but I'm fairly certain it was an officer. The servants wouldn't dare enter our rooms without permission and I think my father is getting rather suspicious of us. Act innocently, plan discreetly, and make sure your pranks don't end up revealing us all. We need to pick up hints and clues as to who it is, and once we have an idea of the culprit, we'll plan what to do."
"It would behoove us to work together on this matter," Yi asserted. "This concerns us all, and we should set apart an hour before midnight to talk about it, share what we've found, and our suspicions. Until then, watch your step."
With that, the pair turned and left, leaving He and Ji looking at each other worriedly.
"Who do you think did it?" Ji asked anxiously.
He turned to stare at the door the other team had just left through. "I'm not sure," he said at last. "I have my own suspicions, but I have no proof. Dun was acting suspiciously this morning, when Pi and I were talking, but he would have told Lord Cao Cao if he knew. I don't really know anyone else well enough to know if they're acting strangely, though."
Ji nodded. "Pi's right, our lord is getting nervous. I think Dian Wei might be watching us, but I've managed to evade him most of the time. We need to be careful." Her eyes narrowed, "But we will win, have no doubt about that. This is still a war, and we'll just need to tiptoe around a bit to keep the results that we want."
Pang De wandered around Garden 1 thoughtfully. To reveal the information, or not to reveal the information. After all, Zhang He and Zhen Ji were officers who had defected from an old, albeit currently dead, foe. Sima Yi was not to be trusted. Cao Pi might not hesitate to kill his father to take the throne.
The four were dangerous, all the more so because of their unique talents and ambitious aims. It might be wisest to tell Lord Cao Cao, inform him of the possible belligerents' deeds, and take orders from there.
On the other hand, the group's actions were rather amusing, and seemed harmless. Honestly, it wasn't hard at all to figure out what they were up to, and De doubted it would bring much harm to the kingdom.
Still, he owed his loyalty to his lord, and suspicious activity must be reported. The question De was pondering now was whether the four's activities were truly "suspicious" or merely a game. De suspected the latter, although a little paranoia wouldn't hurt.
Considering that no one had yet been injured or killed, De concluded that the activities of the group could be…overlooked until a later date. Meanwhile, he resolved to continue gathering information, and watching carefully for signs of treachery.
Having come to a reasonable conclusion, De walked off, humming a children's tune under his breath.
"Well. That went…well."
Yi "hmm"-ed an agreement. The meeting had gone rather well, considering all the factors. Both teams and their members had followed the Rulebook, and they had gleaned some valuable information and identified a threat to the War and the security of its members. "I suppose now we'd better focus our attention back on the War itself."
"Indeed," Pi nodded. "We wouldn't want to fall behind because of some inane meddling, now would we?"
Yi raised an eyebrow. "Somehow, I doubt that this 'meddling' is inane, Pi," he warned. "Someone knows about the War. That someone now has potential blackmail material, and possibly enough incriminating evidence to get us exiled or executed, if your father's in a bad enough mood."
Pi waved a hand dismissively. "Trust me when I say that my father is not going to execute me."
"Really?" Yi challenged. "I get the feeling even you don't believe that. After all, there are quite a few powerful politicians who plan to place your brother Zhi on the throne in your stead."
"I know," Pi replied, unmoved. "They won't succeed. Incidentally," he leveled a neutral look at his partner. "Would you be one of those politicians?"
Yi rolled his eyes in response. "Your brother likes his alcohol a bit too much," he said, shaking his head. "And he's too bookish to be a good ruler. If I'm going to back a horse, I'll back a winning one thank you very much. And in a race between you and Zhi, you are far more promising."
"I'm delighted that your decision stems from your sense of loyalty," Pi said dryly.
Yi shrugged. "Loyalty can get a man killed and I don't plan on dying anytime soon."
"It's generally not a wise idea. Now, what do you have in mind for our next prank?"
"You seem confident that I have something in mind."
Pi raised his eyebrows. "Yi, you always have something in mind. And if not a prank idea, you can at least tell me if my idea is feasible."
"Fair enough," Yi conceded. "So what's this idea of yours?"
"All in good time, my friend," Pi replied with uncharacteristic amiability. "Let's get to a safer place, shall we? Eavesdropping is not disallowed by the Rulebook, and besides, someone out there has too much knowledge of the War anyway."
"Yes," Yi's eyes narrowed. "Now, the million-yen question is who."
Pi glanced at the strategist. "You have an inkling as to who it is, don't you?"
"I do. Several inklings, in fact," Yi replied neutrally. "But I don't have any proof, and suspicions alone will not help us. For now, let's continue normally. It's best if the meddler, whoever he is, does not become aware that we are aware of his meddling."
"You sound certain that it is indeed a he."
Yi shot Pi an irritated glance. "Of course it's a he. There aren't any other female officers of Wei besides Ji, and we know she's not the meddler."
"True," Pi conceded. "But who said it had to be an officer?"
Yi snorted. "Who else would it be?" he asked rhetorically. "A servant? They wouldn't dare disobey our orders to not enter our rooms. And the visiting nobles would not be so discourteous as to venture into our rooms, either. There's simply no one else with the mettle to enter an officer's room without express permission, which He obviously didn't give."
"Maybe they were sure they wouldn't get caught?" Pi suggested.
"Unlikely," Yi refuted. "They changed something in He's room; they dismantled the trap. It would be too much to hope that the dismantling of something placed deliberately would be overlooked. That trap was taken down on purpose, and in order to have done so, the person had to know it was there and be certain that they wouldn't get into too much trouble if they were caught. That rules out servants and visiting nobles and leaves only the officers. Therefore, our perpetrator is a he."
"Fine," Pi acquiesced. "It's a he, and it's an officer."
"Yes. Now. Back to the War at hand…"
"De, what in the Middle Kingdom are you mumbling about?" Cao Ren asked his friend exasperatedly.
Pang De glanced at Ren briefly, before murmuring a "Nothing" and sinking back into deep thought.
Ren huffed. Honestly, he's been doing this for a good half hour or so. What could possibly be occupying his mind for so long? Surveying his friend's countenance, Ren concluded that the matter was either incredibly important or incredibly unimportant with De believing it to be incredibly important. Knowing De, Ren was betting on the latter.
Either way, De thought the matter was important. Therefore, the best way to get him to talk about it was to humor him. Pretend to be interested. Stuff like that.
"It is most definitely not nothing," Ren said calmly. Adopting what he hoped was a soothing and persuasive tone, he continued, "Tell me. It may be that I can help. They do say 'two heads are better than one'."
Unmoved, De shook his head and descended deeper into his train of thought. Slightly irritated, Ren wondered idly if poking the unresponsive warrior would merit a more interesting response.
"Touch me and die."
Ren gulped inaudibly. Did I really say that out loud? "No harm meant, De," he answered gruffly. "Just idle thoughts."
De eyed Ren suspiciously, while the latter did his best not to appear intimidated. Ren was by no means an easily intimidated person, but De was just one of those people who commanded attention and respect. Not to mention that he had a rather grim air about him most of the time. Honestly, the man carried his coffin to each battlefield! Red prided himself on being a stalwart and determined warrior, ready to give his life for the cause he was fighting for. That De also shared the same commitment was something Ren admired greatly, and consequently, the two became friends.
Now, though, Ren was wondering if the "ready to die" attitude was impairing De's brain. Seriously, who talks to himself for half an hour? And none of his mumbling makes any sense, either! "For Fu Xi's sake, De, what the hell are you talking about and why are you talking to yourself about it?" Ren snapped.
De looked up from his thoughts, fixing Ren with a gauging stare.
Ren waited patiently for a reply, determined that, this time, he would drag whatever it was that was bothering De out of him. "Well?"
De continued to stare at him. Ren shifted uncomfortably and scowled. "I'm not leaving you alone until you tell me," he informed his friend. "Keeping things bottled up is not a good way to live, and if you're talking to thin air under your breath, then that means whatever it is you're talking about is really really bad for you."
When this failed to elicit a response other than continued gazing, Ren huffed and began to storm off.
Finally, Ren sighed. Fixing De with his own annoyed glare, he asked, "What? Now you want to tell me?"
De gazed at him, before nodding. "Yes. But only on the condition that you swear not to reveal the information I'm going to give you, unless I tell you it is alright to."
"Yes, yes," Ren replied impatiently. "What do you take me for, a gossip?"
De shrugged noncommittally, "No, but it never hurts to be cautious."
"Fine," Ren said dismissively. "Now, what's so disturbing that you've been talking to yourself about it for a good hour or so now?"
"That is not going to work!" Ji glared exasperatedly at her partner who was stubbornly glaring right back.
"Why not?" He asked irritably. "This prank is a masterpiece! What could possibly go wrong?"
"Everything!" Ji retorted. Sighing, she pointed to the blueprints He had drawn up. "First of all, it could jeopardize the Prank War, since this will involve everyone, not just the Pranksters. In fact, it's highly unlikely that we'd be able to keep everyone not in the War from seeing it."
He waved a hand dismissively, "So we make up an excuse. Maybe we left the door open or something."
"Secondly," Ji ignored him. "We can't guarantee that we can get rid of the prank after it's been performed."
"That's not our responsibility," He argued. "After all, no one else will know it was us, except Pi and Yi. And they aren't going to explain why it has to be us cleaning up, instead of everyone."
Ji shot him a glare, "Thirdly, we have no control after the prank is unleashed. What if it destroys some valuable treasures?"
"Like what?" He rolled his eyes. "All the treasures worth anything are kept in the public rooms, like the Banquet Hall or the Throne Room. As long as we lock the doors to those rooms, it'll all be fine."
"And fourthly," Ji continued. "This will reflect badly on Wei. We have visiting nobles, for Nu Wa's sake! What would they say?"
"They're in a different wing of the palace and shouldn't be affected," He shrugged. "I don't see what the problem is."
Ji huffed exasperatedly, "The whole plan is a giant disaster waiting to happen!"
"It is not," He replied stubbornly. "I've rebutted all the arguments you've made against it, and you haven't said they wouldn't work!"
Ji took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "Alright. Say we do make an excuse, we left the door open. And say Lord Cao Cao makes everyone help clean up."
"There you go," he nodded encouragingly. "You are opening your beautiful mind to my wonderful suggestions."
Rolling her eyes, Ji retorted, "That's only the first and second arguments, He. The third and fourth still stand."
"I highly doubt that the visitors, who live on the complete opposite side of the palace, will notice our prank, Ji," He replied with a sigh. "The castle is huge. The prank will not spread all the way to the other side of the castle, at least, not unless all the Wei officers are unable to stop it."
"And what if we can't?" Ji asked, eyes narrowed. "What if, all of us combined, can't get rid of the prank?"
He smirked, "Well, then Shu and Wu will eat us for breakfast the next time we face them on the battlefield. Think about it; if all thirteen officers of Wei can't get rid of our prank, then do we seriously stand a chance against other officers in battle?"
Ji sighed reluctantly, "Fine, but that still leaves the argument about the valuables."
"Lock the doors of the rooms that house them," He replied indifferently. "It's not like we have that many floating around, anyway. It's not Chang An, for Fu Xi's sake."
Ji buried her face in her hands, minding her makeup, of course. "We're doomed."
"Stop being so melodramatic," He said cheerfully. "It's not beautiful. This prank is a work of art; it's so simple, it can't possibly go wrong. Everything will be perfectly fine."
The unfortunate female raised her head and glared at her partner. "It better," she replied menacingly. "Because if it doesn't, and everything I mentioned that could possibly go wrong, does, then you shall pay."
"Ji," He sighed mournfully. "I assure you, the plan will not fail. Don't you trust me?"
Ji looked at him as though he'd sprouted four extra arms. "Not in your lifetime, He," she replied, shaking her head. "Not in your lifetime."
"Absolutely not. Not in your lifetime, anyway."
Pi sighed. "Fine. I didn't really expect you to agree anyway."
"Because it's stupid," Yi shot back. "Why in the entire Middle Kingdom would we ever want to let a potentially dangerous wild boar loose in the castle?"
"Well why not?" Pi sulked. "No one but Ji and He would know it was us."
Yi rolled his eyes, "You're forgetting the person who dismantled the trap we put on He's door. If something this odd happens, he's bound to know that it was us, and it will give him more of an incentive to tell your father about the War."
"You know," Pi began, irritated. "I beginning to think it might be better to just tell Father that we have an annual Prank War. I mean, what's he going to do?"
Yi closed his eyes and wondered, not for the first time, if he really trusted his partner to one day rule all of China. "I don't know," Yi replied sarcastically. "Ban it, maybe? Or have us executed for stealing? Because you know, a lot of the materials we use for pranks technically belong to Wei, not to us. Or he could accuse us of being spies for the other kingdoms, since this is something that all the kingdoms do. Or he could just have us killed for not telling him about it sooner."
Pi looked as though he'd never really thought of that. Shaking his head wonderingly, he asked, "You're really afraid of Father, aren't you?"
"Not afraid," Yi corrected quietly. "Just cautious. I didn't particularly want to serve Lord Cao Cao, if you recall. I joined Wei only after some…persuasion, on your father's part."
Pi sighed, "No need to dance around what happened. I know he threatened to arrest you if you didn't agree to his 'request' that you serve Wei." (3)
"Then you know why I still don't really trust him."
To that, Pi shrugged. "You don't need to trust him," he replied indifferently. "Hell, even I don't trust him, and I'm his son. The only thing we can trust is that he wants to unify China and bring about a time of peace."
It was Yi's turn to sigh. "I know that. It's what we all want, after all. It's what we're risking our lives for."
After a moment of uncharacteristically grave silence, Pi spoke seriously. "So, if we're not going to let some wild boar trash the palace, can we at least steal all of Ji's clothes? You know, it'll be easier since you two share a room now."
Yi tried, and failed, to keep a straight face. "You," he said, shaking his head in dismay while struggling not to laugh. "Are an unforgivable pervert."
Pi grinned impishly, "Yes well, at least I can admit it. So can we do it?"
Yi thought for a moment, then shrugged. "I don't see why not. But we'll need to plan very carefully for this one."
"Don't worry," Pi replied with a smug smirk. "I already have an idea."
An hour before midnight saw Ji curled up on one of Pi's armchairs, Yi and Pi reclining on Pi's bed, and He perched on a footstool that matched the armchair Ji was on. "So," Pi began. "Now that we're all comfortably situated in my room, let's talk. Has anyone found anything useful pertaining to our current crisis?"
"Define 'useful'," Ji replied, raising a delicate eyebrow. "We all have our suspicions, but proof is hard to come by, especially since, besides the dismantled prank, nothing else has happened."
Pi shrugged. "Any suspicious activity by anyone? Any other pranks go wrong and disappear?"
"Nothing strange besides Dun's odd comment this morning," He responded. "It's been a rather uneventful, if still beautiful, day. No awe-inspiring pranks or any pranks at all for that matter. "
"Well maybe that's because some people decided to sleep in," Pi glared pointedly at Yi, who ignored him. "Late starts mean you might not have enough time to plan, set up, and execute your pranks."
"Regardless," Yi said, intervening before Ji could make a snappy retort. "No pranks were executed today, so a lack of suspicious activity can be explained. How about suspicions? If you had to guess, who do you think is responsible for interfering?"
He eyed the strategist thoughtfully before admitting, "Dun. You weren't there for the conversation Pi and I had with him this morning. It doesn't sound very suspicious, but he didn't seem at all surprised that we were waiting for you and Ji. And he mentioned that they were our 'partners'. Yes, maybe he overheard me referring to you two as such, but it's still very…shady, don't you think?
"I agree," Pi nodded. "He just seemed too…calm when he saw us waiting and he tossed off the word 'partners' very nonchalantly. But if it was Dun, I'm very surprised that he hasn't told Father yet."
Yi shrugged and offered, "Perhaps he has and Lord Cao Cao just hasn't seen fit to approach us about the War?"
Pi scoffed, "Unlikely. Father very much likes having things to hold over people's heads. Taking advantage of the knowledge he's gleaned is one of his most admirable traits. No, if Father knew, he'd find a way to test us, gauge our reaction and our motives for the War."
"And what if that's exactly what he's doing by dismantling your trap?" Ji postulated. "Imagine, Dun somehow found out about the War and informed Lord Cao Cao. Then, in true Cao form, your father decides to learn more about why he'd participate in what must seem like a truly ridiculous and childish game. The best way to do that, without directly approaching us, is to interfere anonymously in the War and judge our reactions."
Pi thought about it and shrugged. "It's possible, of course. But if that were the case, don't you think Father would have warned Dun not to give us any inkling that he, or Father, might now about the War? He'd want to have an unbiased and impromptu interference to throw us off track. If it's really Father, I highly doubt Dun would have let the word 'partner' slip, especially since it's such a…suspicious word."
"So Dun and Lord Cao Cao," Yi noted. "Any other opinions? Ji, you haven't really mentioned anyone besides our lord."
Ji shrugged, "I mentioned to He earlier that I think Dian Wei's been watching us. Other than that, I haven't noticed much." She eyed Yi suspiciously, "And you? You're not getting our suspicions without offering your own. Information isn't free, you know, and I'm not talking about money either."
Stifling a laugh, He smirked and fought the urge to ask if sexual favors were an acceptable form of payment. It'd be far too crude, especially considering it was Yi who would be paying. Although the look on Ji and Yi's faces might be worth it.
Before he could say anything, however, Yi replied, looking rather offended, "I said we should work together to solve the problem. I meant it."
Ji shook her head and raised an eyebrow, "No. You said it would behoove us to work together. You never said that we would. And, knowing you, you'd be tricky enough to exploit that."
"Touché," Yi acknowledged with a nod and a smirk. Glad to know that someone's paying attention to details. "I don't know if I should be flattered or insulted that you think I would be so particular about wording."
"Be what you like," Ji replied nonchalantly. "But hurry and tell us your suspicions before I fall asleep."
"Very well." If she could be blunt and to the point, so could he. "De and Ren were being unusually withdrawn today."
He scoffed, "Those two are always contemplating the beautifully dark purpose and price of war. Of course they were withdrawn; that is their way."
Yi shot him an irritated look, "I said unusually, did I not? I am aware that De and Ren are usually very quiet and very observant. Today, however, they spoke to no one but each other, and always in hushed voices. Even on normal days, they speak to Lord Cao Cao and the Xiahous."
Pi shook his head and said apologetically, as if he couldn't believe he was agreeing with the butterfly general over the kingdom's main strategist. "He's right, Yi. Those two are always really quiet. Just because they didn't stop Father or my uncles to chat about the weather doesn't mean they were acting suspiciously."
Well, if you put it that way, Yi thought, becoming increasingly annoyed that he couldn't quite explain why he was very suspicious of the two veterans, it does sound rather weak. I'm sure there was something off about them, though. I just…can't explain it…
"No, I think Yi might have a point," Ji spoke up, surprising everyone. Yi shot her an intrigued and vaguely grateful look, glad that at least someone didn't think he was imagining things.
"It's hard to explain," Ji continued, "but someone quiet can be unusually quiet. It's just a different quiet than they usually are."
"Quiet is quiet," Pi said bluntly. "There's no arguing about it. How can there be different quiets, when the word 'quiet' is simply the absence of sound? Either they were talking or they weren't. Since De and Ren usually don't talk, unusual for them would be talking more. Them not talking is normal."
"It's the air about them, I suppose," Yi tried to explain patiently. Unfortunately, patience was never one of Yi's stronger points, and explaining something he found obvious irritated him to no end. "Their silence seemed…almost heavy." When Pi and He looked at him dubiously, Yi gave an exasperated sigh and turned to Ji. "You know what I mean?"
Ji nodded, "I do, actually. It was like they had a sign above them saying 'don't ask, don't tell'. And even though you never catch them watching you, you can feel their eyes boring holes into your back."
Seeing the opportunity for a little fun, He shook his head and suggested with a smirk, "I still have no idea what you're talking about. Perhaps this is a more…feminine trait, this ability to sense how the air of a person feels."
"Don't call me feminine, you butterfly-obsessed hypocrite!" Yi snapped, letting his annoyance and frustration show. "Just because you lack the finesse and sensitivity to understand the differences in people's auras—"
Bingo…He hid a triumphant laugh. I love arguments like these….they're so…entertaining. Mm…what was the name of that Greek goddess of discord I read about earlier? Etis? Eros?Eris? Hmm…regardless, that should definitely be my nickname.
"Come now, Yi," Ji smirked, interrupting the strategist's tirade, to He's delight. "Femininity isn't a bad trait. We are the more elegant and cunning of the two sexes."
"I beg to differ on the latter," Pi replied smoothly. "Men are the strategists and men are the rulers. Women are simply…inferior. Their beauty is to be commended, but not their cunning."
Ji raised a delicate eyebrow. "Surely you wouldn't contest that Diao Chan was far more cunning than Lord Lu Bu and the tyrant Dong Zhuo?"
"Of course not," Pi scoffed. "However, Diao Chan was one of the most cunning of the female gender and her ploys were seen through by our own Zhang Liao who, meaning no offense to him, is certainly not the most cunning of men. I doubt Yi, Lord Zhuge Liang, or Lord Zhou Yu fell for her innocent façade either."
Yi looked deeply insulted that Pi used the word "doubt" instead of "refuse to believe" or something more along those confident lines. "What do you take me for? Of course I didn't believe it! Everything was far too conveniently set up! Men that stupid don't believe something unless they're told it. That both believed she hated the other man means she played them, and well."
"Very well," Ji waved a hand, interrupting the strategist. "Then how about—" Ji abruptly snapped her mouth shut. I can't believe I almost told them about that!
"About what?" Pi asked her suspiciously. "What is this fascinating fact that can prove that women are equal in cunning to men?"
"Nothing, nothing," Ji lied. Idiot! She reprimanded herself. Nu Shu is a women-only language for a reason. Telling the future emperor of China about a secret language known only by women is called suicide! (4)
Not to mention that he'd order it destroyed because women aren't supposed to know how to read or write! Honestly, the only reason the female generals can is because they need to, in order to lead an army effectively. "But you're acting like women aren't cunning at all, when that's clearly not the case. I'm pretty sure Lady Diao Chan fooled you!"
"I never said that women were not cunning," Pi, backpedaling a little. "I'm merely saying that men are more cunning. No matter how many examples you bring up, all strategists and people renowned for intelligence and cunning are men."
"That's because women never have the opportunity to prove their worth!" Ji protested, recovering from her slip up and getting back into the debate with vigor. "Men are considered superior, therefore they have more opportunity! Our world is blind to the virtues of women besides being an accessory of men!"
Pi scoffed, "If you believe women should run the world, you're out of your mind. The world has been run by men since the beginning of time, and it works fine."
"I didn't say women should rule the world! I said women don't have the opportunity to prove themselves equal to men! Women are worth so much more than being whores to obtain power and wealth!"
"I don't deny that," Pi retorted. "But men are still superior. If women were equal to men, they should be able to force the world to give them equality. They need to deserve it, and they need to prove they deserve it! So far, however, nothing indicates that women are equal to men, and therefore, women are considered inferior!"
Yi shook his head, deciding to cut the debate short. "If I may interrupt, how does any of this have to do with the reason we're here right now?" he asked in annoyance.
Their debate effectively ended, Ji and Pi fell into a guilty silence. It doesn't? Ji would have said sheepishly, had that not been the obvious answer.
"It doesn't," He spoke up. But it's entertaining! Damn you, Yi, for putting a damper on the beautiful debate I instigated…
"So let's change the subject back to the original one," Yi replied, rubbing his forehead tiredly. It's been a long day. Let me sleep. I don't want to keep dealing with Pi in an irritable mood because Ji and I are sharing a room. I don't want to continue playing nice when I want to torture every other officer of Wei until I find the idiot who dared to mess up my prank. I don't want to keep dealing with He's nonchalant dismissals of my ideas. I want to sleep!
He shrugged, "I don't quite remember what the topic was, prior to this beautiful debate. Care to enlighten us, Yi?"
"Actually," Ji replied. "I think we finished the original topic. We gathered to share what we know, and so far the only things we know are that we suspect Dun, Lord Cao Cao, De, Ren, and Wei. After that, the conversation devolved into a debate over the equality of men and women."
"Great," Yi said, closing his eyes for a moment. "So if we're finished, shall we all retire for the night?"
Pi scowled, "It's fifteen minutes to midnight. If you go to bed now, you're still a target for pranks."
Ji watched the strategist worriedly. "Actually, I'm rather tired, too. Why don't we call the War to a halt for today? Both teams are present, if we agree to end the war for today, we can get to sleep and start tomorrow refreshed. Sleep is the reason we had the meeting an hour before midnight, instead of after midnight when pranks are on hold."
"I have no objections," He shrugged nonchalantly. "Beauty sleep is essential, after all."
"I'm about to fall asleep right here," Yi grumbled. "Objection is the last thing on my mind."
Silence followed He and Yi's acquiescence, as the other pranksters waited for Pi's vote. Pi frowned, glaring at his companions before folding his arms and looking away. "Fine. It's not like we'd be able to get anything done in these last few minutes anyway."
"Wonderful," Yi said with something scarily similar to a sincere smile. "I'm off to sleep."
Ji quirked an eyebrow, "You do that. I'll be awake a bit longer, though, and I'll need light." When He looked curiously at her, she explained, "I need to finish my letter to Da…Lady Da Qiao."
Yi waved a hand sleepily. "Go ahead. Just don't take too long."
"Such uncharacteristic amicability," Pi noted suspiciously. "Who are you and what have you done with Sima Yi?" And why the hell are you and Ji so damn friendly all of a sudden?
His partner glared at him. "I always seek the path that obtains the result I want. In this case, I want the result to be me, asleep, in bed, as fast as possible. Being agreeable will hasten the result, especially as my roommate can delay the result for quite a bit of time."
Now stop being a jealous pig. You're great at hiding your attraction to Ji, so keep it up and don't bother me!
Blinking, He attempted to reword that in simpler words. "So…you want to sleep, and since Ji can keep that from happening, being nice and agreeable is the best way to handle her?"
"Exactly," Yi nodded.
"Well," Ji said, somewhat surprised at Yi's logic and a bit gratified to hear that he'd be nice to her, even if it was for his own benefit. At least now I know why we haven't fought at all even though we're living in the same room. "If you'll be nice, I will to. I'll finish my letter as quickly as possible."
"My thanks," Yi replied, before walking out the door. "Good night everyone."
As the door shut behind the strategist, the remaining three pranksters looked at each other rather confusedly. "Why's he so tired today?" Ji asked curiously.
Pi shrugged, "I'm not sure, and, as long as he functions well tomorrow, I don't care. My best guess would be that the unexpected interference by one of Wei's officers is ticking him off. Yi hates having his affairs meddled in by people who aren't involved, so someone sticking their nose into the War is irritating him."
"And he's one of those who, when something's irritating him, has to deal with the irritation before it goes away, otherwise it keeps niggling at the back of his brain," Ji finished for the heir.
Pi nodded. "Exactly."
After a short silence, He said cheerily, "Well, I'm a bit tired myself. Have a beautiful night you two!" As He left the room, Ji got up to follow him out.
Ji paused, wondering what Pi wanted to talk to her about. She'd always been somewhat attracted to the heir, as he was just as ambitious as she was, and she admired his ruthless nerve. And being the wife to the next emperor of China would mean she'd be Empress, not some random concubine. Not an unappealing idea at all.
"Did anything happen between you and Yi last night?" Pi asked hesitantly.
Turning back to him, Ji answered his question with a question of her own. "Nothing intimate, if that's what you're looking for. Why?" Does it bother you?, went unasked.
He looked away. "No particular reason. Only, if you two had done something, it might be another reason Yi was so tired at the end of today. And a relationship between you two could upset the Prank War."
Alright, so not the answer I wanted to hear. "…Why does the War mean so much to you?" Ji asked. "You didn't want to end early, you're very set on finding who's interfering in the War, and you're very strict on us being in top shape every day. Why?"
Pi didn't answer for a while. To tell the truth or to not tell the truth. I'm sure I could make up a believable lie. Would it help? Would it hurt to tell her? At last, he replied, "Because it's something I control, without my father helping.
"Father's a great man; one that everyone knows. As his son, I'm not 'Cao Pi', I'm 'Lord Cao Cao's heir for the time being'. I am nothing without him. Every army I'm given to lead is given at his behest. It's not given to me because I'm a capable leader, it's given because Father said I can lead it, or commanded that I lead it. Everything I have, everything I do, is because he allows it, or commands it."
"And the Prank War is different, so it's important that it goes well," Ji guessed the rest. "As Lord Cao Cao's son, you have no control over what you can do, no individuality. In the Prank War, our lord isn't a factor, and you're free to do as you please, and take credit for it."
After a brief silence, Ji sighed. "So is that the only reason you wanted to know if Yi and I were intimate?"
Pi looked at her guardedly. "Perhaps. Why do you wish to know?" What answer are you hoping to hear? He wondered silently.
Ji shrugged. "Just curious, I suppose." She turned to leave again. "Good night, Pi."
The heir chuckled, "Good night, Ji. Don't wake Yi."
"Nu Wa forbid," Ji smirked. "I imagine he'd be extremely unhappy."
"Don't imagine," Pi told her. "Know for certain."
Ji laughed and left an amused Pi to his own devices. Yi would be raging mad if I woke him. I'll be kind and let him sleep though. Shaking her head, she wondered what news Da would have for her tomorrow.
(1) The novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guan-Zhong, which is what Dynasty Warriors is based on, vilifies Cao Cao, and the Bronze Bird Pavilion is an example of this. The Pavilion was supposedly a palace and Cao Cao, according to the novel, wanted to conquer Wu, take the two Qiaos, and keep them as his concubines there. However, since the novel has a clear bias for Liu Bei and against Cao Cao, whether or not this was true is unknown. Since I'm trying to keep all the characters relatively likeable in this fic, I've changed the purpose of the Pavilion; although Da Qiao and Xiao Qiao clearly have the impression (no doubt left by Dong Zhuo) that Cao Cao is a sick twisted old pervert. They'll be corrected…someday.
(2) For the purposes of this fic, this is Cao Cao's opinion, much as it pains me. Personally, I love Zhang He and the Wu officers; they're my favorite characters to play with. But, just as Da Qiao, Xiao Qiao, and the rest of Wu have misguided opinions about Cao Cao, Cao Cao has his own misguided opinions. (This is supposed to be a central theme, hint, hint)
(3) This is not touched upon in the games, but, historically, there are quite a few accounts as to how Sima Yi came to join Wei. One of them is that Cao Cao repeatedly requested that Sima Yi serve him. When Sima Yi feigned sickness, Cao Cao didn't believe it and ordered him to accept the position offered. If he had refused, Cao Cao would have had him arrested.
(4) Nu Shu literally means "women language" in Chinese, and is the only female-only language in existence. Since it remained secret until around the 1960's, no one's quite sure how old it is, but for the story's sake, we'll say it was already around during the Three Kingdoms period (although my research indicates that it's probably not that old).
A/N: By the by, if the footnotes annoy you, don't read them, although their presence means that I do hope that you do. They are supposed to help explain parts of the fic, why this happens, why that happens, and a little bit of history.
Prank Scores are the same as Day 1, unfortunately. I apologize for the lack of pranks in the Day 2's; I truly didn't notice it happening. However, for the sake of plot and character development, things happening take precedence over pranks. You should all note that there is a lot of PLANNING in Day 2's so you can look forward to pranks returning with a vengeance in the Day 3's!
Cao Pi: 1
Sima Yi: 1
Zhang He: 1
Zhen Ji: 1
As always, thanks for reading!