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Flowers Dedicated to the Cold of Winter

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Chapter 1: The Mystical Fang Minghua

Fang Minghua was a mystical being.

This was something that all pro players in the Alliance knew. Even Ye Xiu would pause when mentioning Fang Minghua, utter a short “eh” of hesitance and deliberation, before being able to continue the topic of conversation.

Therefore, when Fang Minghua abruptly popped in during a fast-moving conversation in the Golden Generation QQ group chat with an “ahem” – the chat went utterly silent for a good ten seconds.

Congratulations, Mystical Fang Minghua successfully killed the conversation for the nth time.

 

Fang Minghua was not a player with a lot of presence. Or, put in other words, except for the later additions of Jiang Botao and Sun Xiang, everyone in Samsara did not have much presence when out of the playing field. It was likely a speciality of City S men, that they were used to limiting their social circle to a rather restricted radius. So, this held true for those like Lu Boyuan, Wu Qi and Du Ming on Weibo and WeChat, and also held true for the aloof existence of someone taciturn like Zhou Zekai, whom they would draw a moustache on when asleep. During a lively conversation in group chats, it was indeed very rare to see even the flicker of their shadow.

“O Great Fang, do you have any teachings to impart?” Chu Yunxiu asked carefully. She typed this with one hand. With her other hand, she pushed the cup of water next to the keyboard a little further away. She still remembered the previous time Fang Minghua popped up in the group chat – once he spoke, it straightaway was “I’m about to get married and I want to gift you all some wedding candy.” That time, Chu Yunxiu was so shocked that she overturned the milk tea in her hand, devastating the entire table. /1

“It’s like this.” Again, Fang Minghua merely typed a few words.

Everyone’s fingers hovered above the keyboard. They all shouted loudly in their hearts: Fuck! What on earth is it, can’t you just quickly get it out!

“Damnit I’m going to suffocate to death, what’s it, is your wife pregnant are you already going to be a dad?” Huang Shaotian could not hold himself back.

As the remaining people lined up to send Huang Shaotian a thumbs up in their heart, they also continued to chain “+1”, “+2”, “+3” … Yet, when everyone had taken pains to queue up to “+24”, Yu Wenzhou absurdly slid in with a “+26.”

“Sorry my bad, my hands were a little quick this time,” Yu Wenzhou hurriedly apologised in a crusade of “so rare that everyone lined up this smoothly without anyone snatching places, and it actually ended up being deadlast trying to snatch his place.” /2

The flood began anew, and the topic swiftly shifted from Fang Minghua. Young men over twenty years of age always possessed boundless spirit and vigour, added alongside the special skill of superhuman hand speed that pro players needed to vent. Therefore, when Xiao Shiqin spammed the noisy discussion about the hot topic of Glory’s CEO remarrying the previous CEO with a row of “Let Fang Minghua speak!”, Fang Minghua then re-emerged again with a sweating emoji.

 

In the year that the fourth season rookies debuted, Glory headquarters faced a great upheaval. One of the CEOs, who had followed the other CEO to leave Blizzard Entertainment, fought a long-protracted lawsuit against the company. Su Mucheng and Chu Yunxiu live-streamed this major news that they jokingly called ‘the divorce and child abuse’. This caught so much steam that everyone suspected the all-time top thread on the Glory forums called <Divorce!> was erected by the combined forces of these two female pro players.

“Turbulent times call for great heroes!” That was the catchphrase most often hanging off the tip of Huang Shaotian’s tongue in the days that came. This was because the ‘Golden Generation’ had rapidly matured in the age when this game ‘Glory’ was in a precarious state of possibly being completely deleted at any moment. This upheaval also resulted in the steep decline of people debuting in the fifth season, for the two players publicly acknowledged as the most promising talents went off to play in another league, causing Chairman Feng such heartache that his face during his successive public appearances the week after was ghastly pale.

If even Glory could be written into a history book, the fourth season would most certainly be one of the lengthiest chapters due to the emergence and rise in prominence of impressive players in the fourth season. When Alliance matches progressed into its sixth year, Glory had smoothly developed into the biggest professional competition in the e-sports scene without any rivals. Afterwards, expanding like a logarithmic expression, flattening matches of other leagues into space fillers in the second and third pages of the E-Sports Weekly.

Meanwhile, that long-protracted ‘divorce’ case was finally announced to be settled out-of-court the day after the sixth season championships concluded. The <Divorce!> forum thread claimed a spot on the homepage for too long; it had too many comments and lagged terribly every time it was opened. Therefore, after disabling the comment function for this thread, the forum thread owner edited a message in the pinned posts. This paragraph was taken from the epilogue of the autobiography by Glory’s CEO fresh off the press:

The original intention I had when founding this game was to create an entirely new world. When I look back and scrutinise the lawsuit of these past two years, what delights me most is that while we were focused on disputing over profit and material gain in the real world, this fictitious world continued to flourish and mature. The maps expanded, the levels rose, the number of players increased. The business of Alliance matches in every country are all prospering. When I logged into my game account that had been covered in dust for quite some time and stood in front of the city gates of Congee City, I recalled the moment that I had decided to make this game.

That day, I was standing under Richard’s housing block. Dazzling light abruptly shone on my body. I thought it was some child playing a prank on me, but when I lifted my head to seek out the source of the light, it was a window that was gently being opened. Then, Richard’s face appeared at the window. I stood amidst this large solar flare and hollered, “I’ve got a new idea!” He immediately sprinted down. That window was still left open over there. As I stood enveloped by light, I felt a sort of drowsiness, as if stepping into a warm and bright dreamscape.

Perhaps even to this day, I have yet to awaken from this beautiful dream.

“If this isn’t love, then what is!” Su Mucheng sent a teary-faced emoji into the group chat.

“I can’t believe that such a beautiful dream exists!” Chu Yunxiu also sent a teary-faced emoji.

Shortly after that, Fang Minghua appeared in the group chat and threw a bomb, saying that he was about to get married.

Huang Shaotian flooded the screen with keyboard smashing. Chu Yunxiu spilt the milk tea in her hand.

“Are you of legal age?” In the end, it was Yu Wenzhou who directly asked the most pertinent question in the midst of a sustained barrage in the chat.

“Yeah, I’ve always been two years older than you all.” Fang Minghua also swiftly captured the main point and replied with haste.

“Respect!!!” Huang Shaotian flooded again.

Yu Wenzhou eyed the ruffled hair of Huang Shaotian, body sprawled across the table whilst swiftly rapping the keyboard beside him; no matter how he looked at him, he only saw a young and immature child. Then, he looked at the other computer beside him. It was switched off. He inspected himself in the screen. There was still subtly visible baby fat that he had yet to shed wrapping his lower jaw; no matter how he looked at himself, he could not see a grown man.

Furthermore, he and Zhang Xinjie were even publicly acknowledged as the most mature players of the fourth season! But Fang Minghua was already about to get married! This was too terrifying!

“Terrifying!” Li Xuan helped him voice out the words in his heart. “O Great Fang, the last time you popped up was to tell us that promoting Zhou Zekai as captain and letting Zhang Yiwei walk off was your idea. That was already terrifying enough. I never thought that this time you could be even more alarming.”

Instantly, everyone swiftly recalled for a moment the previous time Fang Minghua broke in unexpectedly during the electrifying news of ‘Plaintiff CEO denounced Defendant CEO as a cold and ruthless bastard’. And they further affirmed that this was a man with unfathomable depths.

Even if he was not an extraordinarily gifted player, even if there were persons who debuted in the same season such as Zhang Xinjie, the sacred and holy Cleric of the Alliance who had won a championship in his debut year, even if Samsara had never been a team that could break into the playoffs till Zhou Zekai forcibly pulled them into the first round – nevertheless, O Great Fang really was a mystical being.

 

No one knew what the mystical Fang Minghua was mulling over. Because after Xiao Shiqin cleared the flood in the chat, at present, the conversation history only showed that sweating emoji Fang Minghua sent, along with another one, and another one.

Zhang Xinjie had a sudden epiphany. He swiftly knocked out a line, then saw that his message appeared on the screen at the same time as Fang Minghua’s message.

“Has anyone taken care of a cat before? I remember seeing you all talk about new-born kittens in the chat before.”

“Could it be that the mystical cat Samsara is raising has given birth?”

 

It was 23rd November, 2026. The extensive cold ocean current of this winter day had yet to retreat. Most of the country was facing rain and snow. The northern areas received snow and sleet; the southern areas instead received an unending rain and leaves that never stopped falling. The weather was excessively cold and damp. If it were possible, everyone would like to huddle into a ball. Therefore, several clubs straightforwardly cancelled practice for the day. Practically all the pro players were sitting in front of the computer screen idly surfing through web pages or watching television dramas.

However, the mystical Fang Minghua brought a piece of mystical news: the cat that Samsara was raising was about to give birth.

For some reason, all of them wanted to jump to their feet and pace a few rounds around the room.



Chapter 2: The Mystical Jiang Botao

23rd November, 2026 was a Monday. Just the previous week, a cold ocean current had wreaked havoc across the great motherland. Consequently, during the so-called ‘Light Snow’ of the solar term on the Sunday of the previous week, light snow really did drift into a few northern cities. /3

After Samsara played a match in City Q against Tyranny on Saturday, they were in a great flurry to rush back the very same night. Zhang Xinjie could not comprehend it at all: it’s understandable for people like Han Wenqing with elderly joints and hips, but Samsara was a group of young men, were they actually this afraid of the cold?

Except for Sun Xiang who still was shivering in his thin team uniform, everyone else in Samsara was all uniformly bundled in pre-prepared down jackets. Zhou Zekai had even drawn up the hood, his slight face practically engulfed by the voluminous fur lining it, such that Zhang Xinjie was a little doubtful if he could see where he was walking. /4

Sun Xiang walked out of the stadium. He stood aggressively in the midst of snowflakes and rain turned sleet for a few seconds. Then, he pounced decisively, sliding imposingly down the thin ice to throw himself over Du Ming as he reached out to tear at his jacket.

“Help! Captain save me! Vice-Captain save me! This is murder!” Du Ming pulled his own collar with one hand and used his other to pinch Sun Xiang’s bicep. This was Sun Xiang’s weak point – he was afraid of being tickled and afraid of pain. One pinch would be enough to make him leap away with an anguished howl like a cat that had its tail pulled. Furthermore, Zhou Zekai and Jiang Botao who were called over could pull Du Ming out of the siege and could also cause Sun Xiang to feel some apprehension. Du Ming gave himself a thousand thumbs up in his heart for summing up such a perfect, workable and effective tactic in the thick of a close-combat assault.

“Show some teammate love!” Naturally, Sun Xiang was not willing to show weakness. He leveraged on his superior height to suppress Du Ming with an arm locked against his neck.

“Whose fault is it for not bringing your own clothes! Vice-Captain clearly sent a message to everyone!” Du Ming added extra pressure into the pinch on Sun Xiang’s arm, even twisting it slightly and immediately heard a sharp inhale by his ear. The arm locked in a chokehold against his neck tightened slightly.

“Stop fighting. Sun Xiang, are you really very cold? I can give you my uniform jacket.” Jiang Botao finally was unable to bear the firm glare of ‘are you not going to mind them?’ ‘keep them under control!’ that Han Wenqing kept on him and turned over to shout at Sun Xiang before he ended up tossing his wallet out.

Zhou Zekai raised his head with a swish and pulled his hood to the back, revealing his eyes. Then, he too removed his own uniform jacket and passed it to Sun Xiang. Instantly, Sun Xiang was wearing four uniform jackets that, in his opinion, were somewhat tight. As it was nearing closing hours, there were not a lot of people at the shopping mall. He intended to buy a new down jacket.

As the guide, Zhang Xinjie huddled with Team Samsara in a booth at the café on the first floor. He attempted to get Sun Xiang to go himself to the male apparel department on the fourth floor, but Sun Xiang was unwilling, insistent on dragging Wu Qi along. In the end, Wu Qi threw his hand off and shouted, “Are you a girl, why do you need someone to accompany you! Forget it forget it, I’ll go okay.” So, he followed him up the escalator. On the other side, Jiang Botao bought for every person a drink that they each liked with great familiarity.

Speaking of which, Jiang Botao was a mystical being too.

He was a player that debuted in the sixth season. Yet, he could smoothly chat with the great gods of the earlier seasons, as if he himself was also of the same generation without anyone feeling that he was being greasy. If the reason really must be pursued, it was probably that he had a sort of ineffable sincerity, as if every time he asked you “have you eaten yet?”, he was really concerned – have you eaten yet? What did you eat? Did you enjoy your food? Not a mere standard phrase to break ice or start a conversation; therefore, people were willing to continue chatting with him. /5

“Little Jiang is really good at chatting.” Ye Xiu, who was then still called Ye Qiu, couldn’t help the sigh that escaped.

“Thank you God Ye for your praise,” Jiang Botao sent a smiley face.

“This somewhat feels like playing mahjong while chatting, and somehow all the coins in my pocket would end up with you.” Ye Xiu sent a smoking emoji. /6

“Wtf!” Huang Shaotian flooded the screen with all sorts of emojis, “Jiang Botao, just now were you setting up our little friend to tell you our tactics!”

“I wasn’t!” Jiang Botao sent an innocent wide-eyed emoji.

“However, I’m very good at playing mahjong,” Jiang Botao again followed it with a winking emoji.

“Really! Then let’s play a round someday when we have a match together,” Lin Jingyan piped in. As a master of dirty playing that debuted in the early seasons, he truly rather liked chatting with Jiang Botao. It wasn’t tiring; Ye Qiu was too black-hearted, Han Wenqing was too boring, Zhang Jiale was too noisy. The junior was still the best, both clever and good at blowing praises when needed.

“QQ Mahjong?” Jiang Botao sent a room number.

“Hey, I actually didn’t think of that! Coming, coming!” Lin Jingyan immediately went along to play mahjong. This was already the fourth time this week that a pro player followed Jiang Botao into a QQ Mahjong game.

“What’s with this atmosphere! @Little Zhou, are you not going to mind your vice-captain?” Ye Xiu tagged Zhou Zekai.

After a very long time, when the conversation had long run a million miles away, Zhou Zekai then popped in. A mobile symbol was perched on the lower right corner of his profile picture. Evidently, he was using his phone to go onto QQ. He sent over three full-stops.

Huang Shaotian accurately dragged Zhou Zekai out with his flooding screen technique. “@Zhou Zekai, what are you laughing at me for!”

The conversation had already progressed into a group roasting of Huang Shaotian that Ye Xiu had incited, causing Huang Shaotian to hide his online status from the previous match till the end of the season. No matter how one looked at it, these three full-stops that Zhou Zekai sent seemed to be mocking him too.

One minute later, Zhou Zekai sent another three full-stops.

Huang Shaotian flooded the screen with puking blood emojis, and everyone lined up to laugh at him.

“Captain wished to reply to God Ye that I really play mahjong well, so he does not need to mind me. The second message was him wishing to reply to Huang Shao that he doesn’t have anything to laugh at you for.” Jiang Botao materialised to translate for Zhou Zekai while playing mahjong with Lin Jingyan.

“There’s a Zhang Jiale fan in the same room as us,” Jiang Botao sent a screenshot in passing.

That person’s profile picture was a cartoon image with short pigtails, and the ID was ‘Le Le is the Champion’.

“The knife went in, the knife went in!” Before Zhang Jiale could say anything, Ye Xiu leapt up first.

“Fuck off!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Zhang Jiale flooded three screen spaces full of exclamation marks. Huang Shaotian felt that he himself couldn’t lose to him, so he followed along and flooded a fourth screen space worth.

During this type of flooding in a large group chat like this, most players that debuted after the fifth season would not speak. They only needed to watch the first to fourth season players chat – or, better put, mutually drag each other down – and that would be sufficient. Even within the few people of the fifth season, Fang Rui who was livelier in everyone’s impression did not say much either. So, Jiang Botao appeared particularly mystical; a special crane standing amidst a flock of chickens, no that’s not quite right, a special chicken standing amidst a flock of cranes.

 

Zhang Xinjie looked at the mineral water that could not be any purer that was placed in front of him. He took it, drank a mouthful and asked, “Why are you all in such a rush to go back? I saw on Weibo that Little Zhou had been looking forward to seeing snow for a long time.”

“The cat that our team is raising is about to give birth.” Fang Minghua who was seated beside him helped Zhou Zekai opposite him scoop up a ladle of cream, adding it to that cup of latte of his that already looked to have exceedingly high sugar content.

“Tss.” Even a person as calm and austere as Zhang Xinjie could not stop himself from expelling a surprised breath, “About to give birth?!”

“Yeah,” Fang Minghua took out his phone and swiped through his photo album. Several rows of images were all that of his wife. Zhang Xinjie silently lit a raging bonfire in his heart and carefully arranged the table salt, cumin and chilli in the condiment stand beside him.

“Look, it’s this one,” Fang Minghua clicked into a photo.

As Zhang Xinjie deliberated over how to praise this cat whose appearance truly looked rather unorthodox, Fang Minghua opened his mouth to speak first, “Doesn’t it look very ugly? But this cat is truly mystical. Oh wait, I can’t believe it is already ten. Don’t you have to rush back to sleep soon? When is Sun Xiang ever going to come back, did he see something triggering again and corrupt Wu Qi as well? Little Zhou, do you want to go up and rescue them?”

So, this club Samsara, after obtaining a mystical Fang Minghua and a mystical Jiang Botao, they also obtained a mystical cat.



Chapter 3: The Mystical Samsara Cat

Even if Fang Minghua did not often send messages in the pro player group chats, everyone still found out how he had become acquainted with his current wife through various channels.

The source of this gossip was Zheng Xuan of Blue Rain.

“@Fang Minghua @Fang Minghua @Fang Minghua, how did you meet your wife? Quickly give me some gossip material!” Zheng Xuan summoned Fang Minghua in the fourth season group chat.

Everyone thundered in their heart, “I’ve been waiting for this moment!” as they enthusiastically lined up to 26. In between, there were several slip-ups, and they had to re-line up three times.

“Love at first sight,” Fang Minghua replied with these concise and comprehensive four words.

Everyone replied him with many rows of ellipses.

“What sort of method is love at first sight?!” Zheng Xuan determinedly chipped away.

“I went to buy dumplings with Little Zhou at Huaihai Road. You all know that store selling dumplings right, it’s only there for a very short period around the Dragon Boat Festival. Captain Yu and Huang Shao came by to eat it before during a match, once.”

“I remember, I remember! It was delicious! Buy some next year, I’ll get on a plane to collect them.” Huang Shaotian who had interrupted was ganged up upon by everyone who had been attentively listening to this tale of romance.

“On the road back, I saw a lady. My heart thumped loudly, and my mind went blank. I didn’t even realise that Little Zhou had to pull me across the traffic light intersection. By the time I regained my senses, I shoved the items to Little Zhou and went to chase her.”

“That’s it?” After half a minute of silence in the group, Zheng Xuan asked.

“That’s it.” Fang Minghua sent a smiley face.

“I’ve a question,” Su Mucheng asked, “weren’t you scared that that lady would fall for Little Zhou upon seeing him then?”

“I got Little Zhou to wear his cap and run off ahead without turning his head back. I owe my lifetime of fortune to this action of his.”

“How devious!” Everyone flooded.

 

While the story sounded as simple as that, Fang Minghua had genuinely put a lot of his heart and soul into it. An e-sports player who had not even graduated from high school, barely above twenty years of age yet already wishing to tie his life to a woman till death do them part – even Zhou Zekai had not believed that Fang Minghua could accomplish this, not even mentioning the lady herself and the lady’s parents. /7

Fang Minghua sprinted up Sinan Road. On both sides of the road, the London planetrees just started to grow leaves again. That day was a seldom seen bright and beautiful spring day in City S. He was wearing a blue checkered shirt with a grey wool cardigan over it, sprinting along the road that he liked the most, whereas the lady that he had fallen in love at first sight with was wearing a black wool skirt and a short red overcoat. Even if it was a mere hurried glimpse, Fang Minghua remembered her entirety extremely vividly. He could even say with conviction that she was 164cm tall, and the heel of her ankle boots was 4cm high.

Fang Minghua was not a particularly outstanding e-sports player. He lacked the necessary keen intuition of the gifted. If it were not for Samsara’s Cleric sudden retirement due to injury back then, he likely would have ultimately given up Glory, finish his own high school education, go on to graduate from university and successfully integrate as an ordinary person amongst the countless ordinary people in City S. But perhaps this ‘variability’ was in itself the essence of life. A chance was abruptly placed in front of Fang Minghua. He had put in a lot of hard work. In his mind, every corner of the map, every avatar of his teammates, every avatar of the opponents – they were all not the full picture, but each an individual piece of data.

If you were to ask any e-sports player, how many usable maps were there in the Glory Alliance competition, the overwhelming majority would answer that they do not know. If you were to ask Fang Minghua, he would accurately answer, “4673 maps.”

There were times when he would doubt himself too. Especially in comparison to Zhang Xinjie who debuted in the same season as he. He clearly knew which teammate needed heals from the data, but which skill should he use? When should he use it? He needed to think about all of this, therefore would always hesitate. He couldn’t help thinking: if I were to use this skill now, and someone needs it later, what should I do?

However, in Fang Minghua’s entire life, there were fundamentally two things that he did exceptionally decisively. The first, committing himself irrevocably to recommend Zhou Zekai who was then still a teenager over and over again to the higher-ups. The second, on that bright and beautiful spring day, he turned back to sprint like the wind towards that lady whom he had fallen in love at first sight with.

“Hello, can I get to know you?” Fang Minghua panted.

“No, no thanks,” the lady did not even lift her head.

 

“What should I do?” Fang Minghua propped a hand against his cheek as he looked towards the entrance of the university across from him. In front, Zhou Zekai who had originally been using a magazine to block his face brought it down a little, revealing a pair of eyes that stared at him.

“You should cut your hair soon,” Fang Minghua’s attention was momentarily diverted by his overly long fringe. After a moment, he grew troubled again, “Chasing a lady is really very difficult, the so-called love at first sight actually turned out to be one-sided on my end.”

Zhou Zekai pressed his forehead against the magazine, thought a moment, and abruptly said, “My mother.”

“Where’s your mother?” Fang Minghua’s head swivelled around wildly, clearly not understanding what Zhou Zekai meant.

“My mother, she’ll help you,” Zhou Zekai said as he made to stand up, pulling Fang Minghua outside. He had always been a person who acted before he spoke; Fang Minghua, too, did not let him explain, and only followed after.

 

Zhou Zekai’s house was relatively near to Samsara’s training base. It could originally be considered a very small district called Lu Wan. However, when Zhou Zekai had attended primary school, Lu Wan District was merged with Huang Pu. When it first started, Zhou Zekai was very unused to it; even till now, he still unconsciously considered himself a Lu Wan native and not a Huang Pu native.

Zhou Zekai’s mother was beautiful. Her facial features were very similar to Zhou Zekai. Fang Minghua knew that she was teaching in a medical school in a nearby district and only had to go to work five months a year. She was usually at home, and she passed time very idly. When Fang Minghua arrived, Mother Zhou was painting while seated on a high stool. Zhou Zekai let Fang Minghua sit on the sofa, shoved a fruit platter into his hand, kicked a rubbish bin over next to his feet; then for himself, dragged a shorter stool over to sit beside Mother Zhou.

Fang Minghua felt that he likely had some special mode for communicating with his own mother. For Zhou Zekai had not said more than a few words, Mother Zhou immediately put down her brush and excitedly walked over to sit by his side. Very happily, she said, “Fang Minghua, you like her.”

Zhou Zekai also dragged his short stool over and stole away a few cherries from the fruit platter in Fang Minghua’s hands.

“Since you started chasing her, is there anything you frequently do?”

“Uh, I often send her flowers.”

“Then continue sending her flowers, different ones every time.”

 

Thus, under Mother Zhou’s guidance, Fang Minghua persisted in sending the lady flowers. According to Mother Zhou, the truth was that women greatly dislike people prying harrowingly into their private affairs. Hence, he needed to have a fine grasp of pursuit and letting go. He had to be patient and let the other unconsciously get to know him. So, she got Fang Minghua to attach a card every time he sent flowers, writing some interesting thing or interesting person he encountered during the past couple days. At the start, Fang Minghua was so vexed he could die, feeling that there wasn’t much interesting to write about his daily life, at most only things like ‘Samsara has won the championships hahaha’ would be good to write.

If he was still unable to sleep at midnight, he would knock the wall. Zhou Zekai living in the dormitory room next to his at that time had met the rookie wall and was always watching match recordings alone late into the night. He had very sharp ears. No more than a few seconds after Fang Minghua finished knocking the wall, he would bring over some snack to knock at his door and give him all sorts of ideas.

If Fang Minghua were to say when he truly got to know Zhou Zekai, then it would be during those spring and summer nights.

He realised that Zhou Zekai was actually a very attentive person. Or better said, the world through his eyes was very beautiful.

Even if he did not speak much, he would paint. With very few brushstrokes, Fang Minghua would then find out that he himself had actually missed a lot of things. The messy patch of blooming orchids in the corner of the yard; the sunflowers hidden under the wisteria veranda; the Boston ivy that peeked in as they crept along the window grills of the practice room; the evergreen camphor tree that softly dropped rustling leaves in the spring, slowly shedding the deep green that looked almost looked black into a clear and light green.

That summer, Samsara entered the playoffs for the first time since the establishment of its team. Fang Minghua received the lady’s reply letter on the last day of the summer. He excitedly pounded against the wall, only a while later when there was no echoing sound then realised that it was not yet night. Zhou Zekai still came by to train daily during the summer break. Fang Minghua walked past the wisteria veranda, the camphor tree and the messy orchids to the building that held their practice rooms and club management office.

Zhou Zekai was doing micro mechanics practice in front of the computer. Fang Minghua quietly waited for him to finish. That summer day, Zhou Zekai looked especially skinny. From his back view, his shoulder blades protruded angularly against his thin T-shirt, and two vertebrae jutted out from the upper portion of his collar. Sweat came down along the ends of his hair, soaking a large patch on the back of his shirt. However, his hands appeared to remain exceptionally steady still. Fang Minghua knew that he had likely already trained for the entire morning. That day, because Samsara earned quite a bit of money from entering the playoffs, the boss decided to spend it all on the team; thus, the entire building underwent renovations and the central air conditioning was suspended. The practice room was facing the south. Sunlight directly shone in. The summer of City S was blistering hot. Fang Minghua had worked up a head full of sweat despite walking a mere couple paces under the shade of the trees.

Later, there would be a person who asked Fang Minghua if there was anything he regretted during his professional career. Fang Minghua said there was: he regretted recommending Zhou Zekai. Seated beside him, Zhou Zekai sent him a stunned look. Fang Minghua continued to say, but it was only for a very brief moment. The joy and accomplishment he brought later were entirely beyond anything he could imagine.

“Was it after Samsara got blown out of the first round of playoffs after the second team competition in the fifth season?” The host was evidently not very discerning.

“Of course not,” Fang Minghua replied with surety.

“Then when was it?”

“It was that summer after the fifth season ended. Zhou Zekai sat alone in front of the computer training, and the entire building was only filled with the noise of renovation works.”

“If so, why were you determined to recommend Zhou Zekai in the beginning?”

“Because he’s stronger than anyone else,” Fang Minghua smiled. This was an answer that he had given many times.

Since debut, in the midst of such doubtful voices that piped up again and again across three seasons, Zhou Zekai had simply walked over this silently. If someone gave Fang Minghua a time machine, he likely would not tell Zhou Zekai of the past ‘you will win championships’ and whatnot. He firmly believed that Zhou Zekai possessed a strong and powerful core, sufficient for him to surpass anyone’s expectations. From saying that he had the confidence to take on Cloud Piercer, from the reversal of the tide with a 1v3, from the lonely diligence on that summer day.

 

“Little Zhou!” Fang Minghua saw him turn his head over, “I succeeded! Thank your mother! And thank you!”

Zhou Zekai laughed soundlessly. Cicadas sang intermittently from outside the window.

 

This was the full story of the love at first sight.

But afterwards, Jiang Botao, Lu Boyuan, Du Ming, Wu Qi and Sun Xiang did not know of all these. They only knew that Fang Minghua had incredibly good luck, his first love being an instance of love at first sight and quickly marrying after. They had dined out on the Qixi Festival, the traditional ‘Valentine’s Day’ on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. On the way back, they loudly yelled that they also wanted to have a love at first sight moment. Fang Minghua and Zhou Zekai each framed the left and right side of Sun Xiang who refused to continue walking forward, madly shouting that his love at first sight was right around the corner.

Wu Qi immediately blocked Sun Xiang’s path and attempted to round the corner before him. Sun Xiang naturally would not let him prevail, shaking off Zhou Zekai and grasping Wu Qi’s collar. This group of chaps staggeringly managed to go around the corner. Fang Minghua’s head knocked into the back of Wu Qi who had abruptly stopped walking.

‘Wtf it can’t be,’ Fang Minghua said in his heart, ‘did he really meet a woman?!’ He hurriedly retreated backwards.

They remained at a standstill on the road. In the end, it was still Zhou Zekai who walked forwards and crouched down.

It was an injured cat. It probably had a leg run over by a small vehicle like a bicycle or the like and was currently howling ferociously at Zhou Zekai.

“Damnit,” Sun Xiang was a little broken-hearted.

“My love at first sight!”

“Is actually a cat!”

Then, this cat’s shrill cries pierced the night. Zhou Zekai had decisively picked it up.

 

“Congratulations, Idiot Xiang, it’s a female cat!” Du Ming took the medical record from the vet and laughed heartily.

“Fuck off!” Sun Xiang wearily held the cup of lemonade that Jiang Botao bought for him from the milk tea shop across the street.

“Hahaha your wife is being fondled by Captain.”

“Ah, hey, your wife is lovingly swatting Captain.”

“Wtf he really swatted Captain! Captain, you need to get inoculated!”

 

Despite swatting Zhou Zekai, the entire team of Samsara still tacitly carried the cat which had been cleaned of bugs and vaccinated back. They placed a pet bed in the entrance hall and stuffed the cat that never stopped howling into it.

“Your wife is too spirited,” Wu Qi lamented.

“Ahhhh go to hell!” Sun Xiang was furious.

Jiang Botao had accompanied Zhou Zekai to the vet to give the cat flu and rabies vaccination. There were many people in the emergency department. They hid their faces behind newspapers and queued behind.

“What should we call it? It was picked up at night on the Qixi Festival, let’s just call it Seventh Night.” Jiang Botao said as he sent a message to the group chat.

 

It was a fine and proper name. Yet, by the next day, it would morph to become Seventh Delight.  /8

“A hideous name will bring it a lifetime of fortune.” At this point, the sharp cries of the cat had already circulated through everyone from the manager to the cleaning auntie. Everyone unanimously came to this conclusion. Finally, Sun Xiang who was at his last straw wore three layers of gloves and savagely rubbed its fur, tormenting Seventh Delight; then did it finally accept its fate. Regardless of who touched it after, it would only show a bitterly aggrieved expression of having nothing left to live for. /9

Seventh Delight’s bed since then was placed in the entrance hall of the building. Henceforth, this ugly cat would glare hatefully at every visitor that came in. From a certain perspective, this club Samsara, was truly rather whimsical.

The most depressed one was Sun Xiang. Just thinking of his impressive bearing of over one-eighty centimetres, he could still grudgingly make himself swallow down desserts; but what’s up having to busy himself with changing the litter for a cat the entire day!

And the most frustrating thing was…

Sun Xiang looked at Wu Qi who was crouching in front of the pet bed with a feather that he got from god knows where, and as he scratched its lower jaw with it, he shouted, “Hey Sun Xiang’s wife.” He really wanted to scatter the cat litter that he had changed in his hands over Wu Qi’s bed.

 

Seventh Delight vanished right after it recovered. Everyone in Samsara remained disappointed for a very long time. Even when Wu Qi went on gloomily, “Sun Xiang, your wife has eloped to be with someone else”, Sun Xiang did not try to beat him up.

“Stray cats can’t be tamed,” Fang Minghua consoled everyone, “anyway, it’s all residence districts around us, it won’t starve to death.”

This lasted all the way till the day of Jiang Botao’s birthday. City S had undergone several days of heavy rain. Zhou Zekai finished his dinner with everyone else. Thinking of how he still had a little bit more of the match recording he watched in the day left, he decided to head to the practice room to finish watching it. As he stepped through the door of the stairway on the first floor, he abruptly saw a pitch-black thing crouched on the uppermost step. Zhou Zekai halted his steps, holding up an umbrella as he looked at it.

The light that came through from the entrance hall was not much. However, it could clearly be seen that Seventh Delight was now uglier than before. Its stomach was bulging, there was a bald patch on its tail, the tip of its left ear was missing – who knew how had it passed its days.

“You’re too ugly, what to do,” Zhou Zekai smiled.

Seventh Delight, as old, glared at him hatefully.

However, when Zhou Zekai swiped the door key and opened the door by a crack, Seventh Delight swiftly bore in and sprinted towards its own pet bed.

But it did not immediately jump in. It only looked back towards Zhou Zekai. Zhou Zekai found a cardboard box. Seventh Delight hesitated for several seconds, then jumped in.

Zhou Zekai brought it back to the pet clinic again.

Seventh Delight again flaunted its mysticism. It had actually ran back because it was pregnant with kits.

 

“Tch, look at this little thankless wretch!” Wu Qi had kept that feather and took it out again to jab Seventh Delight’s lower jaw.

 

On the day before Zhou Zekai’s birthday, Seventh Delight hid in a corner and birthed three tabby kittens. Then, everyone in Samsara spent three hours non-stop looking for them, and upon finally finding them, moved the family of one adult and three kits under the air conditioning.

“They almost share the same birthday as Little Zhou,” Jiang Botao used a finger to poke the nose of one of the kittens. Seventh Delight immediately bared its teeth at him.

“How fierce,” Zhou Zekai mumbled to himself.

Stray cats couldn’t be tamed after all. Seventh Delight, this mystical cat, was a cat that couldn’t be tamed.



Chapter 4: The Mystical Taiping Bridge

Zhou Zekai woke up especially early on the day of his twenty-fourth birthday. There was still not yet much light outside the window. The clouds were dark and grey, likely about to rain at any moment.

His work and rest habits were particularly good now, sleeping and rising early. He turned his phone on and got up to brush his teeth and wash his face. Then, he heard the sound of several texts arriving in succession from outside the door. His text ringtone was the sound effect of Random Firing in-game. Wu Qi had downloaded a few pro player silver equipment sound effect zip files when surfing the forum, then chose a few to share within his group of friends.

This might sound odd, but even if the forum thread owner that released the zip files insisted that different silver equipment had different sound effects, among Samsara, only Zhou Zekai felt that there was a difference between the sound effects for Wildfire and Shattered Frost. Therefore, he used the sound effect for Wildfire as his text ringtone in the spring and summer, and the sound effect for Shattered Frost in the autumn and winter.

Jiang Botao and the rest found this utterly inconceivable.

“How can it be that same move execution in-game all produce different sound effects!?” Du Ming held his phone and kept replaying the sound of Triple Slash from his silver equipment, and when he got fed up of hearing that, changed to listen to Falling Light Blade instead. Beside him, Lu Boyuan held his own phone to help him replay Huang Shaotian’s Ice Rain sound effects for comparison’s sake.

“I vow to the heavens,” Du Ming’s face was solemn, “there really isn’t any difference. The system isn’t that intelligent.”

Zhou Zekai shook his head and declined to comment. Then, he continued eating.

 

In the eighth season, the previous CEO of Glory also published an autobiography. Immediately, the current CEO published a second edition, and practically all the bookstores had these two books piled together side by side. They were occasionally arranged in a pagoda shape, occasionally arranged like a flight of stairs. There was nothing else that could be trendier at that time.

It was said in this autobiography that they had indeed extracted data from the weapons and players back then, which were fed into some sort of algorithm to generate sound effects. So, all the movement sound effects of various silver equipment really were different.

Du Ming proffered the book to the heavens with a sort of ‘the sky is caving in’ kind of expression.

“What a waste of time!” Du Ming severely rebuked this type of undertaking, “Who would notice the difference in sound effects between silver equipment when they’re playing! Ah, look, he even said later on that there are many stories and secrets hidden across the Glory continental map. Who would pay attention to these!”

“Me.” Zhou Zekai finished drinking the last bit of his porridge.

 

This autobiography stirred up a great storm of discussion on the Glory forum. They were astounded to discover several obscure details unrelated to the end-game storyline. Even Ye Xiu, this type of Glory Textbook, had not paid attention to such minor details. In an instant, every one of these locations containing these little secrets would be crammed with people. For example, if you knocked thrice against a certain stone wall in front of Snow Peaked Mountain where the BOSS’ wife was buried, a white-bearded old man would jump out and divine your love fortune for you. For example, if you controlled your character to soar across to the heart of Thousand Waves Lake, when you look down, you could see the shadow of a mermaid, her long hair meandering behind her, like ink diffusing across the water. /10

After all, since those who write guides, much less those able to become pro players, were within the minority, more people play this game for the novelty and sense of accomplishment. There were some who strive for victory, but there were even more people who simply take this all as a game.

What was even more mystical was this – because these secrets progress along with the raising of the level cap, they themselves would follow a certain algorithm to have some according changes. When the level cap was raised to 75 in the ninth season, there would no longer be a white-bearded old man who jumped out in front of Snow Peaked Mountain. Instead, there would be a direct change in scenery; large fields of wildflowers would bloom like clouds, turning into a beautiful place where people would flaunt their characters and take screenshots at. Whereas the mermaid in Thousand Waves Lake finally emerged from the water surface, however, truthfully speaking… Even Wu Qi, this type of person with an aesthetic sense not quite congruent to societal norms, felt that she was a little ugly.

From the looks of it, this game was always adding some new content to attract new players. But more of it was in using a sense of ‘growth’ and ‘secrecy’ that other games had yet to touch upon to retain long-time players.

Sometimes, you couldn’t help but wonder, what type of seed program was actually buried in those thousand consoles in the game headquarters, allowing for the continuous triggering of story progression alongside the raising of the level cap.

And the origin for all this, came from the divine light that suddenly appeared over the two CEOs in Australia that one winter morning.

 

“If they don’t remarry, is there anyone else who can match up to them!” These days, it seemed to be difficult to extricate the female players from this topic of conversation.

Zhou Zekai finished showering. He carried his phone and walked outside. As he walked, he looked through the texts from yesterday, then opened the QQ group chats. Those who would insistently wait to midnight to send him birthday well wishes would naturally not mind if he did not reply in time and would further understand having a strict work and rest schedule as pro players themselves.

The group chats he were added to were not many. Without exception, group chats within Samsara, the fifth season debuts group chat and the pro player group chat. However, once he opened them, he got dazzled by the countless number of times he was tagged.

He felt a glimmer of happiness as he slowly made his way downstairs. Then, walked towards the office building of Samsara. The weather this morning was especially chilly. His nose and fingers were so quickly frozen that they lost sensation. Yet, he still slowly read over each message one by one. Honestly, the contents were very much the same, nothing much different from the wishes to other pro players on their birthdays, no more than the form of address along with a ‘Happy Birthday’. Those senior to him called him ‘Little Zhou’; those of the same generation or those who never cared for formalities like Huang Shaotian called him ‘Zhou Zekai’; the more formal seniors such as Yu Wenzhou and juniors called him ‘Captain Zhou’; the younger female players would call him ‘My Idol’. Then, there was even Zhang Xinjie, this type of person who must go to bed at eleven, who left an especially amusing message for him in the group chat.

“Happy Birthday Little Zhou. [this is message is sent by the QQ Scheduled Release function]”

Of course, this caused everyone to laugh at him, but in any case, Zhang Xinjie was not there to see it.

Zhou Zekai held his phone in one hand. His other hand rubbed his ear. It felt slightly heated.

There were some people who could clearly discern their personality weakness yet could never get rid of it. For example, Zhou Zekai knew that his own personality weakness was that he was unable to easily and naturally accept the goodwill of others. Therefore, every time he stood on stage to receive everyone’s cheers, he would be inexplicably nervous. Thoughts like ‘who am I’ and ‘what have I done for you’ would ricochet like bullets in his head. However, despite being unable to change this, he also recognised that this was kindness, and would try to repay it as best he could.

So, he hesitated a moment, and in the reply box, he typed, “Thank you, everyone.”

At this time, all the group chats were quiet. Those who stayed up the night gaming would have just gone to bed, those with strict work and rest hours would still be in bed. Zhou Zekai was just about to put his phone back into his pocket, then saw his screen flash.

Ye Xiu, then still using that profile picture that looked like a ‘哭’, had sent a smoking emoji, and said, “No need for thanks.” /11

Shortly after, Lin Jingyan also sent a smoking emoji, and said, “No need for thanks.”

“Old Lin, are you still not going to sleep yet. In a while when more people come on, that account that you left out there will get ambushed,” Ye Xiu asked him.

“Haha, you better worry about yourself first. If someone ambushes me I’ll tell them that Lord Grim is currently nursing his woes at Snow Peaked Mountain. This image is too beautiful, I dare not look at it.”

Following which, Lin Jingyan sent a screenshot. The gaudily dressed Lord Grim was wreaking havoc in a vast field of violet wildflowers with an enraged Level 55 BOSS Tomb Guard Tanner following behind him.

“Wtf Old Lin don’t you have any good conscience, why are you standing at the side and not coming to help me fight BOSS.”

“You slowly fight, I’m going to sleep.” Lin Jingyan wanted to log off.

“Hey, you slowly run. Let’s meet again some other day in the arena.”

“We’ll see, I am not as carefree as a certain retired pro player.” Lin Jingyan logged off.

“Little Zhou, you’re up very early.” Once Lin Jingyan went offline, Ye Xiu could only converse with Zhou Zekai.

“There’s something.”

“Oh, go do your own thing then.” Ye Xiu continued to escape Tomb Guard Tanner and scamper all about the mountains and hills.

 

Zhou Zekai had only just walked into the entrance hall of the office building yet Seventh Delight already sensed him and jumped up, with only its two eyes glowing eerily like will-o’-wisps in the darkness. Zhou Zekai turned the lights on and crouched down to pour cat food into the bowl. Seventh Delight was unwilling to come over. It simply huddled its three kits in its embrace, glaring fiercely at Zhou Zekai

The biggest of the three kittens was desperately claimed by Sun Xiang to be named ‘Sun Xiang’. Because there existed three people who had recently passed their birthdays in Samsara, they had the dubious privilege of sharing their names with the kittens. The other two were named ‘Jiang Botao’ and ‘Zhou Zekai’, simply nicknamed ‘Jiang Jiang’ and ‘Zhou Zhou’. This was what Wu Qi had suggested to Samsara’s management, seconded by Fang Minghua beating the gravel. Everyone else had no right to object.

At this time, Sun Xiang was sprawled across sleeping, squeezing Jiang Jiang and Zhou Zhou to the corners at both sides. As per Han Wenqing’s instructions, the pet bed was padded with many towels, fearing that the kittens would suck in the cotton wool and get asthma.

That’s right. The one who raised cats was Han Wenqing. That time when Fang Minghua saw a conversation about birthing kittens in the fourth season debut group chats was of Zhang Xinjie saying that the cat Han Wenqing raised had given birth to a litter. After finding out about this, Fang Minghua covered his face and laughed for a full minute, and the others from Samsara waiting anxiously by the side to find out how to take care of newly born kittens straightaway received a fright.

Afterwards, through Zhang Xinjie, they learnt how to tell apart the gender of the kittens from Han Wenqing, and found that Sun Xiang actually turned out to be a female cat…

Lu Boyuan and Wu Qi went crazed with laughter. Du Ming straightforwardly collapsed to the ground and pressed down Cat Sun Xiang, who was currently being warmed by Sun Xiang on his lap. He shouted, “Ms Sun, you’re actually a hooligan that had been played with by Sun Xiang for so long!”

Sun Xiang’s face: ‘Wtf did the world just do to me.’

 

Zhou Zekai watched them for a while, affirmed that those three kittens were breathing well, then turned the lights off and walked out. This area had a lot of quiet and narrow roads. He frequently went for a jog in the morning and night, sometimes together with his teammates, sometimes by himself. It was not an exaggeration to say that Zhou Zekai could accurately pinpoint what colours the signage of so-and-so family store were.

After a night of heavy rain, the leaves of the London planetrees along Sinan road were sparse like they were hit with a bald spell in their middle age. The cleaners were already starting to sweep the ground. Zhou Zekai took a turn onto Jianguo Road, then turned again onto Madang Road. It was all old apartment blocks around him, remnant rainwater from the previous night dripped continuously from the protruding clothes poles. After the turn at Zizhong Road, this transformed into a commercial district, but due to the early hour, there were still no pedestrians about. When Zhou Zekai finally ran to his destination – Taiping Bridge Park, it only took him slightly over twenty minutes.

Those who woke up early, apart from those with something to do like Zhou Zekai, were only the elderly with poor quality of sleep. Music of square dancing and Tai Chi sword indistinctly drifted over. Zhou Zekai hesitated a moment, but still pulled up the hood of his sweatshirt.

What was known as Taiping Bridge, was in truth only a stone pier that led out to the heart of the lake. On the side, there was a signage erected that read ‘the lake water is deep, please do not step on the stone pier’, highlighting how undeserving it was to be called a ‘bridge’.

Mother Zhou was already standing by the bridge. Seeing him approach, she anxiously called out, “Hurry up, if not there will be many people in a while.”

So, Zhou Zekai ran up onto Taiping Bridge, continued to run to the heart of the lake, then ran back. At this time, there was a layer of mist over the lake. It very quickly wet his forehead, and even his eyelashes were adorned with waterdrops.

The middle-aged security guard who had watched all of this without stopping Zhou Zekai from the door of the small guard post by the side, smiled and said, “Ah, little buddy, you came again this year to walk the bridge. Have you learnt how to swim yet? If you haven’t I won’t let you go on it next time.”

“Relax, next year he’ll definitely come back after he learns how to,” Mother Zhou waved at him and turned her head to tell Zhou Zekai, “Your dad felt that both of us coming out like this is embarrassing and was unwilling to come with me. He insisted that he wants to stay at home to cook you noodles, so when you get back the food will be ready for you to eat. His friend gave him scallops of a particularly good quality that don’t taste fishy at all. I ended up eating half a bag yesterday and had to get up in the middle of the night to irrigate myself.”

She went on this whole spiel, then turned back again to look at Taiping Bridge and the little guard post by the lake that was now far behind them. A soft smile surfaced on the corner of her lips, “I can’t believe it has already been more than ten years.”

“Seventeen,” Zhou Zekai said.

“It’s great that this place still hasn’t been demolished,” Mother Zhou was deeply moved. /12

“Why demolished?”

“Because this piece of land is very expensive! There was once when it was almost demolished to make way to a commercial centre. I could only keep writing protest letters to the city government non-stop.”

They walked to the park entrance, then saw Father Zhou standing at the park entrance gazing at the sky.

“Old Zhou!” Mother Zhou shouted at him, “Didn’t you say you won’t come!”

Father Zhou’s lips twitched. Mother Zhou walked up ahead to hook their arms together.

“Coming to run Taiping Bridge every year on your birthday, don’t you feel bored of it.”

“Then what about you, cooking noodles every year for his birthday, don’t you feel bored of it. The previous year Zhou Zekai was still abroad playing a match the previous day but insisted on starving himself just to come back and eat your noodles.” /13

“This is just the tradition between us father and son.”

“This is also the tradition between us mother and son.”

Zhou Zekai followed behind the two of them, his lips pressing together into a smile.

When he was young, his parents were very busy with work, and he had always been brought around by a nanny. Then in primary school, the teacher came looking for Mother Zhou with a grave expression, and asked, does your son have autism.

Mother Zhou flew into a rage and said, don’t spout nonsense, if my son really has autism he would already be a grade ten piano student.

Conversely, the teacher found her amusing and said, then get him to speak, I have never seen such a quiet child before.

After that, Mother Zhou quit her job. She was previously the youngest doctoral supervisor of a certain university with a promising future down a handful of academic routes. But she later felt that there were some things far more important than work, so she very decisively made up her mind and had never regretted in the days that came.

There was a part of Zhou Zekai’s personality that was actually very similar to hers.

Conversely, Mother Zhou did not press Zhou Zekai to speak more, only that the time they spend together increased. She followed him to attend all sorts of enrichment classes, and even amidst a group of children, the teacher praised him for being a good and quick learner.

She had experienced alarm and anxiety once. At the end of her wits, she had secretly sought out a psychiatrist, visited Buddha and even thought about whether to believe in God. She was not alarmed and anxious regarding Zhou Zekai’s difference, rather, she was only alarmed and anxious if this difference of his would make him unable to show his complete self to others.

She took Zhou Zekai to the small church on Chongqing South Road on Thanksgiving. The two of them sat drowsily in the last row amidst the melody of hymns and soft candlelight. Zhou Zekai held a sweet that he had taken from the fruit basket by the entrance earlier in one hand. His other hand was held within Mother Zhou’s hands.

“Are you sleepy?” Mother Zhou asked him.

Zhou Zekai nodded and said, “Sleepy.”

Mother Zhou was very satisfied, “Look, how concise and comprehensive, anyone who dares to say again that my son has autism can all beat it.”

So, the two of them stood up and walked back home. As they passed by the park, Zhou Zekai pointed to Taiping Bridge and said, “Walk there.”

Mother Zhou immediately pulled him to jump onto the stone pier. The security guard stood on the shore and yelled for them to return.

In the end, naturally, they had to pay a fine. However, Zhou Zekai was very happy. So, Mother Zhou was also happy. The security guard thought the two of them truly beyond comprehension.

“Today is his birthday,” Mother Zhou told the security guard. “This is the first time since he was born that he clearly asked me for something.”

After that, they came to walk Taiping Bridge on his birthday every year. And every year, they would pre-emptively pay the fine.

Following which, Zhou Zekai also made many wishes on Taiping Bridge.

“Be chosen for Samsara training camp.”

“Enter the main roster.”

“Enter the playoffs.”

“Have teammates that understand my tactics.”

“Take the championship.”

They all came true.

They did not believe in Buddha, nor did they believe in God. Even Zhou Zekai himself did not have the ‘must enter the stadium with my left food first’, ‘must tie a red thread around my wrist’, ‘must choose a blue mouse pointer’ type of superstitions that many other players had. Their only superstition was that running across the Taiping Bridge could bring Zhou Zekai a whole year’s worth of fortune and strength. Because, at that time by the lake, Mother Zhou had put a hand to Zhou Zekai’s forehead and said, “It’s a pity Mother doesn’t know how to read minds, but Mother will always love you.”

 

“What did you wish for this year?” Mother Zhou asked curiously as the entire family sat at the dining table each holding a bowl of noodles.

“Not telling you.” Zhou Zekai buried his head into the bowl.

“Oh? My son even knows how to act cute now!” Mother Zhou was pleasantly surprised.

“I’m not!” Zhou Zekai yanked his head from the bowl.

“Whatever you say,” Mother Zhou clipped a stir-fried cabbage over to his bowl.

“The sun is out,” Father Zhou looked outside the window. “There may be beautiful weather today.”

The heavy dark clouds were thinning out. The sun that rose gilded the clouds in gold.



Chapter 5: The Mystical Club Samsara

When Zhou Zekai returned to the club, it was still breakfast time. He brought back a bag of all kinds of dried seafood snacks, prepared to feed them to Seventh Delight and his teammates.

Upon arriving at the entrance hall, he saw the tall figure of Sun Xiang crouching in the corner and playing with the cats.

Ever since that time he rubbed Seventh Delight, Seventh Delight was particularly afraid of him. Thus, when Sun Xiang lifted ‘Sun Xiang’ up, Seventh Delight remained terrified and did not jump up to claw his face. Zhou Zekai saw him shove Sun Xiang between Jiang Jiang and Zhou Zhou, his face breaking into a satisfied smile.

Zhou Zekai was hesitating between ‘pretend I didn’t see anything and just walk headlong ahead’ and ‘take advantage of before he sees me to make a hasty retreat’ when Sun Xiang abruptly raised his head.

“I didn’t want it to get cold,” Sun Xiang stubbornly explained even with ‘fuck I got caught’ written all over his face.

“I know,” Zhou Zekai nodded.

“Really!”

“Yes.”

“How about I move him back over there?”

“No need, it’s good.”

“Happy birthday Captain,” Sun Xiang suddenly said.

Zhou Zekai wavered a moment. Looking at Sun Xiang still crouched on the ground, he ruffled his hair in passing as he walked past. Sun Xiang had started to keep short hair since the start of the previous season. His facial features were firm and defined, so short hair on the contrary made him look especially spirited; it was well-received by everyone. Thus, every once in awhile, Sun Xiang would head to the cheap barber by the back door of the Samsara club building and request for a smart-looking crew cut. As such, the tips of his hair were always very freshly cut. Rubbing it felt stiff and prickly.

Of course, he had claimed after the finals of the tenth season that he wanted to grow a beard. After half a month, the deputy manager could no longer endure having to look at ‘Brother Sharp’ the entire day, so he made use of while Sun Xiang took an afternoon nap to call Wu Qi and Du Ming to shave it all off. However, after that, Wu Qi very resolutely insisted that when he got close to Sun Xiang, Sun Xiang was already awake, which meant that he himself was unable to endure his own beard but only wanted to maintain his pride. This sort of saying naturally called for a beating from Sun Xiang. /14

Jiang Botao smiled genially and helped everyone cut a watermelon. The remaining people each held a slice as they watched them perform a real-world PK.

Defeat will naturally bring pain. That summer, they had all tacitly stayed behind in the club building for extra training. Especially Sun Xiang; his clacks against the keyboard seemed to thunder angrily.

Samsara’s manager, Xu Lifeng was very good-tempered. Even if pro players don’t return home, staff personnel needed their break still; but he, of his own accord, followed them to stay behind. Every day, he would move soft drinks or fruits alone and place them in the pantry by the practice room. From an outsider’s point of view, Samsara’s manager was like a flower vase – a show put on by the boss of Samsara, casually tossed to the club. At the start, he had blindly groped around trying to find a reliable accountant, so the boss could only bring the deputy financial director of his own company, Zhan Jia, over to manage this side for a while.

After a while, Zhan Jia could no longer bear it and went directly to the boss asking to be transferred to the club as the deputy manager. Thus, the person who directly took charge of the affairs of Samsara was actually Zhan Jia. Xu Lifeng seemed as if he only knew how to ask others ‘have you eaten?’, ‘was the good food?’, ‘do you want to eat again.’

That this club could build a stadium on such an expensive land as Jing An without having entered the playoffs for three consecutive years was also a miracle.

“Let’s buy Ye Qiu!” Zhan Jia waved grandly.

“That’s not possible, we surely have to keep Sharpshooter as our core, look at our team logo,” Xu Lifeng said weakly.

“There’s no future!” Zhan Jia furiously phoned the boss.

“I like the Sharpshooter after all, if not why would I have invested in some club,” the boss pushed Zhan Jia’s rage back at him with one sentence.

“Ahhhhhh give me a Sharpshooter!” Zhan Jia would howl such a sentence every three days.

The heavens granted the will of the man; Zhou Zekai came to him. After the last match of the regular matches in the fifth season, Zhan Jia was so excited that he kissed the team logo as if crazed, whereas Xu Lifeng only hastily went over to shake hands with the competitor.

On the contrary, the boss remained rather calm. It was only when he heard the financial statement that they were finally profitable that his eyebrows went up: “Oh, so I actually can make money investing in clubs.”

“Death to the tyrant! I want to buy Han Wenqing!” Zhan Jia shook the financial statement.

“Impossible,” the boss rejected it with one vote.

“Why! The tyrannical play looks good to watch.” Zhan Jia did not give up, “How about we buy Zhang Jiale! His play is also eye-catching enough.”

“Have you never played Glory before?” the boss’ expression was calm.

“Yes,” Zhan Jia finally lost steam.

“We can consider buying a melee character to coordinate with Little Zhou.”

“Then let’s buy Huang Shaotian!” Zhan Jia had his spirit reawakened.

“Beat it.” The boss’ expression finally crumbled.

 

This lasted all the way till after the ninth season ended. Zhan Jia again had his wish fulfilled, or rather, it could be said that he almost had his wish fulfilled. He had seized hold of the once God-level account card ‘One Autumn Leaf’ from the dissolving Excellent Era without the slightest hesitation, as well as the publicly acknowledged genius rookie Sun Xiang. As for other matters, they would naturally not fall within his scope of concern.

Frankly, when engaging in negotiations with Tao Xuan, both people felt indescribably and deeply moved in their hearts. Tao Xuan was a person who understood Glory well and even played decently himself. Zhan Jia, when all was said and done, was only a businessman. However, in the end, it was instead Zhan Jia who, as a businessman, talked openly and candidly, allowing the process to be smooth sailing. It was him who had forced every member of Samsara to complete their high school education, helped them contact universities for honorary degrees, going to schools every year to help them apply for postponement of graduation. At the same time, he was also well-practised in engaging in various business operations and generating the right amount of hype.

Indeed, he did not love Glory. He had never even considered playing Glory before. Yet this point did not hinder him from loving Samsara. He loved the bullet in Samsara’s team logo, he loved Samsara’s camphor trees, he even loved that ugly cat that appeared at the entrance hall in the eleventh season. More than that, he loved the victories that came match after match and the greater and greater profit.

Therefore, when Samsara under favourable conditions lost to grassroot Team Happy, he silently stewed in rage for two weeks alone and even came along with Xu Lifeng to the club. Once he saw Sun Xiang growing out a beard, his entire person exploded. This was a person that he was going to mould into an idol image, how could he keep such an ugly beard!

However, Sun Xiang was exceptionally obstinate, completely unwilling to shave it.

Rather, it should be said that he had always been an obstinate person. Even if he had his head broken in from this before, it would be very difficult for him to change the very core of his nature.

When he had first entered Samsara, he was very unhappy. The fortune he had from growing up in a small household was that he unconsciously showed all his emotions on his face. Therefore, every time he carried an unhappy face yet went “hahaha” to jokes along with the team, Jiang Botao and the rest really wanted to laugh.

Even if many pro players had a lot of negative comments and dissatisfaction towards Sun Xiang, the whimsical nature of Samsara itself on the contrary helped them shed many of these public impressions towards Sun Xiang. The deeper reason to this was that in Samsara, skill is king. Those without skill would not meet the prerequisite of being skilled and thus would not even be an acceptable existence.

“Sun Xiang, have you graduated from high school? Where were you registered in previously, I’ll help you manage the transfers.” This was the first sentence that Zhan Jia said to him.

“The canteen and the dormitories are both at the back. Also, our dormitory area has lights out at eleven o’clock.” This was the second sentence Zhan Jia said.

“There’s even lights out?!” Sun Xiang was stunned.

 

From the start of the seventh season, Zhou Zekai no longer stayed up to watch match recordings. This was because after Jiang Botao and he trained together for half a competitive season, Jiang Botao finally understood that this Captain of theirs was genuinely a very good person to speak with. Therefore, he removed the wary claws and extended Lu Boyuan, Wu Qi and the rest towards Zhou Zekai. More accurately, the entire Samsara team.

“Do you know who has the lowest error rate in the Alliance?”

“Zhang! Xin! Jie!” Everyone replied in unison to Teacher Jiang standing on the podium in the conference room.

Xu Lifeng who was seated beside Zhou Zekai whispered to him, “What is Little Jiang trying to do?”

“Don’t know.” Zhou Zekai had helplessness written over his face.

“Then, who is the most effective player in the Alliance?”

This time, everyone’s response was somewhat scattered. After murmuring for a while, in the end, it was Du Ming who had just entered the main roster that snatched to answer first, “Yu Wenzhou! Hearsay his practice hours are the least!”

Jiang Botao nodded his head in satisfaction.

Everyone trembled.

“Therefore, I propose that the dormitories enforce lights out at eleven to ensure that everyone has a high quality of sleep.”

“Captain!” Du Ming reached over from behind to clutch at Zhou Zekai’s arm and howled in anguish.

Zhou Zekai turned his head over to look at him, and smiled suddenly. Then, he carried this smile and turned back. Using a neither loud nor soft voice, he said, “Eleven thirty.”

“AHHHH! Midnight, please!” Du Ming desperately shook the arm that he clutched on to. Xu Lifeng hurriedly clapped away his hand and rescued Zhou Zekai.

Because Zhan Jia just happened not to be around, the matter of lights out, along with a lot of other things, was whimsically determined like this.

 

“I feel that Sun Xiang needs love!” Zhan Jia’s face was resolute.

The conference room was deathly silent. Even the good-tempered Xu Lifeng wanted to throw a cup at him.

“Jiang Botao and Wu Qi, you’re both responsible for loving him,” Xu Lifeng randomly picked names.

“Ahhhhh why me!” Wu Qi pounded the table with his chin.

“Because you both speak the most.”

“I’m a very gentle and refined person!” Wu Qiu immediately gave a dignified look.

“Actually, it’s good enough to just play a few more matches,” Jiang Botao said seriously. “What Sun Xiang desires the most is victory. As long as we can always win, no matter if it is having trust in skill or rapport, he would show an astonishing improvement.”

Zhou Zekai nodded in agreement.

“As for the communication problem with the teammates,” Jiang Botao rubbed his temples. “Just leave it to fate.”

 

So, over a very long period, they all watched Sun Xiang work hard to integrate into the team, laughing “hahaha” at their jokes with them, working hard to find conversational topics. There were times as well when Jiang Botao wanted to tell him to relax, because we are a very whimsical team after all. However, he kept feeling that their relationship was not yet quite close enough for him to say this.

Following which, after the end of the regular matches in the tenth season, they got a shock when they found out Sun Xiang had gone to City H alone to watch Excellent Era play in the challenger’s league finals.

“He would not be recognised and beaten up by Excellent Era fans, right?” Zhan Jia was anxious.

“Go watch?” Zhou Zekai suggested.

“Alright, I’ll go watch over him,” Jiang Botao accepted the task without complaint and stood up.

The high-speed rail from City S to City H was especially convenient, a mere half-hour ride. The competition had not yet started by the time Jiang Botao hurried there. He stood at the entrance to the spectator stands and phoned Sun Xiang, yet before the other side picked up, he felt someone tap him on the back. He turned his head over, Su Mucheng’s smiling face greeted him. He reflexively looked behind her for Ye Xiu but did not see anyone.

The call wasn’t picked up. Jiang Botao could only put the phone down and greet Su Mucheng.

“You came to watch Excellent Era, too?” Su Mucheng handed him a can of coke.

“I came to watch over Sun Xiang,” Jiang Botao drank it, finishing half of it in one gulp.

“What’s he here for?” Su Mucheng did not hide the discontent from her face.

“Likely for the same reason as you,” Jiang Botao decided to defend his own teammate. Moreover, he also knew that Su Mucheng was a very discerning woman, which was especially rare for a beautiful woman.

Sure enough, Su Mucheng not only did not get upset with him, but she also nodded her head. At this time, the players from both sides were displayed on the projector. Except for Qiu Fei, they did not recognise anyone else.

This match was, in Jiang Botao’s opinion, really rather chaotic. He and Su Mucheng ended up being caught by the unconscionable cameraman. When Su Mucheng’s face appeared on the projector, all the Excellent Era fans present began screaming out boos. By her side, Jiang Botao wavered over whether he should help her cover her face. However, Su Mucheng conversely remained exceptionally candid.

People and things that could move her and make her care were truly too few and rare between. Furthermore, the person that she cared about the most was already no longer around. There were times, nevertheless, when she would suddenly realise that her brother was actually still alive; she would still remember that this club was once the culmination of his hard work, even if this was already long beyond recognition.

At this time, Qiu Fei knocked out a beautiful burst of combos. Su Mucheng smiled and applauded, even the Excellent Era fans that were booing her stopped, desperately applauding and calling out joyously.

When Qiu Fei had ultimately chosen to reject Tiny Herb and remain in Excellent Era, Lin Jingyan remarked of it in the group chat. He said, Qiu Fei has now completely locked himself into a passive situation bound to Excellent Era. At present, Excellent Era is like a broken ship. Qiu Fei can either push it ashore, or sink down with it.

Wang Jiexi jumped out to refute, certainly not. If Excellent Era sinks, I will go over to scoop Qiu Fei up into Tiny Herb.

Jiang Botao inexplicably felt that he himself could understand what Lin Jingyan was saying. He was a Yibin native thus he grew up by the long river. When he was young, he would stand on the shore curious of what those large ships carried, where were they heading to, worried that they would sink. Therefore, when he became aware that he himself was not a top-level genius, that he could not stand alone and face the world, he had also undergone a period of pain. But after this pain, he still had to walk forward. Since coming to Samsara, he seemed to have studied the entirety of Zhou Zekai’s match history. There were times when he realised that he was still by the river. The ship’s steam whistle blew. Everything was only just beginning.

So, towards Samsara, he felt an inexplicable sensation of returning home, because this place made him feel that nothing was impossible. When they finally clinched the championship title in the eighth season, he couldn’t help but kiss the team logo. And as he walked along the City G alleys in the deep night, he couldn’t help the tears that came. Lu Boyuan, having fallen behind with him, got a shock looking at this vice-captain who did not usually wear his emotions on his sleeve. Then, he understood, and gave him a hug.

Now, Excellent Era was being tossed about by the wind and rain. Yet what Excellent Era gave Qiu Fei, was something that Tiny Herb could never give him – a sense of belonging.

 

Jiang Botao knew that Sun Xiang was watching all of this on the stage silently from some corner or other. Watching Qiu Fei, the successor to ‘One Autumn Leaf’ that had been groomed and abandoned; Qiu Fei, willing to stand behind Sun Xiang as a shadow; Qiu Fei, insisting on staying on to fight the challenger’s league with Excellent Era, desperately putting in his all to push Excellent Era ashore.

The relationship between the team and the club was intriguing. There were times when the club required the team’s loyalty. There were times when loyalty had no saving grace.

However, fans were not like this. Fans needed loyalty, because the number one emotion that held them together was no more than love.

Qiu Fei succeeded.

The stadium reverberated with shouts of happiness that shook the earth. After which, these shouts merged into a tide. “Qiu Fei”, “Qiu Fei”, “Qiu Fei”. When Qiu Fei walked out from the soundproof competitor’s booth, he evidently did not expect such a giant wave of sound. His face turned red, and he stood a little unsteadily. For ten whole years, fans of Excellent Era deeply loved Ye Qiu, deeply loved Su Mucheng, were anticipant for Sun Xiang, anticipant for Xiao Shiqin. But at this time and place, all of them did not need to look back into yesterday. They had Qiu Fei. No matter what competitions that Qiu Fei would meet in the days to come where his strength might not be enough, no matter his losses that would cause the fans disappointment – right here, right now, what he brought to them surpassed everything else.

 

“Truly amazing,” Su Mucheng said softly.

“It is,” Jiang Botao applauded unsparingly.

 

Jiang Botao bumped into Sun Xiang at the train station. Or rather, it could be said that he deliberately waited at the train station for Sun Xiang.

“What’s this,” Sun Xiang’s voice finally carried a City S accent.

“We were afraid you’ll get beaten up,” Jiang Botao’s expression remained undisturbed.

“Why would I get beaten up,” Sun Xiang stubbornly refused to admit anything.

“Let’s head back,” Jiang Botao did not expose him.

This was the most beautiful time in the south. Oleander and pomegranate blossoms filled the earth with abundance. Sun Xiang decided to get a haircut, to commemorate a truth that he suddenly understood.

Sun Xiang finally became a through and through member of Samsara. Samsara never tried to change him, but slowly understood him and accepted him. And he, too, started to do some things that he would never have done before – such as eating desserts, such as crouching down early in the morning to tease a cat.

Cat ‘Sun Xiang’ tumbled from between ‘Jiang Jiang’ and ‘Zhou Zhou’. Seventh Delight revealed a rarely seen warm look. She lowered her head and licked the heads of the three kittens in succession. Afterwards, with heavy reluctance written all over her expression, she licked Sun Xiang’s hand.

 

 

Chapter 6: The One Mystical Day

Zhou Zekai turned the computer on and opened several match recordings onto the monitor. Because they were too busy fussing over Seventh Delight giving birth to three kittens yesterday, he did not have the time until now to watch the recording of the match against Tyranny from the previous weekend.

The QQ group chats gradually livened again. Huang Shaotian was very discontent with Ye Xiu and Lin Jingyan secretly going for a PK in the middle of the night without inviting him, and was also uncomprehending of how Zhou Zekai could possibly wake up that early. Even Jiang Botao who was in the canteen joined in the mix to be curious about what the captain would wake up this early to do.

“Why did Lin Jingyan sleep so late!” Zhang Jiale jumped out, “What was he up to, there’s still training today.”

“I’m up already,” Lin Jingyan replied.

“Wtf are you cultivating to become an immortal. How about you go back to sleep first? I’ll help you arrange for a leave,” Zhang Jiale received a shock.

“It’s fine, I couldn’t sleep and happened to run into Ye Xiu, so we simply switched to our main accounts to play a few rounds.”

“Fuckfuckfuck Ye Xiu, last time you even mocked me for going in-game to bully noobs. Now what’s up with this retired player running into the arena to bully people today. I better mock him well next time.”

“Is Zhang Jiale talking bad about me behind my back again.” Ye Xiu suddenly materialised.

“Wtf why are you still around!”

“Can’t sleep. Why aren’t any of you concerned about me, why not leave a couple people in the middle of the night to chat with me.”

“Am I not a person?” Lin Jingyan replied him.

“Aren’t you going to have breakfast yet, the canteen steamed eggplant and meat buns today,” Zhang Xinjie popped up to hurry them.

“At once!” Zhang Jiale replied within a second. “Hey, Lin Jingyan, sigh, how about taking a half-day leave. You need to be more aware of your age.”

“I’m already seated in the canteen eating buns,” Lin Jingyan replied him, even attaching a photo of a bun that had been bitten into, revealing the slick stuffing inside.

“Fuck, no one waited for me.” Zhang Jiale did not appear anymore after that.

“Little Jiang, how are the cats?” Zhang Xinjie asked.

“Quite good, I got up early to take a look at them. They could drink milk themselves and are rather energetic,” Jiang Botao replied.

 

In Tyranny’s practice room, Zhang Xinjie showed his phone to Han Wenqing. Han Wenqing thought a moment and said, “Ask him how their breathing is?”

Jiang Botao swiftly replied that their breathing was very steady and there was no froth.

“Ask again about the mother cat.”

“He said that the canteen specially cooked some fish porridge for it. It is as fierce as usual.”

“Then they should be fine,” Han Wenqing turned back over to switch on the computer. The Glory icon and loading screen slowly appeared on the screen.

“Why did Lin Jingyan sleep so late?” As if thinking of something, he turned his head over again to ask.

Zhang Xinjie hesitated a moment. It was truly rare for him to hesitate. He always calculated everything in advance thus had good control over things. However, he couldn’t help but hesitate this time. Han Wenqing also appeared to be surprised at this hesitance of his. His eyebrows knitted together.

“He’s considering retiring again.”

After the tenth season, Lin Jingyan had already decided to retire. However, due to Tyranny being unable to find an adequate replacement for the moment, he ended up coming back to continue playing on for one more season. This was his personal repayment to Tyranny who had extended out their hands to him during his lowest moment.

“Oh. Was he discussing this with Ye Xiu?” Han Wenqing turned his head back.

It was yet another day of foundational training. The little figure on the screen swiftly jumped up slab after slab of the rocky precipice, crossing obstacle one after another.

“You’re still not going to train yet?” Han Wenqing asked Zhang Xinjie.

“At once,” Zhang Xinjie sat down beside him and turned the computer on.

In truth, Zhang Xinjie had many matters that he wanted to discuss with Han Wenqing. If Lin Jingyan wanted to retire, then what about Zhang Jiale? What about Han Wenqing? However, he also felt that there wasn’t any need to discuss this, because when Wind Howl repeatedly offered a fortune to buy him, he realised that he would always remain in Tyranny. In the future, be it partnering Song Qiying or others, he still had to support Tyranny after they left.

No one was clearer of this feeling than Han Wenqing.

In the match with Samsara over the weekend, because Han Wenqing released a powerful skill to disperse the opponent’s core formation, Zhang Xinjie accordingly enveloped Lu Boyuan in Sacred Fire. When the final wave ended, the commentators were amazed. Where had Zhang Xinjie materialised from, how was he able to accurately assess the final landing position of the opponent after the skill Han Wenqing released, further pre-emptively positioning himself; how Han Wenqing too was able to accurately assess this positioning, after the attack ended immediately and accurately blocked Zhou Zekai from attacking Zhang Xinjie.

There were no miracles on the competitive stage. This chemistry came about from day after day of training and understanding.

What Clerics needed to do the most, was to understand.

Understand every person.

For a long time, day after day, Zhang Xinjie gazed unwaveringly at Han Wenqing.

And during this time that he gazed upon him, he knew that all of this would eventually end.

When Han Wenqing brought over Zhang Jiale and Lin Jingyan, truthfully speaking, Zhang Xinjie had not believed that they could win the championship simply from that. Because Han Wenqing was always like this; because of the days of his past glory, he appeared exceptionally mature and steady. Yet it was also because he sincerely felt that he could reshape this past glory that he became exceptionally impulsive and naïve.

But he was willing to exhaust all he had for this.

 

Meanwhile, in Samsara’s practice room, Zhou Zekai was also replaying this segment. Fang Minghua just happened to walk in then and watched the rest of it together with him. He abruptly sighed, “This is something that I cannot do.”

“Already doing very well,” Zhou Zekai immediately said.

“When it comes to my own ability, this is truly the case. Recently, I dug out several little Clerics from the training camp, you should observe them when you have the time.” Fang Minghua lifted his hand and wiped his damp forehead, “What did you do so early in the morning.”

“Alright,” he replied.

Fang Minghua showed a relieved smile, then said, “Happy birthday. Twenty-four years old, you can consider dating.”

Zhou Zekai pursed his lips, and abruptly said, “For this year, made a birthday wish.”

“Eh? Don’t say it don’t say it, if you say it, it won’t come true,” Fang Minghua turned his head back over to stop him as he turned his computer on.

“Want to tell you,” Zhou Zekai insisted.

“Alright, then. What did you wish for?”

“Love at first sight,” Zhou Zekai’s voice turned quiet.

“Hahahaha,” Fang Minghua laughed loudly. “Fine fine, I hope you won’t be like Sun Xiang, meeting a cat.”

“No. Just like him.” Zhou Zekai was very certain.

Zhou Zekai had never relied upon anyone before. But in that moment, he recalled that day when Fang Minghua ran into the door of the training camp shouting loudly, “Zhou Zekai! Come quickly!”. That day was early summer in City S. The wind blew the window curtains of the training camp into great disorder. When Zhou Zekai walked towards outside, they even flew into his face.

“Go, go play a few rounds against Zhang Yiwei,” Fang Minghua pulled his hand and rushed outside.

“Let me tell you this, you don’t have to be nervous. Just play at your usual standard, I believe in you,” Fang Minghua’s forehead was covered in sweat. He obviously appeared much more nervous than Zhou Zekai.

“They might question your lack of experience, but I helped you choose a map that requires the greatest overall situational awareness. So, try your best to show them your tactical awareness.”

“You are stronger than anyone else. And Samsara is just that club where Sharpshooter is king. So, you don’t have to be worried about anything, as long as you can win matches.” Finally, at the door to the conference room, Fang Minghua said this to Zhou Zekai, then pushed him in.

The conference room was filled with people: Samsara’s boss, the manager, players on the team and staff personnel in the technical department.

Whereas on the large projector screen, the account Cloud Piercer was silently waiting. Its player, Zhang Yiwei, was seated behind a computer, warily inspecting him.

“He’s here,” the boss put down the teacup in his hand, “let’s begin.”

Five consecutive rounds, using his own ordinary account, Zhou Zekai defeated Zhang Yiwei, clad in silver equipment.

“Truly strong,” the boss nodded. Then, his lone applause resounded in the conference room.

“Do you have the confidence to receive Cloud Piercer?” the boss held up the teacup again. Xu Lifeng’s eyes widened in astonishment and he discreetly pulled the boss’ sleeve.

“I built this club at the start because I loved the Sharpshooter class, and I hoped that our team would have the strongest Sharpshooter.”

Xu Lifeng looked over again at Zhou Zekai. He was a little curious about what this teenager would do. Would he be nervous? Would he decline it? Would he say that he still needed to mature, that he wanted someone to stand in front to bear the wind and rain so that he had greater time and space to mature?

However, Zhou Zekai only looked at them calmly. He looked at every person, then lightly nodded his head. He said, “I do.”

To Zhang Yiwei, this was an extremely cruel moment.

Since the beginning, Zhou Zekai had never feared being alone, never feared being misunderstood. What he feared the most, was that the world that he saw through his eyes, could be a different world from what others saw. He was more straightforward than anyone, yet also more complex than anyone; shrewdness and slickness eluded him.

Mother Zhou was actually very gratified that Zhou Zekai chose this path of competitive e-sports. Because, this was a domain so simple that it was cruel. When you reach a certain level of strength, this domain did not need you to be slick, you did not need to be shrewd. There would be people giving you infinite love, repaying the instance when their blood pumped from the talent you gave them.

 

“Then, it will be as such from today.” The boss stood up.

Fang Minghua clutched Zhou Zekai’s hand and shook it with great zest, exhilaration on his face.

It was probably from that moment that Zhou Zekai truly felt that he himself had been acknowledged. And in the long days after that, no matter what he gained or lost, he never held any doubt.

 

This was an ordinary day in everyday life.

 

Ye Qiu pushed open the door to Ye Xiu’s room and saw that he was sitting wide-eyed in the darkness with the windows and door tightly shut. He helplessly walked over, turned off his computer and said, “You are really a Glory addict.”

Ye Xiu wagged his head proudly, “Then, you should give this addict some recuperation time.”

 

Lin Jingyan pushed open the door to Tyranny’s practice room and joined the team that was in the midst of training. He had once spoken innumerable proud words, was hailed as a god, defeated by a junior, even once stopped by the sea of flowers at Snow Peaked Mountain. But the first time he had arrived in that place, it was no more than a messy shore of rocks. This was everything that Glory had given him. And all of this, had yet to end.

 

Meanwhile, Samsara’s teammates walked in one after another. Every one of them threw themselves in front of Zhou Zekai, gave him a very big hug, and loudly said, “Happy birthday!”

Zhou Zekai smiled at each one of them and returned their hug.

“The birthday star needs to have his head rubbed!” Wu Qi said. /15

So, Zhou Zekai sat on the chair and let them one after another rub his own head. Afterwards, they drew back their smiles and properly began training.

 

And the person that Zhou Zekai would fall in love at first sight with, was right now in a certain part of this world focused on their own life. This person would on a certain day walk in front of him, look past his reticence and out of timeliness, and see his core abundant with warmth. Then, there would be love at first sight. And that day, would become the most mystical day of Zhou Zekai’s life.



Epilogue

On the winter solstice, Samsara finished their afternoon training and began chatting about eating dumplings later in the afternoon.

Seventh Delight suddenly walked in. It slowly walked to Zhou Zekai’s side and inclined its head up to look at him. Then, with very reluctant expression, it clutched his pants-clothed leg, climbed up to his knee and laid down. Zhou Zekai lowered his head to look at it. It also inclined its head up to look at Zhou Zekai. Seventh Delight’s eyes are a deep frosty green like the cold of winter, and in this cold winter, Zhou Zekai would swear that he could see Seventh Delights’ deliberation and conflict. In the end, its face finally read, ‘foolish humans’ – it stood up straight and nuzzled the crown of its head against Zhou Zekai’s chin.

“Ah… is this considered a good sign?” Wu Qi released a soft sigh. He turned his head to the side and glanced at Cat ‘Sun Xiang’, which Sun Xiang had picked up onto his leg and even covered with a blanket.

The cold winter had finally arrived. And Seventh Delight, this frosty block of ice, finally spat out a tiny heartfelt sliver of happiness. /16

 

 

 


 

Translator’s Note:

1/ Gift wedding candy – basically, inviting them to the wedding. In almost every Chinese wedding, guests will be given wedding candy, often in beautifully packaged candy boxes, personalised to the couple’s taste

2/ Game wherein, the count starts from one, someone calls it out and it keeps going. If two people call out the same number at the same time or out of order, everyone has to start all over again, till the last head count is reached

3/ ‘Light Snow’ is in reference to the solar terms. (x) It’s a calendar based off the sun’s position, created by ancient farmers to mark the changes of seasons/weather cycles. Still relevant today due to the associated cultural traditions, though practices tend to differ by geographical location

4/ Samsara bundling up in thick jackets – southern cities e.g. Shanghai are considered to be ‘hot’ therefore are not equipped with government-subsidised heating, unlike northern cities e.g. City Q, Qingdao. They simply bundle up to make up for the lack of heating, whereas Northerners tend to dress more loosely with the prevalence of central heating

5/ ‘Have you eaten’ is a standard Chinese greeting, kindof like the way we have ‘how’s your day’ or ‘how are you doing’ in English. Fun tangent, Chinese academics consider the lofty centrality of food to every aspect of Chinese culture a social fact. “From a multitude of perspectives, the very soul of Chinese culture is linked to food in a thousand and one different ways” –Wang Xue Tai

6/ Mahjong (x)

7/ Fang Minghua’s marriage that early is especially surprising if you consider that the average age of marriage nationally is twenty-seven for men and twenty-five for women. In cities, that number is much higher, once breaking thirty for women in Shanghai in 2013. Parent’s approval is also very important in securing marriage, and often, owning an apartment is the most basic prerequisite for finding a good match in this day and age. Consider this, too: property prices in China fill up seven of ten most expensive cities in the World

8/ Qixi (七夕) Festival lit translated as Seventh Night is a festival celebrating the annual meeting of the cowherd and weaver girl in mythology, nowadays known as the traditional Chinese Valentine’s Day. It falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month on the Chinese calendar. 七夕 is a homophone to 七喜, which is the Chinese name for 7 Up (the soft drink), or when translated literally, seven delights

9/ ‘A hideous name will bring it a lifetime of fortune’ – ref to an old superstition that by giving the kid a hideous name, it shows the parent’s disdain to the child. Due to the apparent lack of favour shown, spirits would lose interest in interfering with the kid’s life, so the kid would not easily fall sick. In other words, giving a hideous name is conversely the parents’ way of showing their joy, love, care and affection

10/ Snow Peaked Mountain and its boss, I believe, is a map created by author for this work, using a generic Chinese name for extremely tall and steep mountains, I took artistic liberty with translating its name along with inspiration from a random name generator um. Thousand Wave Lake is a canonical map, though

11/ Lord Grim is originally 君莫笑 in Chinese (romanised as Jun Moxiao), the xiao in Lord Grim by itself means to smile/laugh, which was used for his profile picture. Left it in its original Chinese character cause that's how canon was translated + couldn't think of a better way to do it. Ye Xiu was complaining in the last line of TKA 239 that Su Mucheng's handwriting is so bad it looks like a 哭 (romanised as ku) which conversely means to cry

12/ Moved that the park hasn’t been demolished because China often exercises eminent domain, seizing land and repurposing it for public projects, e.g. famously, the Three Gorges Dam project, which displaced about 1.3 million people

13/ About the father cooking noodles for Zhou Zekai’s birthday as a father-son tradition – reference to longevity noodles, eaten on one’s birthday, tradition has it that noodles bring long life, but only if you slurp them whole. Also, a running trope that Shanghai men do chores and run the kitchen

14/ Brother Sharp (犀利哥) (x) is the nickname given to Chen Guorong, a homeless man from the streets of Ningbo in China's Zhejiang province. The man became a national celebrity for his handsome face in February 2010 after a photograph of him wandering the streets was uploaded online. Eventually, Chinese netizens tracked down and located the man through the means of Human Flesh Search Engine

15/ ‘The birthday star needs to have his head rubbed’ – again, a play on words. Translated literally as birthday star, 寿星 actually refers to the God of Longevity (Canopus in astrology). Thus, rubbing the head for good fortune

16/ The last sentence when literally translated goes ‘Seventh Delight (…) spat out a tiny heart flower’, running thematically with the scattered mentions of flowers and greenery throughout the work. What heart flower (心花) actually means is being in a joyful mood, sortof like my heart is blooming