It could have been any match; a regular match, a play-off match, even the finals or even on the world stage. Team Tiny Herb was playing in this match.
It was a team competition.
The map was the Moon-Viewing Forest – infamous since the day Team Happy buried Team Tyranny’s Four Heavenly Kings under a landslide. A full moon shone over a tiny village, forests on all four sides. The village itself could be divided into four areas: south-west had a blacksmith’s shop; north-east a trading post, south-east was a storehouse with lookout tower attached; north-west was the residential district, complete with tree-houses. Sometimes, a rope bridge was found hanging in between houses. A lake lay to the south; in the north the village’s altar was the widest flat area in the entire map without obstruction, no matter how surrounded in forestry it was.
A figure stood on the altar, a wide-brimmed hat hiding his face. A broom hung from one hand; a clock fluttered in an animated breeze. The ID above this figure’s head spelled out this character’s identity – Vaccaria.
The treetops rustled; enemies appeared. The whistle of Anti-Tank Missiles made Vaccaria skip away, half-riding the broom in his hand as eight Stinger missiles fell down. Vaccaria sped to close the distance between the enemy Launcher and himself.
Beneath the feet, a Sword Boundary began to coalesce.
“We forgot Ghost Lantern!” Someone had typed into the open chat.
The Sword Boundary was amongst the key assets any Ghostblade brought to a team, increasing the Strength and Intelligence stats of the caster’s allies within it. Those increased stats made Vaccaria much stronger and faster, disposing of the Launcher without much fuss.
“Quick, find the other one-”
A Dark Boundary fell. Amidst the curses and frantic directions, Vaccaria followed the lighting of a third overlapping Boundary, this one composed of ice crystals suspended in mid-air which froze another enemy. A graceful curve illuminated the night as a violet crescent smacked the frozen enemy into the crevice between Dark and Ice Boundaries, ending in the shimmer of a Tachi wielded under the moon.
The newcomer was a Swordsman – specifically, a Ghostblade.
He wore cloth armour, leather boots, and a horned mask similar to demons as depicted in Peking opera. The Tachi’s blade glittered under the moon before the blade turned in the other’s wrist.
Both boundaries erupted, as the demons of frost and darkness began to claw and chew the trapped opponents, sending their health plummeting down. Ghostblade and Witch changed places in a heartbeat, Vaccaria threw down a Lava Flask, turning the whole area into a sea of lava at the same time that purple flames joined the bubbling molten rock – a Flame Boundary had been cast too, adding to the damage output over time.
Riding on the broom, Vaccaria swooped down, sleeves unfurled into a Shadow Cloak. The Cloak wrapped the enemies into a round ball which was then clawed at and trapped onto the ground in a ripple – a low-level Wave Wheel Slasher, a Spellblade grab skill. Making a sudden perpendicular brake, the Witch tossed out a ray which made everything around save Vaccaria’s partner seem much heavier.
Level 75 Witch skill, Gravity Acceleration Shot, imploded into the enemies.
Only then, finally, did Vaccaria turn his head to regard this silent partner for whom no words had been needed to team up with:
Ghostblade – Ghost Lantern.
Ghost Lantern extended a hand towards Vaccaria.
Under the moon of reunion and the tree of yearning, Vaccaria’s hand reached out-
Cold sweat dotted his brow as Gao Yingjie woke up then.
Again, a hand was brushing at his forehead, concentrated on the furrow of his brow. “Were you so worried about the World Glory Competition that you forgot to eat?” That tender voice murmured to him. “Yingjie.”
“...I don’t need you to scold me, Yifan.” Gao Yingjie automatically rebutted back. “I just... got exhausted. Trying to bring glory to the country. Why are you here?”
“I am the captain of the Chinese Glory Team. When my team-mate falls, I must be here.” Qiao Yifan smiled down at him. “Anyway, I’ve dealt with worse.”
“You say that because your Team Happy is ridiculous,” Gao Yingjie fired back. “It left that trauma on us – me, Little Song, Little Lu.”
“Caijie and Xinran might beg to disagree.” Qiao Yifan batted his eyelashes back. “Need to go back to Tiny Herb soon?”
“...no. We have the National Team practice.” Gao Yingjie nodded slowly. “I’ll be there soon.”
“Then... I’ll go down and reassure the rest.” Qiao Yifan stood to leave.
“...Yifan. I... dreamt about us.”
The footsteps stopped.
“I dreamt that, if we had made a Ghostblade for you, we would have named it Ghost Lantern,” Gao Yingjie nodded. “For the winter cherry, like the rest of our team’s characters.1 We would have fought shoulder to shoulder, under the moon of reunion and the tree of yearning-”
Teeth clicked shut.
When Qiao Yifan’s face turned back, a smile which was not quite a smile was already on his face. It reminded Gao Yingjie of the newspapers commenting that somehow, Team Happy’s third captain Qiao Yifan had taken after Team Blue Rain’s retired captain Yu Wenzhou more than anyone else in their generation. This was in comparison to the next controller of Swoksaar too.
“Yingjie, are we still talking about this?” Qiao Yifan stated. “Senior Wang Jiexi was entirely correct in that I was not suited to Tiny Herb, and Tiny Herb did not need me then. I admit that this is a rather sore spot, but I do not have the same talents as all of you...” he trailed off.
All of you who were groomed to succeed the gods of professional Glory, Qiao Yifan did not mention. One Inch Ash stood out from the All-Stars – an account that could truly boast to have climbed its way up from grassroots to champion. Crying Devil and Carved Ghost, once their controllers had retired, could no longer hold One Inch Ash back from claiming the title of The Foremost Ghostblade. What a pity, fans and haters alike used to say, that Qiao Yifan had not taken over Rangoon Creeper then.
The Witch and the Demon had shocked the world in the previous World Glory Competition – and it would only be on the international stage that the witch and the demon find each other under the light of the moon once more.
“I love you like I love Glory, Yingjie,” Qiao Yifan smiled, “but I love Team Happy too. So buck up; that dream of yours would only happen on the international stage now.”