A pair of generals stormed the palace and killed several thousand eunuchs, causing the emperor at the time to flee. The emperor was taken in and directed by General Dong Zhuo. This launched a series of battles over controlling the imperial household as a coalition rose up to oppose Dong Zhuo, comprising many of the most powerful military leaders of the time. This would start nearly three centuries of conflict as China was divided yet again in the Three Kingdoms period.
Although Dong Zhuo was assassinated by one of his allies, the armies that had risen up against him remained. The most powerful warlord to come out of the conflict was Cao Cao, the precursor to the state of Cao Wei immortalized in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Cao Cao attempted to levy his strength and reunify the country, but an alliance against him won the decisive Battle of Red Cliffs, ensuring the survival of his rivals Liu Bei and Sun Quan. Over the next several years, the regional powers would coalesce into three major states; Cao Wei under Cao Pi (Cao Cao's son), Shu Han under Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang, and Sun Wu under Sun Quan.