When Ye Xiu received the diagnosis about his illness, he had no outward reaction. So unmoved was his expression that the doctor frowned, debating if he should repeat himself when Ye Xiu simply asked, “How long do I have to live?”
“As long as you live a healthy lifestyle, take your medications, receive treatment and therapy—years,” the doctor responded, a little thrown by Ye Xiu's lack of reaction, too used to instinctual denial and hysteria instead of calm acceptance and nerves of steel. "Don't lose hope, there are many cases where patients have lived longer than expected due to extensive research and improved treatments."
“Okay.” Ye Xiu nodded, still as casual as if someone had just commented on the weather. Silence ensued as the doctor gave him a concerned look, broken only by the soft tick, tick, tick of the clock in the room.
“...Would you like to call someone?” the doctor asked kindly, knowing that Ye Xiu had come alone.
With slightly clenched fists, blank gaze turned towards his damning test results, he quietly replied, “No.”
Ye Xiu had many people he’d like to call, but he didn't think he was strong enough to face anyone just yet.
Season 6 ended with Blue Rain as the champions. Another year that Excellent Era didn't win the championships, another year of blame upon his shoulders.
Ye Xiu was not blind to what was happening around him—what was happening to him. Despite what Excellent Era liked to think, he didn't only have Glory on his mind. He had always paid attention, had always noticed more than anyone expected. Just a few years ago, he had expected to stay with Excellent Era until he chose to retire. Now, retirement would no longer be his choice in more ways than one. His time was running out in more ways than one.
Season 7 had to count.
“Why didn't you tell me?”
As the door clicked shut, Ye Xiu turned to look at Su Mucheng, feeling sorry for many reasons. He had never been one to pay attention to his emotions, but the looming deadline of his own mortality forced his attention away from his mind and more towards his heart.
“Because I didn't want to worry you,” Ye Xiu answered softly, hands reaching out to wipe away her tears.
"So what if I worry? Why—" Su Mucheng whispered, warring between pain and anger. "Why are you trying to go through this alone?"
He didn't respond, but Su Mucheng's throat tightened when she glimpsed what she suspects to be pain, fear, or denial. Away from doubtful glances, disdainful glares, and harsh sneers, only when he's around those he's comfortable with, this is one of the few times Ye Xiu might let slip what he's internally feeling.
"He's been here since the beginning...don't you think that can be considered outdated?"
"I think it's pretty irresponsible to refuse to adapt to the times. I respect his ideals and decisions, but..."
"Can you blame others for looking down on us when Excellent Era is like this?"
"I'd really wish he'd be more considerate of how he makes us look..."
Ye Xiu blinked, pushing away unwanted memories to focus on the present when Su Mucheng threw her arms around him, voice hard but raw.
“Don't pull away—not from me. Whatever happens, let me stand by you.”
Don't leave me behind.
Ignoring the few bewildered gazes, Ye Xiu walked by with a fist against his mouth and hastily entered his room, sliding down against the door. The tightness around his lungs was almost painful and he could hardly breathe, just one short breath away from wheezing. With shaking hands, he reached for his medication and tilted his head back against the door as it took effect.
There was a quiet knock and he made an effort—more than he wanted—to move so that Su Mucheng could open the door. Her worried eyes peered down at him as she entered. Worry was a constant state for her, but there wasn't anything he could do about it.
There was also nothing he could do about his knee-jerk response, ingrained into his vocal cords because he hated when others worried about him. Still, it didn't escape his attention how worrisome it was that his symptoms had already worsened only a year after his diagnosis. He should have had another year before symptoms progressed this far.
Wishful thinking made him hope that he could hide his condition for as long as possible. Reality reminded him that if he placed his hopes on wishes, it would only end up hurting others in the long run. He might be notorious for his masks and misdirection, his shamelessness and black-hearted tactical mind, but beneath it all he was loyal, filial, and kind.
Later that night, he debated on what to say before he decided to send a simple message.
One Autumn Leaf: hey could you come here
Ye Qiu: Why?
One Autumn Leaf: i need to tell you something
And he wasn't the kind of son or brother that would be cruel enough to blindside his family if something suddenly happened to him.
"You stupid—!" Ye Qiu slammed a fist down onto the table. The cups on the table rattled as Ye Qiu took a deep breath in an attempt to calm down, only to fail when he takes another look at Ye Xiu's face. "Why the hell—?"
He quietly seethes, unable to finish his sentence, but when he sees Ye Xiu begin to speak, he immediately cuts him off.
"No. Don't you dare try to reason your way out of this. If even one word that comes out of your mouth is an attempt to make any of this seem sensible, I won't forgive you."
Ye Xiu immediately closed his mouth, wondering if maybe he had been better off not saying a word or if he should have sent an email instead. This was certainly the most intense conversation he’s ever had at a cafe. Silently, he took a sip of his tea as Ye Qiu pressed a hand to his forehead.
“Why didn't you tell me?” Ye Qiu demanded, lips pressed tight in both anger and distress. “If you told me earlier, we could have—”
“There's no cure,” Ye Xiu interrupted with slight guilt as Ye Qiu froze, all signs of anger fading away into just plain distress. “I can only prolong it.”
“... Then why don't you prolong it? I don't understand — you can just come back when you're better. Why do you have to push yourself?” Ye Qiu asked, hands clenching around his cup of coffee. "Can't you take a break?"
It had been a while since he had last seen Ye Xiu, but he hadn’t looked this unwell then. As much as Ye Xiu tried to pass it off, it was obvious to him that he wasn't doing as well as he made it seem.
Why hadn't his team given him a leave of absence? Was his brother was just being a stubborn ass or was there more to the story than what Ye Xiu told him? Ye Qiu frowned heavily.
“It doesn't work like that. Once I leave, I'll leave for good. I'm already considered old as it is in terms of eSports.” Ye Xiu's reply was casual and he even had the audacity to make it sound logical.
It’s just a game! Why are you hung up on something so stupid!? was on the tip of Ye Qiu’s tongue, but he swallowed his words as soon as his brain caught up with his mouth. He wouldn't be doing either of them any good by throwing around pointless words out of hurt and anger.
Despite his lack of interest in games, Ye Qiu understood enough that Glory was more than just a game to Ye Xiu and that he was anything but stupid, even if he had his moments of epic idiocy.
“Why me?” Ye Qiu said instead, taking a sip of his now lukewarm coffee as he glared out the window, radiating displeasure, frustration, and pain. For all his vagueness, Ye Xiu understood. He knew he was being selfish, but he needed more time, even if he ended up hurting those who cared for him. Ye Xiu had many reasons for why he seeked Ye Qiu out.
Mother and father would drag me back.
You're strong enough to handle this.
I don't want to spend the rest of my days in the hospital.
It's always better to be prepared.
I couldn't let you find out the hard way.
He thought it all boiled down to him being a terrible son and brother, but what he said was, “…You're my twin and I knew you'd understand.”
And goddammit, Ye Qiu did.
“... I'm so pissed off at you that I can't even put it into words. We're going to have a very long talk about your idiotic life decisions and everything you've been up to these past few years,” Ye Qiu managed to say without a crack in his voice though the same couldn't be said for his expression. "If you even think of hiding anything from me from now on, I'm going to immediately take you back with me. It's one thing to be stupid, but why do you keep doing stupid things alone?"
“Not alone,” Ye Xiu responded with a smile as soft and tragic as dying morning blooms, eyes a little misty beneath the glow of the winter sunset. “I never have been.”
“You…” Ye Qiu took a deep breath, exhaling all his unspoken thoughts. “Tell me first why Glory is so important to you.”
Ye Qiu wanted to rant, to rave, to shake his brother and punch him for being so...Ye Xiu. But for all their faults and petty grievances, for all the years they have spent apart from each other, even time and distance couldn’t weaken the bond they shared.
It was habit for Ye Qiu to wear his heart on his sleeve around his brother, but this time, his heart needed to be steady even when it wanted to shatter.
For the first time in months, Ye Xiu experienced the horror of being forced to run when a lurking reporter had almost caught him as he left the stage after the All-Stars event. She was scarily persistent, but he had still managed to evade her in the end, being much more familiar with the labyrinthine corridors.
Breathing heavily and shaking his head in exasperation, Ye Xiu exited the side entrance of the stadium and slowed to a stop. He looked around, a myriad of complex emotions flickering across his face as he took in the cracked pavement, shaded trees, scattered benches, and glowing street lamps. An army of taxis waited against the curb, drivers calling and waving as the audience flowed out of the stadium, and across the street, the shops were brightly lit. Large billboards flashed above, showcasing highlights of the first day of the All-Stars event.
It was strange how all these familiar places became more and more unfamiliar each year as new faces appeared and as familiar ones disappeared. With the passing of each season, he'd recall the words that Wu Xuefeng had once said.
天下没有不散的筵席 (There is no never-ending feast, all good things must come to an end.)
It had been in this exact location that he and Wu Xuefeng had talked about their futures and the former vice-captain’s retirement all those years ago. Ye Xiu wondered how Brother Feng was doing, how all his old teammates were doing. Nostalgia was a constant companion these days and he closed his eyes as memories of yesterdays flashed by, of the times before good-natured teasing became ridicule, before respect became disrespect, before teamwork devolved into independent, scattered actions.
"This is goodbye, but our Glory won't end here! I believe in Excellent Era! I believe in you, captain...!”
“You've always said Glory isn't so simple. I also want to believe that Glory isn't so simple that the battles we've fought together will simply fade with time.”
“I've always had faith in your capabilities, captain. Just remember to look after yourself when I retire, I know how absorbed you get when it comes to Glory.”
Ye Xiu didn't want his former teammates' legacies and hard work to go to waste, for the foundation they had built together to crumble and collapse because of greed and corruption. Opening his eyes, Ye Xiu looked down at his hands and wondered if these two hands of his were enough to tip the balance and carry Excellent Era through one last time.
He hoped that the curtains would, too, gracefully close on him when it came time for him to retire.
“You need to eat more,” Su Mucheng admonished, spooning more food onto his plate. "Eat this, it's nutritious and full of vitamins."
Ye Xiu laughed, cheek on his palm as he teased Su Mucheng, “If I eat more every time you tell me to, I'd become pork roast.”
“Don't worry, you'd be more likely to be mistaken for a skinny chicken,” Su Mucheng replied with raised eyebrows and crossed arms, pointedly staring at his plate.
“Thanks. I'm glad to hear that whenever you look at your kind, loving brother, all you see is a skinny chicken,” Ye Xiu dryly said as he dutifully ate, looking absent-mindedly out at the streets and passing pedestrians.
Su Mucheng nearly spat out her drink, spluttering with laughter. “Hey, you made the direct comparison, not me. Besides, I wouldn't compare you to one.”
“Oh? Then what would you compare me to?”
“A dragon,” Su Mucheng immediately said with a fond smile. “A cool, shameless dragon that is best at protecting everything but himself. One that always needs a strong, beautiful warrior princess like me to battle off all the unsavory sorts.”
Ye Xiu eyed her warily. “What weird things have you been getting into again?"
She stuck out her tongue at him. “Am I wrong? Don't worry, I'm always ready to beat them black and blue.”
Ye Xiu leaned away from her, aghast. “I hope you mean in game. Come on, I didn't raise you to be a thug.”
“No, you raised me to stand up for myself. I'm only extending that to standing up for others. In this case, you.”
Ye Xiu blinked at her, then gave her a peculiar look, causing Su Mucheng to furrow her eyebrows in confusion.
“What?” She asked, unconsciously straightening up in her seat as she pushed her hair back.
“You know…” Ye Xiu started, twirling his cup of tea thoughtfully. “I don’t think I’ve ever said this, but I’m proud of you.”
Su Mucheng was startled speechless as a wave of pride happiness pain sorrow hit her.
“You don't play fair,” Su Mucheng eventually replied, half-heartedly throwing a napkin at him, a shimmer of unshed tears in her eyes.
Ye Xiu smiled but didn't respond. It was the truth. He didn’t play fair, but at least when he wasn’t playing fair, he could ensure that the balance tipped in favor of those on his side.
March came by and with it came the approach of spring, wreaking havoc on his lungs. It was a testament to Ye Xiu's iron will and strength that he didn't spend his days in bed. Travelling to away games practically became tests of endurance.
Excellent Era seemed to think he had suddenly developed motion sickness. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry. It was so terrible it was funny. In contrast, Su Mucheng was deeply unamused. She only stopped looking like thunderstorms personified after he told her that she’d end up looking like a wrinkly prune.
Ye Xiu had to admit he deserved that punch.
All jokes aside...with how erratic his symptoms were getting, Ye Xiu came to the painful conclusion that the years that he originally had were slowly being shaved off. A lot of changes came with this realization, causing him to become a lot more sentimental and pensive.
For every breath he took, for every simple thing he used to disregard, like the pleasant aroma of green tea, the soft rays of light seeping in through parted curtains, the calming feel of a keyboard beneath his fingertips, and the beauty of a crescent moon peeking through the smog and clouds...he began to notice just how much life there was packed into the little corners of this planet they called home.
The world had never looked so big when he looked out of the plane window and saw the clouds that stretched beyond the horizon, yet so small when he looked down at the miniature buildings and fields that lay just below. Millions of people crammed into tiny cities, all with their own stories, hopes, and dreams.
Moments like these were as fleeting as flower petals blossoming under the gentle caress of a gentle breeze before they someday fall, and the same could be said about people who could be here one day and gone the next. With this thought in mind, Ye Xiu set out to write his will and draft letters to his closest friends and family.
He may not know when he’d leave...but at the very least he could properly say his goodbyes even if these letters might never be read.
“What do you think about inheriting One Autumn Leaf?” Ye Xiu asked Qiu Fei one day after an impromptu training session.
Qiu Fei paused, turning to stare at Ye Xiu who spun around in his chair to regard him curiously, one arm propped atop the table to hold his head up.
“Inheriting...One Autumn Leaf?” Qiu Fei repeated with furrowed eyebrows, one hand on the doorknob.
Though Ye Xiu had phrased his question very casually, Qiu Fei knew that Ye Xiu was being serious. He could tell by the focused look in his eyes despite his lazy slouch. Qiu Fei didn't know what kind of answer this senior was looking for, but after some thought, he realized that he had one unintentionally prepared for him the moment he signed up to join Excellent Era's training camp.
“I think it would be an honor, but I want to pave my own path with Combat Form,” Qiu Fei began, regarding Ye Xiu with a profound expression of resolve. “It’s not my dream to be One Autumn Leaf’s successor, but to one day stand alongside One Autumn Leaf and pursue victory together with everyone else. I want to experience the joy of competition like you, from the bottom working up instead of having Glory handed to me.”
Straightening up, Ye Xiu tilted his head to the side and silently stared at Qiu Fei with such an intent, unreadable look that his skin began to prickle in nervousness. He wasn’t here to impress anyone, but the thought of having potentially disappointed his favorite and most respected senior was discomfiting.
Just as he was about to say something, Ye Xiu unexpectedly smiled, causing Qiu Fei to blink at him in surprise. When was the last time he had seen Ye Xiu smile?
“I see! If that's the case, then I have no doubt that the both of you will go far.” There was now a rueful tilt to his lips as he said, “It makes me happy to see that what Glory started out as won't be lost with future generations.”
“Senior?” Qiu Fei asked hesitantly, unsure of what was going through Ye Xiu's mind. What exactly did he mean by that?
“Don't mind me, I'm just rambling in my old age.”
“Senior Ye,” Qiu Fei couldn't help but deadpan. “You may be old in terms of eSports, but you're not an old man.”
Ye Xiu gave him a look of mock offense. “Wow, is that how you kids show respect to your elders these days?”
Qiu Fei nearly gave into the urge to roll his eyes, thinking that this senior was just messing around again. “I'll be going now, Senior Ye. Thank you for the lesson.”
Just as he was about to close the door on the way out, Qiu Fei heard him say, “Don't give up on your dreams. You have what it takes to make it reality.”
And then, the door clicked shut. Qiu Fei stood frozen in the middle of the hallway, touched but more than a little stupefied. It wasn't so much because of what Ye Xiu said, but rather the tone in which he said it — with the finality of someone saying goodbye.
Frivolous activities like gossiping didn't interest him, but it didn't mean he wasn't aware of what was going on in the club, even if he was more out of the loop than most. He simply didn't want to listen to rumors. He only wanted to hear the truth, but if it was something that regarded Ye Xiu's well-being ... perhaps he should start paying more attention.
It was nearing the end of May.
Ye Xiu wasn't really hiding his condition these days so much as deflecting unwanted questions. Sadly, it didn't require much deflection to throw people off his trail. As much as he'd like to deny otherwise, it hurt that no one cared enough to see through his facade.
For the few that did, it left him feeling strangely happy and bothered, especially when they were more persistent. Like Huang Shaotian. Who had somehow managed to corner him in some sketch alleyway like a common criminal.
In this kind of situation, Ye Xiu almost expected Huang Shaotian to say, "Give me your money and no one gets hurt."
Instead, Huang Shaotian hesitated with his words before he said, “If you need anything, don't hesitate to contact me.” Covered in layers with a scarf wrapped multiple times around his head, all Ye Xiu could see of him was a pair of solemn, serious eyes. If he was a criminal, he'd certainly look like the most ridiculous one.
“Sure,” Ye Xiu flippantly replied, resisting the urge to laugh in case he set off his symptoms.
Huang Shaotian spluttered indignantly, “Sure? Is that all you have to say? I'm offering my time — time that is worth hundreds of thousands if you've forgotten — and that's all you have to say? No thank you? Can you be more—”
Huang Shaotian paused mid-rant, squinting at Ye Xiu.
“...Are you really okay?” Huang Shaotian felt goosebumps at the touch of sincerity it his words. Yet, Huang Shaotian had known Ye Xiu long enough to know that Ye Xiu was more than just a shameless troll. The price of his friendship wasn't that cheap that he'd just consider anyone a friend.
Ye Xiu raised an eyebrow, sincere expression wiped in an instant. “What? Do you want me to add a sir to that? Maybe a plate of okra—”
“Stop right there! How dare you mention those—those disgusting, slimy, seedy creatures—Fuck, Don't walk away from me! Come back here! I need to talk to you about something. Hey, I really do need to talk to you about something!” Incessant chatter filled the air.
Ye Xiu tried to ignore him—
"Pay attention to me, you bastard!" Huang Shaotian shouted without thinking as they exited the alleyway, causing everyone nearby to turn and stare at them with wide eyes.
—and was immediately wronged.
With a sigh, Ye Xiu pulled up his hood and leisurely walked away, leaving Huang Shaotian to deal with the awkward stares. He chose to run off before anyone could recognize him and tear his reputation to shreds on Weibo. The wrath of the PR department was one of the few things he feared. To his consternation, he wasn't able to properly talk to Ye Xiu like had planned to. Flight departures took the opportunity out of Huang Shaotian's hands to talk to Ye Xiu in person entirely and after he had spammed Ye Xiu with 999+ messages on QQ, he was blocked
It wasn't enough to put the matter out of his mind. To be an opportunist, he had to be extremely keen, level-headed, and observant, and as frivolous and easy to rile as he tended to be on the outside, he was rarely unsettled on the inside ... but the conversation between Cui Li and Ye Xiu that he had accidentally listened in on had unsettled him greatly. His mind was still replaying what he saw even now as he tapped his fingers against the armrest of the plane seat.
“Hey, Wenzhou.” Huang Shaotian poked Yu Wenzhou, who turned to regard him curiously, raising his eyes from his notebook. “I'm going to tell you something and I want you to tell me what you think.”
It was his 25th birthday.
Birthdays had never meant much to him before, but from now on, any could be his last. At the rate he was going, Ye Xiu wondered if he would make it to 26 much less 30, or even 50.
Time had never seemed so short, yet so long—a winding road that he could see stretching out into the distance for everyone but him. He wondered if this was how Su Muqiu had felt in his last moments or if his death had been so quick that he didn't even have the time to process what he was losing.
(What he had lost.)
Noticing his somewhat downtrodden mood, Su Mucheng and Ye Qiu didn't allow him to be alone for a single moment. Despite his protests, the two had dragged Ye Xiu off on a merry adventure, the day packed with events. It was the most extravagant celebration that he had had since he was a child. Ye Qiu was so invested that he would have entirely forgotten that it was his birthday as well if it wasn't for Su Mucheng and Ye Xiu's constant reminders.
Ye Xiu shook his head ruefully as he watched Ye Qiu and Su Mucheng converse ahead of him. Just a year ago, Ye Qiu would have been back home spamming his QQ with incessant messages along the lines of 'Bastard brother, you can’t even come home for our birthday?' Now, here he was chatting casually with someone he considered his little sister in all the ways that mattered.
Su Mucheng and Ye Qiu had struck up a quick and strong friendship, helped by the fact that Ye Qiu actively made an effort to visit at least once a month. To see them get along so well, two of his most important people, his expression unconsciously softened.
“Can’t you hurry up a little? You look like you’re dragging your feet.” Ye Qiu turned to regard Ye Xiu with mock disdain.
“Yeah, look a little more lively. Your lazy expression could put babies to sleep,” Su Mucheng added on, taking a few steps backward to loop her arm around his.
“You two...are you ganging up on poor little me?” Ye Xiu received two deadpan looks of disbelief. 'There’s no such thing as a poor little you, only a poor little us,' their expressions said.
Ye Xiu’s lips twitched in mirth as the three continued down the street, reaching the end of their celebration at a local restaurant. He was exhausted, but it was the good kind of exhausted. The kind that made you feel lighter and freer than the clouds drifting through the skies.
“Make a wish,” Su Mucheng encouraged, pushing the cake towards the both of them. Her phone was out and ready to take photos to immortalize this moment. She peered at them expectantly over her phone. The two shared amused looks before they blew out the candles as one.
Ye Xiu had only one wish: I wish that I can spend more time with everyone.
Ye Qiu had only one wish: I wish that brother can live for as long as time allows.
Ye Xiu had always been rational, but more often these days he found himself following the whims of his emotions. This was the reason why he somehow found himself standing in front of Nanshan cemetery with a bouquet of sunflowers in hand after a terrible day. The evening light cast shadows upon the graves and there was a sense of stillness in the air, one that surrounded all cemeteries from the weight of buried dreams, hopes, and wishes, of stifled regrets and quiet peace, of the residents. Letting out a quiet breath, Ye Xiu entered the cemetery.
If Ye Xiu was even a little bit vindictive, he would have taken up Su Mucheng’s offer to beat half of Excellent Era black and blue, but he wasn't a vindictive person no matter what anyone wanted to believe about him. Because he wasn't vindictive, this was the place he chose to come to when the pressure became too overwhelming.
Slowing to a stop as he reached a familiar grave, he set the flowers atop the gravestone before sitting down before it. The grass was a little wet and the evening wind was chilly, but he didn’t care. For a while, he just sat there in contemplative silence with the smell of freshly lit incense wafting through the air.
The name Su Muqiu stared back at him along with his photograph. A snapshot frozen in time of a youth whose potential was never realized to the world, his time lost before it had even begun. No one would know how much he had to offer to the world, how much kindness, inspiration, innovation, and encouragement he had to share. It had been a long time since his best friend's death, but not for the first time in recent weeks, Ye Xiu wished that Su Muqiu was still here. He took a deep breath before he began to speak.
“Sometimes, I wonder if I'm doing the right thing by choosing to stay when most of them want me gone. Lately...I've been uncertain about a lot of my decisions. Am I correct when everyone else is telling me otherwise...? How much can I fight if the things I'm fighting are out of my control ...?"
“For all my knowledge, experience, and skills, even I'm at a loss as to what I should do to improve the situation or if it can even get better. If anything can even be done. Maybe I should have spoken up more, tried to compromise more, reached out more...I don't know.”
“All I know is that this is the path I’ve chosen, so I’ll see it through. I’ve already put too much on the line. More than just our dream, I’m also fighting for everything that Excellent Era used to stand for and for other things too. I'm not sure how to put it into words. Maybe I've just gotten so used to a certain way of doing things that I can only deviate so much from my habits. Maybe it's because I don't know what else to do since I—"
“...You know, I used to be worried that future generations will only play Glory for fame and money, that competitions will become nothing but stage performances, but there’s a lot of good kids who still understand what it means to respect Glory and enjoy the thrill of uncertain loss or victory."
"At the very least, they'll keep the competition pure and honest for many years to come. It might even be a good thing that I'll probably never see the day when the Glory you and I know becomes completely erased ...”
“...I wonder if each breath I take is only bringing me closer to you.”
“If you were here...you'd call me stupid and smother me in blankets for even saying that. Then, you'd go and set everyone on fire with a smile. No one would hear the end of it. You’ve rubbed off on Mucheng in really scary ways, I hope you know that.”
“Maybe you were right...Maybe I am too reckless...Unexpectedly, the road of life for you and me isn't that long. The record between you and me will soon be settled."
It had been a long time since Ye Xiu had allowed himself a moment of weakness, but he had never learned to hide anything from Su Muqiu nor had he ever felt the need to. There were times when he, too, was tired of being the infallible, immovable pillar everyone expected him to be.
Whispers disappearing into the air, face pressed against his knees, Ye Xiu allowed himself to feel. The shadows of the overhanging tree covered him, but even the shadows couldn’t hide his shaking shoulders against the setting sun.
Everyone would one day die. Ye Xiu didn't want to live forever. He only wanted to live for longer than this.
Ye Xiu had managed to convince Excellent Era that he had a chronic cold and that this was the reason for the face mask that he had begun to wear like a stylish accessory.
Su Mucheng wasn't happy about it. Ye Qiu wasn't happy about it. Was he happy about it? Far from it, but Ye Xiu was numb to a lot of things at this point. They had made it to the playoffs, that was all that mattered.
Today, they would be facing Tiny Herb.
Wang Jiexi had always been the kind of captain to put his team first before anything else, constantly putting all his time, energy, and resources into ensuring that his team was healthy, happy, strong, and united. He only had sentiment to push him even farther this time around since Fang Shiqian had said that he would retire this year.
(In this regard, Ye Xiu and Wang Jiexi are the same.)
There had always been a reason that Ye Xiu considered Wang Jiexi to be the Alliance’s best captain without ever considering himself as one. Wang Jiexi was well beloved by his team. Ye Xiu wasn’t. Wang Jiexi never had to watch his back around his team. Ye Xiu had to.
(In this regard, Ye Xiu and Wang Jiexi aren’t the same.)
Wang Jiexi would be playing with the drive of a captain who wanted nothing but to become champions alongside his team, of a junior who wanted to fulfill his senior’s wish of becoming the champions before he retired. He would be playing with a team who wouldn’t even think to question his orders, who would do anything as a team to make it to the top. They would do their utmost best to work together, so that their captain would not sacrifice his play-style for them in vain.
Ye Xiu would be playing with the drive of captain who wanted nothing but to carry his team to the championships, of a dying man who wanted to make every last moment count. He would be playing with a team who would not only question his orders, but also seek to undo his legacy and to pull his credibility out from under him. They would do their utmost best to drive him off in the name of progress, to toss out the old in order to bring in the new.
(Just whose resolve would be stronger when the difference between their teams was as vast as the distance between Heaven and Earth?)
Ye Xiu had overheard discussions about transferring Sun Xiang over from Conquering Clouds after this season ended. He didn't need to guess what his role in the team would be after that, but there wasn't anything he could do. He was bound by a three-year contract and even if he was able to continue, there was no longer any point staying with Excellent Era. He had already done more than enough. At the very least, he wouldn't allow them to dictate his departure.
Ye Xiu had never been the kind of person to hold onto anger, bitterness, and frustration, but sometimes, when he looked at Excellent Era, his eyes would burn and his teeth would clench. However, that was neither here nor there, not when Ye Xiu had to remain focused on the match. It also wouldn’t do to lose his composure in front of Wang Jiexi, not when Ye Xiu knew how scarily observant the other man was.
“This year, the championships will belong to Tiny Herb,” Wang Jiexi stated as solemn and direct as ever.
Eyes crinkling behind his face mask, Ye Xiu smirked. “It won't be that easy.”
Much to Ye Xiu’s displeasure, his lungs chose this moment to act up and he ended up in a terrible coughing fit for a good few seconds before he could regain control. When he looked up, all of Tiny Herb was staring back him in a mixture of confusion and concern.
“...Ye Qiu—” Wang Jiexi started worriedly, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Worry about your team,” Ye Xiu cut him off and pushed his hand away. Without another word, he walked around them to head towards the stage.
Wang Jiexi stared after Ye Xiu’s lone figure, feeling a curl of uneasiness. That didn’t sound like the coughs of someone who had a mere cold and Ye Xiu had always been blunt but never callous.
“Must be hard, being the captain. Can’t even take a break,” Liu Xiaobie, their new rookie, remarked with arms crossed behind his head.
“Focus,” Wang Jiexi said. “Don’t lose sight of what we’ve worked for all these months.”
Yet, despite his words, Wang Jiexi couldn’t help but spare one last, lingering thought over Ye Xiu. They only spoke two sentences each, but it was enough for him to notice how pale, exhausted, and frail Ye Xiu looked, how bony his shoulder had felt beneath his hand. Perhaps, there was some merit to Yu Wenzhou’s and Huang Shaotian’s offhanded observations after all.
Wang Jiexi made a mental note to procure some herbal medicine and check up on Ye Xiu later.
Excellent Era defeated Tiny Herb, scraping by into the semi-finals through tremendous effort on Ye Xiu and Su Mucheng's end.
Su Mucheng's play-style had changed a lot. Throughout the regular season, she had learned how to seamlessly switch back and forth between playing support and playing aggressively. Everyone had been astonished by her sudden change, and though Ye Xiu hated the reason for this change, he was inwardly proud and thankful.
He was already feeling the burden of having hard-carried his team through the team challenge. Several times, he had almost lost control as he pushed his APM to its limits, as if he was trying to conduct some cacophonous symphony. He could still see the broomstick smashing into One Autumn Leaf's face when a drop in his APM had slowed his attack sequence long enough for Wang Jiexi to find an opening.
After the match, he had attempted to give them advice and pointers only to have it all thrown back at his face. He didn’t even know why he still tried.
Their next opponent was Tyranny, an even more difficult team to win against for many reasons.
Before the match, Ye Xiu took the time to center himself in one of the stadium's bathrooms. Splashing his face with cold water, he looked up only to freeze at his own reflection. His reflection stared back at him with dim eyes, stark against sickly pale skin, uniform ill-fitting. He almost didn't recognize himself. Ye Xiu blinked and suddenly understood why Ye Qiu was constantly fretting over his appearance. Offhandedly, he hoped that Ye Qiu didn't think of him every time he looked in the mirror.
“This is where you've been?” An annoyed voice broke through his thoughts. Wiping his face with his sleeve and pulling his face mask back up, Ye Xiu turned to look dully at the person that had just entered the bathroom.
“Liu Hao,” Ye Xiu greeted monotonously.
“Mucheng,” Liu Hao spat her name out like a curse. "Has been looking for you.”
“Don’t say her name like that,” Ye Xiu stated coolly, a hint of warning in his tone.
Liu Hao sneered at him. “Like what, captain?”
“...You know what I mean, Liu Hao.” Ye Xiu felt like he was talking to a wall, but at least a wall wouldn't say stupid things back.
Liu Hao scoffed. “Do you ever get tired of assuming things? Look at where that has gotten you.”
“If you have nothing important to say, stop wasting air.” He tried to walk by Liu Hao, only to be shoved back.
“What do you want?” Ye Xiu demanded, feeling a spike of anger that was quickly washed away by numbness. There was only so much he could handle dealing with over and over again.
Liu Hao’s expression twisted in anger. “You—”
“You’re blocking the doorway.”
Ye Xiu looked over Liu Hao’s shoulder. “Old Han,” he greeted with a mixture of relief and warmth.
Liu Hao jumped awkwardly like the three-footed cat he was and hastily stepped aside. “Oh, uh, Captain Han—”
“I need to speak with Ye Qiu,” Han Wenqing interrupted, freezing Liu Hao in place with his stone cold glare.
Furrowing his eyebrows slightly in confusion, Ye Xiu stepped past Liu Hao and followed Han Wenqing out of the men’s toilet. Liu Hao followed them out.
“Wait, the boss—”
“The boss can wait," Han Wenqing cut him off without even looking back. Ye Xiu’s lips twitched at Han Wenqing’s response, a bit of the numbness fading away as Liu Hao spluttered.
“I can't what?" Han Wenqing's tone could have frozen the flames of Hell itself. That was the exact tone of voice he took right before going on a furious tirade, Ye Xiu would know.
It seemed Liu Hao knew the same because he hastily made himself scarce before Han Wenqing fully turned around. Ye Xiu smirked slightly in amusement as he followed Han Wenqing down the corridor.
After the two of them reached a less public area, Ye Xiu finally asked, “What did you want to talk to me about?”
Han Wenqing frowned at Ye Xiu and said, “I didn’t."
"Huh?" Ye Xiu was confused.
"You just looked like you wanted a way out of the conversation though I can’t blame you. My patience disappears every time I see Liu Hao. I don’t know how you deal with such a vice-captain. Just speaking to him brings my IQ down," Han Wenqing explained with annoyance and disdain.
“We can’t all have a Zhang Xinjie on our team,” Ye Xiu replied, letting slip a few helpless chuckles.
“Go get yourself a Zhang Xinjie then,” Han Wenqing replied, in a rare joking mood.
“If only it was that easy,” Ye Xiu said, coughing slightly. “Sometimes things don’t always work out in ways we want.”
Han Wenqing raised an eyebrow at this response, leaning against the corridor wall as he answered, “Not always, no. More importantly, what are you doing hauling your sick self around like this?”
“It’s the playoffs,” Ye Xiu said slowly, giving him an odd look. “I’m the captain. I can’t just leave my team hanging.”
“You know that’s not what I meant and it looks to me like they’re the ones leaving you hanging.”
(That hurt more than Ye Xiu wanted to admit.)
With a sigh, Ye Xiu tried to deny his words. “It’s just your imagination, Old Han.”
“Really?” Han Wenqing questioned skeptically, giving Ye Xiu a narrow-eyed look. For the first time in his life, Ye Xiu couldn't return his gaze.
“Time moves in only one direction. Is it so strange to think that even we become outdated and left behind?”
“Outdated or not, I only know how to move forward," Han Wenqing immediately answered without hesitation.
"Funny, the same goes for me,” Ye Xiu replied, eyes wistful as he stared at the screen displaying runs of advertisements and Glory commentary. “But I’ve decided that this will be my last season.”
His comment was so casual that Han Wenqing almost let the words slip by.
Han Wenqing snapped his head to the side to stare Ye Xiu down. Something tenuous in Ye Xiu’s seemingly unconcerned and calm gaze stayed Han Wenqing’s instinctual desire to demand answers. The two shared words without speaking, ten years worth of rivalry and friendship saying all that needed to be said.
"Then let’s make this match count," Han Wenqing stated imperiously.
“Heh,” Ye Xiu smirked, previously dull eyes lighting up with the fires of resolve. “Obviously, Excellent Era will win this match and claim the championships.”
“In your dreams, you mean.”
“Wow, so you do know how to joke around.”
“You’re an insufferable menace with a contagious personality."
Ye Xiu laughed, feeling lighter than he had in days. Truly, he was thankful to have met Han Wenqing and everyone else during his time as professional player.
It was only a shame that this would be where he and his long-time rival would part ways.
The entire stadium was silent. No one dared to breathe as they all gaped in wide-eyed shock at the result of the semi-final matches.
Tyranny was defeated.
Tyranny was defeated, but no one would dare call them losers, not after watching one of the most ferocious battles they had seen in years. Tyranny and Excellent Era fans alike were united in the belief that this year's semi-finals was even more earthshaking than the Season 4 finals when Tyranny had overturned Excellent Era's dynasty. Forget the group arena. The team competition was where all the excitement lay.
No one knew what had gotten into the two of them, but the brilliant confrontations between Desert Dust and One Autumn Leaf would forever be imprinted into everyone's minds. There wasn't a single moment when anyone's heart was calm, the entire audience hanging onto the edge of their seats as Han Wenqing and Ye Xiu played with the ferocity they had in their prime, but with all the experience they had gained over the years.
Though Excellent Era had looked a bit like dragged sandbags compared to Tyranny's fierce coordination, even fans of Tyranny had to respect their most hated rival for pulling his team together at the most crucial moments.
Shocked silence turned into deafening applause and roared exclamations as the display screens replayed the deciding factor that eventually unraveled Tyranny's carefully laid plans.
The precisely timed eagle stamp — only a millisecond too slow to dodge the Dragon Raising its Head that still had many of the pro players and experts shocked out of their minds. They had all believed in the rumors that Ye Xiu no longer had the skills to perform this extremely difficult maneuver. Knowledge, experience, and hand speed—none of these could be lacking, and Ye Xiu lacked none of these factors in his magnificent display.
Of all the disbelievers, Han Wenqing was one of the few who wasn’t surprised. A mixture of fierce pride and nostalgia warred within his heart despite his loss. This was another failure, but it wasn't the end. Next year will come. More than anything, this lit his battle spirit to continue reaching for the top.
It was only a shame that this would be where he and his long-time rival would part ways.
As Han Wenqing stood before Ye Xiu and Su Mucheng after the news conferences, he found himself in a rare moment of speechlessness, not knowing what to say. Their relationship had always been defined by Glory, after all.
“See you onstage.” Ye Xiu interrupted the silence by stealing Han Wenqing's infamous line, expression brightening when Han Wenqing’s lips twitched in reluctant amusement.
“Do you ever try not to be a little shit?” Su Mucheng let out an undignified snort while Ye Xiu smirked unrepentantly.
“Nah, takes too much work,” Ye Xiu responded carelessly, causing Han Wenqing’s eyebrows to twitch in annoyance. Then, his expression smoothed out into something that could almost be considered relaxed when he finally found the words he wanted.
“See you later,” Han Wenqing said, reaching out to shake Ye Xiu’s hand.
Their relationship had been defined by Glory, but it didn’t mean that it couldn’t extend beyond it.
“See you later, Old Han,” Ye Xiu replied, returning the handshake. He blinked in surprise when he suddenly found himself pulled into a hug. His brain short-circuited.
“Uh…” Ye Xiu was speechless and Su Mucheng was wide-eyed.
“Take care,” Han Wenqing said, pulling away before Ye Xiu could properly respond. "If you need anything, contact me."
Leaving two dumbstruck people behind, Han Wenqing walked away in a seemingly good mood. However, when Han Wenqing left their line of sight, his expression turned so thunderous that everyone nearby immediately skirted out of his way.
In reality, Han Wenqing had seen a lot more of the confrontation than either Liu Hao or Ye Xiu had realized. The only thing that had stopped him from calling Liu Hao out was the playoffs. The playoffs was no time to hash out grievances or get into arguments. He would get his answers from Ye Xiu after the playoffs.
Yet, Han Wenqing couldn't put the matter out of his mind. He had never seen Ye Xiu look so done in all the time they had known each other and he had been there for Ye Xiu’s ups and downs, his best and worst. What bothered him the most was the lost expression that Ye Xiu had let slip right before he shook Han Wenqing’s hand.
Han Wenqing and Ye Xiu were rivals, yes, but they were also friends. To them, those two words were nearly synonymous, and Han Wenqing defended his friends, regardless of who they were and what anyone had to say about it.
Ye Xiu was no exception. In fact, he was one of the few that he would not only defend but also fight for.
There was more going on behind the scenes of Excellent Era than what they wanted everyone else to believe. He would find out what was going on between Ye Xiu and Excellent Era and put an end to the slander.
With the help of Su Mucheng, Ye Qiu cornered him a day before the final match between Hundred Blossoms and Excellent Era. Without a say in the matter, Ye Xiu was dragged off for dinner. Not that he had any complaints. The restaurant was nice and the meal was filling. However, Ye Qiu seemed to have a lot on his mind, not saying much at all, so Ye Xiu left him to his thoughts. Afterwards, the two aimlessly walked around the city before they found a park bench to rest at, away from prying eyes.
“What's on you mind?” Ye Xiu asked amidst the sounds of chirping crickets and the hoot of a night owl. The scent of freshly watered plants swept the air and the shadows flickered as moths flew around the street lamp above them. There was a weighted silence. Ye Qiu spent a moment longer watching a small family happily play around before he regarded Ye Xiu with an intent stare.
“Promise me that you will come home after the match against Hundred Blossoms.”
Startled by the statement, he said the first thing on his mind, “What, do you still want to run away from home?”
“No, I only want you to come home,” he stated solemnly, unmoved by his response.
Ye Xiu silently regarded Ye Qiu, a hint of sorrow in his eyes.
“I know you said this is incurable, but there are doctors abroad who have been doing extensive research on this illness. And if you don’t want to go abroad, then at the very least, come home where you can rest and receive better treatment.”
“...I promise.” Ye Xiu replied heavily.
Ye Qiu sighed in relief, relaxing from his tense posture as he sat back. “Good. I don’t want to be an only child any time soon and I don’t want to have to break the news to our parents. You can deal with the consequences of your stupid bullheadedness yourself.”
“I’m sorry.” What else could Ye Xiu say to that?
Ye Qiu raised a hand. “No, don’t apologize. I know this is not your fault.”
Ye Xiu chuckled. “You say that like I'm not a terrible brother.”
Scoffing, Ye Qiu replied with a mixture of reluctant fondness and exasperation, “Please, you’re not that terrible of a brother.”
“Even if I ran away from home?” Ye Xiu couldn’t help but ask, finding it difficult to push aside the influx of complex emotions he was experiencing.
“I did try to run first,” Ye Qiu grudgingly admitted.
“Even if I stole your ID?”
“...You eventually gave it back.” There was a tick in Ye Qiu’s face.
“Even if I made you take on the family duties?”
“You’re pushing it,” Ye Qiu gritted out.
Ye Xiu laughed, but his laugh turned out a lot more choked than he expected. Unexpected relief had a way of making anyone lose control of their tightly held emotions, and to his horror, Ye Xiu found that relief made him teary. Before Ye Xiu could turn away or hide his face, Ye Qiu leaned forward and pulled him into a crushing embrace, his own eyes a little misty.
“...You’ve become clingy again,” Ye Xiu managed to get out as he returned the embrace, trying to regain his composure, or at the very least, not end up crying all over his brother.
“Shut up, I’m allowed to be clingy. Little brother rights,” Ye Qiu muttered, expression tight.
Actions spoke louder than words, but sometimes, words filled in the gaps that actions couldn’t always convey. If he was being this open now, then he might as well say what he'd always shown, especially when a second chance might not come.
“I love you, didi,” Ye Xiu spoke clearly with warmth and affection.
Ye Qiu’s breath hitched. “...I love you too, gege.”
The skies tonight were clear, for once free of smog and light pollution, and when Ye Xiu looked up at the night sky over Ye Qiu’s shoulder, all he saw were the brightly lit stars hanging in suspension between the cosmic galaxies. Ye Xiu had heard once, that when a person died, their soul would be lifted up to the Heavens to become a part of the constellations. A guiding light that would watch over their loved ones until the reincarnation cycle brought them back to Earth.
A cycle of Heaven and Earth, and all the intricacies of joy and sorrow, of love and hate that came with it.
There was something beautiful in knowing that everything had a place in this world, from the tiniest of organisms to the great macrocosms of the universe. Perhaps, death was just another aspect of this immeasurable, incomprehensible world and life was waiting beyond it.
A cycle of Life and Death, and all the intricacies of joy and sorrow, of love and hate that came with it.
Ye Xiu didn't know what to believe, nor did he fully understand the thoughts running through his mind, but when the stars in the night sky were covered by clouds he knew they were still there, and for some reason, just that thought made death seem much less fearful.
When death began to seem less fearful, peace and acceptance soon followed.
“Do you hate them?” Su Mucheng asked as they walked down the streets.
Ye Xiu blinked in surprise, turning to look at Su Mucheng.
“...No,” Ye Xiu responded after a period of silence.
“No?” Su Mucheng blurted in astonishment, tone bitter and furious. "I absolutely hate them. I hate that I can't do more for you, that I have to watch as you get treated like—like a pile of dung. I don't understand, how can you not hate them?"
Ye Xiu looked around at the streets, hazy with the heat of summer rays, listened to the chirps of songbirds and the chatter of people around them. The smell of fresh pastries wafted through the air and a cooling breeze swept his hair out of his eyes.
Above, a plane soared through the clouds, and in the distance, the city stretched beyond the horizon. Beyond the horizon, there was so much more of the world he had yet to see, and maybe would never see, but he was content to know that there would always be more. It meant there was no such thing as being alone when so many connections existed right in front of his eyes or stretched farther than what his eyes could see, tracing back to old friends who would always be present in memory.
There was so much life all around him, how could he hold on to petty feelings such as anger, hatred, and resentment? Ye Xiu didn’t know when his last moment was going to be, but he knew he didn't want to spend it tied down by such distasteful feelings.
“There was a time when I didn’t want to look at Excellent Era ever again, but all those feelings are meaningless in the end,” Ye Xiu finally answered. “Not when there are more important things in life to look forward to. Not when I have people on my side, who matter more to me than their opinions ever will.”
Looking her in the eye, Ye Xiu said, “Not when I have you by my side.”
“Ye Xiu…” Su Mucheng whispered, grabbing onto his sleeve, like she used to do when they were younger. She felt her eyes well up with emotion, heart constricting with the depth of her love and affection.
Ye Xiu held her hand, a gentle smile on his face. “Don’t hate, not for me. You've gone above and beyond my expectations. You don’t need to be shackled down by these kinds of feelings. I know you’re better than that.”
“You think too highly of me…” Su Mucheng sniffled, pressing her face against Ye Xiu’s arm as he led them to a more private area.
“No, I think of you as you are and who I know you will become.” There was nothing but certainty in his tone.
Su Mucheng tightened her grip on Ye Xiu's hand, not wanting to let go. Was she the kind of person that Ye Xiu believed her to be? She wasn’t sure, but if it was for Ye Xiu, she believed that she could be.
“After we win the championships, will you return with me to Beijing?" Ye Xiu asked, patting her head.
"Yes," Su Mucheng replied without hesitation, leaning into the warmth that Ye Xiu provided.
In this moment, the two had the same thought: Thank you, for coming into my life that day.
Ye Xu knew his time was coming, but he was fighting the specter every step of the way. There were still people that needed him and he still had promises he needed to carry out.
His “cold” had worsened to a point that even Tao Xuan began to treat him with more concern and care. It was almost like he had reverted back to the man he used to be when they had still referred to each other as Brother Tao and Little Ye. Ye Xiu refused all of it. It was too cruel to give him false hope and expectations.
There was no way that care was motivated by anything but the concern that Excellent Era would lose this championship without him. How hypocritical was it that they were still set on invalidating him even when he was the reason that they had made it this far? They wanted to win the championships, to get the most out of their sponsorship deals, but they also wanted to ensure that he had no credibility after this season. They needed someone to blame if anything went wrong, after all, so they simply followed tactical guidelines, not daring to make adjustments according to any situations.
Excellent Era had become a paragon of hubris and corruption. Informing them of his plan to retire made little to no difference. With the rot of contempt, jealousy, and hatred already so deeply rooted, mixed in with their tacit understanding of him, he could have done them the nicest favor and they'd still suspect him of trying to pull one over them. It was almost laughable how confused people became when they let vice control their mind and actions. Mostly, it was just sad and regrettable, especially when it hurt people that didn't deserve to be caught in the crossfire.
“Can you continue?” Tao Xuan asked before their match.
“Yes,” was Ye Xiu’s succinct response and no further comments were said.
I can't. Su Mucheng wanted to say, but when she saw Ye Xiu’s determined expression, she swallowed her words. Right now, what Ye Xiu needed was her strength and not her weakness.
“We'll win the championships,” Su Mucheng said instead, forcing cheer and confidence into her voice. “Go on, I’ll take care of things here.”
“Yes, vice-captain Su, ” He Ming replied, only half-joking. His comment immediately riled up Liu Hao, causing Wang Ze, Feng Fengran, Zhang Jiaxing, and the rest to hastily scoot away.
Ye Xiu nearly rolled his eyes as he left. Just as he turned around the corner, he ran into Hundred Blossoms heading to their prep room.
“Yo, Lele, here to be second place again?” Ye Xiu waved.
Zhang Jiale scowled at him. “Bastard! You dare say that to me right before the finals? Have you no shame?”
“Shame? What is that? You can give it to me if you find it. I like free things.”
Team Hundred Blossoms was rendered speechless.
Zhang Jiale hmphed, crossing his arms. “If this is your attempt at psychological warfare, you’re not trying hard enough.”
“Good because I wasn’t trying at all. If I actually managed to scare you with my lack of shame, then you should retire now.”
Zhang Jiale laughed dryly. “Leave your QQ open so I can say that to you when Excellent Era loses to Hundred Blossoms!”
“That’s the spirit! Good luck.” Ye Xiu smiled brightly, patting his arm in encouragement before walking off.
Zhang Jiale blinked after Ye Xiu, startled by how scarily sincere and nice that interaction was. Was Ye Qiu possessed? Was that even Ye Qiu? Was this some kind of new tactic to throw him off balance? If it was, it was unfortunately working because he was now wondering what was up with Ye Qiu beyond the long-lasting cold he seemed to have.
“Captain?” Zou Yuan questioned in bemusement, unable to comprehend the existence that was God Ye Qiu.
Zhang Jiale shook his head. “Nothing, just Old Ye being weird again.”
He turned to face his team. “Alright, everyone! Now's the time to get our heads in the game and win the championships! Otherwise, we'll never hear the end of it from Shameless Ye."
Ye Xiu headed backstage, familiar with all the hidden paths to get to where his player's booth was located. Looking out at the expansive stage, at all the bright lights and filled seats, Ye Xiu was struck with loss and remembrance. Regardless of the results this would be the last time Ye Xiu saw the stage as a player.
Before he could think about his actions, sentiment moved him to memorialize this moment.
“Hey, mister, can I borrow your phone real quick?” Ye Xiu asked a random backstage worker.
“Huh? Sure, sure,” the man responded and absent-mindedly handed over his phone, too busy setting up the stage to really pay attention.
Quickly logging into his Weibo account, Ye Xiu made his first Weibo post.
“Thanks,” Ye Xiu said, returning the phone to the worker.
“Mhmm," he replied, then froze.
Wait. Who was that and how did he get backstage?
The worker looked up to question him, but Ye Xiu had long since disappeared. Scratching his head in confusion, he returned to work, already pushing away the encounter in the bustle of preparing for the final match.
10-06, 2022 11:53
For the pursuit of a private dream and ideals that weren't meant to last, I’ve done all I can for Glory even as it changed over the years. Nearly four years have passed since the end of our dynasty. Today, we will claim it back before I say goodbye to the Glory Professional Alliance.
If I have any last words to say, I hope you will one day understand that Glory has never been meant to be played alone. Maybe one day you will also understand why I never gave up on Excellent Era despite everything.
#season7 #finals #glory #playoffs #excellentera #gloryprofressionalalliance #retirement
Immediately, his post received comments, likes, and shares.
Zhou Zekai V: Senior?
Jiang Botao V: I don't know what to say.
Du Ming V: Is this post even real?
Fang Minghua V: I'm questioning the same.
Lu Boyuan: What?
Quilin: why is everyone so shocked? did Ye Qiu not inform anyone about this?
Yan Hei: he's not the first to retire, but he's the first to suddenly retire with notice
Opion: yeah, but why?
Tyrannical Era: i'm so confused. who exactly is giving up on who? why is there so many different stories floating around? all the news about EE this year can't even be considered a hot mess, it's just a dumpster fire soaring through the skies
Goggle eyes: Excellent Era most likely has internal problems that they've been covering up. Check my pinned post in the forums under the 'Is it Ye Qiu or Excellent Era?' thread for all the analysis and comparisons fellow fans and I have done.
Blossom Fields: No way, why would God Ye have any problems with EE? There's no EE without Ye Qiu and there's no Ye Qiu without EE. Get out of here with your conspiracy theories, you're not a true fan of Excellent Era.
Jaded Boulder: Yeah, isn't God Ye just saying that he never gave up on EE because he always believed they'll win the championships again? Don't force God Ye's post to fit your delusions
Wu Lin: guys, you better take things more seriously when one of the master tacticians speak up. his commentary makes a lot of sense.
Excellent Senses: that's Tyranny's fucking master tactician, why the hell should we listen to him? Fucking Ye Qiu is already a disgrace for leaving his team. he's just a coward that ran away just because things got rough
Fighting words: you fucking take that back, Ye Qiu has a fucking right to retire. that doesn't make him a coward!!!! what do you want him to do? play until he's kicked out? play until he becomes an old man? Whose fan are you? you got some damn screws loose in your head
Fang Rui V: What the heck
Lin Jingyan V: What the heck +1
Li Xuan V: What the heck +2
Wu Yuce V: What the heck +3
Tian Sen V: What the heck +4
Yang Cong V: What the heck +5
Chu Yunxiu V: Why such a sad post? It’s not like we won’t see each other again. Don't be like that :(
Li Hua V: ...maybe we won't see him again?
Chu Yunxiu V: what do you mean by that? my heart can't take this much sadness
Xiao Shiqin V: it's already hard to get in contact with Captain Ye in the first place...
Li Xun V: yeah, there won't be any more chance encounters in bizarre places, no more face-slapping comments when you least expect it, no more strategies specifically dedicated to beating him...
Yu Feng V: i thought we'd all be excited about this, but unexpectedly, it feels like we're all on the train of sorrows...
Hidden God: OMG IT’S GOD YE’S FIRST EVER POST
Sunny Side Up: to announce he’s retiring :(
Crouching Tiger: stop reminding me
Moonshine: whether we remind you or not, it's not going to make any less true...
Misty Mist: the more I re-read this the more questions I have and the sadder I feel. What private dream? What ideals? What changes? Who's you? What is despite everything?
Huang Shaotian V: Shameless!!! Claiming a victory before you’ve even won??? Old Ye you better respond to me after the finals! What are you trying to say here? Retirement? Why are you retiring? What do you mean by despite everything? What do you mean by alone? The hell am I? Chopped okra? How many times have I messaged you only for you not to respond to any of my messages? #fuckwordlimits [grievances.pdf]
Yu Wenzhou V: Senior, your post leaves a lot of open-ended questions that raises even more open-ended questions
Song Xiao V: when captain can't come up with any analysis or answers, you know it's serious
Zheng Xuan V: I don't know if I should be saying this, but I feel a profound sense of exhaustion at senior's words...?
Xu Bin V: I think you're right?
Blue Moon: this entire post is one gigantic mood whiplash
Yiling: yeah, half of the netizens are at war, the other half is in tears or confusion...
Wang Jiexi V: What's going on? @Ye_Qiu
Sweeping Herbs: i wasn't prepared for all the emotional reacts from the pro players. i thought they'd troll each other, like usual, but why are all the responses so varied? especially the ones from god-tier players. they're all commenting as if they know something we don't
Running Clocks: it's because of the way he phrased his post. why's this so sad fuck what does God Ye mean by that line? Glory has never been meant to be played alone?
One Shot: that Glory has never been meant to be played alone? Obviously, it's a multi-player game centered around cooperation and communication. Other than the individual competition in the regular season, everything else pretty much requires them to work together. Maybe he's just reminding EE to keep up the good teamwork. Don't make this any sadder than this has to be when all these pro player reacts are sad enough
Tyranny Tops: are you fucking serious? It's insulting to both fans of Tyranny and REAL fans of Excellent Era that you call this season's shit point and drag teamwork. Did you notice how much Ye Qiu typed in the team chat this season? He basically stopped trash talking, so he could tell his team what to do at all times. Oh my God, why am I defending our most hated rival what the hell.
Domination: I guess even hate can develop into some twisted form of affection...?
Tea Time: Am I the only Tyranny fan that's kind of sad that this is the end of our epic rivalry...?
Chen Guo V: God Ye!!! Why are you retiring???? There’s no way you’re done!!! Tell me this isn't true!!!
Falling Blade: even gods have to retire. t's not like he's actually immortal :(
Misty Shores: no way, not God Ye, he's like...fucking Glory immortalized!!!
Rolex: Bro, what is even Glory without Ye Qiu? He basically laid the foundations of Glory meta long before the Glory Professional Alliance existed.
Lu Fan: yeah...you can still see his posts on the forum and his rankings in the first server...
The Real Ye Qiu V: Don’t scare me like this.
Stranger Things: Who are you really?
Ye Huang V: .
Yan Ling: oh my god why is such a powerful bigwig here? did he accidentally make a comment? but why is he here in the first place?
Wei: how the fuck do you not know who that is?
Qiansen: most of us are commoners who have no reason to ever come into contact or even know about people that beyond us???
Yan Ling: exactly, so why is such a powerful name here?????
Mini seahorse: hey, what the fuck, he's even following Ye Qiu's Weibo? What the fuck? Someone tell me my brain isn't making insane connections.
Wu Xuefeng V: ????????????????????????
Xia Ming V: @Wu_Xuefeng Even you have no idea what's going on?
Yin Xiong V: Why all of a sudden?
Xue Mingkai V: I knew there was something going on with Excellent Era. @Excellent_Era come out and explain to us all what's going on
Qin Tianran V: You're actually retiring? Like, actually retiring and not planning a hidden comeback?
Wei Chen V: what kind of grand departure are you trying to make here?
Lou Guanning V: Why is there even a grand departure???
Wen Kebei V: Someone tell me this is a lie. I can no longer see through my tears.
Lin Jie V: Am I reading too much into this?
Guo Mingyu V: I'm questioning the same? Is this what you call elderly instincts?
Fang Shijing V: fuck off with that
Unaware of the responses to his post, Ye Xiu entered the player’s booth, sat down, and put on his headphones. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his most beloved account card, One Autumn Leaf.
Ye Xiu held up the gleaming, silver card up against the glow of the computer screen, ten years worth of memories flashing through his mind.
“This will be our last match together, One Autumn Leaf. After that you and I will part ways, so let’s win the championships with everyone.”
Then everything will finally be over.
Excellent Era had squeezed through the group arena, but they fell apart at the most crucial moment in the team competition.
It was going to be 1 v 3.
Bitter acceptance warred with steely resolve before everything was overpowered by pure instinct. Ye Xiu didn't have time to process anything. In that millisecond right before Dancing Rain's HP dropped to 0, Ye Xiu moved without thinking and put his all into making these last few seconds count.
Excellent Era needed those points they had lost in the group arena.
His hands flew across the keyboard, the ka, ka, ka of keys mirroring the thump, thump, thump of his accelerating heart rate, coughs building up in his chest—
Excellent Era, Champions!
The entire stadium was shaking with the results of the championships. He could hear both Pan Lin and Li Yibo freaking out over the final scene and his record-breaking performance.
Ye Xiu allowed himself a moment of relief pride bitterness sadness hope before he focused on the more concerning fact that he couldn't get his breathing under control.
Amidst the roars of the crowd, Ye Xiu left the player booth and stumbled towards a hidden corridor near the VIP area where a few pro players were seated. He managed to get a glimpse of Excellent Era standing onstage with the trophy raised high before he turned away, pressing a shaking hand against the corridor wall, breaths coming out in ragged gasps. Ye Xiu leaned against the corridor wall and pulled out his bronchodilator to open his airways, but didn't feel the effects of the medication.
This meant that it was something much worse. Ye Xiu knew the signs of end-stage symptoms and the complications that came with it, but it wasn't supposed to have progressed this fast. He clutched at his chest.
Ye Qiu was waiting for him. Ye Xiu pushed against the wall, forcing himself to move forward despite his body's protests. His vision started to blur in and out of focus and his legs gave up on him just as he reached the exit. Someone caught him just before he hit the ground and he raised his eyes to see Ye Qiu's frightened and horrified face.
Not yet, not like this.
"What happening? What's going on? What do you need?" Ye Qiu was frantic as he tried to reach for his phone to call an ambulance only to have it slip from his fingers in his panic. "Ge, you need to tell me what to do, I—I don't know what to do!"
"...Qiu..." Ye Xiu wheezed and tried to speak, only to feel a sensation akin to his lungs collapsing in upon themselves. He couldn't breathe, and in a few seconds, he became aware of nothing but his lack of air and the feeling of something wet trickling down his mouth as he coughed.
“Hold on—Hold on, okay? Stay with me!"
"Ye Qiu! W-what happened?"
"Mucheng, go get help! Go now!"
His ears fill with waves and past the ocean's roar, Ye Xiu dimly heard the sound of thunder approach. For a few seconds, there was a cacophony that Ye Xiu couldn't comprehend. He could no longer even tell up from down or left from right.
“Old Ye, don't, d-dont—”
“Stay with us!”
A familiar face swam into his vision, but he couldn’t tell who it was. There were tears on their face and Ye Xiu blinked, tasting copper on his lips as he smiled.
(Why were they crying?)
He tried to raise his hands to their face, but he couldn’t seem to feel his arms or the rest of his body for that matter. Anxious and bewildered, Ye Xiu blinked slowly as he tried to figure out what was going on.
(Where was he?)
“Please, please, please, keep fighting. Don’t leave me alone.”
“Ye Qiu, oh God—”
“The ambulance is on—”
(Why couldn’t he breathe?)
“You stupid—don’t you dare, you promised, you promised—!”
(He tried to hang on.)
(But he felt himself slipping.)
(His eyes slowly slipped closed.)
”In pursuit of a dream, in pursuit of Glory, Ye Xiu relentlessly challenged all odds, defying everyone’s expectations of him. The public viewed him to be an untouchable god at the peak of Glory, someone mysterious and incomprehensible. Practically inhuman. More recently, there have been debates about whether or not he set up Excellent Era to look like the villain after what happened."
Su Mucheng looked at the cameras, calm and poised against the blinding flashes.
“But if any of you knew about what kind of person he is...was...at heart, then none of you would doubt his character. From the very start, he had been nothing but professional, dedicated, and self-sacrificing. Ye Xiu knew exactly what he was putting on the line when he chose to stay with Excellent Era, but he cared too much to let go. Maybe I should've tried harder to make him let go...but I'm not here to talk about regrets, I'm here to tell you about the person behind the faceless god that everyone knows, behind the scheming villain that Excellent Era is trying to paint him to be."
The press officer pointed to a random reporter in the sea of raised hands.
"Who are you to Ye Xiu that you can tell us more about him?" A reporter threw out and the entire room tensed in anticipation. Everyone watching the news conference wanted to know the answer, to have all the speculations and rumors cleared up.
"I'm someone who has been by Ye Xiu's side before the start of Glory," Su Mucheng replied. Shocked exclamations filled the air. “To me...he was my best friend...my guardian...the best brother that anyone could ask for.”
“Your brother?” A reporter couldn't help but exclaim. Murmurs spread across the conference room as everyone hastily typed or wrote down this information.
Su Mucheng nodded. “Yes, not by blood, but in all that matters. Ye Xiu raised me alongside my blood brother. The both of them worked hard to take care of me by earning money through playing games. It wasn't always enough to support the three of us, but my brothers were talented, so it wasn't hard to find work. They were well known in many internet cafes back then. Actually, I was there when Excellent Era was nothing more than an internet cafe where they spent most of their time."
More shocked murmurs. No one knew the full story behind Excellent Era's creation. This would be the first time that their true history would be revealed. Another sea of hands, another random hand picked.
"Can you explain to us what role Excellent Era played in this incident?" The reporter asked. Su Mucheng paused, expression tightening before it smoothed out again.
“Instead of answering that question, I want to tell you all a story. A story that explains the rise and fall of Excellent Era. One that began with two orphan siblings and a runaway who crashed into their lives. A runaway who I never expected to walk alongside me for as long as he did and who I wished I could have continued walking alongside until the ends of time. Someone who had nothing but love for Glory and for his friends and family...Someone who shouldn't have died the way he did.” Su Mucheng turned to look directly at the reporter who asked the question, who froze at her steely, fiery gaze.
“And from this story," Su Mucheng demanded. "I want you all to discern the truth."
Because the truth was the least of what Ye Xiu deserved and Su Mucheng was the kindest of those seeking justice and retribution. Ye Xiu had taught her not to hate, but the same couldn't be said for everyone else.
This was just the beginning.
“When he died, all things soft and beautiful and bright would be buried with him.”
― Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles